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Calcutta's Wetlands

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Can you believe that chaotic, crowded Calcutta is home to 200 species of birds? But we need to fight to keep it that way. Here is the remarkable story of
The Calcutta Wetlands


Calcutta has had more than 300 years of haphazard, unplanned, chaotic growth. Its population has exploded beyond its infrastructure. It is a city bursting at its ageing seams. Yet it is still a city vibrant with animal and plant life. Within its limits, the city can boast of 10 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, 15 species of reptiles, 13 species of amphibians and 40 types of butterflies! One of the reasons for the city’s abundant animal life is the wetlands in the city’s backyard.

Only a few decades ago the Calcutta wetlands covered an area of 20,000 acres. Then the city’s planners decided to build a satellite township called Salt Lake, by filling up about 10,000 acres of the ponds and marshes that made up the wetlands. In the last decade or so, the bustling township has attracted private promoters to fil…

Calcutta's love for books

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In today’s digital world, people are fast breaking their relationships with books and building new ones with other, more technologically advanced media. Every day, with new leaps in innovative methods of communication, people leave books further behind.

This trend is very disturbing to those of us who have grown up with the sensory pleasure of reading a physical book. While books retain their importance in some functional domains such as education, in others they have been almost totally discarded. One way of combating this disaster is by holding book fairs, the most famous being in Hamburg. The Calcutta book fair is the second biggest book fair in the world after Hamburg in terms of the number of visitors it attracts.

The Book Fair is organised by a guild of publishers and booksellers and it is a vibrant affair, the fields buzzing with excitement that the fair unerringly creates every year. It attracts a footfall of more than two hundred thousand visitors every day and all these peo…

Independence

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So, the 4th of July. The day my American friends celebrate their independence. 
India and America both fought for their freedom from the same colonisers, only a couple of centuries apart. Your fight inspired our fight, just as it did the French struggle for Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
My personal independence came when I arrived at Hartsfield airport as a graduate student many, many years ago. Athens, Ga. became my home for the next 5 years and more. I made many lifelong friends there, but this post is about independence.

So this post is about my old friend, The Tree That Owns Itself

"For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and the land within eight feet of it on all sides." With these words, Colonel W.H. Jackson willed a white oak tree the land it stood on in 1890.

It stood tall and gave shade to the corner of S. Finley St. and Dearing St. in downtown Athens…

Football: Calcutta's own game

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Yes, it's football! Only America calls it soccer.

The World Cup is in its penultimate stages. Nations across the world now house millions of zombified insomniacs but none more than Calcutta. Look at any Calcutta-specific dictionary and you'll see that the city is synonymous with the game!

The sport has been immortalised in popular films and songs made for and by the people of Calcutta. Each one of us can sing this timeless number from the 1971 film, Dhanni Meye starring that ultimate Calcutta icon, Uttam Kumar!
The best game of all
For Bengal
Is Football!
(My translation is true to the spirit of the song, almost true to the lyrics--Bengali, not Bengal--and it certainly rhymes as all good songs should!)
Here's the song on YouTube. Even if you don't understand the language, you'll get the emotion.




I was all of 7 or 8 when I was introduced to the fact that I had to take this game seriously if I was going to be a true Calcuttan. One evening, as we played in our para a…

My Calcutta

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She was the deposed capital of the British Raj, the jewel discarded from the crown. At home in the broad avenues of the erstwhile Fort William, she was the quintessential lady, the dowager slowly greying but still regal in her fading beauty, her hair coiffured, her back straight, her pearls on, her smile reserved, her chiffon saree pinned to perfection, her words cultured, her manner genteel, her tea-time sacrosanct and served with dainty cucumber sandwiches in high ceiling-ed clubs with arched columns and liveried attendants.

In the lanes of North Calcutta, she lived in a red-floored, cool interior room of a yellow-red mansion that opened to a running verandah overlooking an inner courtyard. Long  slatted windows let in the Hoogly-fresh breeze that ruffled the long perfumed curls of her lightly oiled, jet-black hair. She wore a white cotton saree with a red border, a big red "tip" on her forhead, and vermillion in the parting of her hair. She went to Loreto House wearing a…

A Patchwork Soul

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In a world growing increasingly simple and mono-tone-ous, separated by neat, geometrical borders of us and them, I proudly unfurl my soul, peacock-wise, far into the sky, baring its glorious confusion to all who would see and hear in all the cities I bear.

My ever-expanding, patchwork soul is made up of so many cities and stories and people and voices and faces and food and houses and animals and jungles and oceans and mountains and rivers and waterfalls and clouds and sand and stones and driftwood and messages in bottles...

It grows willy-nilly, in shifting patterns of tongues that mix and colours that run and leaking motifs that sometimes clash and sometimes blend.
Amidst all the cities, there is one that formed the weave of my fabric: the Calcutta of my youth.  This chameleon city taught me to see the glory of chaos. Why be one when you can be all? Why choose when you can gather? Why be sure when you can ask? Why know when you can debate? Why follow straight lines when squiggles are s…

3 Days in Mamallapuram

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Once the decision is made, the excitement begins. We start poring over maps and books; we begin visiting travel sites on the net; we call travel agents and ask friends about places to stay; we wait impatiently for the 60-day countdown so we can book our train tickets. And finally, the bags are packed amidst much screaming and “helping” by the children. We double-check the taps, unplug everything, switch off and lock up. Already hyperactive, the children go into overdrive as soon as the infectious bustle of Howrah Station hits their senses...

So, we go "koo-chuk-chuk" on board the Coromandal Express with our two kids, age four and three! Once on the train, the tantrums, boredom and demands for endless activity come in tune with the rhythms of the train tracks. And all through the long chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk we:
Eat and cry
Sleep and play
Play and cry
Sleep and eat
Eat and drink
Fight and sing
Xmas songs in October
Until Chennai Central

DAY 1 -- LATE AFTERNOON
Heads still swayin…