Kolkata is made up of numerous qarters, each of which is distinct. The south Indian quarter, the old quarter, the book quarter … you get the picture. People have come from all over India to populate Kolkata and generally settled with people from their own community so you can go to particular areas to sample various regional cuisine. Tonight we went to the South Indian quarter and had masala dosa and idle (pronounced idlie) which was particularly good. I am staying at Golpark which is near to the market area where the streets are strung with market stalls full of kurti (blouses), jewellery, throws and shoes. I have no idea how many kurti there are in Kolkata, but it is quite a few! The streets in this area area packed with people weaving through and around the stalls in the steamy heat, to the sound of car horns. The intersection is a huge and terryfying roundabout with the Rama Krishna mission sitting in an orderly manner on one ‘corner’ and a riot of shops, stalls and street food sellers on the other sides.
Two days ago Ronita took me to the old quarter where we visted her friend in her home which is one of the traditional old family homes in Kolkata. We visited because they were holding a puja (religious festival) and so we saw a little of that and I was shown the house. It is actually seven buildings joined together, occupied by the extended family. Built around a very large courtyard, open to the sky, each floor is galleried with rooms leading from the gallery so that family members have a small suite of rooms to themselves but otherwise live communally. The gallery has a view into the central courtyard of course. The building was beautiful, with oranate railings around the gallery and spiral staircases and small corridors leading maze like in every direction. It is currently occupied by 70 people but apparently in the last generation there were 200. As every where else as people go to uni and get careers the number of offspring is falling sothe future of this lifestyle is not clear. The pujas that this family hold are famous through out the city so I was lucky to see it.
Puja – in which Shiva pushes his luck with his wife by demanding food rudely and brings about famine across the land as well as disillusionment with the gods. Here he is begging her to start providing food again – at the behest of his fellow gods who are not best amused.