04 Nov


During a recent visit to my hometown – the city that defies definition, a couple of scenes, framed by the rattling windows of the city’s cacophonic local buses, stay frozen in my mind.

The first was outside a graffiti-covered public conveniences opposite a medical college, where the integrated easings of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Isahis, aided by a mild shower, was inundating the cratered sidewalks. A series of strategically placed half bricks formed a bridge across this stream. A bevy of pretty young leftist student activists, saris delicately lifted with one hand, placards clutched in the other doubling as umbrellas, protecting their heads from the drizzle, balanced precariously while crossing this bridge all the while loudly heralding the death of American imperialism in sweet falsetto. On the way, the revolutionaries passed a nameless wayside shrine. In flagrant contempt of the indoctrinated instructions, the arms raised in slogan were brought down in genuflection, paying obeisance to the opium of the masses. The traffic jam eased. My bus moved on.

The second was the mouth of a micro narrow lane called, say, Baker Street, leading off a busy thoroughfare. This lane was famed for its many gourmet ethnic eateries. The street was evenly paved with slime. A few feet from the entrance, on a ledge on a wall, a kebab joint did roaring business. A plastic sheet held up by a contraption of ropes, poles and bricks, protected the customer’s eye – but presumably not his nose – from a huge pile of festering garbage a few feet away. Numerous people stood in the slight drizzle devouring prawn cutlets and tangri kebabs on the lee side of this sheet. Right opposite a dimly lit signboard on top of a dull red doorway proclaimed: “Valentino’s Bar (airconditioned)”. A two-foot square space outside the door was paved with red tiles and was free from slime. A uniformed doorman stood passively by on one side. The graffiti covered walls on the sides were adorned by many posters, some torn and fluttering. Prominent among them were two identical large posters, fairly new, advertising some sports magazine which displayed large attractive blow-ups of Steffi Graf. A nude lunatic, one of the city’s many such strays, was staring entranced at these. He next gave each poster in turn a smacking kiss and seemed entirely pleased with himself. My bus moved on, shifting the scene from my window.

This was not a cliché from a pseudo-surrealistic film at Nandan (or Sakuntalam, as the case may be) but a frozen scene from the drama of Calcutta. This, it seemed to me, was the essence of the city we hate to love. —






(This piece was published by the Times of India in 1993)

Post Script :

Almost two decades later, Calcutta Cameo remains unchanged.

It is a bit of a cultural curiosity fossilized in time. The posters of Steffi

Graf are replaced by Sania Mirza, but nothing else has changed,

Metro, Mamata, Buddha and Bibekananda Setu notwithstanding.

As usual Rabindranath continues to be ‘relevant’ when he wakes up

(or wakes us up?) from a dream and tells us that


– Kolikata ache sei – kolikata tei !



Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Humour, memoir, travel


Tags: , , ,

9 responses to “CALCUTTA CAMEO


    May 31, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    Excellent way of describing, and pleasant post to get data on the topic of my presentation subject matter, which i am going
    to deliver in academy.


    • wiseguy from the east

      June 1, 2014 at 2:13 am

      Wow. Thanx. Can’t believe my cracks would be part of serious academic discussion. Pl give credit share link & make your audience read my stuff. Pl read my other pieces too. There’s 1 more on Cal.
      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone


  2. spunkybong

    June 1, 2014 at 8:56 am

    What a vivid depiction. You are a wordsmith, Sir!


    • wiseguy from the east

      June 1, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      You sir warm the cockles of my heart & this is what makes writing a blog worthwhile
      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone


  3. how to short curly hairstyles

    July 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    My family all the time say that I am wasting my time here
    at web, however I know I am getting experience daily by reading thes good articles.


  4. check over here

    July 22, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I have read so many posts concerning the blogger lovers except this post is actually a nice piece of writing, keep it up.


    • wiseguy from the east

      July 23, 2014 at 2:08 am

      Thank you 🙂 please try some of the other posts too
      Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone


  5. Digital Wireless Headphones

    July 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was curious what all is needed to get setup?
    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very internet savvy so I’m not 100% certain. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated.




Your feedback is valuable, let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: