Calcutta : Two Years in the city by Amit Chaudhuri

Calcutta : Two Years in the city by Amit ChaudhuriJust after this book was released, I heard Amit Chaudhury talk about his years in Calcutta, first when he used to spend his childhood vacations and then when he stayed there for two years. I got fascinated and bought the book. He beautifully describes his two years (2009-2011) in the city, after living in Bombay and London, in first person.

Not only has he mentioned about the famous places of Calcutta like the Park Street, Flurys, New Market, Mocambo, Oxford Book Store, the clubs and Melody, he has also touched on various topics like the homeless, the migrants from adjoining states, the domestic helps, watchmen and people who run small establishments like Ramayan Shah of Chandan Hotel on Free School Street. He talks about the lengths at which he went to purchase a Green French Window (karkharis) from a derelict house. In one of the chapters, he has mentioned about the political scenario in the city. In High Tea, he talks about the lives of Samir and Anita Mukherjee and the exquisite sandwiches they serve at high tea. In Italians Abroad, a chef tells him, “The Indians want things prepared in their way. It was too much for the Italians to take. It drove them mad”, which is an exact description of a chef at a restaurant being told how to cook a particular thing.

I particularly liked Study Leave possibly because it had described Durga Puja and its preparations in the paras, and the stories that surround the Puja. He even mentions about his family, how he wants his daughter to have a Calcutta childhood. He has very beautifully described the bond between the grandfather and the granddaughter.

The green French windows are so Calcutta. His description of Park Street, Flurys, New Market made me feel very nostalgic. I remembered Flury’s (famous confectionery on Park Street) pastries, the Chinese shoe shops in New Market and bookstores on College Street.

The simple language that he has used in the book has made it more interesting. His use of words like Ingabanga (Anglo-Bengalis), Marwaris, bhadralok, conti (continental), makes the book more interesting. Using suffixes like da and di, in the traditional way, makes us relate to the characters more. Bengali terms like keu ache, mojor chehra, have made it more enjoyable.

There are parts of the book that I liked much and at places felt that he was very cynical about certain things. More like a thesis. Overall, a nice book, but the icing on the cake is the cover, the pink colour is very attractive, it actually makes anyone pick the book off a shelf and read it.

Book Source: Bought
Publisher: Penguin

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