When I hear the word Kolkata, my reflex says—Oh! Kolkata. Defining a city such as mine is a difficult task. Many have tried but only some have managed to reach even close. Among those who have succeeded, their efforts have lasted a lifetime and have been vigorous. The popular, text-book definition of this city is—the city of joy. But Kolkata, for me, is my frenemy.
My love-hate relationship with the city is bizarre, even to me. When I am breathing her, I am a bag full of complains and grudges. The crass and rude public transport; the heat and humidity; the crowd; the slow pace of the city, etc. are few on my many complaints against her.
But the moment I step out of it, I miss the same things I abhorred while there. The bus conductor’s shout of ‘aste ladij’ (careful, there is a lady); the unpredictability of the Kolkata rains and the momentary relief it awards against the summer heat; the kids playing football in the mud; the hype created during local football matches, very like the one during durga puja; the month long unofficial holiday- the time between the pujas and Diwali- during which lethargy is the order of the day and meeting up long forgotten relative is the norm; the street food and the sweet shop guy patiently trying to help you decide on a sweet; the ‘kakmimas’ and ‘mashimas’ (maternal and paternal aunts) of the neighborhood and their huge noses ready to poke into other people’s bums; the ‘dadas’ (older brother) and their ‘ami toh achi’ (why do you worry, I am there) attitude; the hustle and bustle of the farmer’s market and the vendor’s knowledge about which fish will go to who’s house—all these put together, the thought of Kolkata makes me choke.
When I left the city, I was cross with it- it had put me through a lot- and I had vowed to never return. But as days turn into nights and nights into days, my resolve weakens. I crave the indecision of the city and the way she mothered me. I miss the shadow of the literary figures and thinkers that lurk around the streets of north Kolkata in the form of graffiti on the walls. The blatant disregard of the inhabitants for rules and their quick-to-judge attitude feels like home, amusingly enough.
Someday, maybe not too far from now, I will go back and start with the complaining all over again.