Romancing the city of joy

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!



3 thoughts on “Romancing the city of joy

  1. “My probashi bangali tomai salam”(I salute u my statesman/woman) this was something which was used by vidyasagar to refer michael madhusadan dutta.

    Hi roy back once again to write cause this article brings me tears to my eye.Everytime I read it makes me nostalgic of my college days and as my previous feedback was appreciated couldn’t resist not writing on this one cause kolkata and me go along way back.

    To start with my school life pretty much was gr8 till 10th grade as I studied in one of da reputed schools of kolkata don know if u would know it its “St james” a highly protected environment basically, a normal city school life and as my mother had to shift to America for work reasons I had 2 go for a boarding school to da hills in kalimpong. Adolesence got da better of me in da hills I guess and in kolkata lingo came down for college too westernised with a tattoo and a ear piercing which was abit 2 much for da kolkata crowd back 6 years ago.
    I remember running around for colleges in kolkata like xaviers, presidency, monindra, city college and jadavpur everywhere it was a hustle and bustle of da crowd some administrators even made a mistake of thinking I was a foreign student as I had brown streaked (coloured hair) and ear piercings,anyways got monindra in da end.

    Now my whole life changed in college as i had a major culture shock as there were students from all over the bengal districts, villages name it they were there.some gigled when I walked into college some thought I were an alien I felt I was a stranger to my own city and college those days. I basically stuck to my own kind( northeasterns and anglos) as I felt they were da only one who understood me. My anger on my mother grew immensely how could she do this too me while she lived da American dream and I had to go through this dump but gradually things made more sense and slowly I started embracing these people.

    My cousin who was a sfi (student federation institute) maxist party president from presidency made me a working member of his party and made me embrace da bong culture in a different way.i was surrounded by socialist, nationalist and liberal people who showed kolkata to me from a completely different point of view, basically da city embraced me and made me think of life from a different point of liberal ideologies made me leave my house at da age of 19 and get my own place,a full time job and college side by side da city showed be da way of being da responsible citizen our conventional society wants us to be.

    Basically da city took care of me and showed me a liberal part which makes me da man I am today. Kolkata I love u I try leaving u and did(went delhi for 6 months and got posted back kolkata again wat irony huh 😉 that’s a different story) but u bring me back again.

    Basically it’s truly a city of joy from every aspect cause if you don understand da sadness of life at tyms how can u identify da joy doesn’t it make sense.

    Ps:again gr8 piece of work which can make any1 share their experiences of kolkata in this piece and secondly da thought process has been constructed by you magnificently. Simply makes me feel as a reader wat a gr8 city we are in. Keep up da good work and please start writing more of these blogs again as in da new year a gr8 mind like yourself hasn’t contributed to da blog fr sometym 🙂

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