The Jadavpur neighbourhood of Kolkata has a unique offering for all new-age messengers of change: Amra Odbhut. We are wonderful, incredible…queer. This pop-up café acts as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, while at the same time offering some delectable culinary, cultural and artistic treats. Think Sofar, but for queer art. Founded by Upasana Agarwal, Nandini Moitra, and activist Raina Roy, Amra Odbhut is more than meets the eye and definitely what meets the soul.
We decided to get chatting with Upasana to better understand what their travel style is like. Or rather, what their souvenir style is!
What does a souvenir mean to you? Would you rather buy one or find (or “borrow”) one?
I think it means different things on different trips. Sometimes they are gifts from people I connect with while travelling, sometimes I find them in broken down antique stores (away from the main market places), sometimes I buy them as gifts for others, and some remain with me due to various reasons, for years, sometimes to part ways.
I've definitely not borrowed anything in that sense of the word, maybe picked up dried leaves or pine cones on a trek, or a rock.
What’s the one thing you've picked up on your travels that is closest to your heart, and why?
On my last trip to the mountains, I was visiting Sikkim and decided to stop by Darjeeling to meet an old friend. There I picked up a very beautifully handpainted Tibetan box, it is bright yellow with pink flowers on it. I use it to keep things like tarot decks, postcards or important documents. As an artist, I was really drawn to how lovely the illustrations were.
What is the most ridiculous souvenir you’ve ever brought back but would definitely do it again?
I'm actually super unsure about this. I'm really invested in aesthetic value so I make super calculated decisions about stuff like this. On a few occasions I've brought back tiny handmade toys for my cats which they broke within a week but even those had an interesting look to them.
What’s the story behind the most exorbitant or overpriced momento you’ve ever picked up?
I'm not a big spender on trips, but I can think of two occasions where I went way over budget. In Jaipur, I spent a lot buying these really intricately carved silver earrings, they were very thin sheets but looked absolutely gorgeous. One had two fish in water, and the other a deer staring at a crane. I really thought they were one of a kind (and this was from one of the stores inside the tourist spots, I think the City Palace.
The next day I found identical ones for a quarter of the price in the main bazaar.
But I didn't regret it because I felt that the artistry is worth a lot more and we don't support local artisans enough.
Do you like picking up souvenirs that remind you of the place, or of the moment?
I think it's a bit of both actually. I think there's a larger inclination towards picking up more nostalgic items, traditional art, etc. Sometimes it can be something like ceramic cat magnets, which are not place specific.
That's actually a funny story, because I'll never forget buying this. I was in Phuket after a work trip in Bangkok and had gone to the night market. I have 9 cats back home so anything cat related is a big must have, especially if it's something beautiful. These magnets were humourous, very well illustrated. I got so excited about buying them that I rushed to an ATM and came back with the cash. A couple of hours later, I was on the other side of town and just realised that I had left my card in the machine with no cash in hand.
But the magnets were worth the trouble.
What is the one thing you've brought back that’s more permanent or long-lasting?
Most of the things I've brought back have stayed with me.
What is the one thing you pick up no matter where you go?
Definitely something cat related or textile-based souvenirs.
What’s the one object you never travel without, even though you don’t need it?
I never travel without a small journal, even if I don't end up using it.