Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Kolkata Diary- "Kumartuli"

An unscheduled short visit to India was as fulfilling as a feeling one is endowed upon when receiving good food. And when it comes to a visit to home land even though it’s a short one, we all know, we go overboard and emotional. And reunions with relatives and friends are always filled with emotions. All said and done human without emotions is mere an extension of a lifeless machine.

We are now back and one more day, school holidays will be over, with that” back to routine phase” will soon start. So, now you know about my silence over here.

But then even with a short visit, we were thankful to God, that a major thing was sorted out and worked out. We had a chance to visit some of our favorite food joints and a lovely enthralling experience when we visited Kumurtuli. Although it rained heavily in Kolkata about a fortnight ago, which is nothing new as it is near to sea and any pressure gap if formed, results in heavy showers and thunderstorms- the ones which produces loud drum roll and rumbling noise. 

The entire city was brought to stand still and was water-logged due to this sudden heavy rain showers. We were home-bound most of the time, but to us home is where the heart is. We relished sweets, king of fruits Mango , and “Aata”- apple custard etc  and some of the green vegetables which we don’t get over here fresh and  easily like ,potol-parwal, jhinge-ridge gourd, borboti-yard long beans , and green brinjal etc…After many ages , I made real “alo-potol diye Pona mach’er jhal” – fish curry with parwal and potato and “begun bhaja” the ones with light green skin, and which always turn out the most juicy and flavorful brinjal fries. And I don’t have to re-iterate that there is no substitute of home-cooked food. Then I cooked other homely foods, the kind of food which is associated with being in Kolkata like - puin shaak (oh! And we don’t need to pay hefty price for puin shaak in Kolkata) kumro-pumpkin and top it all ilish/Hilsa fish- the king of fish with all that “tel” –oil which comes out after deep frying the Hilsa pieces. The only regret on our part was that it didn’t have eggs/fish roes. 

And we crave for fish roes here, now tell me who doesn't, but that was compensated when dear husband got everyday fresh Pona or Rui –Rohu fish roes sold in fish markets probably separately. Oh! Yes they do and they come little pricey as well, but then during this monsoon period, fish markets are flooded with fresh supply f fish roes.

We relished every bit of home-cooked food there particularly “puin shaak’er ilish chenchra” cooked by my father-in-law for us on one particular day and well our lunch that day was a delight. One can see the look on his face, the kind of satisfaction and a sense of achievement, but then these small gestures go a long way, and they always make good memories. I don’t have snaps but that taste of “Ilish chenchra”, is still lingering on and that image is captured in our mind. A memory I will always treasure.

“Kumartuli “as you all know is a must visit place in Kolkata, where splendid sculptures and clay idols are made and assembled. This time of the year- during August or in September, if you get a chance to visit now, you may come across, several beautiful and magnificent "protima"-clay-idols of goddess Durga along with her children, as soon it will be time for the Hindu festival of Nabaratri.

Actually we even get to see a Sri Ganesh ji idol in making  - as Ganesh Chaturthi is near .

And also Vasudev with Sheshnaag idol , but then Janamashtami – birth of eighth son of Devki and Vasudev – sri Krishna is celebrated as Krishna Janamashtmi and it has already way passed now.Although when we visited Kumurtuli this clay idol was in making process.

So, here I am sharing some of the snaps which I tried to capture quickly, like blink of seconds with my camera which is a P&S one.And trust me I would prefer my P&S over exuberant DSLR’s, as they are indeed very heavy and cumbersome to carry. All said and done , please don’t judge the snaps as if it was meant to be featured in photography competition, but seek beyond focal length, brightness and contrast- I mean technical nuisance , as each speak and conveys volumes about the soul of this city “Kolkata – a city of Joy” for you. I know people who live there or may be had a chance to live there or the expats, you all may reflect my views about this city. Right? Now where shall I start ….

Each day brings new opportunity to seek out new dimensions in ones life. We all worship clay idols, but if we could realize these are results of hard labour by gifted hands, we would even respect those hands that make these larger than life clay-idols. With “ganga-mati” – sands from river Ganga, some hay, some fine hand-made  crafts like “shola” works and we see beautiful idols which casts spell over us during Nabaratri.

Doesn't this "shola" work leaves you spellbound..........

Although these “Kumars” as they are known in Bengali- don’t live in overwhelming surroundings but still the spirit with which they work is beyond imagination. One has to see and get inspired by their dedication and determination part. 

It was raining heavily in the city, but they were working meticulously in their workshops probably in many cases overnight. These workshops are very dingy and small and inter-mingled in “Gali”-narrow lanes in Kumortuli.We felt speechless, when we saw many of them making "protima"-clay idols, which soon will be lively when filled with vibrant colours and all the decorations with hand-crafted accessories.

