Visiting places on the spur sometimes turns out to be a better than a well-planned outing. Such spontaneous trips don’t have to meet any preset expectations. This was my plan of action for sightseeing in my first week at Calcutta.
My visit to Kalighat Road was one such a memorable visit. A poster on the walls at Indian Coffee House advertised a film festival at an old, decrepit hall called the Jogesh Mime Academy. I reached here in time for the second half of the movie - Matir Moina. This was a short film about a small Muslim family in a village of erstwhile East Pakistan and their coming to terms with the changes happening around them during the Bangladeshi liberation war. It ended with the sound of ominous gun strikes.
For the short break after the movie, I headed out for the Kalighat temple. I'd expected a towering structure with crowds choking my way. It turned out to be a non-imposing, four-walled compound with a white domed building in the center. It was nestled between busy, colorful gullies and roads leading up to it from all sides.
When I finally reached the temple, I was informed that it would be shut for lunch till 4 pm. A very neatly dressed dhoti-kurta clad tout offered me a 'VIP' entry for Rs 100. I agreed. He asked me to rush into the sanctum as it would close any moment. The two men holding the door there made me recite a few mantras and hand over Rs 10 for the service. Tout no.1 then lead me to the courtyard outside where another man made me recite a few more mantras and demanded Rs 210 for a red and orange powder in plastic pouches.
When I declined , he did not protest as there was a couple waiting behind me who seemed very interested, more devout visitors. Tout no. 1 then proceeded to show me around the rest of the courtyard, the room where the goats were sacrificed and even let me click pictures though it was a ‘no-photography zone’. He then promised to take me to the inner sanctum if I returned at 4 pm. Mine was a 'VIP' entry after all.
I then proceeded to the ‘ghat’ from where the temple derives its name. Despite all the debris on the bank, it was a peaceful place. The afternoon was sultry and hushed. I decided to head back to catch two more movies. Both were tributes to two women: the Bengali writer/activist Mahasweta Devi and Manipuri theatre artist Ima Sabitri.
I decided not to go back to the temple because nightfall is rapid in the city, especially in winter. In just a day, I’d had a taste of religion, art and literature, from this part of the country. I was full, in just half the day.