Tilottama at a Glance 

Shweta Singh posted under Book Review on 2023-06-21

To call ‘Tilottama at a Glance’ by Sreeparna Sen a book would be doing it disservice. It can best be described in my opinion as Wikipedia with emotions on Kolkata. Anyone vising Kolkata should read this book. That this city is the author’s hometown and has deeply influenced her is a fact that comes across in each of the 66 pages. Her love for everything Kolkata be it food, culture, history, music, architecture, festivities (not just festivals but other occasions that inspire Bengalis to celebrate) places to visit, are amply displayed to entice the reader into falling in love with the city of joy.  I have never been to Kolkata and have wanted to go there; mostly for its food. But Sreeparna’s articles have reminded me of so many things other than food, I had forgotten about Kolkata that we had learned as children and been in awe of. And I came to know about a few new things.  The book is a collection of articles, starting from A and ending at Z. A lockdown activity that started as a literary pursuit of penning something on a chosen topic for each alphabet as the days progressed. In the book at many places, you can feel her anguish at being cooped up in home during the lockdown and missing all the activities that she and all of us as a matter of fact took for granted. It is good that we have preserved those days in words for eternity, for really even in 15-20 years it would seem fantastical that such a worldwide event even happened, ofcourse subject to the fact that such incidents don’t happen again.   The articles are written in simple language, which makes them relatable, and helps us focus on the emotions and thoughts and memories that had driven the writer to pen them so. Each article is anywhere from one and a half pages to three pages long. The paragraphs are short and crisp and convey the emotion or conjure the image that Sreeparna wants her readers to feel or see. The publishers are Ukiyoto Publishing and the page and print quality is good.  There are the usual things that we associate with Kolkata; food like rolls, phuchka, momos, parathas, sweets like sandesh, rasgulla and tea and coffee, the street food…all of which had me salivating. For the articles are not a Zomato description of the dishes alone, but each such article is peppered with her own experience, history or her love for that food, making it so much more interesting to read and giving us a glimpse into her childhood.  Then there are articles dedicated to Durga puja, Christmas, and even an Ilish Utsav, dedicated to their favorite fish Hilsha, which was a revelation for me. Also, when there is talk of Kolkata how can they not touch upon Satyajit Ray, Suchitra Sen, Uttam Kumar, and ofcourse Rabindranath Tagore. There are articles about the yellow taxi, the Howra bridge, Victoria Memorial and a very interesting tale about the Writer’s Building and the three martyrs. But the articles that really caught my eye were about adda and the Lyadh culture. Their descriptions brought a smile to my face and I knew that I would love this city simply for these two things. Adda as the author explains is not the nefarious adda we associate with in Hindi. This adda is more like a meeting place, and yet its not so much a place, but the togetherness, where people sit and talk, and argue and just generally unwind. Though like so many beautiful old school things the adda culture is too in a decline.  The other thing was Lyadh. In the words of the author, ‘Lyadh is the art of being unproductive without guilt.’ An extension of the afternoon siesta as she explains which she too indulged in while writing these articles. From now on, I too am not going to be lazy or lethargic, I am simply going to be enjoying my lyadh, and will not feel guilty about it. So, now you know what to say when someone’s asks you, ‘What did you do today?’ So, all in all, I would say, pick up this book if you want a breezy read and if you are ever going to Kolkata for it is better than most local guide books, I am sure.  Get your copy here: