Thursday, July 12, 2007

Change Agents

Reading this account of the demise of an old fashioned mishtana bhandar (literally the sweetmeats cornucopia) in Kolkata made me wonder what I would notice gone for good. It has been more than four years since I was there and it may be a while before a trip home happens.

Coming back to Calcutta from elsewhere in India used to a comforting experience until the early 90s - you were never taken aback by change and transformation. The construction work for Metro Rail had been a work in progress for decades. On the way to South Calcutta to my grandmother's house, Rashbehari Avenue was full of construction detritus, makeshift dwellings of the workers, mounds of earth and huge puddles of water. The cobble-stoned road and the lane leading to my grandmother's house had been the same for over a hundred years.

Time flowed at a slower pace the moment you got off the train at Howrah Station. You felt sorry for Calcutta's death and decay as you watched other cities around India prosper and flourish. Yet, here was one place that always remained faithful to your memories. The mishtana bhandar, the fish markets, the hand-drawn rickshaws and the pan shop stayed unravaged by the passage of time. You saw Haru, the proprietor of the corner grocery store that sold a little bit of everything, go from a youth in his twenties to a graying man in his forties. That was the only sign of time's flow all else stood still.

Apparently, Kolkata is no longer immune to change. The first sign was the completion of the Metro project. No one thought it would see light of day but in the end it did. Then came the fancy bridge and some random bypasses and fly-overs. No big deal in the life of any "real" city but then one expects so little of and from Calcutta that every baby step calls for celebration.

Now the bastion of Bongness, the ubiquitous mishtana bhandar is under assault from the forces of globalization. They will be missed only by those of us who have memories eating piping hot singara and jilipi on a rainy evening, the air thick with the aroma of spices, ghee and boiling milk mingling in exuberant confusion.

Mishti is not quite as popular with today’s kids they prefer Monginis fare - an attestation to changing times and tastes. It comes as no surprise when my friend Mita, who has a masters in music from Rabindra Bharati University, tells me that the younger generation does not care for Rabindrasangeet either.


shampa said...

adding to the facelift are those swanky malls with exorbitantly priced merchandise and groceries....the latter didn't do very well....imagine a bong buying hilsa off the frozen rack....hahaha

Heartcrossings said...

Shampa - It would be a cold day in hell before a bong bhadralok stooped so low as to buy Hilsa from a frozen rack :)