While there is a rhythm about everything that happens in a particular city, and Kolkata is no exception, with its old world charm that has that vibrancy which holds you captivated and which holds many forgotten traditions earnestly still,and on other hand it likes to flaunt modern values as well.Tradition and modernization go hand in hand here. 

On one hand one can see packets of puffed rice or cereals available in swanky and posh super-markets, and then on a contrary there is this small vendor fetching “muri”-puffed rice to many of its daily customers. The customers, who throng to this small vendor, are mostly allies just like him, who live on daily wages like the rick-Shaw walahs, news paper hawkers and many other grocery hawkers. 
Let’s not judge how much money they can earn or can change their life, but one thing for sure they know if they don’t work everyday they won’t be able to sustain much. 

Let’s just forget the hygiene part also, but one thing which I still believe that the puffed rice made by this vendor is much more flavorful than the ones available in those swanky super-markets. Put him in a good and clean environment, and I am sure he can produce even more flavored “muri”-puffed rice. This small time vendor still practices “that chira chorito-podhoti” – I mean the old method of deep frying the rice grains with some sand. The amount of stir/fry that is required to pop the rice grains or to make the perfect puffed rice, or the correct temperature etc, they all have been stored in his mind and he does that in auto mode as well while chatting up with fellow customers. 

I don’t think they need instructions from any source nor they have written or maintained a recipe diary for that matter. They don’t need temperature measuring equipment also, to let them know that rice has puffed or is done. This has probably come with experience and exposure or may be the trade secrets he must have inherited from his fore-fathers. 

One can see so many similar types of small vendors carrying on with their jobs and they serve the entire city.Let's not forget that the food we now like to call "street-food" is staple food for many perhaps. I really do think these people and the likes of similar people are responsible in keeping the street-food market alive, up and running in Kolkata. If you happen to talk to them, they will be very chatty and friendly. I would say sometimes it’s good to be reminded we don’t need gold machines but we do need these people to let us understand that happiness comes from within and with little, tiny things in life.

What makes a city vibrant, echoing and glowing? It’s the people who reside in that particular place irrespective of religion, color, caste or creed. A perfect position near sea, a fertile delta land and the moist climatic conditions-Kolkata is one city which is amalgamation of history, culture and all the modern trends. And this moist climate yields good ”Dhan”-Paddy crop as well.
Paddy yields rice which became an integral part of Bengali cuisine way back, and rice is staple food here. With rice comes all sorts of other preparation like "muri"– puffed rice, "chirey"-flaked rice, "sheddo chal"- parboiled rice and "atop chal"- the normal sona-masoori or basmati rice.We do eat parboiled rice mostly when-ever we are in Kolkata, the ones which we like is “Sita-saal’, not sure this time what variety we had though.And while we like to reserve our stock of “gobindo bhog” for “pulaos” and “payesh” only.

These yellow taxis will tell you about a past associated with a flourishing make of car here. The new chapter in every book comes with changes in consequences. And “paribarton” -change is inevitable, so one can now even notice -Dial –a –taxi or AC taxi parked near airports or train stations, although when in need these yellow taxis provide one of the most spacious car one can possibly think of.This time I was pleasantly surprised to see a clean and renovated airport as well,and yes they do have Café-coffee day over there, in case you need a quick snack or hot cappuccino. 

And yeah we even survived after having a vegetarian sandwich from one of the small food-café in the airport, clearly the hygiene part is well maintained, but what comes as shocker was the price-tag of the vegetarian sandwich or may be I was over-reacting.

I was not a tourist over here, but I ended up being one of them as I started to feel little out of the world there. Last time I got up on a shared auto , the daily up –down cost me few bucks , but this time while I was coming back home , the price has shot up, almost double each side of the travel. I really don’t see how common people manage there with this ever increasing cost of living, even cooking has become pricey as subsidy on LPG has been removed making it the most costly affair. There will be days when we will be investing in LPG more than gold.

We were in one of these yellow taxis one day and got to see few of these sweet-shops across our taxi window. Actually one can come across and see these sweet corners in every corner of the city, like mushroom grooming and growing in a far stretched field. Many go on to open chains of sweet corners and some of them are pioneers in this business. 
The place where we are now living has changed even more with metro construction going on full swing, many sweet-corners and grocery stores have been re-located. Our favorite sweet-corner has become inaccessible. We have to take two more rounds, making it even more congested with traffic and the driving itself is tiring. We missed the rasgullas from that sweet-shop very much. And since we were not getting any, I made rasgullas with cow milk, almost on a daily basis. And I couldn't believe when each time, they turn out very spongy unlike the ones I make here.

