Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Gonna lay down my burden, down by the riverside"
- Houston

Ramblin' Jam

                 Kolkatta; the City of Joy. The capital of West Bengal, and widely considered the cultural capital of India. About two months ago I visited Kolkatta for the Durga pooja, the streets were filled with people singing, dancing and setting off firework. Now when I return I find this city much more tranquil, though still lively in character and culture. A friend of mine, Abir, invited me to stay with him and his family for some time. This has been an excellent way to experience Bengali culture, not to mention Bengali food.  My only planned objective in this journey was to reconnect with a friend I made last time I came to Kolkatta.

                Soohel was the first person to walk up and speak to me upon my previous arrival, and we ended up spending the next nine days together. This man lives a difficult life sleeping on the street and doing odd jobs for money. Despite these challenges Soohel remains a man of exceptional character who is respected and loved all over the city. Both his parents died when he was very young and he lived with his older brother and sister. Eventually they each had their own marriages as well as children and Soohel decided he should travel to Kolkatta to find work and send money home. As we roam the streets together the shop keepers call his name and the children chase him chanting "Dada Bhai!" (older brother)

            He showed me around the city and introduced me to Bengali culture, being with him was the first time I started to feel Indian. Not only did we explore the Durga pooja, but Soohel insisted on taking me Bolpur in northern West Bengal; he wanted to introduce me to his friends (one of which is from my home state!) who are studying art and philosophy at a university/ashram in a village called Shantineketan. It was there I learned of Rabindranath Tagore, an epic thinker, composer, poet, dramatist and writer who has been a great inspiration to me and is one of the icons of Bengal. Those first few days in the village felt like my first days in India. It was as if everything I had seen before then had been some sort of emulation or remainder of Western culture.

            Soohel has no phone, as each one he buys is taken from him in his sleep, so our plan was to meet on a particular street sometime early December. Once I was finished with the research project/music conference in Chennai (more on that later), I blazed the railway straight from Hyderabad to Bengal meeting cool people and munching on some excellent street food all the while. Abir met me at the station and showed me to his house. His mother and father have graciously accepted me into their home, and they treat me like their own son. My first attempt at finding Soohel failed, so instead, Abir and I strolled upon a park where they were having a free concert with Bengali, Bangladeshi and Nepalese bands.

           Today, however, I found him. We decided to travel to the river Ganga to visit a small Shiva temple by the waterside. We gathered around a funeral pyre burning along the banks as the sound of a drum approached ushering in the bride and groom and their respective band of merry family members from a nearby wedding. The riverside temple is lively with children running and playing, and at the time solemn as the elder folk sit quietly or talk among themselves. My friends and I sat in a circle passing the time and chanting Bom Bholle as the pink sun settled over the river.

Tomorrow I leave to meet my mother and sister in Delhi and we will do some adventuring around the country as a trio!

Much Love,
Baba Granjam

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post son. Reading of your experiences is truly the highlight of my day.