Oh, Kolkata!

13 Aug

“In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”- Carl Jung

It was not so long ago that I was following a conversation about Kolkata between a writer and a traveller friend of his. As it is, I always enjoy listening to people talking about my city. But this time it was not such a pleasant experience. The traveller, an NRI from a bustling metropolis, shared his harrowing tales about Kolkata when he  made his way home through the city. In his words Kolkata was no more than a dead city – disorganized, desultory and deluged by people from all corners of the globe.

It  left me somewhat disconcerted. I searched for words, for impressions to defend Kolkata. But nothing came to me – no riposte, no denial, not even a sigh. For a long time I  felt nothing.  Was I sad? Was I angry? Was I  disappointed? Was a part of me silent in resignation?  Why was there a void? Why wasn’t I up in arms defending a city so dear to me? For a long time I didn’t know why I didn’t want to react.

And today as I sat  absorbed in a listless afternoon, waiting for the calm to lift, waiting for a breeze to lift my spirits, waiting for the vagrant clouds to thicken and  darken again, for lightning to strike and  the sky to rage with the gathering storm, it came to me.  I realized my affection for Kolkata ran too deep to be impelled to lash out, to be provoked by comments made by somebody who happened to be passing through Kolkata at the wrong time of the year.

I presume  that to understand and love Kolkata, or any other aging city in the world, one has to  accept that  decay and  chaos are  integral to an old city. And having accepted the crumbling city, look deeper into the soul, search for its music, map its streets, taste its spirit, trust its people and love it in spite of its faults. Having thus resolved the storm within, memories of my home, my city, my Kolkata came to soothe me like the rain.  I was not fighting a battle anymore , only reminiscing about my Kolkata and why I love her so.

My memory of Mahantaji and his brotherhood of monks in my first school, a Buddhist missionary institution tucked away in the middle of the Chine Para, the Irish convent I graduated to in the heart of  Anglo Para, wandering through meandering by-lanes, discovering  new alleys on longer summer afternoons, walking home through alleys that have been denied the invasion of daylight – was growing up with Kolkata.  Climbing over walls to invade the neighbour’s terrace to visit a friend, the songs I learnt to hum because our neighbour loved to listen to his radio loud, watching the same people exiting the same rundown doors forever,  the parar Durga Pujo, the para cricket, the adda at street corners or in our baithak-khana  – was being a part of the Central Kolkata lane where I grew up. The boi para, the neighbourhood theatre that  ran only old Bangla classics, the eroding facades of mansions echoing their former glory hidden at every bend of each lane, extravagant lattices, wooden shutters on arched windows, elaborate balconies – these and many more gems strewn at nooks and corners of a Kolkata urging to love.  Getting wet under the open sky on an open terrace on a rainy afternoon, watching  colourful kites flying in the lazy summer wind, lying on my back on the terrace and counting  stars with my sister on a clear autumn night, the Palash that awaited me every spring with its flame coloured flowers ouside my college gates or just waiting for the Kaal Baishakhi after a scorching day – was a Kolkata that made me a dreamer.

Another Kolkata also remains embedded in my memory.  A Kolkata of poets, painters, story-tellers, singers, of thinkers – people who make Kolkata proud, a Kolkata that was a distant dream in my youth but which never made me feel isolated. I was very much a part of the same Kolkata,  very much absorbed in this artistic abundance.

And inspite of the undying spirit of this city of palaces and shanties, bridges and temples, trams and metro rails – to most  Kolkata remains a dying city, beyond any hope and beyond any repair. Kolkata, the  city which like a stubborn child has refused to change with the changing times. The city that continues to draw ire from us, and other out-of-towners, scornfully thumbing its nose at all as it digs in its heels deeper and refuses to mutate.

It is this one thing, this reluctance to change too much too soon, the resistance to molt and obscure the past that keeps me going back to Kolkata. My Kolkata   remains just the way I had left it on a sultry afternoon, in June, eleven years ago.  To me seeing the same roads, the same people, the same buildings, the same careless beauty – brings back a sense of belonging, to a city stuck in a time warp. The faded photographs in a torn album, the nooks and corners of the streets I have traversed for as long as I can remember; the smells that have forever stirred the same memories in me, all  resonate a sense of  homecoming for the soul in search of roots.   Kolkata has always allowed me to remain myself, has compelled me to retain my identity. Like Kolkata doesn’t feel the need to change for anybody and unlike most of the other cities that I have either visited or lived in,  Kolkata doesn’t compel me to concur with the change outside .

sepia door1

An old door in my neighbourhood, waiting for a breath of fresh air….

sepia mkt

The lone tower of Kolkata Corporation Coin Museum, on College Street (Bidhan Sarani), after the rest of the market was demolished.

sepia balcony

A balcony from my past.

