Sitting at a restaurant one evening, I heard this obviously-one-of-the-aristocracy-of-Calicut gentleman say that life in this city was all about some bees. Bees? B’s, it appears. Bikes, Beevi, Biryani, Beach, Brandy and Baby.
Funny enough, it does sum up Calicut in some ways. One is tempted to imagine a short sequence involving the above, involving a rather stale ending in the birth of a baby, but then you have to be a resident of this city for the last term to invoke a different meaning. These B’s are about lifestyle and about realities.
Bikes, for example. Faster lifestyles, easier finance options, prohibitive fuel costs and the scarcity of a valuable commodity called parking space have seen a rapid proliferation of two-wheelers in Calicut over the last decade. Just about everyone I know seems to have a bike. Every male, I should clarify- this is a rather chauvinistic city. A motorbike is almost invariably the first vehicle any male here buys, or is provided by his parents. Except for those at the very top of the heap who cannot afford to be seen moving on less than four wheels, everyone keeps a bike.
Beevi? The local variant of the Persian ‘Bibi’, meaning ‘lady’; a term commonly used hereabouts to refer to one’s wife. Calicut has a long tradition of Arab/Muslim influence, in fact one that stretches back to a thousand years or so. The very rise to prominence of the capital of the Zamorins was due to the economic impact of Arab trade. History speaks of the Kozhikode Sahabandra Koya contributing to the Zamorin’s domination of the Mamankam festival and the Marikkars who led the Calicut navy against the Portuguese.
One of Calicut’s many claims to fame- its Biryani- also traces its roots to the Middle East, from where the marauding hordes of Tamerlane are supposed to have brought it to northwest India. A ‘Rice Mandhi’ at an ‘Arabic’ restaurant at Calicut does make one remark the similarity between the dishes. Google the word and one comes across Biryani aficionado Vishy Shenoy ascribing its origin to the Persian ‘biriyan’, which means ‘to fry before cooking’.
The Calicut beach that saw a millennium or more of foreign trade is today, sadly, one of only two places in the city where one can spend an idle hour in the open. The other, a very poor second, is the rejuvenated Mananchira Park at the new heart of the city. A visit to the beach on a Sunday evening will expose one to a thousand of the city’s population and a few hundred of its bikes.
There isn’t much to be said about brandy except that it is by far the most popular western liquor in Calicut for some reason. So popular, in fact, that for many people, all western liquor is ‘brandy’: I have heard a reference to a ‘very fine brandy’ called ‘London Whisky’.
And then there is Baby. Here I have to recall the unknown gent who inspired this narration, for his original statement was something like “ We come on our bikes to the only place where we can relax- the beach; if we bring our beevies, we have biryani; if not, we have brandy; ultimately, we land up at Baby.” ‘Baby’ being the upmarket Baby Memorial Hospital, perhaps Calicut’s busiest private medical center.