In Ramblings #1, Aditi wrote Mumbai is a city, Bombay is an emotion. I loved that line. Speaking of her writings, if you haven’t read her Alliteration poem, GO READ IT RIGHT NOW! It is seriously awesome!
Anyway, getting back to the topic, Bombay and Mumbai. Sort of like Calcutta and Kolkata. Anglicised names being swapped for a more local flavour. But Kolkata is a city, just as much as Calcutta. Nobody makes much of a distinction. What is special is its soul. Kolkata is alive. It talks to you. You don’t live in Kolkata. You live with it.
Anybody who’s stayed in Kolkata will tell you, its chaotic. Pretty dirty in some places. Occasionally downright squalid. But Kolkata grows on you. And you’ll fall in love in spite of yourself, along with around 15 million proud Calcuttans sharing the city, you’ll realise, the quaint yellow taxis and the battered trams are a flavour you won’t get anywhere on earth.
Google Kolkata. You’ll see pictures of a magnificent bridge spanning the Hooghly, the world’s longest cantilevered bridge, Rabindra Setu; a beautiful white dome with an angel on top, the Victoria Memorial; the yellow HM Ambassador taxis and such things. This is one side of Kolkata. There are also hundred, two hundred year old buildings built so close to each other, they share walls. Not boundary walls, the wall of the entire building. There’s the Ganga, marking one of Kolkata’s boundaries. People bathe in the ghats, jumping off stone jetties for their daily dip at 6 am. You’ll find plenty of pictures of Kolkata’s annual gala, Durga Puja, a 5 day festival where the entire city comes to a standstill as the goddess Durga comes home.You might find our swanky new airport, our grand old railway station, all of it. People who have seen Piku (2015) will know a lot of this. But you probably won’t find the Kolkata I’m talking about.
[Incidentally, do give the sarod theme from Piku a listen, it’s lovely.
You see, no picture can probably capture what Kolkata is. Words will fall short too. Kolkata’s essence, well, it has to be felt. Waiting at an intersection, a bike rider knocks on your car door, and as you turn to him wearily he tells you that the door isn’t shut properly, that’s Kolkata reaching out to you. The taxi driver helping his aged passenger to his home, carrying in the luggage, that’s Kolkata and it’s caring touch. The tired old policeman at the intersection lecturing yet another kid as he was walking by blindly, engrossed in Pokemon GO, that is Kolkata, keeping you safe. The city loves you, and before you know it, you love it back.
It is pretty difficult to not love a city with sweet shops on every alternate street, and with a population of Bengalis (Bongs). Kolkata has probably the richest street food tradition in India. And, no matter what the Lucknowi and Hyderabadi purists say, Kolkata’s biriyani (it’s a rice and meat dish) is legitimate, proper biriyani. All the food is amazing, the streets are lined with lush greenery, there’s beautiful architecture and the people, well, they are the people of the City of Joy. They are what makes the city.
Cliched as it may sound, you need to come to Kolkata in order to understand it, to feel it. The warmth, the love, the caring embrace of the city is unmatched. There are big, swanky, modern cities, quaint old fashioned little nooks, cities on the way to somewhere else, cities that change every ten years. And then there’s Kolkata. For pure heart, no city comes close.