Calcutta Kolkata Calcutta Calcutta

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It isn’t like one of those cities, Calcutta: dazzling, shocking, astonishing. Sandip Ray said in one of the sessions in the literary meet this year, “Calcutta is about having dinner at home”. It won’t shock you with the power it has over you, over your life. It will not damage you with its claims of money and power. Calcutta will get into you. It will become a chunk of your heart, a loss in your memory. It will confuse you every time you call it Calcutta and some stranger from far away asks you, “Isn’t it called Kolkata now?” But is it?

I remember when the first mall in Kolkata, Forum, opened. I remember how I would be so excited to go watch a movie there and then puppy-eye Papa into buying me ice cream from Baskin Robins. Today, Papa and I don’t really go to that many movies together and malls seem to be plain boring. Calcutta was in Papa buying me ice cream. Calcutta is in New Market. Kolkata is an illusion.

Calcutta is the way you can just stop while walking on the road and wonder if you really want to go where you are going. It is giving up your seat in the bus for the old widow with broken spectacles and a faded, bordered, white saree who will say “Na ma, tumi bosho” with her crinkled, wrinkled smile. Calcutta is the way all the buses stop at the wave of a hand and conductors yell, “Aaste! Ladies pete bachha!”, all those rickshaw wallahs and the trams that are too slow for Kolkata but perhaps just fast enough for Calcutta. It is in eating jhaal muri after shopping at Vardaan Market, buying a chocolate softy outside Treasure Island after a satisfying day spent at New market. It is in leaving office early to go to Victoria just because you suddenly felt like it.  It is in all those ideas that won’t seep into words and then all those silences, which would be crippled by a search for meaning. Calcutta is in the conviction with which you will reply after a pause, “No, it will always be Calcutta to me.”

Calcutta isn’t like the other cities. It isn’t an addiction. It won’t haunt  when you are gone. It will calm your nightmares. There might be a day when you will feel like leaving it, leaving behind your daaknaam, to go away to where you could do something more with your life because really, Calcutta seems to be forever in a dream, cut off from the pace of other cities, giving its people a pause, a moment to bring back hope. Time is irrelevant to it, an insignificant formality to define life with.

You know how all through our lives we keep moving to bigger, better houses? Calcutta is the first house you ever knew, the one that had practically no furniture and patches of paint would keep falling off and yet it was home. Calcutta is peeping behind the walls of that house playing hide and seek with your first friend ever. And when you are long gone, a resident of some bigger, better city and are standing in a shop buying a cigarette, it will come to you in the memory of your girlfriend back home asking you to quit. That’s what Calcutta does to you. It gets into you. In the way you will order dinner at the last minute even though you aren’t hungry as such because you remember Ma asking you to eat properly with tears in her eyes when you were leaving and the bag full of food she manipulated you into carrying.

But mostly, Calcutta will teach you to be in love. Your first dream, your first crush, the way you would hide being in love like you were 5 and it was a chocolate you didn’t want to share. It will teach you to love faces and places and then it will  teach you to love life, just as it is. It will teach you that this is it, that no matter what you get from life now, will not be greater than this gift of being in love, knowing that you would give everything, every inch of your universe for one thing.  And you will ask yourself on some days, in between cups of cha, if it’s all that mattered. Isn’t there supposed to be more to life? But is there?

Calcutta may try to become Kolkata, try to fit in but perhaps, it never will. It will always be the sunlight seeping in through the leaves of trees, the stars that you will pack in your bags when you leave. It will always be Calcutta in the song on its roads, in the dance of Durga Puja, in the way you will love and let go, and love again.

Yes, it will get into you. It is, inside of you.

Can you feel it?

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193 Comments

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193 responses to “Calcutta Kolkata Calcutta Calcutta

  1. I felt it on my first visit!!!

  2. Reblogged this on positivity attack and commented:
    I could cry a bit right away. Oh! Calcutta.

  3. This is a brilliant piece, and I felt every word you wrote down. This is beautiful. I am sharing it!

  4. Nupur

    I am far away from Calcutta … but u made me feel like it’s right inside me 🙂

  5. I had goosebumps on reading this brilliant piece. Please allow me to reblog it on http://gona-make-it-through.blogspot.in/

  6. Purbashish Sarkar

    wonderfully penned !! … gives me the goosebumps and makes me homesick all the more .. 🙂 may I share this please?

