Kolkata in 10: Illusions

by Abhishek Mukherjee (text) and Sambit Dattachaudhuri (images)



She sat there, alone in a crowd, confused. She could hear loud voices all around her, buzzing with excitement — voices that fed off others’ happiness.

Today, they were basking in what was supposed to be her happiness. They were having the evening of their lives, and she was supposed to have the same.

Only that she did not.

She could hear her father: or maybe she did not.

No, she could not have. That was preposterous. He’s dead, is he not?

She looked around herself in a helpless frenzy of sorts. Almost all the faces were familiar. She could remember a few of the others as well — albeit very vaguely.

The evening had culminated into the climax they have all been waiting for. She had been waiting for it tool. Or maybe she was not.

Maybe she was.

Kolkata had been harsh this summer. She had been relentless and unforgiving. Even the nights had served no respite. When she had reached the house that morning the first thing she instinctively did was to peek out of the window.

There they were, scattered across the courtyard of the ancient house; they could have been mistaken for a flock of pigeons. They could have been there for generations, sleeping peacefully in the sun when their patrician counterparts shuddered at the very thought of turning the air-conditioners off.

How could they sleep, blissfully unaware of the world around them? She rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands; her sleep-deprived eyes burnt at the touch of her parched skin. She knew that the woman from the parlour would make her look pretty in a matter of a few hours; she would also get rid of the dark circles, and more.

They would not be able to get her back to sleep, though: the blissful sleep of those men, lying in the courtyard, sleeping, oblivious of phrases like “sun-stroke”, without a care for redundant words like “tomorrow”.

It's Sleep, and Worship (600x800)

A year earlier

It has been ages since she had slept properly. She remembered that afternoon only too vividly: it was one of those afternoons when time comes to a halt in her city. The spring afternoon had faded into dusk, almost unnoticed; the waters of The Hooghly were too tranquil for Kolkata to realise that the sun was about to set.

She noticed the toddler. The parents were keeping an eye from a distance. The brother, having just reached the age where he could walk, was trying his level best to put the pram into motion. The little girl did not seem the least bothered. She was probably not old enough to know emotions like  fear.

She wished she had not known fear either.

She wished she had an elder brother.

She wished a lot of things.

It's Children (512x800)


She sat there, staring at the river from her favourite vantage point. There were places around the Hooghly when the cell-phone connections refuse to work irrespective of the service provider. There are rumours that Fort William has a hand in this, but nobody can say for sure.

She drank the serenity with her eyes; she inhaled it, almost swallowed it down with her hands cupped around her mouth. She detested the trill of her cell-phone: she tucked it away safely in one of the inaudible nooks of her handbag, brushed the brown dust off her jeans, and took lazy steps back to what they call humanity.

The men on the boat watched her leave. Then they vanished into the shadows of obscurity.

It's River (800x531)


She walked around her city aimlessly. She sought the calmness of dusk with desperation in her eyes. It was one of those dry spring afternoons where you feel the mildest tinge of cold as the last drop of daylight kisses the city on its way out.

She almost purchased a cigarette.

She took the tram that took her home.

She looked up.

There it was — a monstrous structure of concrete that had taken away, almost brutally, the sky which she had declared herself to be the owner of. She still remembered the day when she had come back from college to learn that they would take away her sky.

And then they started taking it away, bit by bit, day by day.

She made sure her cries were muffled by the pillow every night.

To Expand (531x800)


She took the elevator to the terrace. Kolkata had outgrown herself, trying her level best to catch up with the steadily developing cities all over the country and, as a result, going nowhere. Some office-goers were back after another busy day’s work; others, not as fortunate, had no option but to stay back to attend conference calls from a continent two oceans away. They had to pay off their EMIs.

The incessant motion reminded her of the stagnant waters of the Hooghly she had watched. The yellow taxis ferried the city home in a deafening, seemingly infinite blow of horns. The city had lit up in bright orange, almost golden lights in a feeble effort to match the fire it so sorely missed.

She sighed. Something had scared the city away from her long, long ago.  If only she knew what it was.

The Night (800x547)


She watched evening dissolve into yet another Kolkata night. The terrace was chilly; she remembered the days when her mother would force a monkey-cap down her face despite her vehement protests. She would be ridiculed by her friends, but her mother was adamant.

