It is all the same. The roads, the tram tracks, the crowd, the
elbowing of people. The same red double-decker buses, the same long
trams. The same picture of people in front of you, behind you, and on
both sides of you. They are all walking on the sidewalks. Some of
them are wearing kurtas. Some wearing shirts. Some have sandals on
their feet. Some have shoes. No one is stopping even for a second.
No one waiting either. Everyone has moving feet. Feet go up. Feet
Here the sidewalks are crowded. The streets are crowded. The buses
are crowded. The stores are crowded. This is Calcutta. At least so
it would seem if you look around. The signboards of the stores say so
as well. There is no room for error. The same streets, the same
shops. The stores have the same names: 'Madhab Cycle Stores', 'New
Pharmacy', 'Durga Textiles', 'Beats and Tunes', 'Leather House'. Then
there is 'Choudhuri Studio', 'Bishram'. Purabi cinema hall. Aruna
cinema hall. The same 'Sraddhanondo Park', with a huge cage in it,
and two peacocks inside the cage.
This is Calcutta. And therefore the name of this street is 'Surjo Sen
Street'. And, if this is Surjo Sen Street, then there must be a
College Street nearby. And if College Street is there, there must be
a College Row. If College Row is there, there must be a house on it
with the number 27G. And if the house is there, it must be three
storeyed. And if it is indeed three-storeyed, then who lives there on
the second floor? It must be Rani. I will go meet Rani. I will talk
to her. I will kiss her. I haven't seen Rani in a long time.
I come across a barber shop on my way. The name of the shop is
'Chittaranjan Hair Cutting Saloon'. The owner's name is Rabi. He has
a long face. He smokes incessantly. I have had hair cuts in this
shop on many occasions. I have had my beard shaved. Next to it is a
convenience store. And after that, there is the Jubilee School. That
was its name some time ago. Now it has been turned into a college.
After a few more steps, I see Kanai Dhar Lane. And after that,
Ramkanta Mistri Lane. Then I see Nadia Shawl Repairing House. There
is a paan-store next to it. Pushkar is standing in front of that
store. He looks the same: a hand-woven cotton kurta, dhoti, glasses
with a black frame, and an abundance of hair on his head.
Pushkar does not look at me. He stashes the paan in his mouth and
I cannot see Pushkar any more. He is lost in the crowd.
I cross the street. Just at this time, a bomb explodes. The entire
street starts shaking. Everyone starts running. The entire area
becomes deserted. The stores pull down their shutters. I run and
enter the Lakhmi Cabin. Just at the that time, someone shuts the main
door. There are a lot of people inside.
A little later, a police van arrives on the street. The door of the
van opens and a sergeant gets down. He carries a revolver. A few
constables get down from the van.
They have rifles in their hands. They start running around. They
catch two young men. They put them into the police van. Then they
drive towards College Street.
This is Calcutta to the tee. The same old Calcutta. After a little
while, everything will become normal. The stores will open. People
will flood the streets. And this is exactly what begins to happen.
In ten minutes, the stores start opening. People start walking on the
street. The gate of Lakshmi Cabin opens. I come out.
If I walk straight on this road, I will reach College Street. There
is the Medical College on one end of it. On the other end, there is a
Bata shoe store. There is the University on one side of it, and the
swimming pool on the other. Presidency College on one hand. Coffee
House on the other.
I walk on Surjo Sen Street. There are tall buildings on both sides of
the road. Some are three storeyed. Some are five storeyed. There is
no seven storeyed building. The buildings have different colors.
Some are white. Some are yellow. Some are pink. One does not
resemble another. The windows are open in all houses. Some windows
have colored curtains. All houses have stores in the ground floor.
Convenience stores, pharmacies, tea stalls, paan stalls, cigarette
stores. I know these stores. I know all of them. There, I can see
the swimming pool. And this is Bankim Chatterji Street. Here, there
are cloth stores one after another, and a handful of customers in each
Everything is in order. Exactly where they should be. Nothing has
changed. I walk into Bankim Chatterji Street. This is the way I
should take. First I will go to Coffee House. I will not go
upstairs. I will just pass by the front of the building. I will
check if Coffee House is carrying on as usual. I will check if my
friends are around that building. And then I will go to Rani.
Bankim Chatterji Street has cloth stores on one side and bookstores on
the other. One book store after another. They are interrupted only
by a store that sells fruit juice. Rani and I have visited that juice
store many times. A little later, there is the Visva-Bharati
bookstore. I once bought a Gitabitan for Rani from there.
The same man is attending the counter still. His hair has greyed.
I encounter the bookstore called Manisha. Radical Book Club after
that. I see Kalpataru's betel-leaf shop. University Institute. The
same iron gate of the building. The same champa tree by the
side of the gate. A few flowers lie strewn on the ground. I do not
pick up any of them. I turn left. I step down from the sidewalk. I
start walking on the pavement by the road. I see Surajmal Nagarmal's
house to my right. On the left, there is Bhagabati Girls' School.
Sanskrit College. Hindu school. Then I see College Street in front
of me. There is a bus stop. Crowded. A double-decker bus comes from
the north. A number of people get down from the bus. Ashis is one of
"Ashis!" I call out.
Where's Ashis? He is nowhere to be seen. There is no one. The
double-decker bus has left. The bus stop is empty.
The boundary wall of Hindu School is to my left. On my right, there
is the Coffee House. On the ground floor of that building, there is
Ismail's cigarette stall. I cross the street and buy a cigarette. I
decide not to go upstairs. If I do, I will be late. I might not be
able to see Rani.
I light the cigarette from the fire at the end of a rope. Just at
that instant, Shekhar walks past me. Ashoke walks past me. Achintya
walks past me.
I raise my hand and call them. No one hears my voice. I call again.
No one looks in my direction. They stand at the bus stop and talk
among themselves. They laugh. I start walking towards them. But
they hail a taxi and leave.
I start walking down College Street. I go past Kamala Book Depot and
DasGupta and reach the Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing. I look carefully
on both sides and cross the street. There is Patiram's Book Stall in
front of me. There are lots of books in the stall. And various kinds
of magazines. Paresh is leafing through a magazine. I stand by his
side. Paresh cannot see me. I poke him with my elbow. He moves to
the side. He does not look at me. I keep standing. I pick up a
book. Paresh puts down the magazine. I put down my book as well.
Paresh starts walking towards Coffee House. I am not mistaken. He is
not tall. He has thin hair on his head. Blunt nose. A black mark on
one arm. I do not feel like calling Paresh again.
A few steps after Patiram's Book Stall, there is an alley to the
right. I reach the alley. I turn into it. This is College Row. I
keep walking and reach the building numbered 27G. The three-storeyed
house, as expected. A calling bell on the door. The corner room on
the second floor.
I ring the door-bell.
Rani comes and opens the door. The same tresses. The same eyes. The
same nose. The same cheeks.
"Who are you looking for?"
I am startled. I cannot speak. I stand there, silently.
"Who are you looking for?"
I realize that I am mistaken.
"Is Rani there?"
"No one lives here by that name."
The door closes before me. I do not wait. I come back to College
Street to start again. I see trams and buses, stranded. The street
is bustling. What's that sound? There's a long procession coming
from the north. The people in it are carrying red flags.
There are exactly similar processions in Calcutta. The people in
those processions carry red flags as well.
Published in Parabaas, January 2016.