The only person to possibly have witnessed the Japanese bombing of Calcutta (Kolkata) during WWII were my paternal grandparents. I have never seen my maternal grandparents thus never would know their version of the history. My grandmother was a born storyteller, a prolific writer she had the finesse to tell stories and she told it in a way which would surely attract anyone especially a 10-year-old boy which was me. My grandfather was on the other had a man of few words and would be busy in his own world writing diaries and listening to radio something which he continued to do even when cable television had arrived and continued until his death.
Of all the stories that my grandmother would tell me the stories of war would interest me the most. She would tell us about how the windows were all covered up with newspapers to prevent light getting out during an air raid and how the street lights were all covered up from the top so that the lights would not show up skywards. There were also air raid shelters dug up in our locality and all the people would rush to them once the air raid siren would set off.
My first tryst with French Food happened during my trip to Senegal which is in Western Africa a predominantly French Africa. On a trip to St. Louis, I managed to try out some fantastic fish and other varieties of classic French cuisine. The memory of French cuisine was reignited once more last weekend when I was invited to be a part of Gout de France or I should say French food festival in Kolkata.
I was invited by The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel at their restaurant The Legacy Grill in Kolkata to be a part of a special evening celebrating French food what I was not aware was that the consul general of France in Kolkata Mr. Damien Syed would be a special invitee.
For a thirteen-year-old belonging from a typical middle-class family walking into a five star (so called) hotel can be a harrowing experience. Usually, five stars meant shower caps, miniature soaps and some lotions which were always a part of gifts when my father returned from a tour or some relative came to meet our family. Forget staying for a night even a meal was out of the question. So finally when I was entering Great Eastern Hotel to attend an audio cassette launch from my father’s organisation it was both a celebration as well as a bunch of unfulfilled expectation.
Great Eastern Hotel for me was like what we associate Harrods of London. It was much more than just a hotel but a shopping destination for many. From Queen Elizabeth II, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain and many other luminaries it was my turn to step into the “Jewel of the East”.
It’s 2 AM in the morning and the bus rolls down the highway crossing Vidyasagar Setu towards Satragachi, our bus driver Sydney, as the name suggest is half Australian and yes it’s his real name drives to our next destination. A big “thud” and Sydney slams the brake to a stop. “Tyre Puncture” he exclaims creating the perfect climax to the night Kolkata Heritage Night Bus Tour.
This is not how it all started but let me wind back 12 hours exactly, returning back from office I chanced upon Anthony who asked me to accompany him for the very first Kolkata Heritage Night Bus Tour – exploring the heritage of Kolkata on a bus at night. I have been to quite a few heritage locations around the town and also been to many of the Ghost Walks but never ever been to any night bus tour. This was something I would never want to miss.
Self-possessions are always undermined and other’s possessions seem better, this proverb best suits our thoughts when it comes to heritage in our own city of Kolkata. The name might have changed from Calcutta to Kolkata but it’s the heritage that speaks volumes. I have been doing heritage photography and blogging for some time now but never had ever gone through my own city’s heritage, probably it might be ignorance or may be a bit of laziness on my part to go for a walking tour around the city.