Bengali Bonhomie. Kolkata Kindness.

Kolkata. Take 2. It’s grand to revisit but especially when a city has captured your heart.

There’s something about Kolkata. The place. The people. The joie-de-vivre. The haunting smells of cardamom, rose, garlic, onions and incense. The bite of chilli to your eyes. The constant squawking crow-chatter with their balletic swoops hither and thither.
We ask ourselves what is different. What makes this place so special.
The incredible, crumbling beauty of the city. One can well see how at a time this was the second city in the British Empire. 
The Bengalis.
Their pride without superiority. Their intrinsic warmth – laid-back, but not like the South of India.
It’s like we all share a great big joke. The smiles on faces. The twinkling eyes. The curiosity about foreigners. The warmth of welcome.
The culture of literature, the arts, filmmaking that pervades the air. Where so many people like a chat, philosophy, politics, religion, good places to eat, Bengali specialities to try.
Today Bill stopped for a chai at a tiny stall in B. B. D. Bagh. It always comes pre-sugared so I demurred. The chai-wallah asked me and so I explained. He then went to the trouble of making a separate non-sugared pot for me (much to the amusement of all his customers). When Bill went to pay he offered our teas – a warm welcome to Kolkata.
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Just this very minute I was walking down the street next to ours and stopped to admire a kite a young man was holding.  “ Nice kite” I said, “ It is a present for you” he replied.  This is not unusual or atypical in any way.  The people here simply have warm and loving hearts, kindness is second nature to them.
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All of India is a warm, friendly, ever-smiling place…people going out of their way to direct, advise, help and protect us – but we both have a soft spot for Kolkata.

We’re traveling this vast and wondrous country – each town surprisingly different from the last – but our thoughts keep returning to the place that feels like home – the delicious cups of chai at five o’clock, the corners, shelves, bookcases filled with objets that appeal,

delight and intrigue, the warm welcoming kitchen with its batterie of pots and pans and plants and spices, the film posters and family photos that adorn the walls, but most of all our hosts, our friends – Keya and Rono.l

As one gets older and grumpier it’s rare to walk into a place and find kindred spirits, shared childhood experiences, jokes that click and songs that reverberate with the same intensity in our memories- more unusual too to find these soul- mates far away from the familiarity of Oz.

Our Oasis of calm in the fabulous helter-skelter that is Kolkata is the AirBnB hosted by Keya and Rono.

We gaily tripped up the three flights of stairs each day, knowing that we’d be welcomed home with hot cups of chai, or we’d share G & Ts over fascinating conversation and delicious food.

Keya, a publisher, writer (her racy female detective, Paakhi Bose, in Women Can Like it Too

was captivating and feisty (like her author) and we wished there was a whole series to continue reading), has first-hand experience having been that rare thing – a female detective in India herself. She has a vast knowledge of literature and so we found it hard to meet our usual geriatric bedtime curfew – so engrossed were we in her insights and views.

 

Rono left advertising to concentrate on documentary film-making. We bonded over his doco on his old Alma Mater, as it was run by a group of Australian Jesuits. (Keya had had nuns at her school.) Religious orders whether in India or Australia are the same it is obvious.

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Rono now does impassioned documentaries on ecological and historical issues. His knowledge of film is great and once again there were late-night film-forums hard to tear ourselves away from.

Normally when you’re in a foreign country you avoid the biggies – religion and politics. Our hosts generously and candidly gave us an insight in all things Indian. Passionate but clear-eyed.

We really don’t want to share this haven, but would feel churlish not to spread the joy amongst you, our faithful followers.

AirBnB: Terrace by the Calcutta Lakes – you will love it

(Jadunuth Sarkar Road (Lake Terrace)

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