A Time For Outings
November is the start of the outdoor season in Calcutta. The spell of winter is short lived in the city, so it is best to make the most of it. There is a slight nip in the air, in the mornings and evenings and the day is cool. It’s just the right time for outings. This is the time when families go out for weekends. One finds all the picnic spots thronging with people. Those who can afford it take refuge in their bagan bans (garden houses) on the outskirts of the city. These bagan baris, today considered the ultimate in luxury, are the relics of the baboo (clerk) culture which flourished in Calcutta around the 18th century.
These were the spots where the baboos invited the sahibs, served liquor and organised get togethers. All this was not possible in the traditional City house. People who could not be invited elsewhere due to social or religious restrictions could be invited here. Even the religious gurus of the baboos came and stayed in these bagan baris and the disciples would go there to pay obeisance.
Lifestyles have changed since then. Now these hideouts are used for family outings and holidays to escape from the constrictions of city life. Fresh air, fresh fruits from the trees
and fresh water fish from ponds are the special attractions. Many of these houses are hired for a day or weekend to get away from the city.
But these bagan baris are not the only places with open space. On the outskirts of Calcutta is another city, the Salt Lake City. In sharp contrast to the crowded metropolis is this new township developed near the airport. An array of beautifully constructed houses, with broad roads lined with tall eucalyptus trees, this is a part of Calcutta and yet so different. It also has a large children’s park called Jheel Meal with a toy train, a deer park, a snake pit and bird cages as well as the usual swings. One can easily spend the day in these quiet surroundings.
If the visitor is more adventurous, a short journey can take him to Murshidabad, the old capital of Bengal. Murshidabad has strong links with history. In 1757 the Battle of Plassey took place here which sealed the fate of India. Murshidabad tells the story of the betrayal of Nawab Siraj-ud Daula by his own men. The grand lifestyle of the Nawabs has left in its trail beautiful ruins in what is now a small dusty township near Calcutta. Hazaar Durari or the palace with a thousand doors is a monument worth visiting. One finds several historical monuments lying scattered all over Murshidabad—masjids, tombs of important figures in history. Apart from that the city is also famous for silk sarees particularly tussore silk. Beautifully carved ivory souvenirs can be bought here.
Back in Calcutta, the advent of winter sets in motion the music scene, concerts of classical music and dance are in full swing and tickets have to be booked in advance.
Winter here is mild but some woollens are necessary and a special attraction are the colourful woollens from the north-east. The hill people from this region get multi-coloured cardigans, pull-overs, shawls andscarfs and sell them at reasonable rates.
From the countryside around Calcutta comes the date-palm juice. The juice from the date-palm is collected in earthen jars and boiled to make gur or jaggery. This is a favourite amongst the Bengalis and is sold in the shape of discs. It is eaten plain or used to flavour the famous sandesh—Bengali sweet made from cottage cheese. November is also the month to celebrate Kali Puja. This year it will be celebrated on 8th November. This puja is performed at night and is marked by a display of fireworks. The image of the deity is rather fearsome. In certain parts animals are also sacrificed. The next day is Diwali—a festival celebrated all over the country. Houses are cleaned, earthen lamps lit, new clothes are worn and there is rejoicing all over. It signifies a day in the story of the Indian epic, Ramayana,’ when the people of Ayodhya lit up the whole town to welcome Lord Rama after his 14 year exile in the forest.
Fairs, concerts and woollens at bargain prices await the visitor to Calcutta in November.
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