"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

Call it the erstwhile capital of the British empire, Call it a bustling and bristling metro, Call it a foodie's paradise, Call it a grand megalopolis - nothing summarizes it better than simply calling it 'Calcutta'! The very place that we decided 'on-the-spur' to visit on behalf of our third anniversary on the independence day weekend. It is no tourist hot-spot; before this trip it was just another city where my wife had  incidentally lived a figment of her childhood! But I was to discover how those days shaped the rest of her life.. her personality.. and how much more Calcutta has been a part of her life than she has been a part of it.

We had already had a satisfying trip of Konark-Puri the previous day, and setting foot into the bustle of Howrah Junction wouldn't even hint at what lay beyond its walls. Calcutta, even with Durga Puja still a long way off, amazed us with its pulsating vibrancy blended inextricably with its charming antiquity. Though  famous for its Howrah bridge, Calcutta showed us another significant bridge... one that  incorrigibly stretched from an antediluvian past to an inescapable present.

First impression on the ground : the city is saturated! I read that one-fifth of the world's population lives on the bank of river Ganga - the city's streets were already proving this. It didn't look like there was any bandwidth for growth. The streets are packed to capacity. The city has all means of transport that can be conceived of - buses, autos, cabs, cycle-rickshaws, underground metro, local trains and the 'endangered' trams -  and all are conveniently crowded. The dilapidated British-era buildings present a forlorn facade of the city's bygone glory but even in those broken glass windows you could see faces peeping out. Even in the torn-down meshes of forgotten nooks there are dirty urchins reliving a Calcutta of their own. Even on the narrow pavements that need oodles of repair, there are delicately balanced push-carts selling fried noodles.

The city (like the other metros) seems constipated with its denizens but it still doesn't throw you up. There's something that gives a feel the city is still growing somehow.. maybe in the hearts of its people.

We didn't want  to devour the city with one hired taxi ride and wanted to explore it street by street... footstep by footstep. This, we realized later, was the best way to taste what Calcutta had to offer. Ably assisted by a slight drizzle (which never let the humidity get to us) we tread around breathing in not only the city's air but also its smells, its noises, its chaos, its poises. They say the means are sometimes as important as the ends - the foot journey proved it. The smiling faces that gave us directions, the stopping at every street corner for a quick jalebi or chowmein or samosa, the tea served in cute looking earthern pots or matkas, the haunting presence of victorian architecture and the general sweetness of the Bengali language was so satisfying that it quelched any frustration of missing key targets - even when we missed Thakurbari (Tagore House) reaching there barely 5 minutes after its closing, even when Marble House turned out to be just a ghetto, even when the glorious India Museum turned out to be closed on Mondays.

The food needs a special mention. The variety of cuisines the city had to offer is nothing short of a celebration. We treated ourselves to such delightful melange of dishes that I wonder if my stomach felt like we traveled the entire world in one day! And its not just food... even the explosion of colors in their garb is second to none. But what makes a mark is the balance of life and maturity in exhibition that Bengalis seems to have cultured themselves into. They are pompous yet bourgeoisie. Their capacity for intellectual debate, their disinclination towards insane adoption of technology, their appreciation of an unhurried lifestyle all go on to show that Bengalis savor every passing moment to the fullest and thus gives us outsiders an insight to how our fast paced lives can be so demeaning to the native spirit of the innate soul. Calcutta is neither old nor shining new.. its just ageless!

As if this was not enough, there was a notable icing on the cake in the last few hours of our trip.

We managed to get in touch with Mr.Vinayak Lohani, the convener of Parivaar, and he graciously arranged for us a trip of his abode for the destitute children. Several campuses on small patches of land throughout 24-Paraganas is where Mr.Lohani and his team of zealous social workers tend to the children that are on the 'downside of advantage'. The children are housed, fed and schooled in their in-house facility. The spark in the eyes of the children when they greeted us was proof enough of the divine journey that the Parivaar is set upon.

This was just yet another endearing aspect of a city which would leave a strong and indelible imprint in our hearts forever. We may go on to visit other great cities but there would be none with the poise and steadfastness matching Calcutta.

On a flip note, we could say that...
(from an ad displayed behind one of the municipal buses)

01-Sep-2012 : Revised after proof-reading with Nivedita (Diventa).
"... the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them." - One hundred years of solitude (so-called classic by Gabriel Marquez)

This book came into my purview as part of my 'Bucket List'. I have been interested in Mr. Marquez's writing ever since I bumped into him in the list of Literature Nobel Laureates. They told me this was his best novel. Having read about his Latin American background, his journo profession and finally his connection with the revolutionary Fidel Castro - I never expected the book to be what it turned out to be. The book heightened my respect for Mr.Marquez as a brilliant narrator with an exquisite skill at creating magical sense of reality but being contrary to my expectations, it finally ended up being just an item scratched out of my list.

Magic Realism - that was a new genre for me even though I felt I had already tasted it in the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. But seems Marquez's realism is not so much to entertain as it is to psyche. It sometimes becomes so much of a dense collage of such innumerable facets that the reader is bound to lose his grip on reasonable reality (if not his mind) for one snap of a moment. But there is more spaghetti code to it - with the intermingling of both cyclic and linear chronology of events (never affixing a date to things), repetition of names across generations (and characteristics with names) and creating a geography where only Macondo is absolute and everything relative to it (though Macondo itself loses shape and identity over the course). Overall, starting from a castle built in the air the plot ends up being a labyrinth in the haze. I was left questioning when and how did the 100 years pass and more importantly where exactly was the solitude?
I can say that my interest in reading - and more precisely reading history and biographies - started with this book. This was the first book that I picked from my client's corporate library when I flew to Portland, Maine in Sep, 2004. I was not interested in the usual business, administration, finance, retail domain, stores operations books and this one stood out. The plain look on Sam's face (wearing a Wal-Mart cap) belied the spirit - the steely spirit behind that simple face - the unrelenting simpleton yet ferocious businessman that hid behind those glassy eyes.

