A candid confession here: I am not a quintessential bengali. I am a Bengali by birth and have lived a considerable part of my life in the City of Joy - Calcutta or Kolkata. I am not sure if that disqualifies me from being a true Kolkattan or not but I cannot write or express my thoughts unless there is an element of truth attached to it.
As a flashback, I would have to go back several years when I first moved from Benaras to Kolkata as a ‘tween’, with my family, owing to a company transfer that my father had to take. Thus began my tryst with Kolkata, and consequently the saga of love, laughter and life in Kolkata too.
So, that definitely means that I spent a big chunk of my life in Kolkata and all my experiences - both positive and negative during my formative years, took place in this very city. I owe a big one to this city which, though not my place of birth, has been as important (if not more) because it has helped me learn so much - and learn for the better. I would not be me if I did not grow up in Kolkata!
I got married and consequently moved to the United States in 1999. I soon began to realise that I had started picking up some threads everywhere that would tie me back to my roots - in whatever form they came to me. Looking for canned roshogollas in the local ’Spices of India', cooking the traditional maangshobhaat on Sunday afternoons, listening to rabindrasangeet and adhunik songs while driving to and from work, wearing salwar kurtas and sarees on the slightest pretext of a typical bengali get together at a friend’s place, and even decking up in the traditional shankha-pola for Durga Puja, are just some of the many instances that conjured up to the belief that I had grown into a Bengali who felt distanced from her very own Kolkata; a Bengali who tried to look for it everywhere. What was I trying to do? Trying to intersperse some form of Bangaliyana into my adopted American way of life - is probably the response.
I now live in London, and (strangely enough) I do similar things here. My heart skips a beat when I hear a Bangladeshi waiter at an Indo-Bangladeshi restaurant come up to me and ask, ‘Apni Bangali?’ (Are you a Bengali?). I love when I see pictures of Tillotama Kolkata being posted on Facebook for any reason - the reasons are numerous but the feeling is common - we all like to catch a glimpse of our favourite city in any form.
They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. As the years go by, this has been indoctrinated in my life, and I think that the connections that I have made in Kolkata - both tangible and intangible, have helped me discover, understand and grow myself. For this city that has brought out the best in me, I gratefully remain the Converted Calcuttan.