Calcutta: snapshots

Neon halogen street lamps

Through misty winter mornings

Calcutta looks quaint and romantic

There is history smeared on all corners

From Princep Ghat to Park Street

With early morning walkers up for a stroll

Aroma of freshly made ‘kachoris’ and ‘jalebis’

This is unique to Calcutta

Flocks of men gather chatting on street corners with newspapers in hand

At every nook at every stand

Talking furiously about current affairs and politics

While sipping on hot ‘cha’ from their earthen pots

From the corner of the eye they watch passers by

Yet neck deep in dialogue and arguments

And ready to fight for their convictions with rolled up sleeves

And a fist gesture ready to go

On the other hand you can get to see the Bengali bourgeoisie

Enjoying weekend evenings at the various British clubs,

A legacy left behind by the British, we are so proud of

Yet we are colonised, hyphenated and divided

Calcutta is a city of paradoxes:

Faint bhajans chanted in the distance competing with the ‘ajaan’ in full swing

This is a political move propitiating both parties

Strategically when the elections are around the corner

The busy streets are laden with rallies and processions

With strikes and ‘bandhs’ everyday affecting the GDP

And a new excuse for government officials to go on French leave

Summer is round the corner heralded with load shedding

There is one city where the ambassador reigns supreme

As Durga Puja ushers in a season of new festivities

In comparison spring and summer have lost its glory

Fancy themed “Puja Pandals” built over blocked roads

Puja enthusiasts wading through crowds

Youngsters wind up and hover around Maddox Square

Maa Durga has come to visit earth with all her children

This festival excitement to both believers and non believers

Restaurants on Park Street jam packed

Flurys has lost its charm, though not its clientele

Heart wrenching to see ‘Blue Fox’ replaced by Mc Donalds

Stephen Court has been set blaze

And many lives lost

Unidentifiable charred bodies

The heritage building has been brought down to ashes

Music World has shut shop, though the foreign goods still adorn the foot paths

For a while they were in “news”

And the inefficiency of the fire brigade accentuated

With every article moving from first page to the last page

Finally disappearing from the newspapers

While bangali babus come to Writers Building after 12 in the afternoon

On the other hand there are multinationals coming up in Rajerhat

With ‘City centre’ and ‘Swabhumi’ as new hang outs in Salt Lake

Nothing has changed in the soul of Calcutta

Victoria is still a landmark of Calcutta’s past glory and pride

The remnants of the British Raj echoes in every part of Calcutta

North Calcutta has retained its flavour

With derelict buildings still standing tall

The old world colliding and complimenting the new

The infamous coffee house now patronized by pseudo intellectuals

The Ganges still flows tirelessly

The Howrah Bridge a mammoth construction

Calcutta’s engineering feat of yesteryears

Bengalis are lazy when it comes to most things

Yet nothing can defy the Bengali spirit in some other things

Even in the heatwave landmarks bustling

City dwellers jostiling

Street theatres adorning the streets

Cascade of visitors outside Rabindrasadan and the academy

Nandan has the most prolific turn out at their film festival

There are endless musical soirees all throughout the city

Then there is always Max Mueller or Alliance Francaise for that foreign touch

Though buses are being burnt in the city

Taxi drivers refuse you a ride

The quintessential Bengali will set foot to pursue the arts

They will tolerate everything substandard

Other than their sense of ‘art’

The sports fanatics will stand and watch cricket match in Eden Gardens

Or cheer their foot ball team at Mohan Bagan

In the sweltering heat and cheer away with great fervour even for the opposition

At the other end of the continuum

The dichotomy of the city continues

With billboards set to rhyme

And music playing when people cross roads

Calcutta is the most welcoming city

With the most warm people in the world filled with emotions

Kookie jar is still making the best cakes at cut throat prices

La Martiniere still has tired school goers braving it out with heavy school bags

And trying to “save the planet” by painting walls

And going strong with their fests

Nature calls and you will find men urinating everywhere

Hygiene written off

Invisible public toilets

All amenities fade into the oblivion

Congested alleys

Ancient hand pumps

Dirt strewn outside bins

Graphiti adorning on walls

You have it all here

Another fascinating aspect

The nouveau riche consumers shop at various malls

Abandoned is good old New Market

Lost are the charms when people ate at ‘Nahoums’

And shopped for Christmas trees and bought candy there

They go to Barista and CCD instead

We may spend thousands in a supermarket,

Yet we must haggle to the last penny with a street vendor

Somewhere in his heart still reside lines from Keats, Shelley and Byron

Though Tagore is unquestionably Bengal’s favourite

Charged with passion, yet lack of ambition

Too proud of the past fame

Always ready to enlist names

Who hail from our great “motherland”:Bengal

Yet no care in the world about business of the state

Or its financial future

Brings itself shame to the rest of the world with:

Glitches such as :“Nandigram” and “nano”

Yet everyday we have such large hearts that we play “agony aunt”

And willingly lend a sympathetic ear to any passerby

But the funny part is we are low in remittances

In Calcutta everyone is a universal ‘dada’ or ‘didi’

Monsoons are severe and there is no way out

Rather than wading through dirty water in hand pulled rickshaws

Enjoying the water clogged streets

Children dancing through the filth

While their parents will be complaining

A huge chunk of our youth population has disappeared

Due to a phenomenon called: “Brain Drain”

Yet those who remain, claim to remain sane

And health wise we are zero

Always suffering from all kinds of physical and mental pain

We are essentially carnivores to the true spirit

Sunday lunch comprises fish and rice

Followed by delectable “rosogollas” and “misti doi”

Evening walks at the Maidan strewn with lovers walking hand and hand

People are happy even with surrounding misery
Centuries old trams and most efficient metro lines
Rabindrasangeet playing intermittently among English and Hindi popular songs

The modern has taken over the old
Thats the new wave of “development “, i am told

December means weddings with shehnai playing in the background
And ” notun gur”  products

Govt. art college students with “jholas” on their backs
Unshaven unkempt beard adorning an empty pocket
A poet in every spirit
A romantic at heart

Espousing almost all political ideologies

Doused in philosophies

Reciting Lenin,Stalin,Marx verbatim

Stereotypical Bengali’s penchant for Marx

As though he flows more in our veins

Than even the Rhine through Germany

Sometimes gossip alternates with high intellectual debate

Middle class “high moral grounding”
We are connoisseurs of every sense of “smell”:
be they the stinking alleys leading to “Nizam rolls”
or the “shiraz biryani”
From choosing whiskey  on park Street

to buying pedas at Dakshineshwar
It is all done with a lot of devotion
Hail to Goddess Kali

However I console myself
For better or for worse
This is my Calcutta

Decadence is omnipotent

Yet you can make out the past opulence

With ‘jholas’ on their backs and eager to:

Theorise, poeticize and eulogize also criticize

We may know it all, yet we feign ignorance

For better or for worse this is my Calcutta


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