Strangers straightened their clothes

We’re back. In a way.

Not wholly back.

Bits of Kolkata came back in our suitcases, and bits of of us stayed back there. Our three weeks wasn’t enough. But then, six wouldn’t have sufficed either. No matter how long you stay, in the end, you feel like you’re cutting the cord all over again.

Four years ago, we’d flown to Kolkata with a four-month old baby tucked into a bassinet. This time, it was with a four-year old who sat in her own seat sipping apple juice, peering into clouds and watching Mary Poppins.

From the minute we landed, Chotto-Ma loved everything. She loved the cabs with seats like trampolines; no seatbelts, no rules. The colours, the sun, the stray dogs. Hours of playtime with Mamma, scratchy kisses from Dada. She ate shondesh in every shape, and puchkas from street corners. She rode an auto, a mini bus, a cycle-rickshaw. She made new friends. Met family she hadn’t met before. She threw herself right in there, and forgot we had to leave.

My photographs can never do the city justice, but here they are as promised. I’m splitting them over two posts – this one diaries the city as I saw it, from dawn to dark. The next, of course, will have to be about the food.

This was the first time I’d ever walked around Kolkata with a camera. The most wonderful thing about taking photographs in India is how much people want to be photographed. Strangers straightened their clothes, smoothed their hair and asked me to take a picture before I could ask them. I had no use for my Anglicised sense of camera-manners, permissions and privacy.

So this is Kolkata. The city, and its people.

I hope the photographs give you a sense of the place, the pace, the people. It’s where I grew up, where D grew up. It’s where we fell in love. It’s where the people closest to us live. And where we’ll always go back.

38 thoughts on “Strangers straightened their clothes

  1. My favourites, in no particular order: Banshuriya(the flute-man), para'r cricket(Gully Cricket!!),para'r dorji(the neighborhood tailor),and the conductor with the currency notes.
    Kolkata can never give me enough, like you rightly say in your note. Leaves me wanting for more always.
    I was trying to identify a few places through your shots. Couldn't. And felt ignorant.Felt like I am a disloyal lover 😦
    I need to see my city again, and more thoroughly …next time.

  2. I bet you've walked down the very streets you didn't recognise, Sambrita πŸ™‚ Yes, you must take your camera around the city sometime – somehow, you see so much more that way; details I would've otherwise walked by without glancing at.
    I like your list of favourites. Thanks πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks Emma, I really was the best holiday I've had in a while. I'm all pampered-up πŸ™‚
    I'm glad I took you away from the cold for a bit!

  4. Welcome back and thank you for sharing kolkata πŸ™‚ Ma bolchilo eibar khub beshi thanda poreche! Khub darun photo gulo, specially the foggy ones!

  5. I remember Kolkatta like this. I fell in love with the city the moment I landed. It was 6 years ago. Now I see your pics and its a rehash. Nothing's really changed has it! πŸ™‚ I am waiting for your food post now.

  6. Aha… You are back! Welcome back πŸ™‚ I loved reading about how much Chotu-Ma enjoyed her trip. Trampoline like taxi seats indeed πŸ™‚

    And what can I say about your photographs! So much life in every photographs and they speak volumes. The music shop, conductor holding currency notes, cafe in mall, tailor, yellow taxi, praying shopkeeper before opening his shop, candid shot of the man combing his hair, the Christmas lights… And then those foggy morning shots! How beautifully you have captured the life of very lively city, Pia! Loved every bit…

    Thank you for warning us about the next post dedicated to food! I will make sure to eat well before I come to check your post. πŸ˜‰ I know it will not help much (oh puchkas!) but at least I will not faint of sudden hunger pangs πŸ˜€

  7. Ah, then I must take a peek at your blog, and see what you'd been up to in Kolkata!
    Yes, the weather in Cam is just a little bit different πŸ™‚

  8. We ate so much, Anita, that it's taking me forever to sort through the pictures! We created meals where there could be none!
    Glad you enjoyed the city here on the blog – no, nothing much has changed πŸ™‚

  9. I love that you love them, Sia! Yes, Chotto-Ma had a whale of a time. And some day, I'm sure I'll see pictures of LD doing the same, in a different corner of the country :))

    I hope the food series live up to your expectations, and manage to give you the biggest hunger-pangs despite your well-fed tummy πŸ™‚

  10. Oh Pria! This is stunning. It does so many different things to me. At once beautiful, fulfilling, and bittersweet, as I have so many place I miss. Looking at your lovely photos makes me daydream of returns of my own…

    Much love,

  11. You know, the strangest thing is, that I do carry my camera every winter when I visit Kolkata. But every time, manage just about half a day to walk around and shoot, unfortunately. Its not a satiating experience. There is a forest of people I need to meet in that one week..then, the kids..So,I almost struggle with time management πŸ™‚
    This time, almost as a (sweet)revenge, I took an extended week off at Delhi, as soon as I returned from Kolkata, -to enjoy the winter, Dilli style. Did you read my post on that? I would love to have your thoughts on it!

  12. I know Pia… I know that I am going to get hungry inspite of stuffing my tummy πŸ™‚ I just can't wait to see your next post. And you know what? I dreamt of Puchkas early morning. They say that early morning dreams always come true and for once I wish they do… πŸ™‚

  13. Wow, what a great series of images… love the fellow looking over the top of his daily newspaper and the lined up carts and looking down on the tables with patrons…actually they are all so good it's hard to pick only two or three! I'm your newest rss subscriber

  14. I'm such a daydreamer myself, Mina. And that my photos took you away somewhere is the best thing it could've done. Thank you, always, for your lovely words.

  15. It's the city I first landed after my wedding… 17 years passed by the city still looks the same! Pia, your pics are making me want to go back to Kolkata once again:)… First time in your blog, you have a lovely blog!

  16. Swapna, how lovely to have you here πŸ™‚ You're right, the beat of the city hasn't changed much. I hope you visit it again some day; it'll be interesting to know the changes that strike you after 17 years.

  17. Your pictures are so lovely! I just got back from a 3-week trip to Kolkata myself, and it never feels like enough time to see and do everything.

    Looking forward to your post on the food — I couldn't stop eating while I was there, especially the sandesh and mishti doi.

  18. Ishita, my daughter's intake of sandesh might've put yours to shame πŸ™‚ Our three weeks was mostly spent eating, so you can imagine why it's taking me forever to sort through the food photographs!
    It's great to have you here – thanks for writing in πŸ™‚

  19. Lovely photographs from early morn to night. How you captured the yawning and combing guys is still a mystery to me πŸ™‚ I am infinitely conscious about taking my camera to the road. You inspire.
    And so happy chotto ma loved sondesh and phuchka. really phuchka ? My girls lived on ice cream and Momgini's every day.

  20. Never have I seen Calcutta captured so vividly by a normal person! πŸ˜€ You know what i mean… love the way you have focused on the ordinary, the everyday and yet made it stand out! Love the colors, the old world feel, the dilapidated yet picturesque buildings, and the languor that is characteristic of its people πŸ™‚
    Cant wait for the food post now! I love Bengali food…!

  21. Shukno puchka, Sandeepa – she loved the crispiness I think.
    And with the photographs: the man turned and yawned on cue; and it was D who spotted the man on the balcony and said 'Now, there's a subject' πŸ™‚
    Mongini's round cheese breads used to be such a favourite!

  22. The 'normal person' made me laugh out loud, Swati! You flatter me :))
    Thank you for such a lovely summing-up of the post – I love that you love it.
    And '…the languor that is characteristic of its people' indeed. Bengali laziness in other words, but yours is much prettier πŸ˜€

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