The book portrays nothing less. Sam Walton was not a man of noble birth nor was he gifted with out-of-the-Earth qualities. It does not even appear he was a visionary. Yet his restlessness in being the best always bore fruit. His attitude of ‘take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves’ worked for him. There also does not seem to be an innovativeness about him - he accepts that he used to visit the stores of his competitors (mainly K-Mart) to get his ideas. He used to borrow the best out of all of them and get it running in his stores.

Once deep into the book – one can feel the real spirit of the man. As it becomes him, he gets straight onto business right from the word go. This is also evident from the fact that he starts abruptly with his first days in retailing – about the couple of stores that he experiments with and even has to close down his ‘only’ store reluctantly just to move to Bentonville, Ark and start off a juggernaut of an empire that none has been able to stop till-date. Though he moves from one store to a handful to a score and eventually to hundreds - he is still reluctant to abandon his older ways of working - giving importance to the smallest of aspects like building a store with his own associates, procuring the goods from local markets while working out deals himself, etc.

Wal-Mart today is the biggest private employer and right there at the top of the Fortune list. Though Wal-Mart stands out in every respect of its ballgame, Sam Walton stands out for something different. He stands for the simplistic nature of building formidable business empires, for valuing family life and personal time in the face of growing professional responsibilities, for always being one with the community and preserving communal identities, for building a foundation of a core group of values and standing by it always. The book flows through with such panache that I felt a part of the Walton family all the while – and mourned the death of Sam at the very end.

Truly an inspirational read. Truly... ‘Made in America’!
First of all - this is not a book review. Its just a small vent of thoughts before I get on to the more serious book that I had abandoned in between. Given the mystery storyline, I obviously cannot delve into the story per se. Its certainly a mean thing to leak crucial details and spoil the fun for rest of the readers. Being an aspiring author myself, I always have two resolutions. Always acknowledge the hard-work and focus that goes into a literary creation; And NEVER buy pirated prints - it is an insult to the art of writing-publishing itself.

I picked up this Sidney Sheldon novel as a break from what I had been reading for sometime. I was actually in the middle of 'Freedom at Midnight' when I took this break. I was so eager to get back to the latter, that I completed this book in two solar days. A personal record at that time. But I should admit that the gripping nature of the novel also held me in its sway.

The book reminded me of a movie that I had seen, but am not sure which of them came out first. I did not find any particularly informative details in it and I also felt that at most parts I could pretty well guess what lay around the next corner (the next twist!). I could even guess the climax which left me a very satisfied reader. A nice lingering taste in the mouth.:)

All in all a nice book to read ONCE. Am sure will be a treat to Sidney Sheldon fans. About me - I dont seem to get into the groove with thrillers/sci-fi novels. For now, I would get back to reading real life events and biographies.I am sure the next time I pick up a Sidney Sheldon novel will be when I totally forget that I had ever read a novel of his before. I just hope it will not be a 'Tell me your dreams" again!
When I started reading, what struck me at once was the style of narration. It is quite contrary to what I had normally read upto then. Phrases like "He thinks he is big and all", "He thinks he is good or something"... reminds me of our school lingo; except that there was no "Simp-simply", "me-me-only", "go man, I will not show" or "go ya" in the book. I felt Salinger could have been the harbinger of new narrative styles but it was probably not to be - as this was his only published novel. Yet the novel remains controversial and popular to this day...

It is a first hand account of Holden Caulfield, a premature teenager sorts who is just about to be expelled from school. The storyline just happens across a couple of days and is based in New York City. It starts when Holden's semester is coming to a close and Christmas vacations are just about to begin.
Holden is portrayed to be a nonconformist - trying not to appreciate the usual sense of the world; ending up being under-mature while trying to be over-mature for his age. Getting a false sense of adulthood by being over-protective over his sister and also attempting to live out in the big bad world of NYC on his own.
Some touching points of this novel (for me) was the way he recounts events or people in his life and they way he feels about them. The lamenting to meet up with his childhood flame - a girlfriend that he had gotten so intimate with. Not able to forget school buddies and bullies alike. Trying to pick at people - ranting about their shortcomings and getting a false sense of novelty about himself. Seeing everything in this world, other than himself, to be phony or artificial. Some very valid emotions that any typical city-bred teenager goes through during the course of sexual and mental maturity.

I count this book in the same league as Million Mutinies by Naipaul or Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo. Its strange as these books are all so varied but what matters to me is what touched me and in all three books there is a profound speculation aspect (of questioning various aspects of existence) that just strikes a chord with me. I can relate to it so well that sometimes its not a book.. it becomes a mirror!
The sky never comes crashing down. Though some feel the human race would not see the end of this century it is never too late to start (or restart!) something new. Life will go on irrespective of whether it is routine or innovative. Not everyone is ready to fly their kite when the winds of change blow. Monotony is not passe - the sun performs the same rise-burn-set routine everyday and yet is worshipped. The mountain endures rain bearing clouds and snow capped peaks all year- and yet retains its magnificence. The lake has been hiding slimy eels in its belly for ages - yet its serenity is so disquieting.
Life - nevertheless - is running out. Age is catching up like an 'Indian Taxi meter'. Time casts irreversible scars on my persona and psyche. I can choose to follow tradition and meet a conventional death. Maybe I will.. only time will tell. But for now... let me blog through my life..