Updated on September 19, 2019
Crispy Dosas, Bag Loops, and Other Stories from India
We are back from a month-long stay in Kolkata, having touched upon Mumbai, and for the briefest of time, Frankfurt. We flew for 8 hours straight, twice in a day, and then some more. We had a three-year-old with us, and it was his first time on a plane. Apart from not being too keen on wearing seat belts, we think he handled it pretty well. He got to spend time with his grandparents, uncles and aunts, and a larger circle of extended family and friends. He enjoyed the attention, the chaos, and the change. Next time anyone tells me that kids thrive on familiarity, I will have to disagree. Children thrive on new experiences. As do we.
The picture on top is a collage of whatever pictures I had at hand and in no way does it cover all that we saw or did.
Who is the Crispiest of them All?
It is with no small regret that I admit to have returned from one of the most foodie cities in India, with only one foodie photo, that of the lone dosa. The dosa is a buttery savory crepe that serves as breakfast food and is native to the southern part of the country. It is certainly not the finest or the tastiest that Kolkata has to offer in terms of food.
Kolkata is home to the best in sandesh and rosogolla, mughlai parantha and kati roll, biriyani and fish fry, momo and phuchka, to name a few. It also serves up dishes from all over the world, and drinks from afar. But I got to give dosa a shout-out because you can never find anything like this here in the northeast. Maybe like the New York City bagel, it’s the water that is partly the reason. For try as I may, I can never find this crispy a dosa anywhere else in the world.
Tourist for a Day
Having being born and raised in Kolkata means I never paid attention to the touristy parts of the city. This time around I did.
So, at the top right, we have a couple of shots of the Fountain of Joy, the dancing fountain that, akin to the city itself, is colorful and harmonious. The photos when enlarged are spectacular because my father arranged for us to get front-row seats to the show. Most photographers were seen languishing beyond the gates, expensive camera gear in hand.
Bottom middle is Prinsep Ghat (commonly misspelled as Princep Ghat), where a Palladian Porch has been built in honor of the English antiquarian and well-known Indologist, James Prinsep. He was the first European scholar to decipher the inscriptions of the ancient Indian emperor, Ashoka. The ghat, that is, the jetty, was in use during the British Raj, and is now a popular place to go for a leisurely stroll while taking in the glow of the setting sun as it slowly dips into the depths of the Hooghly River. The surroundings have paved pathways, landscaped gardens, ice-cream shops and food stalls. Concerts are often held in the open green and chairs were being put in neat rows the day we were there.
The bottom-left corner picture is that of a family of elephants, shaped out of greenery. In other words, a fine example of topiary, being examined closely by a very curious three-year-old.
The big picture from the collage is from near the front gates of the Victoria Memorial, a museum made of white marble, and a fine specimen of colonial architectural.
Memories of Mumbai
The bottom-right corner picture is that of Mumbai, the city that remains busy, day and night. My fondest memories are of going to work there as a 20-something and trying to fit in all the city had to offer.
Shopping and Security
Nobody will vote India the prettiest, or the cleanest. Or, even the quietest. But, when it comes to having a character of its own, it can’t be beat. It is a young, vibrant country that has no time for uniformity. I will not go into the usual extreme wealth and poverty story, or how technology is changing face of the country.
Instead, I will tell you how security works in its malls. Having been through the airport security of three different continents in a span of one day, I can tell you that I am no stranger to the bag-check. But nothing could prepare me for the bag-loop. A day after landing in Kolkata, just as I was about to enter a local grocery store, I was stopped by a security guard who politely asked for my handbag and deftly locked up the straps with white plastic knots. Apparently, that’s what they do in some stores to combat shop-lifting. On my way out, another guard snipped off the plastic cord with a pair of scissors.
At the entrance of shopping malls, they check your bag physically. A gloved hand will open your bag and nod apologetically. This check happens after you walk through what looks like a metal detector so it must be a tactic for battling terrorism.
As you walk in stores, be prepared to be greeted by a doorman. And as you shop, there maybe three or more people ready to help you make the right purchase. Sometimes, it is helpful. But mostly, it can be frustrating. I am told that the 3:1 ratio of sellers to buyer is also a ploy to prevent shop-lifting. It’s a country where people-power is aplenty and technology comes with its own set of glitches, so be it.
The Thing with Densely Populated Places
Your day starts with people helping you cook and clean, and people ready to drive you to places. It’s people who come to your home to build your almirahs and customized chairs. When you go for a movie, they serve you popcorn and soda at your seat. When you go to a store, they help you shop, they help you bag. They even send someone back to the stock room for fresh produce if they find yours in bad shape. There’s not much chance of a quiet just me and my thoughts kind of kitchen-to-garage-to-car-to-store experience there. You are bound to meet a fine mix of characters in between all that.
What did you Learn on your Last Trip?
For a three-year-old, being surrounded by people is a good thing, as it can also lead to him picking up a new language. Whoever equated travel with education got it right.