Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kolkata:my city of joy

I have always had a very special relationship with Kolkata. This is ofcourse my birthplace and the city where I grew up in and this is also the city from which I have stayed away on and off for some fifteen years now.

Recently I was in Kolkata during the Durga Puja and with a very hungry mind I was capturing whatever was making an impact on my mind. Would be happy to share some of those with my readers.These are some of the moments in which sometimes I laughed at my city, sometimes I sneered at her, sometimes was completely taken aback..sometimes felt connected and at home and sometimes sadly let down. These are merely my observations, I am in no way making a statement on any issues.

My bewilderment with the city started as soon as I reached Dumdum airport from Bangalore, where we were caught off guard when we saw atleast 200 people waiting in the queue for prepaid taxi...well its not really unexpected to see a huge crowd coming to kolkata during the Durga Puja but what shook me was the fact that to deal with this huge crowd there was only one person sitting at one of the taxi booths who could not care any less about the long queue in front of him, which multiplied by the minute due to his extreme slow pace and unique reluctance to make the bill!

Well, quite predictably, we left the queue and came out of the airport to search for any other means of transportation to reach home and we did get a taxi whose driver obliged to take us to our destination but on two, he will take other passengers too and two we have to pay double the amount we normally would have paid for the distance. As it was almost 11 at night and we were hungry, sleepy and hopeless we did agree to his terms and hopped in to the taxi thankful that atleast we will reach home the same night, the chances of which were appearing very thin at the pre paid taxi queue.

So far so good...once we got in to the taxi, more surprise were waiting for us, because though I am calling it a taxi it qualifies to be called a "relic of ancient civilization". The black and yellow ambasssador looked atleast 50 years old with a befitting maintainance. I was really thankful to Ma Durga (and to the taxi driver!) that we reached in one piece because all the time we had a feeling that the different parts of the cab are going to be disjointed any moment!!

Once home, things definitely took a turn for the better inspite of the bad heat and humidity of September in Kolkata. The family reunion, the sumptuous meals, the magic of Durga Puja all around us made up for any travel woes that we had.
We had a lovely time visiting some of the puja many themes, so much of effort to organize the Puja in a different way, in a special way was really mind boggling. Though I admired almost all the puja pandals that I came across, one really brought a smile on my face. It had the theme of "Darjeeling Ghoom Station"...well in the sweltering heat and humidity I am sure this is called true "wishful thinking"!! :)

My next surprise was waiting in the Oshtomi night (the 3rd day of the Puja..for the uninitiated) when at mid night we had to get up from sleep with a start because the chants of the puja were happening on loud speaker!! At the risk of sounding "unsocial", I had to grumble and crib about the insensitivity of the Puja organizers..I mean devotion would not have been less if the chants were performed off the loud speaker!!

More surprises were waiting for me the next day which was actually the last day of the Durga Puja and yes everybody, including the "unsocial" me was feeling a bit sad. To beat the sadness everybody seemed to extract the last bit of fun and frolic at the Puja pandals. There was this competetion and that, there were songs, dances and drama being presented by even the most 'untalented' of the residents. When it was about midnight and time came to wrap up the show or atleast turn off the microphone I was completely flabbergasted to note that one song was played back to back for three times amidst much cheerings and screamings from all the dadas and boudis, kakas and kakis and ofcourse the kochikachas...and guess what song that was ..It was "Brazil" by Venga boys!!!!!!!!!! Really if the Venga boys only knew!!! Is this called "International Integration" or may be globalization!!

Well I wont bore you much more with my observations and quickly wrap it up by one very startling observation again at the Dumdum airport, this time while we were going back from kolkata. The formal greetings from the crew of the airlines (of either a good morning or have a pleasnt flight or any such regular remarks which we are so wholly accustomed to and take totally for granted!) were conspicuous by their absence! Nobody greeted anybody, there was no formal courtesies exchanged, either at the airport or during the boarding process! Unless ofcourse you are white skinned as one white skinned girl (sorry If I am sounding uncouth, but I do not know her place of origin!) did get wished by a crew member while boarding! Though I think that was because that gave the guy some strange happiness (read kick) to be able to speak to her. What a poor show of hospitality I must say....You might say why I am blaming the city because of this! I should have blamed the airlines instead. But funnily the same airlines crew gave a much professional behaviour when we had taken the flight from Bangalore!

After reading till this some of you must be thinking that I am one of those critics who always crib about Kolkata, always act cynical and like to look down upon my city...well you are wrong.

This is the city where my heart is and perhaps always will be . This is the city that comes in my dreams..this is the city for which I vehemently argue with my non-bong friends when they point out faults with my city..this is the city I boast about when it comes to cultural enrichment....

But this time I was a bit scared..scared to think that are we really lagging behind most other metros!not only in facilities and infrastructrure but also in our attitude to change for the better! Though we are adopting Venga Boys music in our very traditional festivities but we are unable adopt the courtesy, the strive for efficiency of the West in our life..are we pretenting to be laid back in most essential facets of a city which takes it ahead?

Thus my prayers to Ma Durga this time were for Kolkata, my dear city. I pray that may Kolkata be able to preserve the rich cultural tradition that we have and yet adopt the modernity of this age and time. Modernity not only in the choice of clothes and music and such superficility but modernity in a much deeper and meaningful way so that it can truely be called the "city of joy" as it once was and still is in all proud kolkatan's mind.


  1. Kudos! A fabulous post. Very heartfelt, very candid, very true.
    Kolkata is an embodiment of imperfections. Yet it is the city that best comes alive with small joys and humongous attachments. I have never been able to make myself rooted to the city in many ways, yet I cannot think of being apart from this city of million ironies. Kolkata is growing. And at the same time, the so called 'pucca' Kolkatans have often shown their aversion to changes.
    Kolkata is unassuming in its embrace of cross-cultural confluences, be it jiving to the Vengaboys' beats or to the fusion cuisine at all the popular food joints. Kolkata beats all descriptions, criticisms and even jibes & jeers. Because the magic of the city lies in its spirit, that can only be felt, experienced by those who call the city their home, and experience it night & day.
    No one can truly give up on Kolkata, I guess.

  2. I guess you count me among the 'non-bong' friends you have had to argue with:)...I am so afraid that the first time I visit Kolkata after what might be a 3-5 yr stay in Boston, I am going to sound very snooty and 'NRI' both kolkata and delhi so much time is spent in surviving each day that superficial, instant and quick kick for enjoyment takes priority over culture...well at least you had some fun...cant say I miss kolkata, never had much roots anywhere...just the nagging feeling that I miss something....

  3. We are leaving for good ol' Cal soon for a trip and the part about the taxis has rattled me a wee bit. Any tips?
    Great writeup. :-)