She used crave for the nights with him: nights of pizzas and massage oil, of unkempt sheets and the musk of sweat, of crumpled shirts and bruised shoulders, of Asterix and Woody Allen. She missed them all.

Nights meant nothing to her anymore.

She hated being alone in her city. It was not music to her anymore. If anything, it was a continuous, seemingly infinite stream of drowning noise with incomprehensible lyrics. It did not soothe her: it made her numb.

Once again she would need a sedative tonight.

It's Music (800x531)


She hated Sundays. Her parents would insist she come over, but she always refused. They hated when she remained grumpy throughout the day, and would try to get her into a false sense of cheeriness.

Staying at home was not an option, either. She could somehow live through Saturday, but how could she survive entire weekends, month in and month out, without him?

They would banter over breakfast, bantering in bed till the grease in their fingers dried out completely. Bathing had to be postponed. Getting out of bed was ruled out till well into the evening.

She removed the curtains, letting sunlight bathe her — their — studio apartment. She had half-expected the sunlight to make her squint, but it was too early in the day for that.

She saw the boy from the ground floor going somewhere with the maid. Maybe the boy, too, would grow up to become an artist, just like him. Or maybe not. She almost hoped they never made anyone like him anymore.

Sunny Paths (800x486)


She turned around, returning to the alcove he had insisted on. She had refused point-blank on the grounds that it looked preposterous, but he was adamant. If he really needed a hole to read in peace, why did it have to be a round one?

But he would not listen to him. She had never come across anyone as obstinate as her man. At times she was irritated by him, but the anger would not last. It was difficult for anyone — anyone — to be annoyed with him.

She kept looking at the alcove till her eyed ached. She suddenly felt a strong urge to clean it with a duster and Colin. He would have laughed at her, mocked her, would have said she suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder — but at least her Sunday had meaning now.

To Relax (600x800)



They draped her in the Banarasi once the beautician was through with her. She looked gorgeous, her mother and cousins and aunts and neighbours said, as did random women whose identities she was clueless about.

She waited for the car to arrive. It was a Honda Civic. She knew the colour, she knew of the add-ons, of the mileage, of strange words like suspender parts – all of which meant nothing to her.

She sighed. She thought of him, his man, of his bright eyes, brightest, that stood out from a faceless continuum of humanity. She longed to see those eyes.

She wanted to be in control of her eyes.

She had to be careful of the mascara.

She wondered whether the man in the Honda Civic would ever get to know of the eyes behind the mascara.

They blew the conch. They sat in separate rooms, and when they were brought together, the two parties, laughing and frolicking to glory, participating in a strange contest that would result in deciding whether the bride could be lifted higher than the groom.

It was supposed to be fun.

It's Weddings (531x800)

She did not dare to open her eyes. What if Honda Civic’s eyes were measured and devoid of all magic? What if he never believed in magic, in the first place?

Why did she even agree to this marriage? Did the psychiatrist not tell her not to rush? Did he not warn her of actions on the rebound?

She knew she had to open her eyes at some point of time. She had dared not look straight into his eyes all these months, but it could not be delayed any further. They will see to it that she did that.

She opened her eyes.

She had not expected wrath or sloth or envy, and gluttony was definitely ruled out. Honda Civic did not believe in the world of pizzas. If there was lust, it was well-disguised.

There was no greed.

There was no pride, either.

And neither was there any magic.

They were blank eyes — as empty as the studio apartment without him — as vacant as the alcove without his books — as barren as not making love to him on the terrace when it rained — as hollow as the heart since he had been cremated — as emotionless as… as… as… as…

Fish (800x512)


Abhishek Mukherjee is a self-proclaimed humorist who fluctuates between 5’9″ in summer and 5’8.5″ in winter. He is overweight, can wolf-whistle, thinks he is a cricket historian and a capable blogger, but is equally inept on both counts. He also has the audacity to tweet despite his aversion towards selfies and cat videos.


Sambit Dattachaudhuri is a young photographer and film student who has studied in Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and Momoyama Gakuin University, Osaka. In addition to photography, film-making, photoblogging and a fair amount of film-obsessing, he has also taught English in Japan to unsuspecting people between the ages of 17 and 65.

