When I said I was visiting Kolkata as the guest of DithiMukherjee, a friend of mine said: If you have Dithi to show you around Kolkata, what more could you ask for? And indeed I am not exaggerating when I say that for so many of us here in the South of India, Dithi epitomizes Kolkata. It is from her blog that I learnt everything about the great city, its Gods and Bengali culture.
When I drew this picture of Kali above in 2012, from one of Dithi's photographs, I wished I could see Kolkata in real through Dithi’s eyes and experience all that inspired her so. Then one day that dream came true when she quite simply read my mind and intuitively led me towards all that I wanted to experience with her characteristic warmth, enthusiasm, generosity and love. We had a lot of fun and we were in sync. I was shown contrasts and nuances, colonial past and colorful present, I was made to taste the best of foods in the most unusual of places and my sweet tooth was pampered and indulged like never before.
They say people who love to eat are the best people and whoever said that was most definitely talking about Bengalis! Get two Bengalis together and tell them I am a visitor, they will get into a heated debate on the best places to take me and what to feed me. I totally understand their passion now and I can only look back on my stay in Kolkata with the happiest of memories thanks to my lovely Bengali host.
These are some of Dithi’s beautiful paintings. You can see what I mean when I say that this is the essence of Kolkata.
Both images top and bottom courtesy of Dithi Mukherjee
It was from images like those above that I learned about a place called Kalighat; not a village outside the city as I once thought, but in the city itself. On my first evening, I was taken there for that unforgettable magical walk through the streets of Kalighat at night and I visited there again the next morning. While I was not gasping at everything around me, I actually managed some images. Here are the better ones, but they are only a shallow reflection of the actual experience -
Sweet shops everywhere selling offering to the Goddess Kali
I was taken inside the temple to see the Goddess
Devotees queue up outside the temple
Life in the surroundings
Everyone knows that beautiful red and green house in Kalighat
My very first kulhad chai. The kulhad smelled of the fresh earth with which it was made. The chai was excellent.
A ride back home in an old yellow Amby! It was a bit like sitting inside a World War II tank as it trundled through Kolkata roads, but it reminded me of childhood and the only car many of us knew then and who would have thought there were so many of those still around? This too is part of the Kolkata experience.
My favourite picture of Dithi and me :)
I feel this blog post does not do justice to my experiences in Kalighat, there was so much more, much much more which I am quite simply unable to express effectively.That is how saturated I am by the memories. I know something will eventually manifest themselves in paintings and illustrations, they always do, but until then and since I am totally and utterly shameless, I am adding below a few links to some posts in Artnlight where Vineeta documents her experiences of Kolkata and Kalighat so beautifully through her pictures and words. Do pause to take a look -