39. Senhora di Rozario

@Bandel, West Bengal, India.

It was Bandel, a small town founded by Portuguese settlers, existing in the Hooghly district of West Bengal at a distance of about fourty kilometres from the Howrah Railway station. But it did take an eternity to reach there; as so it seemed; even the driver wanted to stop in between and drink tea as if to match my tea drinking capabilities which I still valued as a tradition and that talent of my individuality; therefore it was not to be broken as I kept drinking those small quantities of tea which was served in small clay pots; the ones which were to be destroyed after use. It did hurt me though, as there were so many of them to be destroyed considering my everlasting tea drinking ability which lasted so long that there was no challenge to be made. But still, all those lovely pots were to be destroyed; but I had created no similar thing for drinking tea by myself. Tea was served in those works of art, those which were less important because there were so many of them, but they were still good enough to provide the aesthetic value and that sense of ancient traditions before glass and steel took over along with the heavy influence of plastic and iron in other areas. Those clay pots would live forever though, as their unimportant souls and body parts will exist even after it’s destruction.

I wouldn’t consider it a match for the traditional ‘Chatti’, but it is a holder of tea and therefore has it’s own importance and has to get that respect for being the holder of the world’s most majestic drink. Considering tea as the immortal drink that it has proven to be, the clay pot automatically becomes the holder of eternity. It is the symbol of something which gets destroyed for the sake of something inside it. If tea is the soul, it is the body; the materialistic carrier or the vassal. It lacks heart, pancreas, liver, brain and stuff which would keep the diseases away and the need to go to a hospital also ceases. Without an apple a day it lives without the doctor; until the ultimate destruction which can happen only by murder by another person who takes away the soul and kills whatever is left of the body. It is more of a cycle which continues at high speed. I would have kept one of those pots with me to break the great cycle, but it would still be broken on my way back home in a flight and a train both contributing along with some travel in bus. May be it won’t even last that car trip considering the fact that the roads were small and the trucks were too many, for which there was very little space leading to highly frequent braking process which continued throughout that journey to Bandel and back.

The true final destination of the trip would be the Bandel Church, something of Basilica status, as it is one of the oldest churches in the state of West Bengal. It stands as a monument to the ancient maritime adventures and also as a memorial of the Portuguese settlement in Bengal. The original structure was built around 1660, and is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, or Nossa Senhora di Rozario as the Portuguese would call it. It is one of the most prominent historical churches found in the North East or even all of Eastern India. The presence of the Portuguese in this part of the country can be traced back to the era of Akbar the Great himself, the Mughal emperor and one of the greatest emperors ever to have ruled in the Indian subcontinent. As we go back to this time of greatness and glory, this Golden Age was when the Portuguese Captain Pedro Tavares obtained the emperor’s permission to build the church; this church which was later destroyed by the Moors as they sacked Hooghly in just a few decades. St. Francis Church, in Fort Cochin, Kerala, built in 1503, is still the oldest European church in India while St. Thomas Church at Palayur the oldest church and the St. Mary’s Church or the Thiruvithancode Arappally in Tamil Nadu is considered the oldest church structure in India.

The claims for various titles would change with time, but the significance of this church at Bandel would be something beyond history. Long ago, a ship which had encountered a fierce storm in the Bay of Bengal, had its rescue was attributed to Mary, thus it is also known as the Basilica Shrine of “Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem”, meaning “Our Lady of the Good Voyage”. Thus Mother Mary is also depicted as holding Infant Jesus, both crowned and standing on a ship. There is also a monastery attached to the church building and the keystone to the first church building can be seen near it. There is a small cemetery on the side of the church and a store selling the religious things if one walks through the side path of the church. There is another grotto on the way leading to the top of the church where there is the place for lighting the candles and a statue dedicated to “Our Blessed Lady of Happy Voyage”, as written there. It is actually two-sided and there is also the history of the church shown there, including that of the Siege of Hooghly by the Moors, Miracle of the elephants, the sinking of the statue and finally the reconstruction and rehabilitation, most of the details written in three languages, English, Hindi and another one which should obviously be Bengali.

