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18 Feb

Got started on that list today with the Sunday auction at The Russel Exchange, on Russel Street. As a life-long devotee of take-your-time-with-things, today’s experience ended up being more of a taster, especially as I was with friends who were hungry and less fascinated than I was. We stayed for just under two hours, and the auctioneer had reached lot number sixty something, out of 300?400? plus lots to be auctioned. There was a neat little booklet listing all the items, and a page of rules, that was handed out to participants and watchers on.


We reached at 11, the scheduled time for the auction to begin, but were told that it is closer to 11.30 usually, before the whole thing begins.


Calcutta, Sunday, fair enough. Even the metro has a leisurely start on Sundays-at 9.50AM. So do I, come to think of it!


So yes. One is supposed to inspect the goods for auction the day before, on Saturday, but you’re allowed to touch them and examine them on Sunday as well, before the auction begins. Everything is crammed into a facility that resembles a massive two-story garage or small warehouse; there is nothing ‘curated’ about the display that’s fo’sho! That adds to its charm, if you ask me, because you carry the expectation of a hidden gem popping up in a corner, or in that showcase there, which makes it special. I’m a fan of beauty and chaos co-existing in everyday life and hidden gems in general, so its aesthetic appealed very strongly to me. Much like finding a fragrant, flowering plant in a corner lot piled high with construction debris and detritus, and/or a secret garden.


By the way, ask for permission before you take photographs, especially if you have a hobby camera, like an SLR. They don’t refuse, but ask you to not take a photograph of every item for sale.

Today’s auction was conducted by one of the three siblings who own The Russel Exchange. She sat on a platform with a gavel and a mike, reading out from the list as employees held up the item of the moment for buyers to see.


There was everything from junk that only held value as recyclable garbage (half a helmet!), to items that could be repaired and used (telephone instruments, mixer-grinders), to items that could be used as is (Samsonite suitcases and strolleys), to decorative (carved wooden boats, paintings, china figures, glassware) and more valuable pieces of pottery (that I did not stay back to see). Many of the items were bags full of random things that sold as a collective lot: purses, light fixtures, scissors etc. Some of those went without any bids, some went as low as Rs. 30, and one bag of door locks started at Rs. 20-ish and finally sold for close to Rs. 1000! If you’re the highest bidder for an item, your name is written down and you’re expected to pay 50% of the amount upfront, and the rest can be paid when you collect your purchase (you have till Wednesday 5PM to do so).

You can pick out the pros from the first timers by the seriousness with which they stare at their booklets, marking off the items they intend to bid on, and the casualness with which they make their bids. At the time of bidding, they almost disinterestedly raised half a hand or waved a finger in a half-raised hand to indicate interest, and the auctioneer hiked up the bid by Rs. 5/-10/- or 50/-; I couldn’t figure out the logic or system by which the price was increased. Other than the bag of locks, a Samsonite suitcase attracted multiple bids, ending at Rs.2650. And a carved leather ladies handbag.

I was only present while everyday goods (and junk!) got auctioned off, but that place holds antique-ey items too. Some pieces can be purchased as is, including most of the big furniture, chandeliers, sculptures, carpets etc. You can identify them by the price tags stickered on to them. One old chair with a wooden frame and cane mesh sitting and leaning surface, the kind of chair common to my grandparents’ time, was priced at Rs.11000. I’ve seen them being sold online for upwards of Rs.20,000 by companies that refurbish and resell antique furniture. Other exciting pieces are antique-ey bookshelves with the former owner’s book collection included (often dusty encyclopedias). I say antique-ey as opposed to antique, because I was reading online that there is a problem that gets in the way of selling antiques in India. Anything older than 100 years has to be registered with a government department before it can be sold, and most owners, naturally, can’t be bothered with all that. So it is highly possible to come across antiques that are not certifiably antiques, which makes these auctions even more exciting.

