INDIA: KOLKATA, LAND OF MY FATHERS
Being in India is like having a relationship with a woman that you know is bad for you, but from whom you just can't escape.
She will treat you badly, abuse you and make you feel small and insignificant. Just when you are about to call it quits, she will do something magical and alluring and, just as you have a thousand times before, you will be sucked right back in.
I am in Kolkata and once again, India has sucked me right back in.
After the delights of Goa, I headed to Bangalore.
I hated it. Unless you work in IT or you have become so wound up calling to buy a train ticket from Skegness to Altringham and having to speak to someone half way around the world that you want to fly over and belt somebody, there is no reason on God’s earth to ever go there.
It has all the problems of noise, pollution and hustling and none of the attractions of many other cities in India. If it had not been for very decent South Indian food, my two or so days there would have been a total wash out.
I was exhausted and fed up with India. I was beginning to think it had worn me out and I was counting the days until I headed home to the UK for a brief hiatus before heading off on the last leg of the EAT MY GLOBE journey to Africa and Europe.
Then, I arrived in Kolkata.
I was greeted by my friend, Vanessa from Ann Arbor, who has come over to hang out with me here and in Darjeeling for the next two weeks, and it certainly lifted my spirits to see a friendly face as I walked into the guesthouse at midnight after a long, delayed flight from Bangalore.
It also lifted my spirits to be in Kolkata, where my father was born and the source of so many of the things that have informed the life of Dos Hermanos.
Nothing quite prepares you for Kolkata. It is India to the power of ten. It is more crowded, more polluted, more humid, more, well more everything.
But, just as I was prepared to quit on India, she dragged me back in. With what? Well, the food, naturally.
First thing this morning, cups of strong Darjeeling tea on the terrace of The Tollygunge club to get things moving and then, a short cab ride to Elgin Road and some of the best traditional Bengali food in the city at Kewpie’s Kitchen, a local institution.
Food from Kolkata is like no other in India. Simple and refined with a relative lack of spices compared to many other states, food for a Bengali goes beyond obsession and probably explains DH’s own deep-rooted interest.
We began with a glass of Aampora Shorbot, a drink made with ripe mango, cumin and black salt. Then followed that with vegetarian thalis.
Mounds of rice came with Dahl, Shukta (a mixed vegetable dish cooked with Panch Phoron) deep fried eggplant, Lau (gourd) cooked with nigella seed, Kofta made with spinach and paneer and tiny eggplant cooked in Doi (yoghurt)
We ate, as I have enjoyed doing for the last three weeks, with our hands and used the fresh luchi the waiters brought to the table to mop up the juices before licking our fingers when the plates were clean.
As if that was not enough to send us rolling from the restaurant, we were then presented with the things for which Kolkata is most famous, its sweets. Here, in Bengal, sweets are a cause of many arguments. Are the Sandesh at K.C Das the best? Who makes the finest Payesh? Sweets are a very serious matter in Kolkata.
Our small plate contained a small Sandesh, a pan to help with our post meal digestion and, best of all a bowl of that most sacred of all Bengali sweets, Misti Doi, a yoghurt dessert so redolent of Kolkata that Bengalis in the diaspora will cry at the very mention of it.
I may not feel this way tomorrow, but for now, Me and India are getting along just fine