Until two years ago, finding your way to my grandparents’ apartment compound could be challenging; tucked into a quiet corner of Hindustan Road on Dover Lane, I could never remember the twists and turns one had to take to reach the welcoming black gates covered in Bougainvillea blooms.
But then Bhojohori Manna opened up right next to the compound. Now, at any time of the day, one can see a long line of eager customers snaking its way down the pavement, each hungry individual waiting for their turn to eat at this famous restaurant. Now, if one were to find Tribeni Apartments, one simply has to tell the driver of one of Kolkata’s signature yellow ambassadors to take you to Bhojohori Manna, and he will immediately know where to go.
In my childhood, my younger brother and I would be carted off to our grandparents’ home every summer without fail. We awaited this trip eagerly, and there would always be much excitement when we first glimpsed our grandparents waiting to pick us up from the airport and take us home.
But after the inertia from the initial excitement of meeting our grandparents gradually faded, the sleepy haze of Dover lane would engulf us, and our daily lives would take on the same tranquil rhythm of our surroundings.
Every afternoon was dedicated to sleep, and while my brother embraced this lifestyle with ease, I was never one for naps during the daytime. So while the apartment settled into the stillness of the afternoon, I would often take to our small balcony and dreamily stare out onto a view that has remained unchanged my entire life.
In front of the balcony, a little to the left, there is a tall mango tree. Its leaves often brush the building in front of ours, which is similar in its white wrought iron windows punctuated by the occasional protruding rear of an old-fashioned air conditioner. Looking towards the compound gate, I could just about glimpse the street outside.
Beyond that street lay Gariahat market, a thriving amalgamation of stores and stalls where one could find all manner of things, from terracotta jewellery to delicious bhutta (a personal favourite of mine). Our grandmother would take us (my brother and me) to the market every now and then. As she did her shopping, I would stare at all the stalls we passed, particularly mesmerised by the sheer volumes of clothes and jewellery that surrounded us. Once my grandmother had finished her shopping, she would lead us through the narrow back lanes that led us home (often with bhutta or a Cornetto ice cream cone in hand).
Most of our meals were eaten at home, although we would occasionally eat out (of course, our trip would not be complete without a visit to Fort William, where my grandfather is a member on account of him previously being an army doctor). Sometimes, my grandfather would bring home mouth-watering Campari rolls, which we would all eat with relish in front of the TV.
My grandfather is an ophthalmologist, and used to run a small clinic that received a regular stream of patients. Being short-sighted, I would get a routine check-up there every time I was in Kolkata (during my growth-spurt days, I would inevitably return from these check-ups with a new pair of glasses with increased power, much to my dismay).
If my two cousins happened to be visiting at the same time, they would accompany me and get their eyes checked as well. The staff at my grandfather’s clinic were always extra nice to us, and pampered us with small bottles of Sprite every time the four of us came together. We would happily chatter in a group while other visitors to the clinic would wonder who these four children getting the free drinks were.
As days turned into weeks, the drowsy humidity of Kolkata summers would eventually trap us in a state of lethargy. We would move sluggishly about, spending afternoons engrossed in a game of monopoly or mindlessly surfing through TV channels (back when Netflix did not exist and we were at the mercy of television networks). But even through this torpor, one could sense that something was brewing. It felt like the city was holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.
And just when you felt like you could not wait any longer, the silence would be broken – by a distant rumble of thunder.
The monsoon had arrived.
The city of Kolkata would instantly transform, aroused from its dormant stupor. As gloriously dark clouds heavy with rain rolled across the horizon, the mango tree on our compound would begin to sway, as if welcoming them.
First, a single, inconspicuous raindrop would lightly touch our balcony. Then the blanket of clouds would tear open, drenching everything below them in a downpour of refreshing rain. A cool breeze would spray a fine mist onto our eager faces as we watched the summer storm from the safety of our little balcony.
The advent of the monsoon was bittersweet for my brother and me. The humidity had finally dispersed, but this meant that the end of our stay was coming near. Nevertheless, we were never too upset, because we knew that when we returned next year, Dover Lane would be waiting to welcome us back once more.