Someone, while writing about this, spoke of how addictive the whole experience is, and I agree. The mystery of the items-who were the previous owners? what’s its story?-the mystery of the appeal of older goods and who bids on what, the collection of spectators and buyers, and the rush of the bids and the gavel falling down to seal a deal warrant a second visit, and a third, and a fourth. And then one should stop, before it becomes pathological 😉



A return to origins

11 Feb

Recently, I have been thinking again about being a tourist in the city. As my time here draws to an end (hopefully!) I find there are many things I am yet to do in Calcutta. Things that are easier done as a resident than as a tourist. In no particular order, these include:

  • Attending an auction on Russel Street.
  • Joining a short course at the maritime institute near Millenium Park (I’ve crossed it many times but I cannot remember the name).
  • Visiting the Marble Palace (the name makes it sound all marble-y and palace-y, i.e. very boring, but the now dead owner was a mad collector of a mad mix of things, i.e. a man after my own heart).
  • Making one trip to either Darjeeling or Puri from Calcutta.
  • Bishnupur antique market fair, Gangasagar.
  • A morning walk, an afternoon walk and an evening walk around Dhakuria Lake.
  • Once a month, pick an area within the city to get lost in.
  • Chinese New Year celebrations in China Town.


21 Nov

Coffee makes me garrulous and feeds the tendency in myself to make epic plans. Like, epic. For example-

Caffeinated brain-

Did you know that you could go to Sarajevo (and come back) for under Rs.50,000? I could totally do that. If I finish my PhD without exhausting all my savings. As a grand gesture and all to celebrate becoming a ‘Doctor’.

De-caffeinated brain-

Then again, Rs.1,00,000 could be put to much better use. It might even fund a writers retreat for one in a picturesque mountain cottage.

Why Sarajevo? Because I’m reading Bruce’s memoir, and came across the chapter where he speaks of going to war-torn Sarajevo to play a gig during his solo, non-Iron Maiden career. He describes the incredible beauty of the mountain roads leading to the ravaged city and I was struck again by how some of the most beautiful places in the world suffer from extraordinary violence.

Except, Sarajevo is now free of war. And I could go there. Except I won’t, because travel for the sake of travel died for me in Berlin, 2014 (R.I.P.). I was spending a week there as a tourist, after presenting a paper in a workshop. Why? Many factors came together that led to that natural death.

For one, I got serious about meditation and my relationship with spirituality became all-encompassing. I realised that I would seek only that which would be in sync with my spiritual goals. Chasing travel was not, but travel itself could be. I became even more interested in exploring from where I was, rather than going away to explore where I was not. If the source of joy lay within the self, why waste time chasing what could never be found externally? A long local bus ride on a new route can give me as much pleasure as going to NYC, or Sri Lanka, or Goa.

For another, I have become more conscious of consumerism, and travel is often about consuming experiences that one can buy with money (including that airplane ticket). Spending money just to travel feels meaningless now, I prefer to club some other purpose with it. Like work, or visiting family.

And also, I’m a person who likes to absorb slowly and how long can ‘trips’ be, after all?

And also also, reaching the end of my twenties made me come to terms with the whole FOMO thing. On the whole, I do not anymore, if I ever did, suffer from the Fear of Missing Out. I’m at peace with knowing that yes, the potential exists to do a million wonderful things, and I have displayed a potential to be a jack of all trades, but a time comes when one makes choices and sticks to them, at the cost of ignoring other possibilities. You choose what you want to focus your energy on, because it is not possible for most of us to focus with intensity on several things at once.

As the last traces of the morning cup of Bru Gold leaves my system, and the November sun retreats from my balcony, I come back to more pragmatic matters. Time to work on the draft of the book review due next week.


Bye, 2015. And Season’s Greetings!

31 Dec

I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. In many ways you were like 2013: you walked me through quite a journey. In no specific order, some of my favourite things from this year:

*The share autos at Noida City Centre metro station. Because:

1)UPiites (Uttar Pradesh iites) really are polite, even if they burn their women and mutton eaters occasionally. And,

2) In order to extract the crazily parked and inevitably hemmed-in auto you are sitting in (or sitting behind) (filled with a minimum of 10 passengers) the driver will move backwards and forwards, going thud-thud into the autos in front and behind, like dodge’em cars, until there is space to manoeuvre out onto the main road.

*That twice daily meditations did not happen, but routinely longer ones did.

