Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

The newspaper men in Calcutta March 20, 2021

I immediately noticed them when I first came to Calcutta, and never stopped doing so: The newspaper men. To me, they are men reading newspapers on the streets, in their stalls, sitting on stools and chairs, leaning onto railings, or whatever comes their way, at bus stops – simply everywhere. Yes, there are people hunched over cellphones like everywhere else in the world, but more noticeably are those who fold out broadsheets or the likes.

“Asia’s first newspaper started in Calcutta,” says Soham Chakrabarty, founder of Calcutta Capsule. “The Hicky’s Bengal Gazette (1780) was published for two years before The East India Company seized the newspaper’s printing press. Calcutta was once home to a lot of newspapers, and some of today’s newspapers are more than a hundred years old, like The Statesman.”

A quiet moment …

While Delhi, with its grand monuments, is the capital of India, and Mumbai the financial hub, Calcutta is often seen as the cultural capital of India marked by art, literature, science, politics and journalism. Bengal, especially Calcutta, was the cradle of journalism in India and till the 1880’s the main hub of newspaper publication.

“Newspapers acted as a medium to reach out to the common crowd,” says Soham. “The independence movement, but also other political issues, included a lot of newspapers through which freedom fighters and activists voiced their opinions.”

Another quiet moment at Howrah Bridge.

Till this date I haven’t seen a single woman reading a newspaper on the streets of Calcutta. Nor are there many female street vendors.
 “The streets of Calcutta are a man’s world” says Soham. “Common culture be it, or whatever reason, do not make it comfortable for women to spend too much time on the streets hence you don’t see them reading newspapers. Whereas a lot of men do spend time on the streets, sometimes for no obvious reason, where they see it fit to read newspapers. Both my grandmothers had habits of reading newspapers. They were homemakers, but always found time to newspapers within the premises of their house.”

As I go through my Calcutta photos it comes as no surprise that the men reading newspapers aren’t exactly the young generation, rather middle-aged men who, like myself, finds pleasure in something that is about to become an anachronism. And the day I was about to finish this blog post, the newspapers didn’t show up in my mailbox on a Saturday morning; the prime newspaper day of the week. A tablet was put on the table, but no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t able to digest the electronic news together with bread and butter.
[END of story, more photos below]

My Calcutta Man!
 

At Mullick Ghat March 28, 2019

Jumping off the bus that took us to Howrah Bridge, I didn’t know that Calcutta was about to attack my senses. The Mullick Ghat wholesale flower market swallowed us into its odorous frantic belly, and held us in a firm grip until it was time to leave.

We first entered via a narrow footbridge where people – mostly men – were brushing past in both directions; fast and furious, shouting unknown words. There was no gallantry, only a determined rush! So big was the shock that when a faceless man grabbed me – not by the pussy to quote ‘the boss’ of America – but somewhere else one doesn’t like to be grabbed by a stranger, I didn’t raise even a mental brow. The act seemed to belong to the show. I sped forward and grabbed Soham, my guide, by his shirt telling him not to let me out of sight.

Go with the flow, I reassured myself. I was pushed and squeezed from side to side, back and forth, as I made an effort to cross the bridge unharmed. Then we hit the ground and ducked into a maze of alleyways. There was a continuous movement of men speeding through the market, some with flowers on their heads, or on their shoulders, it was like a rough sea. I embraced my bag; what if somebody stole my money, my cell phone – or grabbed my camera. But they wouldn’t have time for that, would they? f

The vendors sat mostly on the ground, some on a dais. It struck me that they looked like birds in nests of flowers. I pointed my camera this way and that, but I felt in the way, I was disturbing somebody’s working day. My photos got blurry because of all the locomotion and every second time I pressed the shutter somebody walked into my picture; they became cluttered with odd limbs and half faces. My strategy is all wrong, I thought.

The early morning had felt so cool and fresh when Soham and I had crossed the Maidan from where we jumped on the bus, now it was hot and humid. “Mind the mud,” he warned and stepped aside in front of me. I hadn’t noticed, but now felt my sandals slip continuously as we meandered past the many-coloured flowers of species I couldn’t always name.

We entered another vantage point to watch the spectacle from above. The millions of orange and yellow marigolds shone towards us, from enormous sacks on the ground or from vendors’ heads. The garlands were slung over their backs like a bunch of snakes, those on the path looked like sparkling coils. In between, shreds of newspaper littered what was left of open space.

Suddenly, a big truck rumbled into the area. In slow motion, the crowd parted and gave way to the intruder who claimed its right and no one seemed to blame him. The truck looked like an enormous animal from a bygone time amongst the people and the flowers which now looked small from above.
“You might think it is all chaos,” said Soham, “but it’s not. Every one knows their place, what to do and where to go.”
        I did believe him.


We left the market and walked into open space, to the beach below the iconic Howrah Bridge where we watched more work in progress, although in a slower motion. Men, and now also women, stuffed big sacks with leaves. Up on the bridge, I could see people walking on the footpath, millions a day, I had read somewhere. My eyes eventually rested on Hooghly river, its traffic had just about come to life.

It was the most amazing start of the day!

#calcuttacapsule

https://bestwalksofkolkata.wixsite.com/calcuttacapsule