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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kolkata Calling

Kolkata - my City - has its own unique lure! Kolkata is a city of paradoxes. It is a city that resonates in all die-hard Kolkatans (like me) a sense of pride, attachment, and nostalgia. The Howrah Bridge, the Ochterlony Monument, the trams, the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kalighat, Maidan, New Market are just a few of the unique landmarks and distinctive sights that makes one associate with the old Kolkata of grandeur, heritage and tradition - but the Kolkata of 2008 has moved way ahead, or apart, from the city of yesteryears. Yet, the spirit of the city somehow has still been there, one has to fathom, one has to keep one's senses oriented towards relishing that identity, which lies buried but not banished altogether.
I am often tempted to scrape the surface, and out it comes - the flavours, the fetishes and the fragrances of a city that has witnessed history unfold, that has seen the upheavals, the outrage, the apathy and the endless discontent gnawing from the inner realms, groaning for changes to shape itself up for newer challenges. And yet having stood testimony to national and international transformations & travesties, Kolkata has somehow adopted a stoical stance that few other city has had!

Kolkata retains its own culture, for good or for worse.
Most interestingly, it always generates extreme emotions in anyone visiting the city. Rudyard Kipling's 'The city of dreadful nights' and Rajiv Gandhi's 'A dying city' acts as a counter to such descriptions of the same city as 'The city of joy' by Dominique Lapierre, and 'Calcutta, My El Dorado' by Mrinal Sen.
The city of Calcutta (Kolkata is what the city gets spelled in English of late, almost attempting desperately to mimic the Bengali/Bangla diction) was founded by Job Charnock who started as a junior member of the Council of the Bay of Bengal in 1655. By 1686, Charnock was Governor of the Bay of Bengal based in the settlement of Hooghly. On a monsoon afternoon in August, 1690, Charnock rowed ashore to a swampy village Sutanati. On that day in 1690, Captain Job Charnock founded the city on these three closely placed small villages. The villages soon grew into a city which came to be known as Calcutta. Less than three years later, Charnock was dead. Little did he know he had sown the seed of a Megapolis that would be bursting and exploding with the population boom, creating a havoc in terms of infrastructural problems, the mammoth infiltration malaise (thanks to border states and nations), and creating the perfect 'saleable' imagery of decay, depravity, contrasts and chaos.
My Kolkata is still the city that is my only abode. Kolkata extends its hospitable arms to all and sundry, without discrimination. Hence, that's the ultimate picture that I would love to have ingrained in my consciousness, that of Kolkata Calling.


Anirban said...

Kolkata has changed for the better as well as for the worse. That's what changes are all about!
But, I am sorry to say, the changes that has been happening in the recent years in this very city of mine are not the ones that make me proud. In fact, I see a lot of the sameness in terms of apathy, nonchalance and lacuna that has always irked me about Kolkata. And alongwith that I find some disgusting changes too that reflects poorly on us Kolkatans!

rajjak said...

At the risk of sounding cliched, and biased, I must say that the Kolkata of yesteryears, as it comes across to someone as young as me through photographs and illustrations, is the Kolkata that keeps calling me...... haunting me.... enchanting me in my dreams, and in my creative probings and outpourings.

pallavi said...

Kolkata is poised for a big leap forward. Changing lifestyles can easily be witnessed if one visits the latest shopping malls, multiplexes, or the restaurants and pubs. It must be remembered that the genesis of this change in social dynamics lies in the city's changing economy.

Joy said...

Kolkata might be called an ailing metro right now by many critics and observers, and rightly so when analysed neutrally, but it is my city and I can't let go of my love for the city. Like umpteen Kolkatans, I am hopeful of the city making a turnaround for good, in the not so distant future.