The view from the top of the church is simply wonderful. The beauty of nature added to all that spirituality which mounted the stairs with me. This view was only matched by a view from the back of the church, but not that much as to challenge the aerial advantage which the first one had. There is the river, with greenery on both sides, but not that much unaffected by pollution for sure, not only with air, but also with water. There are also the coconut trees to give the feeling of Kerala, at a place which is so far away. The green covering of Earth already gave that feeling along with some rain which followed me there giving relief in the heat. This rain was to become so heavy that I started to wonder where I was, but that was a different story which happened much later and not on this journey which was too small and in the heat. The birth place of the Bengali author Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay was not too far away from there, and as Rabindranath Tagore was already missed, that was an option for some literature infestation into the brain as an addition to the historical and spiritual aspect of Bengal, but it was not to happen as the return was to be quicker.

Back to the church building; it was a refined structure and not an old building from any visible angle. From the inside, only the altar looked somewhat old; with a Bengali Mass going on, the only thing I could do was to look straight there and hope to translate Bengali directly into Malayalam or through the medium which was Hindi with a little addition of English. There was the modern and tiled interiors, with a picture of the Last Supper on the front, right above the altar, a few metres before it. When looked from the outside, it was quite a big structure and may be the biggest I have seen in West Bengal and enriched by the different pictures of Mother Mary and a few other saints as well as the clock tower and the church bells. There was more than one tree which added to the beauty of the church, mainly from the front and a little from the backside. The balcony would look a little strange from the outside, from the frontside below it; but it was what became the better thing, if not the best. Except for its walls which didn’t match at all, the rest formed a perfect picture, making the journey worth the time; as it took so much time out of the period of stay in that part of India, it had to be good and it succeeded in living upto the expectations in the end, and came so close to exceeding them.

Diving out —>



12. An Eternal Gift of Joy

@Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

Kolkata has left a wonderful memory in my brain right from the childhood, as it was the first place outside Kerala I visited. It could have been Chennai or Bangalore as they were the ones which were closer to Kochi and had many people waiting with an invite, but that opportunity went to Kolkata. That was when I just got into school; it was that long ago that the memory is about eighty five percent faded away. But those memories which were left behind, were indeed good. It had a slight vision of Victoria Memorial, Birla Planetarium and the Kolkata metro. The rest of the memories were about the house owners of the house we stayed and the Hindi movies which we watched at a time when I knew no Hindi at all. Even at that time, there was tea and he photos we took at that time reminded me of how much I had a time to remember; a memory which lasted two decades until I visited the place again this year; this time not because my dad was working there; the destination was mainly to the Missionaries of Charity and their areas of work. The rest of the monuments along with churches and temples came just as a bonus. I saw the changes; there was difference, but something remained the same about Kolkata; whether the name of the city or state is changed, something I love about Kolkata always remained.

After my first visit, Kolkata lived through my History text books of school; with Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Keshab Chandra Sen. It always lived with Mother Teresa, still living in our hearts as the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Not to forget Aurobindo Ghose whose legacy I saw also during my trip to Pondicherry. There are so many things I remember Kolkata about; as the capital of West Bengal and the biggest city in the Eastern side as well as being the capital of India which I studied about when I was going through the history of British India. Even as I prefer the old name Calcutta and West Bengal which were significantly easier to write in both English and Malayalam, I am getting used to the newer name, not without complication in the initial part though. My bad history of getting bitten by too many mosquitos was written off during my second visit and nowadays my home is where the heart of many mosquitos lie; they are more at my place than anywhere else. It used to be Calcutta and Bengal in my history books for too long and it has heavily influenced my mind, but with the presence of Kolkata Knight Riders, the brain has been readjusting; only the shortened KKR stands as a block to pronouncing the full name. With Sourav Ganguly’s exit and the rise of Kochi Tuskers Kerala, my support to the team has also been limited.