India Counts


Posted by on August 13, 2009 in Calcutta, city, Kolkata, Memories, Romance


12 responses to “Oh, Kolkata!

  1. Anil

    August 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    I quite agree with you. No old city will ever die. There’s too much to its past to ever be forgotten or cease to matter. I can indentify with many of the things you said though I never visited Calcutta. I’ve heard a lot about it though.

    The pictures are evocative. Keep writing, this was a wonderful post.

  2. Ashirbad

    September 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Sent by a friend, i reached your blog for the first time a short while ago.
    Since last one hour i have travelling through the dark alleys, silent windows, hidden emotions and dried tears through your beautiful words….the post Oh Kolkata! reminds me Anjan dutta’s songs….

    I have been to kolkata quite a few times, have always been fascinated by its unmatched charm but have never been able to make efforts to discover it. And so i fell in love with kolkata through the songs of anjan dutta who through his lyrics took me to Ripon street, Behala, howrah bridge and many more places.

    Today this post made me feel the pulse of that love again. It was like walking lonely through an alley in a quite summer afternoon, after the locality had gone for sleep after maach-bhat and quiteness enveloped the place.

    Kolkata has a magic, thanks for making me smell kolkata again!

  3. Cora Rónai

    September 17, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    This is a beauty! It was this text that made me follow you on Twitter. And yes, this is the Kolkata that lives in my imagination, ever since I first watched Satyajit Ray’s movies: I just couldn’t place the high-rises here!

    I have a deep affection for aging cities. My own town, Rio, has seen much better days. But it is exactly its older neighborhoods that I love the most: old two story houses, worn at the edges, with the occasional shrub growing out of a cornice, bricks showing under layer after layer of peeling paint.

    On the other hand, you know, this also breaks my heart. I disagree with Anil. Old cities do die, and I think we can’t be helpless romantics about them. Let them age, yes, but like healthy, vigorous old ladies. That way they can last forever. It doesn’t take much — just something that, unfortunately, is as scarce in India as it is in Brazil: devoted rulers less interested in their own power and fortune than in their cities well being.

  4. Rahul

    April 5, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Not sure how I ended up on your blog but love the way you have described the city.
    I have been der many times and I love the city. Kudos

    • Rose Tinted Glasses

      April 5, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Rahul,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your view.

  5. Orange Jammies

    April 5, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Oh but it charmed the pants off me! It’s a beautiful, ancient city that exhales history, but I suppose the world is divided into those who seek only the future and those who cherish and cradle things past. Isn’t a sense of belonging a blessing? It’s one of the things I am most grateful for.

    • Rose Tinted Glasses

      April 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm

      Dear OJ,
      It is a blessing indeed and blessed are those who have the sense of belonging …..
      Though I am not against looking at the future and living in constant motion, moving forward. But what is crucial to me in my life of constant motion is the feeling of belonging… to a place, to a house, to a corner …. I need to keep looking over my shoulder at a place where my roots run deeper. That assures me that not all has changed in this forever changing world, that I can go back to something which has been a part of my life for a longer time and I have belonged there. I’m grateful too, that I have that sense of belonging in me.

      Loved the fact that you feel it too!

  6. Chica

    April 6, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Wonderfully written. I have always yearned to visit Kolkata… or lemme just call it Calcutta, but after reading this.. I think a visit will not be enough. I think I will need to stay for atleast a year to experience most of what you just described. Thanks 🙂

    • Rose Tinted Glasses

      April 6, 2010 at 8:47 pm

      Do visit and do take a longish holiday to do justice to the old and weary city, only then will it open its heart to you.

  7. Nassat

    April 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Woohoo…. u studied in Buddha Mandir???? Where did u stay in Kolkata… I lived right opposite Bow Barracks!!! It awesome to see someone from that nick of the woods reminiscence about central calcutta… coz all the writings i get to read wax eloquence about south calcutta…. i guess that the true character of the melting pot that the city is not evident anywhere more than the bowbazar-college street area which houses everyone from Armenians to Zionists… awesome read… and how true!!!!

    • Rose Tinted Glasses

      April 6, 2010 at 8:57 pm

      No, my school had a longish name, Kripasaran Continental Institution, where I studied the first two years before on to the next school.

      I couldn’t agree more, Kolkata has so much more than just South Kolkata….


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