The train enters the station and slows down. The familiar voice greeting new passengers comes floating through the open windows. Sleepy eyes are awakened, luggages are pulled and settled, the elders are counting the number of heads again vividly and then as the platform comes into sight, everyone gushes towards the gates like someone has opened a tap and the water is gushing towards it! The ‘arey’, ‘uff’, ‘dada ektu shorun na’, ‘egiye jan”; start off with the pushing and grunting and somehow everyone on board manage to get out. The station is huge, strewn with hawkers and coolies ready to jump on you to offer their respective commodities. It’s a long walk to the entrance yet there is almost no unnecessary commotion other than a family’s occasional loud bargaining with the coolies or some people carrying huge cartons along the platform shouting ‘shorun, side deben’. The station resembles the good old ‘9 ¾’ platform and straight off its evident that the only description given by the tourists about the City of Joy is spot on; it is truly a timeless beauty that has forgotten to adopt the new exuberance of the other metropolitan cities but chooses to be draped in her age-old cloak of conjuration! No wonder the British chose it to be the Capital of India, no one can disagree that the Englishmen have great taste!
The old clock tower reads six o’clock. As soon as someone takes the first step out of Howrah station, one can see the daily bustle across the city even during the wee hours of the day. In the age of Olas’ and Ubers’, getting a taxi from the pre-paid booth is an ordeal though it perfectly befits the city’s knack of keeping the old charm intact! The sea of yellow taxis instantly takes you back in time. The taxi takes you inside the city over the Ganges through the colossal structure known for its architectural prowess called the Howrah Bridge and the pavements are filled with enthusiastic runners, people treading along and little kids running here and there playing with cycle tyres. The seemingly endless river takes your breath away and the sudden gush of cold wind sends a quick shiver but as the sun comes up, the city bathes in sunlight and the vermillion sky seems to be in sync with those pundits and pujaris around the ghats and small temples starting up the day with loud mantras and myriad pujas murmuring different incantations and prayers.
The roads are strewn with cars but unlike other metro cities, this retro city still has hand-pulled rickshaws and trams. The buildings are picturesque, depicting the heritage of the city and they stand proof to the evolution of the world. The city can be easily divided into the north, the south and the central and the people residing in the city along with a person who’s completely new can see the differences between them. It is said that Kolkata is only about Bangalis or Bengalis but it is quite strange that this city has so many different types of people living together that it perfectly depicts the true sovereignty that our country was meant to portray. Different cultures, religions, caste and creed form this city and don’t be amazed to see a Marwari or a Punjabi speaking fluently in Bengali and a Bengali speaking the Punjabi language perfectly!
The city is like a holy ground with dozens of temples scattered all over it. Hordes of people appearing everyday to offer pujas to their respective deities. The two of the biggest temples are the Kalighat temple and the Dakhineswar temple but what’s the most appealing part of this city is the innumerable numbers of mosques, dargahs, gurudwaras and even churches. The religiousness of the people here beats that of any other city. Kolkata celebrates every festival as its own and the people celebrate it pompously.
The one thing that the people of Kolkata love almost as much as festivals is food! This city is a form of paradise for foodies. Starting from their very own Bengali cuisine and ranging till Continental; this city has revolutionized outdoor dining. This city houses some of the biggest hotels and restaurant chains and it has its very own China town which serves the best Chinese dishes fathomable. It doesn’t stop there as the city boasts of Indian restaurants that are fabled to have recipes coming down directly from the Mughals themselves! Already hungry? Desserts are still left! evil smile
The one thing synonymous to Kolkata and Bangalis is ‘Mishti’. Trust the people of this city to make sure your meal ends at an absolute high, the sweets and confectionery items found here are unparalleled. From ‘doi’ (curd) to ‘Payesh’; every person who has ever been to Kolkata knows that it is the Food capital of India! It is customary for every Bengali mom to make payesh for her child on his/her birthday!
During the day; the city is like a machine that keeps working despite heat, thunderstorms or unbearable cold! People commute all over the city for their respective jobs but if anyone ever needs any help, be rest assured that you shall have more than one person to help you out. Being experts about roads, every person residing in this city has a unique knack of helping someone who’s confused about directions. If you ask one person for directions; it is a given that more than one person will start bombarding you with directions!
At night; the city puts on a shroud of mysteriousness. The lanes seem like the deep, profound and enchanting eyes of a lover who never expressed much yet expressed alot! The whole atmosphere and vibe of the city changes at night and even places that are the most crowded during the day have a strange vagueness surrounding them at night. The quietness unnerves even the soul that is deeply searching for solitude. The mystic aura envelops this city and enthrals every soul that treads upon it.
The city perfectly depicts its women. Mild yet tough. Strong yet poignant. Calm yet unnervingly impatient. This city loves those who love her yet sometimes it breaks a few hearts for no visible reason. The women, like this city follow their main Goddess and during Astami when they get all decked up in sarees for their respective ‘premiks’; every guy can see a reflection of Goddess Durga in her! And if you witness the spectacle known as ‘Sindoor khela’ on the last day of Durga pujo, be rest assured that the whole imagery will stay with you till the very end.
This piece is not about what to find or do in Kolkata but to simply to try and describe my ineffable city in my own words. Kolkata – the city of Joy, which has experienced a lot of sorrow yet it stands like a timeless enigma, fearful of oblivion but fairly certain that the world will never forget the land of the poets, singers and dancers who showed the world how painfully beautiful life can be.
“Like a candle burning on both ends; my city is nothing but a spectacular and gorgeous mess.”