Actually it was the emergence of Sourav Ganguly in the Sahara Cup and that Independence Cup final against against Pakistan that powered my love for Kolkata to such an extent that I supported Bengal for Ranji Trophy and prayed for more players from the state to get into the Indian team. But I still believed in only one dada, the Bengal Tiger; the one who made me believe that my cricket was about Bengal. What Sourav was to me was what was Sachin Tendulkar to many people and also everything that I loved cricket for. If I ever watched and played cricket, it was for this one man, his courage and his legendary spirit which transformed the Indian cricket. After his retirement, cricket has been boring; Indian cricket lost it’s charm as new players, the style icons and blind cricket followed. With Sourav, and through cricket lived and died for me; what followed was IPL and baseball cricket; the only class was what was left in the form of his contemporaries; Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman; after they leave the void will be too big and what will be left shall be just a few kids who do dance steps in the crease and try new shots with their eyes wide shut. In the end, my cricket will have a Bengali soul and it will stay related to Kolkata in my mind; it will always be so.

While our first journey was on train, the last one was half-train and half-flight. It was from the Chennai Airport that we had to board that Air India flight. They didn’t fail to delay the flight and the stories I had heard about Air India were proven true. As my last few journeys were in Kingfisher Airlines and Emirates, I didn’t had the opportunity to feel the Indian Air for some time. We were already there early and as the flight was delayed, it was as if we spent an eternity at the airport. In that case, spending time at the Kochi International Airport would have been more fun. Finally, when we got in, the flight looked kind of old, but as the crew looked extremely old, the flight’s age was not at all considered high by me. The TV channels were mental, but the food was fine. As the return was by Jet Airways, the flight was on time, but it was a low-cost airline. Chennai was hot, but what was to come at Kolkata waseven higher temperature; it was a different kind of heat and not the type I had in South India; it didn’t burn me that much, but it was as if the heat got inside you. Thank God for the ice creams; without them I would not have made it to the end of the trip. In the end, it was the rain which came in as a block; thus it can be said that there was everything; may be I should have waited for snow.

The first thing in Kolkata to visit is obviously the Victoria Memorial, the building dedicated to Queen Victoria when India was under British Raj. It is a combination of every good element; European, Byzantine, Mughal, Saracen and even some Indian features. It’s central dome is a wonderful thing reminding us of Renaissance architecture even as it is not of that period. I consider this my favourite monument in India as it’s story is not based on blood or fake love; it was a monument from the people to the ruler and it will always be so. But the photo I shared is the Calcutta Jain Temple which was so simple, yet so beautiful to watch. It had something which I never saw anywhere else in India; the four temples in the complex differed so much from each other, yet maintained that one spiritual feeling, calmness and serenity. The Science city of Kolkata was a great experience; The Space Theatre which projects movie all the way upto the huge dome along with so many galleries and attractions make it something worth a very long visit. Dakshineshwar Kali Temple and Belur Math are two things you don’t want to miss in terms of spirituality. Kalighat Temple was smaller, crowded and affected by povery and health problems around; there is no wonder that Missionaries of Charity had to being at the place.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is the most well known of the churches, but it looked just like a British church scaled down for me. Looking at too many churches in England seemed to have affected my vision at that time. There were many less known churches around and travelling around trams would have been a good idea, but looking at how old they looked, had to avoid them. During one of those church visits, I met a few youngsters; they said they worked in a bank from my area; I asked them for Federal Bank and South Indian Bank, but they said it was Dhanlaxmi Bank. They told me their names, but considering wonderful lack of ability to speak Bengali names, they told me to call them Paul, Joy and another name which I forgot. I do wish I could go back and learn their names; their original names. But as our time there was limited considering how historic a city Kolkata is, we had to run a lot; even shopping there was not that much to be. But in the end, we knew that even if the city looks dull and untidy in many areas, it was truly a City of Joy; a city of wonderful people, always happy to help. Asking for directions in Hindi was kind of messed up, but that made me realise that I can speak Hindi. I would end this one thanking Missionarie of Charity for the wonderful service they are doing there; the visit to the Mother House and the Tomb of Blessed Mother Teresa; it completed my journey.

Diving out —>