Every year, a trip to my inlaws in Kolkata is a must. This year I went to drop the son to the inlaws and me being here is like a third leg. So I decided to do something I've wanted to do for more than a year now, I went to meet Kingshuk Chakraborty, one of the few other woodworkers in the country who is more into solid wood and handtools as I am.There is a fine difference between a DIYer and a woodworker. I am on the line but Kingshuk is well and truely entrenched on the woodworking side.
Kolkata; the adventure
Going to Kolkata is always an adventure, I don't speak the language and am at their mercy; the only thing we have in common is our love for food, and fish! So I walk around looking lost and eating. Wandering around is exactly how my adventure to Kingshuks house began. Before the trip itself I knew I wanted 2 things, to meet Kingshuk and go with him to "chor bazaar" and buy some old hand tools. So step one, get to Kingshuk's home. Kingshuk says, "Come to Behala tram depot, take a share auto, get off at Shodpur Bazaar and I'll meet you. " Nothing could be simpler.
From my inlaws place, I got into a cycle rickshaw to Behala tram depot, where on inquiring, I find that share rickshaws don't ply to Shodpur bazaar. But the helpful guy says, "Take a share rickshaw to Tollygunj metro, from there I'll tell you." Now a share auto in Kolkata is a ride on the wild side, especially if, like me you get the front seat, next to the driver. Flirting with death is taken to the next level by these guys.These little road gazelles will charge at a fully loaded road elephant (bus) without fear of the consequences. 80% of the journey is spent driving on the wrong side of the road and red lights mean nothing. The front seat is unsecured and you could be thrown out at any turn. It is a trust exercise like none other.
The journey was too short!
At tollygunj metro, I was told to get into any bus and go to tollygunj tram depot. By this time, Kingshuk had decided that it would be best to meet me there. I soon found that getting into a bus in Kolkata involves the simple expedient of yelling the destination at the conductor; he is the guy hanging out of the bus with a fistful of currency notes in one hand and 'stop, start' bell in the other.
Spry fellow that I am, I managed to get into one such bus. After adding my currency note to his fistful I was handed a very shady looking ticket.
The paper is second hand, on the other side was a few words of a mail to a Mr. Vinay. The ride was a wee bit daunting, I was in the first seat with Kali ma staring me down.
Other than this, the ride was uneventful and I attained Tollyganj tram depot without further incident.
Kingshuk lives in a nice big Kolkata bunglow and I was overfed breakfast, followed by 2 rasgollas, and 2 hunks of sandesh. Overful from the start, we repaired to Kingshuk's workshop.
Wouldnt I kill for a workshop
Kingshuk's workshop is located in a nice big room. And the Roubo workbench he had made occupies place of importance. The workshop itself is well assigned, apparently his wife helped him clean it up the day before. Chisels and spokeshaves on one wall.
Saws etc on the other, handplanes under the table.
There is an entire section for finishes and another room full of slabs; being seasoned.
I saw his favourite, toon and then spotted padauk and purpleheart. There were many others, all local. This is one guy who is crazy about Indian woods.
Another reason why I like him so much. We spent all morning at his workshop, checking out the planes, comparing notes on shavings and technique. I watched him use his diamond sharpening stones and finally after being called twice for lunch, we fooled around with a few stains and dies. Yes I did say AFTER being called. One can flirt with the wrath of one's wife when there is a guest
My tiny stomach and lunch
Lunch was a massive affair, as is normal in Kolkata. Rice is served without reservation and then followed up one after the other with successive dishes to go with that rice. To the unwary, remember to do in Rome as the Roman does. Watch carefully how a bong eats his meal and do the same. I learnt the hard, hard way that the dal that is served first is not to be eaten with all the rice. One must mix the dal with a tiny portion of the rice and leave the rest for the remaining courses; if one is to survive the meal. Its been 10 years since I made that mistake, and the consequences haunt me to this day. Lunch was delicious and I shall not go into the details of the 4 fish preparations and the 4 veg preparations. Suffice it to say that I'm sure the elastic of my stomach has been permanently expanded.
After lunch and with much groaning (from me) we left to go to Bada Bazaar. Another share auto (I sat in the back seat) followed and then a trip in Kolkata's much famed metro to MG Road. In India, every city has a Mahatma Gandhi Road and every MG Road is the busiest road in the city. Kolkata is no less and the road was packed. Kingshuk said that the place he was going to was on the other side of Bada Bazaar, this should have warned me, but my stomach was still transmitting some very alarming messages and I didn't "hear" him. He said we will have to walk a little. I fell for it and we began. 45 minutes later we were still walking "a little" though some of the most crowded pedestrain and vehicluar traffic and my legs now were shouting louder than my stomach.
Finally Kingshuk says, " just down this lane" and turns right... We entered a street which reminded me of the lanes and bylanes of nagdevi and lohar chawl in Mumbai, but these were sheer chaos. This was MG Road spiced liberally with crazy. Pedestrians, small trucks and porters mingled dangerously on this street and every step has to be taken with full appreciation of the 3 dimensional world we live in. Consider that when there are porters, there is the danger of having your head banged from above by a heavy parcel.
I shall not dwelve on the tiny entrance to the building on whose 1st floor resided the largest dealers of Makita in the country. This portion of the day completed, we continued to Sealdah market.
A tiny walk and I do mean tiny, and we were in Chor Bazaar. This bazaar has various shops of all sorts of tools and other stuff. Look at this.
Kingshuk took me to this little, tiny shop, filled to the brim with all sorts of handtools. It was a dream. No a fantasy. Old, 100 year saws, of varying sizes, spoke shaves, draw knives, gauges, calipers, brace and bits. And thats just the initial 3 feet at the entry. The proprietor is a happy guy, invites you to sit and then presents you with delicacy after delicacy. A Stanley, no 5, then a No 4, and then a small 9" smoothening plane. Then he bagan on the saws. German made Scheilder, Swiss made Sandvik, Stanley's, saws of various size amd tpi. I was entralled, I asked for a brace and bit. An old Stanley with a racheting head was produced and I feel in love immediately. After some tension filled haggling, we settled on a sum that made neither of us happy and that was that. We were then friends again, some fantastic buffalo milk tea was produced. This is when I found out that he procures his stuff from Alang. Now Alang has been on my wish list for some time... and clearly I'm going to have to go there soon. I'll keep you guys posted on the restoration of the old hand tools. I suspect that some friends at the museum are going to be called upon.
Oh! Kingshuk then dropped me home in a cab. On this adventure, I had used all the various modes of public transport that Kolkata has to offer. I had been fed the most marvelous food and I suspect that if I wasn't such a "small stomach" I would have been treated to some amazing street food. Oh well there is always a next time after all I'm a kolkata jamai babu.