These sweet corners serve many people daily; one can see so many varieties of sweets, all neatly stacked one above other and tagged with price. I can’t imagine how much milk is being consumed daily by these sweet-shops to make lip-smacking sweets Kolkata- Bengali cuisine is famous for.
Kolkata has always fascinated me, it’s not just a mere city to us. I know there are places in Kolkata like Trincas or Flurry’s in Park Street – so-called posh ones or the Biryani food joints serving soft fluffy rice biryanis or flavorful kormas, where one has to queue up to take away their famous biryanis. 

Or the ones that serve kathi rolls at the other end of the park street can’t recall the name, but it’s a famous kathi-roll joint on Park Street.Or the famous China town where one gets to eat flavourful Indo -Chinese cuisine. Then there are confusing blocks or islands in Salt-lake in eastern fringes of Kolkata, which I am still getting used to and many times I do ask others to remind me the names of many blocks so that I don’t end up somewhere else. 
And then in north Kolkata, culture is slightly different from south Kolkata, up to an extent the cuisine is also diverse in these sections. North Kolkata has fair share of immigrants from other parts of India, particularly presence of a strong Marwari community.

And the central Kolkata has that Anglo-Indian influence and on another hand south Kolkata has more refined Bengali touch - many posh areas are scattered over here like Ballygunj or New Alipore etc.
 Then there are sects of Muslim culture in various pockets in Kolkata.And with such diverse population , the cuisine of Kolkata is even more diverse,from staple Bengali shukto, to Awadhi Biryani’s to “shudh shakahari bhojan” I mean vegetarian cuisine to Chinese Momos or dim-sums.The cuisine of Kolkata offers endless varieties to the people who come here to make a livelihood or are residents from many generations.
These days one can even see imported goodies in various big super-markets.

And then there is College Street, where there is no end to small shops or book Shops. You may even dig out old books from 60’s as well if you wish to do that. Or the pious silence near banks of river Hooghly. The mighty Hooghly bridge one and two both, just spent an evening quietly sitting near the Out-raam ghaat, watch the sun go down and then slowly see the light coming up on the Hooghly bridge while you relish some jhaal-muri. Or spent sometime in "Kumartuli" to appreciate those magnificent clay sculptures.

And probably there are hundred other ways to spend evenings or mornings in Kolkata and if I keep on writing, then this will become an endless rambling then.

I really don’t know why always there is as such, flooding of emotions when ever we visit or are in Kolkata. Every Street, every corner of the city has wrapped a layered story, a story which needs to be unraveled, may be the beauty of this city lies in some where there. Even though you are strolling somewhere in this city, but you still keep on discovering yourself slowly along with this city of joy i.e. Kolkata for you....

See you all with some recipes in next coming posts..Take care all.....


  1. Awesome pics of Calcutta. Best part is that me and my family are visiting there in this pujo. Thanks a lot for rekindling my urge to go there asap.

    1. How exciting that sounds, well worth it..Spending time in Kolkata during Durga Puja,the ultimate wish granted Deepa. I am sure you all will have lovely time there..hugs

  2. Loved reading your post about your trip, last time we were there in Kolkatta it was 10 yrs ago. And looks like you had such a good time and i think the best are the inexpected visits.

    1. Oh yeah Finla we tried to have a relaxed time but that was one very hectic visit for us..Finla 10 years is a long time and if you go there now probably you'll see lots of changes but then it's the same story in other cities as well :-)..thanks for liking the post..hugs

  3. Wat a wonderful post, i would love to make a trip to Kolkata during Durga puja, dunno when its gonna happen.. thanks for this virtual visit Jaya, i had a pleasant virtual trip through ur post.

    1. Priya,
      The ones who live outside Kolkata generally feel blessed to be part of this cultural city during Durga Puja, but then it's very busy, congested with traffic during Durga Puja..But I guess all is worth it if you can enjoy and go along with the festive spirit of the city during that phase...Thanks for liking the post..hugs

  4. Hello, I have been your follower since the past 2 years and this will be the first time I leave a comment (actually I did try frequently in the past to tell you how I appreciate your posts but never succeeded in having them published!). I love all your posts, and this one in particular has me excited a bit since I will be spending my pujo holidays in Kolkata this year, something I've missed for many years!

    1. Hi Snowflake,
      I hope now you can feel at home :-).. I am glad you finally introduced yourself here, hope to see you publishing more often here, right..And thanks for liking all the posts here..well I really appreciate your encouraging words...Yes you are right Kolkata during Durga puja is one memorable experience ...don't forget to tell me how was your visit there..all the best wishes for your visit to Kolkata...hugs and smiles

  5. You made me so nostalgic! Being an out-and-out Kolkatan, moving out was difficult emotionally. I could never feel at home anywhere else. Your post made me so sad yet so content!

    1. hi Soumi,
      Kolkata lies in every ones heart , even if they no longer live there..:-)...thanks for liking this post ..hugs


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