* The Cafe Coffee Day on Barakhamba road. After many misses, I’ve found ‘my’ coffee shop in the city.

* Days that begin at 5.30AM on winter mornings, finish by 3, leaving me the rest of the afternoon and evening for Noida visits and meditation.

* Who’d a thought I’d enjoy being out of the house by 5.30 AM? That I LIKE less sleep when forced into it?

* Goettingen. Lucking out on wonderful people there, both friends and strangers. Especially strangers.

* Uncle Chips. Many, many packets of it.

* Beginning, meaningfully, on field research for the second part of my PhD. I don’t care whether I actually finish or not: the journey thus far has far exceeded my expectations of learning when I began. But I will finish, because the ICSSR has kindly paid me a fellowship thus far.

* Noida, Nurnberg, Dakshineshwar.

Happy New Year, all. Because whyever not?

Sunday Diaries-9

12 Jul

Some Sunday diaries stayed unwritten because I’ve not managed to transfer photos from my camera. On June 19 I was at Dusseldorf for a day and the only thing I liked about the city were these themed sculptures of every day people on traffic signals and such. That, and the miso soup and sushi roll from a Japanese restaurant near the Gehry buildings. Places give off vibes and Dusseldorf and I simply didn’t hit it off. It’s not my kind of city. Or perhaps we did not meet on the right day.

The reason I was in Dusseldorf was to apply for a UK Visa. I have a very close friend in London and it was always our plan for me to visit whilst in Germany. The visa process-and cost-gave me major second thoughts, although in the end I concluded not visiting now meant I don’t know when I’d get the chance to see her and her husband next.

In the interest of saving some money, I booked myself a discounted OneBus return from Dusseldorf to Gottingen that arrived in Gottingen at something like 3.30AM. This was my second OneBus journey (the first being Prague-Gottingen) and this one came with packet of snacks and a bottle of water gratis. The driver-there was only one- was very young, with a very pleasant nature although I was wondering if he was overworked (it seemed at points that he was blinking very hard to chase sleep away, although I could be wrong about that). The thing with smaller bus companies is that you don’t know what kind of labour standards they follow. The market for long-distance buses is beginning to see some severe competition in Germany and OneBus offers deals that are cheaper than the market-leaders Meinfernbus, but not as cheap as MegaBus.

Sunday early morning I went to Hannover, and that day found out what I’d missed: that they also have Thursday meditations. I’ve now been making twice weekly visits to Hannover: mimicking my Calcutta routine, finally. Like I’ve already mentioned, I’m glad for it. It’s been largely responsible for holding together my inner environment.

The Lidl at Hannover Station might just be the only supermarket I have so far seen that stays open on Sundays! I’ve started doing most of my grocery shopping there since I’m in Hannover so often, and Lidl has some very good deals, especially towards the end of the month. I’ve also discovered 99 cent egg salad sandwiches at the Back Factory which makes for my Thursday dinners and Sunday lunches.

I amped up the reading for my second chapter and presentation, getting a surprising lot done on my train journeys. But the past couple of weeks have been a little stressful because suddenly there was presentation work to do, logistics to take care of and decisions to make. They’ve offered us an extension on our fellowship and after a lot of thought and speaking with my family, I’ve accepted it.

The biggest stress agent has, however, been the presentation. I’m sure the actual work is not as bad as I’m making it out to be, but my familiar demons have emerged, on cue. I’ve been reacting to my simple task with sheer panic and constant fear, so much so, that I have not even been able to write a sentence as yet. The best way to deal with it, as always, is to ensure that one keeps up with the meditation and maintains one’s perspective. It’s been harder to do that this time because I feel as if the stakes are higher for this presentation in comparison with presentations back home. There if I mess up, it reflects badly on just myself and I have a redo. But this presentation feels very big in my head because I see it as a day of judgement: was I worth the fellowship? My mind has visions of people going ‘That’s it? You’ve been here an entire semester and that’s all you’ve managed?’

Again, rationally speaking, I know nobody would say this. I also know that people aren’t really that bothered about these presentations, they are almost a formality. So in a way, it’s actually my mind that will be posing this question to me: ‘Is this all you have to show for it?’

