|Copyright: Sushobhan Mukherjee (mentioned in the picture as well)|
How have you been, Kolkata? It has been ages since I have written to you. In fact, it has probably been a year. It was the first year of my life that I had spent away from home at a stretch, though we have met four times in the process.
Unfortunately, we did not meet last February. Neither will we meet this month. Maybe we will never meet in February — that time of the year when you are at your prettiest, sexiest, and sultriest (“sultriest” is a word; MS Word does not underline it in red).
Let us get back to February. I missed the Book Fair the way I did in 1999, 2012, and 2014 — and they remain the only three years. But then, the Book Fair does not count: I have immensely helpful friends who are kind enough to send me what I need.
You count, Kolkata. You still count.
A year in exile, especially at this age, made me think deeply: what would I miss out on if I settle down away in another city? Why did I condition myself to be with you when I grew up?
Was it family? Perhaps. Would I have felt bad if my family was with me at Navi Mumbai? I cannot answer that question.
Do people not settle down outside the blue-and-white monster that Kolkata is threatening to become?
It cannot be about talking in Bengali. Telephone service providers are reducing rates drastically. Internet and social media are bringing the world closer with every passing day. Conversing in Bengali is not an issue anymore.
What, then? What was it? Did I even crave to return to the city anymore — the city immune to progress? Did I?
My father called one day, about a fortnight back. He did not sound right. He had a sore throat. It was that time of the year in Kolkata when cannot make up your mind between keeping the fan switched on or otherwise every night. If the fan is “on”, you need a sheet; if you do not, you cannot sleep.
He had tried one of those combinations. It did not work. The irreparable damage had been done. He was a victim of “season change”, or, in other words, Kolkata February — the greatest city-and-month combination that has ever existed.
February in Kolkata makes you feel small, very small. You feel torn between summer and winter, both forcing you, trying to convert you to their “team”. Winter had taken control, but with summer joining the fray, the battle is intense.
Whose side will you take?
The first droplets of sweat of the year run on your back on a sunny afternoon. Summer wins.
The sweat leaves a mild chilly feeling once it dries out, the breeze magically making its way through the t-shirt. Winter wins.
Who do you support?
Fan or no fan? Sheet or no sheet? How does one choose?
Walking to the market with the gale of the ruthless mornings making your cheeks raw. Sunny mornings that kiss your cheeks to bring them back to life after a cold night. How does one choose?
You are torn.
Winter wants to desert you. Summer wants to be welcomed.
Winter refuses to go.
Winter refuses to make way for summer.
You are caught in between.
And you enjoy both. And you inhale February. Kolkata February. You inhale the aroma of unknown flowers and of bed-sheets soaked in afternoon sun and of peas kochuris; you inhale the innocence of a teenage boy trying to show off in front of a girl in a yellow saree on Saraswati Pujo morning.
Maybe they will end up in a relationship in five years. Maybe they will end up with others, and have a good laugh with each other twenty years from now. I do not know what will happen to them. What I know, however, is that a Kolkata February is about that coy smile.
Kolkata February is childhood. It is about memories of not being brave enough to approach your first crush, about blushing when she walks past you, about trying to muster courage to talk to her, about stammering when she talks to you on her own.
They took away my sky and my park and my wide footpaths and Phantom cigarettes and Gold Spot and Johnny Sokko.
They could not take my Kolkata February away, and I am certainly not going to allow them that.
I have to come back to you. You will embrace me, won’t you, the way you do every time? Give me time, some time…