Calcutta Jazz and Moon Over Soho

In Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho — which I definitely recommend, but only if you have a taste for delightfully cheeky detours in your rip-tear-kill supernatural blood-fests — there’s this little bit that is a perfect embodiment of attention to detail, excellent research, an eye for trivia, and a handy reference library of ethnic acquaintances 🙂

Tista Ghosh, the Jazz Section’s welfare officer… had the kind of precision-tooled middle-class accent that only comes from being taught English as a Second Language in the cradle.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said. “What’s a nice desi girl like me doing in the jazz scene?”. Actually I was thinking where the hell she’d got that leather jacket and should she, for religious reasons, be wearing a leather jacket in the first place.

The jacket had a line of crudely made badges down the left-hand lapel, the type you could stamp out with a hand press. I surreptitiously read them while Ms. Ghosh expounded upon the innovative jazz scene that flourished in India after the war. “My parents were deeply into jazz,” she said. “They were from Calcutta and there was this famous club called Trinca’s on Park Street…. It’s all changed now but there used to be this great jazz scene, that’s where they met.”

Ms. Ghosh was just telling me about the time Duke Ellington played at the Winter Palace—the hotel in Calcutta, not the birthplace of the Russian revolution—when I decided that it was time to put the conversation back on track.

I did have to think for a minute before I understood why a leather jacket might be against her religion, but foreigners are allowed these little mistakes. Especially ones who do their homework so exceptionally well.

[What does it say of me, though, that I’m delighted to see an accurate slice of my city’s history in an English writer’s book? Is it retroactive post-col. pride in a sahib’s praise? Plain old public spiritedness? A oneness with the culturally-constructed soul if the city? Oh, the plights of the college-educated mind. Back to mystical murders]

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12 comments

  1. May I nitpick pettily? It is ‘Trincas’, no apostrophe! Only last week I corrected this in a book! Why do SO MANY people write it with an apostrophe?

  2. Gautam and Mandy — yes, it is Trincas, but like I magnanimously said, foreigners are allowed a broader margin of error 😐

    And I think the error is common, Mandy, because these days, X’s and Y’s is quite the trend in pseudo-discreet naming of places with upscale aspirations, isn’t it? Only roadside eateries — probably in the mountains — have names like ‘The Winter Palace’ anymore. So people err on the side of the common and put in that apostrophe.

    And I think, although I could be completely wrong, that Vikram Seth also calls it a nightclub in A Suitable Boy. Meenakshi does the flamenco in a scandalous choli, or some such. Perhaps it has always had a dual identity amongst its patrons?

  3. Very cool – a section of my dissertation is on jazz in the British colonies (focusing on Gibraltar). And my next book project is “masculinity, militarism, and the jazz world system in the British colonies.”

  4. Erom vehemently jwole pure uthli keno, Gautam aar Mandy dujonei had valid points. I mean even if they were nitpicking, their nitpicking had empirical bases. I get the contextual determination thing of your argument, but eto raag korte nei 😛

    Also, hebby likhchhish ajkaal. You have a talent in making the mundane come alive. Not quite pertinent to this post, but thought I’d mention 🙂

  5. Arre. You can’t fool me. You’re really mad when you’re employing muted and self controlled sarcasm to debate your point. Palta khilli korle bhalo hobe na, bole dichchi… 😀

  6. La halua. Aaj shokal theke public amake etai bojhanor cheshta korchhe, I’m in denial about my secret, yet obviously manifested rage. Ki case, oof.

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