These aren’t helpful thought patterns, but I’m having trouble shutting them down. It really does not help that this has been a week of no meditation. I tried to sit down today but I was too worked up to manage it. I also had a cold last week, which left me unable to work for two straight days. I’d like to believe that had I managed to work those two days, I wouldn’t have had to cancel my second Nuremberg trip scheduled for today. But I did, and I did.

One way or the other I will have to write this up by tomorrow. And somehow I will have to trust the words of my Supervisor who told me that I’ve never given a bad presentation so far. The hardest thing to do is to actually start writing. It feels like such an impossible task.

I will not let the fear win.

Sunday Diaries-8

19 Jun

Group meditation again! Hannover, I love thee. In the past week I started work on my second chapter (‘started’ being the key word :P; I am letting my first chapter rest at the level of notes for now), attended a concert by the Gottingen Philharmonic Orchestra with friends (at the grand price of one Euro! Last minute student tickets, I ❤ thee!), got some library work out of the way, and had a major case of FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. The hazards of being in the Schengen area. You see this-


A departure and arrival board for buses at Prague- Ukraine! Bulgaria!Poland! The possibilities!!WP_20150607_12_16_32_Pro

-and trucks from Hungary and Romania on the highway and feel so tantalised. So many places that one could go to, but limited time and money. Hence, the FOMO. I don’t want to do lots of tourism but I also do-because ‘what if I never get such an awesome opportunity again?’

Still grappling with this one.

Sunday Diaries-7

17 Jun

This was a week of lovely, touristy, travel. My family was visiting for a short European holiday (it was so good to see them!) and after seeing them off from Gottingen, I joined them in Berlin from where we went together to Prague. On Sunday the 7th of June, we parted; I went back to Gottingen and they went on to Austria.

It felt surprisingly great to ‘be back’ in Berlin. The familiarity of a repeat visit makes a place feel like home. There were moments of recognition as I passed stations that I had frequented so many times last year, around this time, when I had come to Gottingen to present a paper. I love Berlin. It may be touristy, but it is beautiful, warm and full of character. And cheap!

DSCN1116DSCN1150The Berlin Konzerthaus was grand, as was the rendition of Mozart and Beethoven by the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

DSCN1201WP_20150603_21_21_11_ProSome things had changed from last time. Bloch was missing.

DSCN1187Rosenthaler Strasse is like a secret garden in the midst of urban normality. It is close to Hackescher Markt, and amidst pricey brands there is a little alleyway that takes you to the very definition of ‘alternate’. There is graffiti, there are hipsters, there is the Anne Frank museum as well as Otto Weidt’s workshop. This is kind of what it looks like-

DSC_0001 DSC_0002 DSC_0003 DSC_0010 DSC_0012 DSC_0013 DSC_0023 DSC_0027

Where Berlin-and Germany-is classy to my mind, Prague is shabby chic. Buildings with plaster falling off but oh my! Grand buildings! Quirky, and full of attractions almost made to cater to tourists.

DSCN1204 DSCN1206 WP_20150605_13_08_47_Pro WP_20150605_13_13_14_Pro WP_20150605_13_22_33_Pro WP_20150605_13_35_20_Pro WP_20150605_13_37_39_Pro WP_20150605_13_38_35_Pro WP_20150605_14_09_27_Pro WP_20150605_14_19_48_Pro WP_20150606_14_25_35_Pro WP_20150606_16_43_57_Pro WP_20150606_21_28_29_Pro WP_20150607_10_22_49_ProHistory jumps at you in the face in Prague, whether or not you are into history. It is old, it has many stories. Such as the fact that parts of the old town has an ‘underground city’. Old town was prone to getting flooded so when the new town was built, soil was dumped in the old town to raise its level. Consequently its ground floor became the new basement and the first floor the new ground floor. You can still see it, if you take a guided tour, or chance it out and scope out pubs and restaurants and shops.

Prague has public toilets everywhere-never to be under-appreciated!-cheapish accommodation and food and enough sights to keep anyone happy. For all its awesomeness, my personal vote still goes to Berlin. It is the right size for me.