A chance meeting with self through Supriya Newar’s ‘Kolkata Classics’

A chance meeting with self through Supriya Newar’s ‘Kolkata Classics’

There’s a certain magic in my Kolkata, a captivating charm in its quaint old by-lanes and newly built highways and bridges. It is a quirky peculiarity that has charmed artists and photographers and a surreal beauty that lends itself effortlessly to poetry. The best known authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, Dominique Lapierre, Amit Chaudhury, and many others have found their muse in this paradoxical city of romance and chaos and in the diaspora that personifies these very essences. Supriya Newar’s ‘Kolkata Classics – A Book of Verse’ is the latest addition to this beautiful literary treasure.

The book was recently launched at the Nehru Centre, London, coupled with a fascinating conversation between author Supriya Newar and Dr Rupali Basu.

“Kolkata Classics is a book of verse, so I wanted to keep the cover minimal, and clean. And one of the greatest myths is that we say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. But the fact is, most readers when they step into a book store or even when browsing online – chances are that you do look at the cover, and cover does make a difference,” says Newar.

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Following this, she drew our attention to the illustration of an iconic snack of Kolkata, which can’t be found anywhere else.

“Many would immediately recognise this as the ghoti groom apparatus”, she said. And recognise I did, but very nostalgically at the lost classic Kolkata snack image. Perhaps, without Newar this would have been lost from many of our memories as well.

For the uninitiated, it’s a hawker peddled snack that was once very popular in the streets of Calcutta – city and suburbs alike, where a small bowl of burning charcoal would keep the surrounding chanachurs (snack mix) warm. This is undoubtedly a classic Kolkata symbol which opens the floodgate of memories of quaint streets, the gentle bell rings of the hawker and the aroma of the snack.

Conversations as such are bound to pique interests and invite one to flip the pages of this book of poetry. And indeed, poems titled jhalmuri (puffed rice snack), Pheriwala (hawker), Boi Mela (Book Fair), Feluda (Detective character of Satyajit Ray’s classic), Cha (Tea), Monkey Cap have found their places in this book. Twenty-four such verses named with many evergreen Kolkata favourites, each of which would set off any respectable ‘Bong’ to speak at length about.

But to express such intense emotions in well-rounded, universal and humorous verses is not everyone’s cup of tea. In this, the poet has succeeded tremendously, creating scope for many engrossing and memorable poetry sessions.

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Although named after Bengali favourites, each of these English poems might also endear a homesick foreigner to the City of Joy.

“Dedicated to the spirit of Kolkata & Its Joie de Vivere,” this conversation starter book aptly starts with a poem named Adda. For many Bengalis, it’s a well known struggle having to explain to their non-Bengali peers that Adda doesn’t loosely translate as chatting but goes way beyond.

‘Kolkata Classics’ also carries some classic illustrations of the city’s iconic spots and things, such as the Howrah Bridge, Princep Ghat, and hand-pulled rickshaw, making it a perfect coffee table companion.

Newar’s previous book, ‘Kalkatta Chronicles’, which explored growing up in 1970s Calcutta, had garnered immense praise. Besides being a prolific writer, Newar is also trained in Indian classical singing.

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