Everyone says it. The Pilot in the Kolkata bound Jet Airways flight from Chennai said it while the flight was about to touch down at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport. Facebook statuses of my friends who got posted here too said it. A chap called Dominique Lappierre too said it in his beautifully written book,”The City of Joy”. But is it really so?
Come. Let’s find out.
|just a normal day in the streets of old Calcutta|
Before coming over here, Kolkata to me was all about the DADA(Sourav Ganguly), the DIDI, the Durga Pooja Festival, the Eden Gardens, Communism and the red-street Sonagachi. But, there’s always a yawning gap between how things are projected to the outside world and how things actually are.
It took some time for me to realize that I am in a metropolitan city, for the cost of living here is on the cheaper scale, when you bring in even some of the Tier-2 cities for comparison. It may be a developing IT Hub but half the city sleeps as early as 10 in the night. It may take pride in having many International schools but more than often, Bengali is the medium of communication EVEN in IT and Global Business companies. “English”, the global link language? ? ? No one bothers! It may boast of having multi-cuisine restaurants in plenty, but South Indian food here is a rarity, unlike the other metros Mumbai and Delhi. The number of street dwellers is alarmingly high. In fact, nearly 15% of its population still carry on with their chores on the streets- sleeping, bathing, washing and what not.
The disturbing scene which I once saw at the Howrah railway station sums it up. There were this 2 guys, one may be in his early twenties and other in his late forties who were involved in a physical fight for the crumbs of snacks. The younger guy, eventually wins the fight by snatching it and pushing the older guy on the platform. Blood was oozing out from his face which left him in tears. It was a terrible sight. This is the terrible form of Poverty. I haven’t seen worse scenes than this before anywhere( may be in the films). Ironically, I saw it here in the so-called Metropolitan city! C’est la vie!
|Modern day trams in Kolkata|
In spite of all these, there is some charm with this city. The yellow-coloured Taxis ( even brighter than the Chennai Super Kings jersey) which roam around honking ferociously takes us to those movie-sets of the old Hindi movies.The old red British-styled buildings near the Eden Gardens give you a feeling that you’re in the streets of London. A tram ride, a walk through the buzzing Park Street, a bite of EggRoll from the roadside shops, a fun-filled shopping experience in the Gariahat markets, the Kalighat temple, tasting Rossogullahs from the KC Das sweets are the things-to-do when you’re in Kolkata.
|Taxis queuing up in front of the Howrah bridge|
But is that why it is called the city-of-joy? No. There’s some thing else.
Unlike the ones in Mumbai who literally rush every minute of the day, people in Kolkata prefer a slow lazy life; like the one you can think of the times of the seventeenth century; like how some of my office colleagues prefer coming slowly but surely at around 10..10.30…11..11.30… No hustle-bustle. The laziness is perhaps behind this life style and they seem to enjoy it.
|the street chess clubs in the busy Gariahat market|
And how about the girls. Well, they too seem to enjoy their life to the fullest, flaunting their SMOKING skills. There is some artistry in the way these pretty girls in Kolkata smoke; like how Roger Federer uses his racquet as a magic wand. You’ll gaze in admiration. You’ll pause, wait and glare at the sight of your female colleagues and young college girls puffing a cigar. Its an even more interesting sight of college guys dishing out a lesson or two on smoking to their girl friends. The fact that there ain’t any public smoking bans, this city (including both men and women) smoke more than any other city and it won’t be wrong if we call it the “Smoking capital of India”. City-of-joy?
This is all the Kolkata that I know after staying on the outskirts of the city for three months. But I want to call myself a Kolkataian, at least when I’m staying here. First things first, I am shifting to the main Kolkata from the outskirts this weekend. Hopefully, a different version of this post after three months! Cheers!