The perfect setting. Cold sudden gusts of soothing breeze. Autumnal yellow. The kind of sun that has you reaching for a light cardigan. Smell of freshly baked cakes and frosting wafting down the narrow stretch of the bakery at Industrial Park. The rustle of thousands of beating hearts in the Main road that somehow appears to be oddly synchronized and the hands of the Damber Chowk clock tower softly clicking away as shadows grow longer each passing second.
I have often been criticized for my habit of romanticizing people and places and I beg my pardon but it’s really not my fault that I was born with an eighteenth century heart (a stereotype) and possess the most desperate urges to put on rose-tinted glasses. However, let’s dwell on my idea of romanticism later. For now, let us continue with my train of thoughts on Kalimpong.
I will not bother about the facts for you see, I am a terrible factual writer. There is a reason why Google exists, you know! I tried my hand at being drop-dead serious while writing but all I was capable of was failing miserably, tooth and nail. Hence, I’ve learnt that jotting about souls, figuring about the essence of anything is what I do best and Kalimpong’s soul is my heartbeat!
A cliché hilly small town overlooked by the spires of the 127 year old Mcfarlane where everybody knows each other, one post office and innumerable hotels and homestays. Get the picture? However, this is just the surface. Once you enter, you get sucked in her pandemonium and beauty.
First of all, the left side of the statue of Dal Bahadur Giri at Thanadara welcomes you. As a child, I used to be terrified of him as it felt like I was at perpetual fault and his raised index finger was accusing me of this invisible wrongdoing that I had just committed. Thanadara from the noun itself, you can deduce houses the only police station in town. It also serves as the focal point from where roads leading to different direction fan out, to Durpin in the east and Deolo in the west.
One of my friend who had visited a few years ago remarked, “roaming the Kalimpong bazaar is like taking a walk in a metropolitan park!” yep, it’s approximately of that size. You walk uphill, then downhill, some more uphill and some more downhill and at the same time, meet the uncle you saw near the Stand now at Kanchan. The third time you chance upon him at Relli Road, both of you will smile awkwardly but amiably with each other. One thinks, “ This is embarrassing but I’ll try to be civil!”
We’ll never have enough of Haat Bazaar and the array of ‘Bustee ko sabzi’, ‘JB ko luga’ and ‘ Teenwata ko Dus.’ The C.K. Chowk and the line of shops run by ‘Bhotini’ aunties selling ‘churpees’, ‘seto churpees’’ ‘titewra’, local dairy lollipops and industrial handkerchiefs. The uber crowd has given birth to quaint cafes and aesthetically pleasing places that has successfully weaved modernity and tradition together and brought about a fusion that appears to hint at the past while at the same time remaining perfectly contemporary and artistic at the same time. My favorite has to be Café Kalimpong which falls on the way to the Morgan house.
Come summer, everybody packs and prepares to go fishing which they call ‘balchi marnu’ with varieties of hooks and strings and rods and generators either to the rivers Relli, Pala or Teesta or any small streams with a line from the famous satirical play ‘Bhanu ra Pala’ in their lips,
“Khola ma maacha aasala; na chala tero thutuna!”
All the Savaris and jeeps are reserved during New year’s and Christmas’ for picnics. Latest Bollywood party anthems and sometimes, English hits are blasted at full volume while people sitting atop the vehicles cheer and whistle so much so as if their whole lives depend on the throwing of decibels and frequencies from their voice boxes to the farthest corner of Iceland. One time during the Pujas, Justin Beiber’s ‘Baby’ ousted all the bhajans while the second time, religious hymns were sung to the tune of ‘Shiela ki Jawaani’. Till date, I still long to hear a note of it but they don’t play it anymore.
I’ve been privileged to have an upbringing in the outskirts, away from the hustle bustle and the Saturday haat, where until I reached my teen, there were no pitched roads. Maybe that is why I seem to have a deep connection with these remotest parts of Kalimpong. The ‘bustees’ and ‘kaamans’ will always be precious to me as it reminds me of those days spent running with my first dog, Kito along the banks of brown paddy fields that reflected the skies, my pudgy hand holding a straw piercing a guava leaf crudely shaped like the blades of a windmill. As I sped, the leaf rotated and boy, was it exhilarating!
Kalimpong is a first love. I think it is to most of her inhabitants but each time I come home, I lament for she seems shabbier, dingier, congested and older. She looks dirty and unkempt and it breaks my heart to see her breaking into ruins. In these few years, she seems to have aged faster than at her normal rate. Places are like people and the sooner we understand that concept, the better we will learn to value and treasure. She’s existed for so long and I can only hope we’ll learn to save her and keep her safe, preserve her soul, her essence, her perseverance for a long long time to come.
Words: Merab Wangchuk Moktan,
Edits: Animesh Gautam
Photos: Birat Rai