Monday, 15 October 2012

I love this city.

We are reaching the time in October where there are more days off work than on; there are an abundance of Bengali + Hindi festivals and pujas (worship), the largest of them beginning next weekend - Durga Puja, which lasts for multiple days.

During this time I honestly have no idea what to expect! I am told different things with each person I ask, but I have been encouraged to go out at least one of the nights to have a look around and experience one of the largest cultural festivals I will encounter while I am here... Durga Puja is like Christmas to Westerners, so it is a huge deal.
On Saturday Emma took me to a local market to buy more yarn for my knitting, and while we were walking about, there was a notable atmosphere of anticipation, and there were many items and objects being sold for the celebration. The one that intrigued me the most was dresses upon dresses of mini traditional West Bengali-wear, to dress the idols that the Hindu believers hold in their homes.

I am told to expect that there will be difficulties when it comes to attempts at sleep during the upcoming Puja, as there will be loud music, drums, large, noisy worshiping crowds, and fireworks (that sound like bombs going off!).
The metro will be opening late in the day, and running to around 4am to get late-night worshipers home etc.

I know that I am going to take the opportunity to go out with a few friends to have a little peek at the goings-on, as I am sure my curiosity will get the better of me; but for the most part I am planning on spending my time knitting, baking, and resting, (I'm such a nana).

Here are a few photos from my week: baking lemon curd,  exploring new streets of Kolkata, watching the fim Barfi for the second time in a beautiful old theatre (4th photo down), and taking photos of our local grocery guys - the sweetest men we have met here. They treat us to cha, give us extra kismis (raisins), act a bit cheeky, and always greet us with a smile.

This week we were invited over to our neighbours for brownies, fruit salad, cha, and doi (yoghurt), and we sat around talking about some of the histories behind Kolkata, and it just completely opened my eyes to how deeply rooted the culture is, and how certain things came about.

The man who is regarded to have founded this city (debated) began it not far from where we live, and his tomb is also quite near; from what we were told, this man (Job Charnock) was mocked for his idea of building in this area, but he made money off passing boats by slinging a chain across the Hooghly River, and charging the right to pass.

We also learnt a great deal about the men and women who construct the giant idols for festivals such as Durga Puja (they have been working like crazy lately to get them all finished), and their community is of the caste of 'Dom', the people who historically have dealt with the dead - and are quite low in the caste systems. But as it goes (don't quote me on it), there were too many of their people, but not a high number of dead to be dealt with, so they were given the opportunity to work in the business of making these bamboo sculptures (which are a work of art!).

In this area (the Dom work right outside Freeset) there used to be a large slum, but Queen Elizabeth paid to have a few apartment buildings built to house them. When the British still ruled India, this district was where the Brits would come to be entertained by female dancers, and as time went on, it slowly began to form the sex-district we know today as Sonagachi.

Pretty interesting huh? I was super intrigued, and I am going to make sure I invite myself over again to learn more and more!

Having learned about many more historical sites around this city, I am inspired to go venturing out, now that the temperatures are cooling.

This city continues to amaze me.


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