Thriving markets, speeding metro trains, boating on the Hoogly, calming Ganges, ferrying to Howrah, marveling at Howrah Bridge, colonial Victorian architecture, picking up trinkets at New Market, eating out at Park street, whimpering beggars, clamoring at vegetable markets, congested streets, sights and smells at the flower and fish markets, yummy roshogullas, Maa Kali fervour, art and literature, dusty roads, crumbling dilapidated buildings, annoying languor…….were my first thoughts as I reflected on the so called city of Joy, Kolkata that I recently visited.
When I sought to experience this East Indian city that the East India Company chose as its headquarters to leave a huge legacy after, I was not expecting much. Though the city has its merits, this is one blog where I will not be raving only about the place! Though I hadn’t much time to explore the city while I was there, however, from whatever I could glean in the few days that I was there, I just felt, the city just needed to get going. It was completely mired in the old age and is where it was all those decades ago. It started the metro, and well, it hardly progressed beyond that. It built that awesome engineering bridge, the Howrah Bridge, but couldn’t repair its dilapidated buildings.
Racing on at the great big Maidan
When I first ventured out in the city, I found myself looking for a city as I traveled from Salt Lake! Well, I continued to look for it in vain. Seriously, the whole place felt like a great big village with some urban trappings. Perhaps I associate a large metro with large buildings, which were few and far between (some one told me, it was because of the silty nature of the soil that didn’t permit tall buildings), good roads which large cities are supposed to have and Kolkata lacked, and a fast pace which the city did not have. There were also few avenues of entertainment apart from those at Park Street.
Well, there certainly seems to be a lot more room for improvement where infrastructure and facilities are concerned. To add to the woes of the city, there apparently are constant bandhs and strikes that reinforced the lackadaisical image of Kolkata. Why, in the week that I was there, there were 2 holidays declared, one for some puja, which was fine, and the other because a politician died at the age of 95. Another thing I noticed while I was there, I could be wrong, but I really missed seeing young faces that I see at Mumbai. I mean, has the young population of the state been forced to move for lack of better options of studying and employment?
Well, enough of the criticism. I ‘ll come on to my more pleasant experiences now.
I saw the Kali ghat temple which is quite famous. In Kolkata, the religious fervour of the people for Maa Kali and Durga is well known. I wish I had the chance to visit during the ‘Pujo’ days, where the city would become a grand spectacle, with pandals and the festivities everywhere. The Kali temple was like any other religious place that I have been to, with the rows of shops arraying their religious paraphernalia of photos, models, cds, cassettes, flowers, sweets etc, the throng of people and the chaos. I have put two snaps, one in Maharashtra at Mahur and one at the Kalighat..see the resemblance, you’ ll see what I mean. The similarity continued when the numerous touts hounded me offering me easy access to the deity and proceeded with putting the tilak on my forehead and demanding a cool 200 bucks for doing so..which I ran off from of course. J Though crowded, it was an interesting experience all the same.
I enjoyed using the public transport too at Kolkata. Though old, the metro was quite efficient and fast as compared to using the road and the expensive cabbies and I knew where I was as compared to using the roads that had a complete absence of signboards giving directions. It was funny to see the trams that probably moved slower than I walked. I was surprised to see the hand drawn rickshaws , which I had thought were obsolete. Despite all this progress in the world, it was rather sad to see human beings acting no better than mules drawing heavy loads.
The map at the metro station
The ferry to Howrah was also a pleasant ride, though I thought the boat would sink when a huge throng of people who I had seen marching in a morcha or something to that tune, all jumped on to the same boat! The river Hoogly, was as expected extremely dirty, after journeying its way from the Himalayas, through UP, Bihar and Bengal, it had enough waste dumped into it. I wonder how the people who were bathing in the river, expected it to clean them even if they were using soap! The old Howrah bridge was quite picturesque with its several trusses and old world charm.
The old Howrah bridge
The new Howrah Bridge
Shopping at Calcutta and eating out at Park Street was a pleasure. Everything there was half the price that is at Mumbai and there was a phenomenal variety in the trinkets and accessories at all the local markets. I absolutely splurged at New Market, Garia Haat and Shobha Bazaar.
Where eating is concerned, oh Man….Mishti Doi was absolutely yummy as were the unique Rasgullas or rather Roshogullas made of jaggery. Folks back home savoured the different varieties of shondhesh which have funny names such as Bhimnag sandesh and Kheer Kadam. Mishti Doi incidently that sounds very easy to prepare, well isn’t. Very simply, its essentially made by using milk evaporated to half added to caramalised sugar and converted to dahi by adding some yoghurt to it in an earthern pot for that amazing earthy flavour.
After all that gorging and shopping, I reckon, it isn’t a bad place after all! IT companies and manufacturing companies have already started making a beeline for this eastern city, and things are looking up. With so much great history and culture behind it, with so many intellectuals from this place, be it artists or revered writers such as Rabindranath Tagore and newer Bengali writers such as Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anurag Basu etc, I am sure, the people of Bengal will not have their beloved city languish. Hopefully, things will improve and this place will catch up with the rest of India!