Calcutta/Goddess/Intimacies by Sambit Dattachaudhuri

Day 6: Dashami

Almost as though it were a case study, I hovered obsessively around the Bagbazar Sarbojanin Durgotsab. I have forever wondered how they manage to manoeuvre that huge protima out of the pandal and take it for immersion. Now, after several hours and much sweating and rushing, camera in tow, I know. I can also state with some authority, it is something that everyone should experience. Preceded by about 50 people from various band parties, and a bulldozer which moved trees (sorry tree huggers, for that!) the protima made its way towards Shyambazar Mod, and slowly and steadily to the bigger ghat, abandoning its own tiny ghat. There were thousands of people on the street, in front and behind the protima. Ocassionally the people in front would have to dodge flying batashas being thrown at them as prasad by the people standing in front of the protima!

Here is a photographic recapitulation of the entire affair:

Heading to the ghat after shindur khela

Heading to the ghat after shindur khela

The gigantic Bagbazar protima being taken out.

The gigantic Bagbazar protima being taken out.



Slowly Down The Streets

Slowly Down The Streets

The Men Who Know The Latest Songs

The Men Who Know The Latest Songs

The Youngest Player

The Youngest Player

Goodbye Goddess

Goodbye Goddess

The Long Haul

The Long Haul

Calcutta/Goddess/Intimacies by Sambit Dattachaudhuri

Day 5: Nabami


I’ve stuck to the Nabami Aroti as a theme today because I love aroti!

The Men Who Unloose Frenzy (Dhaakis Waiting for Arati to Begin)

The Men Who Unloose Frenzy
(Dhaakis Waiting for Arati to Begin)

Attack of the Aunties (IB Block, Salt Lake)

Attack of the Aunties
(IB Block, Salt Lake)

The aunties of my para await the morning anjali.

Morning Aroti  (IB Block, Salt Lake)

Morning Aroti
(IB Block, Salt Lake)

Evening Aroti - 1

Evening Aroti – 1

Evening Aroti - 2 (Durgabari)

Evening Aroti – 2

Calcutta/Goddess/Intimacies by Sambit Dattachaudhuri

Day 4: Ashtami
Rouge With A Flash of Gold

Rouge With A Flash of Gold

Junta Under Lighting (One of the many thousand gullis in North Calcutta)

Junta Under Lighting
(One of the many thousand gullis in North Calcutta)

 Shibmandir was by far the most crowded pujo I’ve been to this year. There were giant fairy like beings on the walls like the one shown here.

Psychedelic-3 (Shibmandir)


A small pujo beside the Kalighat temple. There’s a cat in this photograph. Find it!

The One With the Cat (Kalighat)

The One With the Cat

Gandharvas Watching (Or So I Think)

Gandharvas Gazing
(Or So I Think)

The reputation of Bosepukur Talbagan in Calcutta is like that of those legendary good students who invariably ‘rank’ in class! This year, too, they have excelled. The gandharvas watch over from the ceiling.

Calcutta/Goddess/Intimacies by Sambit Dattachaudhuri

Day 2: Shosthi

North Calcutta

Sometimes She Steps Down From the Heights (Kumartuli Sarbojanin)

Sometimes She Steps Down From the Heights
(Kumartuli Sarbojanin)

This Durga protima in front of the actual protima looked like an actual person with all the lights!

Goddess-Muse/ Muse-Goddess Or How To Paint in Blue and White and Gold (Sikdar Bagan)

Goddess-Muse/ Muse-Goddess
Or How To Paint in Blue and White and Gold
(Sikdar Bagan)

This is the work of Sanatan Dinda. Wonderful is an understatement. The photo on the left is not a panel. It is one photo with small lanterns on the roof.

Peshawari Durga (Next to Sikdar Bagan)

Peshawari Durga
(Next to Sikdar Bagan)

‘Rushes truck, road in heart/ Take in eyefuls of art.’

This pandal has based its art on the truck paintings of Pakistan. The the truck drivers, mostly Pathans, have evolved a unique language and style in their work. The most radical thing about this whole practice was that one didn’t have to go anywhere to sample this; the truck would hoosh past them while people were at home or in the field, leaving in the air, a dizzying splash of colours.

Mahishasura and the Priest (Kumartuli)

Mahishasura and the Priest

DizzyEyedOne (Manicktala Chaltabagan)

(Manicktala Chaltabagan)