  7. This was so true. Each word. Your words have done justice to this city, i believe.
    Calcutta. My home. The city that taught me it’s fine if you just lay back and let the world go on with its routine.
    Beautifully written. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  8. Madhu singh

    So…Calcutta is Calcutta… Far better than other cities.I can’t even imagine to leave my calcutta

  9. No one’s ever summed it up like this…so beautiful! :’)

  10. Loved it. Reading it again after a year (thank you Facebook Memories!), again away from home. You have captured the native’s emotions perfectly so I won’t add anything to it. From an outsider’s perspective, I think my ex-boss summed it up aptly: “An outsider cries twice when it comes to Calcutta. Once when he comes to the city; and then, when he leaves.” Thank you once again.

  11. Agree totally. Have been out of this city for more than a decade now but every now and then, it creeps in with that nostalgic feeling of every minute thought, feelings. This is a city which may have not grown exponentially but somehow still provokes a thought ‘ how better are we outside or had we tried a bit harder’. This question probably will never be answered.

  12. Douglas Loving

    A friend from Calcutta introduced me to this article,what memories it has aroused..I spent my youth in Calcutta nearly 100 years ago.I remember when the New Market was a shining jewel and everyone’s place to go.When
    Magnolias on Park street sold the best ice cream in the world,When you took your first love to the luxurious Lighthouse or Metro cinema and hoped that all your friends could see you ! I remember the joy of leaping on and off a shining tram,of watching the Customs vs Port Commissioners on the “Maidan” when Keshav Dutt,Pat Jansen and Leslie Claudius were the best players in the world (cricket did not figure in those days).I remember when in my late teens a trip to Nizam’s for a late night Kati Roll was imperative.Finally I remember every March being packed of to Sealdah station to catch the Darjeeling Mail train on my way to school and the joy of returning to beloved Calcutta in late November for three months of
    sheer pleasure.

  13. Sreeparna Sarkar

    It used to be all this about 7-8 years ago. But now when I visit, I don’t feel this anymore. It is more about irritated people, frustrated professionals, rude creepy stares. My Calcutta is not the safe Calcutta anymore that it used to be in my childhood. Perhaps it has become Kolkata indeed.

  14. It gave goodebumps, when I knew I was about to leave my city after few months, after spending 18 long years 🙂
    it will always be my Calcutta, my home

  15. After reading this I feel homesick.

  16. Urmi Chakravorty

    This was such a brilliant n beautiful piece….had me all teared up. 25 years away from my city of joy and yet, going home still means Calcutta and only Calcutta!

  17. Siddhartha Bose

    Sanghatikally nice!

  18. Ranjan Banerjee

    I wonder whether people from other cities, London, NY, Paris and Tokyo think the same way. Will the piece read the same if we replace Calcutta with any of the above cities (taking away, of course, the jhalmuries etc). Does the city we are born in remains the most cherished life long? I wonder.

  19. Subir BANERJEE

    What was cut yesterday will not look the same Today, that’s how CAL CUTTA got its name and she remains the same today as KOLKATA, to understand and feel the beauty of Kolkata you have to travel deep into her Bengali root, a thoroughbred who was once the capital of those who had ruled the whole nation for more than 2 hundred years, Kolkata is unique and she will remain the same as if you don’t want to see your wife/lover change herself just because it is monsoon or summer, She will dress the same way as you have always liked her!! Kolkata is the Kingdom of India and she will remain so for years to come. A city full of JOY of the people who live in it and also for the people who travel into it, KOLKATA is fascinating and full of CHARM that no other city in India or even in the world can offer. Great place to unwind and to just be what you want to be. She is mesmarising , she is strong and beautiful and she is still enjoying the days as if like an old lady with her million grandchildren! HER smile is all over the city and throughout HER people.

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