Well, of all the places in the world, it had to be Calcutta, the place where I would start my career as a management trainee in a great photocopier company. Calcutta was humid, polluted, dirty and full of traffic. It was an old and decaying city ruined by the Communist party and the labour unions. Calcutta was a city still living its past British heritage and on the concept of a society built around the Bhadra log. The weather was always hot and humid. The streets were full of black and yellow ambassador taxies. On the side, you had the famous Calcutta rickshaw pullers doing their bit to keep the city moving. The old and rickety trams also kept the commuters on the move and then, even in those days, Calcutta had the metro which was the real backbone of the city. My first office was on Park Street, the main commercial hub of Calcutta. They had a peculiar rule – the traffic going into Park Street would reverse after 6 pm. This was a one-way street that would change direction every evening.
But the most fun part of Calcutta was its food, pubs and club singers. You had Candy who was famous and a rage for her singing and dancing. She did it with the entire orchestra. On the other side in Oberoi, you had Lynda who would sing on Thursday and Saturday. I, for one, enjoyed watching them both.
The food of Azad Hind Dhaba, the kati rolls from the sidewalk and the jhal muri were my favourites. I used to love jhal muri and would munch it all the time even when I was on my way to meet a customer. We were the blessed ones, the elite of the company, and would be trained to take over key management positions in the company. I was in sales and sold a photocopier in my first week. That was all the success I got as during the rest of the year, I scored a duck and didn’t sell anything. I saved my job by being shifted to another assignment at the end of the first year. I mean, who the hell wanted to work hard in a city which was so full of heritage? I just wanted to explore the city and that, I did to the fullest. Instead of making sales calls to prospective clients, I would lose myself in the streets of Calcutta. I would walk up to Esplanade, then take a bus to Ballygunge and eat at the famous Ballygunge Dhaba. Lunch was always chicken kassa or mutton rogan josh with butter naan. I would, at times, sneak into a movie theatre to enjoy a Hindi film. Such was the old charm of the city, its poverty stark and bare for all to see. The queue of beggars and hawkers that litter its streets alike, the perpetual bandhs and labour strikes coupled with union marches on the street all carrying red flags of protest; it was a wonder how this ancient city was even moving.
The weekends were spent on the golf courses and lawns of Tollygunge Club. Here, we would meet for a beer and a game of golf as colleagues would talk and discuss business and marketing strategies. “Yaar, this dot com boom and this Y2K thing that India is going through are bad for us. Our industry will lose talent.” I remarked to my boss Sudhir. He was a tall chap and has been in the company for ten years. He was a veteran. “Why? Are you planning to switch? We have invested a lot in your training.” He laughed while taking a sip of his chilled beer. “No, no, but yes, I do get tempted seeing young people run to join these dot com companies. It must be fun to work for a start-up.” I took a bite of my fish fingers. Suddenly the caddy arrived “Sir, your game is on next.” I walked up to the golf course to tee off and that was that.
Sunday dinner was always out with my flatmates Harry and Vishal. We would take a taxi to Tangra and to Chinatown to have the best Chinese food that money can buy. It used to be an authentic Chinese food that was cooked just like in China. I used to love the flavour of the grub. There were also very delicious continental food joints in the city serving Italian and Spanish cuisine. Basically, if you wanted to start your day perfectly, one had to have the continental breakfast at Flurys. This was a famous British bakery at the end of Park Street and served a full course British breakfast that was a delight, not to mention, very filling also.
Most of the year, I spent exploring the city. Rest assured, my mind was hardly occupied by meeting the sales targets of the company. After lunch, I would often walk back to my flat for an afternoon nap and then be back at the office for the evening sales meeting. I would show the sales manager some past visiting cards and tell him that my orders are stuck or are in the pipeline. “You see Sudhir, the Alaska Tea Company wants to buy over 10 copiers and as many faxes as possible but their budget is yet to be clear. Bose Leathers have a union strike going, so all work has come to a halt. Otherwise, I am trying my best.” Poor Sudhir has got habitual to hearing my excuses and just kept shifting me from one account to the other all year along. My other major contribution to my company was a shockingly loud dress sense of mine. I would come to office in dark blue or berry red shirts with cream and yellow ties. They were Allen Solly, part of their Friday dressing range, and I used to wear them often to the office. I spent almost three years in this city and my favourite time was during Durga Puja.
The entire city would be in festival mode with Puja Pandals performing Arti and Puja all the while. Murtis of Kali and prayers are offered to the Goddess. All the women would come out dressed in colourful sarees wearing their favourite ornaments. There were singing and dancing in the streets and the traffic would come to a halt.
I had started keeping a car to move about in the city as we started living in Salt Lake City later on. But the raw vibrancy was there and it kept this old city with its ancient Bengali culture still intact. The old imperial architecture at the city centre reminded one of its glorious past when the British in the form of the East India Company arrived here. Many great companies of yesteryears like Bata, Dunlop, Goodricke and Khaitan still had their head offices here, not to mention, it was still the headquarters of ITC.
I would always call up Rashmi from Calcutta to apprise her of my activities and minor victories that I had in my work life. “I miss you, darling. Wish you could come over or maybe, I will take a week off and come to see you in Bangalore. By the way, how is your new job going with Kaan Infotech? You guys must be bored just coding for them all day.” I would inquire on the phone but, yes, it is fair to say that Rashmi was part of all my joys and sorrows throughout my work life in Calcutta.
All characters and events depicted in this film are entirely fictitious. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.