They are many who will treat 24 August as the city’s birthday because that was the day in 1690 when Job Charnock, arriving by ship,had set foot on the land that grew to become Calcutta. Others dispute that claim because they believe that the city has a history that dates back to a more distant past. How many people today would be concerned about the conflicting claims? Perhaps more to the point is the nostalgia that strikes every year about facets of life that are virtually forgotten.No one would expect to be drawn in horse-drawn carriages down Park Street. Nor would one expect a paan-chewing babu, after an early lunch of rice and fish curry,to walk into his workplace dressed in a dhoti and shirt with rolled-up sleeves.
There are other sections of society that have film-related experiences that have disappeared from contemporary life. How many can forget the tension of queueing up for a first-day-firstshow ticket to a Suchitra-Uttam film two days before the opening? Equally exciting was the ritual of going around desperately for a seat in the gallery to witness arch rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan trying to score that last minute goal that would determine whether prawn or hilsa will sell more the following day.
There are so many attachments that have left a lasting impact. The radio was a constant source of entertainment and enlightenment.Whether it was Anurodher Asar on Sunday afternoon, Mahila Mahal on Friday or the weekly Rabindrasangeet lessons by Pankaj Kumar Mallick, listening to the radio was more than a pastime; it was a passion that eroded with the arrival of audio-visual excitement and eventually with the digital revolution.
But one can’t forget the eagerness with which thousands waited for the Puja songs of Hemanta Mukherjee, Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukherjee,Manabendra Mukherjee and Geeta Dutt. It is difficult to believe that the ritual of flying kites on Viswakarma Puja or the ceremonial expression of respect for elders after Bijoya Dashami would be threatened by the economic pressures that have increased the distance between members of the family. That distance is partly bridged by modern means of communication.But that can hardly compensate for a warm hug or the pleasure of homemade delicacies or elders taking the children out to buy new clothes and shoes for the coming festival. The pavements are still crammed with young shoppers and greetings are still exchanged on the mobile. It is part of a cultural revival that has all but wiped out the past. But, amidst the celebrations on what is regarded as the city’s birthday, there could be a nagging thought on all that is sadly missed.