A microcosm in a macrocosm

A microcosm in a macrocosm

In the microcosm of Kolkota I saw the macrocosm of the world. (PTI File Photo)

Robert Fludd, the British physician, saw man as the microcosm within the universal macrocosm. Likewise, it is in the microcosm of Kolkota I saw the macrocosm of the world. Long before I saw the rest of India, long before I stepped on foreign shores, even as a child I knew this to be true. What we call a ‘pluralistic’, ‘multicultural’ society, words that I did not know the meaning of but seemed to embody, I saw on that narrow bench in our classroom. In school, everybody seemed to speak a different tongue and the unifying means was sheer friendship. If I was flanked by girls from Bihar, UP, Andhra on one side and a Parsi and a Bengali on the other with Chinese and Jewish girls behind and the Marwari and Sindhi girls in front of me wouldn’t you call it but a splendid medley? This phrase unity in diversity was not limited to the classroom or the playground but extended to our social lives and our homes. Everybody was welcome in everybody’s home and I tasted and relished everything from dhansak to sorpotel, to kadhi to dhoklas to macher jhol to sambar to aviyal. All bonhomie, it is said, startswith food and it certainly did with a bang.  And my mother ever the willing hostess served us thota kura pappu, pulusu and the fiery avakai that brought simultaneous smiles and tears and which and compelled us to visit over and over again. Such was our camaraderie that often parents were drawn into it. 

Apart from children from the length and breadth of the land, Calcutta was home to populations of Chinese, Jews, Armenians, Tibetans and others. I went to the synagogue the Chinese temple, the Armenian church, the Dargah, and ate at the Langar of the Gurudwara. I walked through them with awe taking joy in the religions and rituals they followed. The lilting tunes that emerged a piano from a corner of  Goan homes made me understand their love of music. The larger than life Talmud resting in the drawing-room on an outsize book stand announced that I was at a Jewish home. The Chinese New Year brought us cauldrons of home-cooked noodles peppered with delicious prawns which my mother distributed in the neighbourhood with takeaway carriers for children who could not come. Throughout my growing years I was never once conscious of class, communal, religious distinctions, all of us belonged and lived our lives together. 

I belonged to a world far more inclusive and far less divisive. We boast of a world without walls, a global market place, the economic and social progress we have achieved without considering the equality and dignity of human beings who inhabit this place. Isn’t this a contradiction, when we can’t seem to get along but think we are getting better?