Written by Siddhartha Krishnan . 4 Min Read
Before its chapters begin, the book opens with a quote by Pradeep Sarkar, director of the much-loved Hindi film Parineeta, which was based on a famous novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. He says, “Calcutta is beautiful. Wherever you place a camera, you get a vision.” I remember the director making this comment, 7 years ago, in a discussion with film critic, Anupama Chopra. You may hate or love this city, but what you cannot deny is that it is photogenic. The urban streetscape, especially in the older parts of North and South Kolkata, is mesmerizing!
Three generations of my family owe a lot to the city. My grandfather migrated to Kolkata in pursuit of a different life. My father, who has spent all his life there, calls it his home. As for me, it is the city which has given me a good education, and has moulded me. Kolkata is within me. I know a lot about it despite being an outsider of sorts, a Malayalee, from a small town in Kerala. So, when I read reviews of Tilottama at a Glance, in a Facebook group for bibliophiles (Readers Forever!), I asked myself—what am I going to get from it?
Despite the doubts, I took the plunge, and returned happy. I am going to tell you why.
This book to different people could mean different things. To a traveller, a handy guide, to someone who has lived or lives there, a memoir, and to a foreigner, a glimpse into a different culture. Thus, it serves many purposes. I was looking for something specific though, not having stayed in Kolkata for over 16 yrs.
I wanted a trip down memory lane, and to discover something new about the places and things that are known to me.
The introduction makes it amply clear, how the book came into being. Each chapter, to me, felt like an essay, an ode to the subject at hand. It gives enough without being over indulgent. It doesn’t pretend to be a chronicle of the history of everything about Kolkata, which would take a lifetime. Impossible to encapsulate in a single book. This honesty is much appreciated. In each chapter, the book offers little nuggets of joy to a reader, nostalgia for a city dweller, and requisite knowledge of a topic for a tourist. The author gets this mix and balance right.
The language is lucid, and the writing is crisp, making the book an easy page-turner. Quotes by famous people relevant to the topic discussed and anecdotes from the author’s own life adorn its pages. They help the storytelling considerably, and is the best part of the writing. The stories helped me relive my own experiences in the city, while the quotes helped put things into perspective. But I would have liked more of it. In fact, the author could have a been a little more generous with her personal stories, and the book could have easily done with a few more pages.
In the end, I got what I wanted from the book. It took to me to places I know of, both tangible and intangible. I remembered the distant winter morning at the Maidan, waiting anxiously with friends for a group to vacate one of the many cricket pitches. The addas outside Victoria Memorial sharing a bhel puri with my para buddies. And I held my dad’s finger once again to walk down the charming alleys of North Kolkata, with my jaws dropping, marvelling at the artistry on display during Pujo. These and many more beautiful memories came rushing in and flooded my thoughts. I also got a better understanding of the meaning of lyadh and the history of adda and why it is so intrinsic to Bengali culture.
Reading Tilottama at a Glance by Sreeparna Sen was an enjoyable experience. I would like to recommend it to readers who want to know what Kolkata means to the people who love the city.
The book is currently available online on Flipkart (link below)
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories. He is also an enthusiastic blogger and, on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, he regularly puts out his essays, articles, travelogues and movie reviews.
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