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There is little doubt that there is not much available by way of “entertainment” in Santiniketan. There is only one movie hall in which when the audio is perfect, the video is blurred, or vice versa. There are many places to eat, but their business is matter-of-fact without worrying about creating any ambience. So, it’s pretty much eat and leave. There are, of course, many cultural events organised by the university or alumni associations or just residents, but for those of us not used to too much Tagore, the Bong sing-song can tend to indigestion.
But having said that, I must confess that we have made arrangements for our own entertainment. The small café that my partner and I run in downtown Santiniketan, does attract a healthy variety of customers. Every evening as we take up our position to supervise operations, we actually settle down for our evening entertainment. For free. Even better, we actually get paid for it.
We conjecture about a young female regular (we bet on how long each of her serial boyfriends will last), on whether an elderly professor will ever change his food order (scrambled eggs every evening at eight), whether the Spanish customer would actually have the guts to try our version of the Spanish omelette, whether the young couple would bare their nouveau-ness in the way they hold their fork and, of course, all the eavesdropping on conversations that make for short stories.
Recently, however, a Spanish resident of Santiniketan walked in with another foreigner, and after introducing her to us, and recommending the café profusely, left promptly. Since this lady was alone, I felt obliged to sit with her at her table.
She said she was from Brazil, but now, for the last ten years, was living with her husband in Manali. Considering she was visiting alone, I thought she must be in Santiniketan on some personal research. But she said she was here quite by accident. Actually her astrologer, back home in Sao Paulo, had told her that for her birthday in 2012, she should be in Basirhat (about 60 km from Kolkata) in West Bengal. The latitude and longitude would be so favourable that her year would be more fruitful.
Since she had friends in Kolkata, she landed there. But when her friends heard that she was planning to spend three or four days in Basirhat, they warned her that it was a half-horse town and there would be nothing for her to see or do. Not believing them, she did go off on her birthday to Basirhat, only to be very “disappointed”. “I could only spend my birthday there, but came back by the evening.” Since I had time on my hands, I decided to come to Santiniketan. I asked where she had been directed to go last year. She said her astrologer had ordained Myanmar.
She didn’t exactly know whether her visit to Myanmar had indeed been good for the year, but she was obviously not giving up on her astrologer. Since the only place I tend to visit on my birthday are new restaurants (now not even that since I am in Santiniketan), I must say I was quite intrigued.
May be in all my 20 years that I spent in Mumbai, many such people, a little out of the ordinary, did come to visit, but I was too preoccupied to hear them out, which is probably the reason why the fact that there is little to do in Santiniketan, fills me with hope that here there is much to learn.