This is the fifth time I am coming back to writing this article. Every time I write one paragraph and read through it, I hate myself for such a creation and end up deleting the whole thing. I don’t know why it is so difficult to talk about this city. The city of joy- it is called, but I feel differently about it.
Originally from Kolkata, I am what Bengalis call ‘probashi bangali’- a Bengali who has barely lived in Bengal. My earliest memories of this city are those of my childhood—of a joint family in a huge house; of laughter, of innocence, of joy and of simplicity. But those memories are very few- the reason being that I left this city at the age of six to go to Hyderabad- a city I like to call my own. Having stayed there for 5 years and having become half a rasam loving and Telegu speaking south indian, I moved to Delhi—a south to north transition. I am proud to say I did not handle it too badly, despite changing genders of other people and my own while speaking in Hindi- a language completely foreign to me. Never the less, I managed to learn a concoction of Punjabi-Hindi, Lucknowi-Hindi, and Haryanvi-Hindi and also managed to pick up the swag of a typical Delhite. The transition was so drastic that instead of talking in Bangla at home with my parents, I switched to Hindi.
By the time I completed my school life, someone sitting upstairs pulling the strings of my life decided that it was high time I trace back my roots and see the place I was born in. Getting to know it and experience its way of life was the agenda. I was apprehensive about this city—it had too many memories and too many people I knew (I always wanted college life to be an experience in a completely new city). I decided that I will stay away from my many homes in this city and explore it in my stride.
In the beginning, nothing seemed to work out—the heat was killing, the humidity was frustrating, the rains were irritating- there was mud all over and the city seemed to stop when it rained. The people were very different from my loud and bubbly Delhi friends, the academic system- a lot more serious, the roads -narrower and the public transport- stuffy and crass. For a Hyderabad- Delhi hybrid, it was too much to take.
I complained to dad; asked him how he ever loved this strange city and why it was even called ‘the city of joy’. He told me to give it time, said- ‘your life has just begun in that city; a lot of memories will be made and you need time to fall in love with it. Love doesn’t happen very easily….it is aided by habit, monotony and familiarity.’ I scoffed and cribbed, but consoled myself at the end of the day.
Someone had told me to explore the city on foot; said- ‘kolkata is a walking city, take an umbrella, a hundred rupee note, your walking shoes and start walking without any sense of direction. I’m sure you won’t regret it.’
‘Let’s try this too’- I told myself. Getting over my laziness was the first, very difficult challenge. Once that was accomplished, I took to the road and experienced a mixture of things. The architecture of the city was breath-taking and diverse.
North Calcutta, famous for its historical buildings, which are now falling apart; has an old world charm to it. You can imagine a bunch of young freedom fighters rushing out of one of the narrow, badly lit passages during the freedom struggle. Coming to Central Kolkata, you have the cleaner and more happening part of the city- a strange mix of the old British style of architecture and the modern glass buildings. Places like Park Street and Dalhousie square fall in this category. It can be called the cosmopolitan part of this city. For photography lovers, a rain washed Dalhousie square, Victoria Memorial, Maidan and the race course is a treat for their shutters. Going further south, you find the modern part of this diverse city—high rises, huge malls and relatively wider roads. Moving towards the east, you reach the river bank. This is best enjoyed during the sunset, on a boat listening to ‘bhatiali’ songs (music of the fishermen).
Gradually, even the crassness of the public transport started fascinating me and I discovered the different types of people dwelling here- all had their shells around them in the beginning but with time, trusted me enough to show me their core.
It is in this city- one which is obsessed with politics, Marxism, chai, Rabindranath Tagore, literature; one which is stuck in the past, but wants to step into the future, that I discovered myself. It is here that I understood the value of simplicity.
My relationship with this city is a complicated one—it irritates me, fascinates me and we fight almost every day. I fall for its charms every other day. I want to leave it and yet come back to it. All symptoms suggest that I might be finally falling in love with it. It looks like you were right dad!