Kolkata Kaleidoscope

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.
During Pujo
Victorial Memorial
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 old world Tram
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!


Categories: India, West Bengal | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Kolkata Kaleidoscope

  1. Quite a thought provoking write up there….we should have a debate on this sometime 😀 yeah cal does tend to live in the past and i guess all the political drama has taken its toll, but its still one of the few cities with so much color and character…u hv to visit cal during the durga puja to see what i meanAnd good to see u've picked up the nuances of how to make mishti doi…can we expect a version in ofc soon :D? the deserts in spo can get boring sometimes

  2. having lived in the city for 4 years, i have some fond memories. u captured some of them when u mentioned food and sweets; in both, calcutta is simply uncomparable, both in taste and prices. u missed the famous addas beside the roads which are a brilliant way to chat and catch up with friends and at almost no cost to the wallet. hours spent in those addas are the ones i remember most. i agree the infrastructure needs a lift but many old buildings with mind boggling height of the ceiling is a spectacle in itself. calcutta life is not nearly as fast as mumbai's but a slow life has its own charm that you would know if u spend time there and not necessarily a bad thing. as for young faces, i think that it is just you in that case, but the place has plenty and may i say attractive in the same breath. overall a nice description. go there for a longer time and u might just fall in love with the place.

  3. Never been to Kolkatta but still heard of many good things about this city from my parents Kolkata can rightly boast of its share of poets, writers, musicians, singers so on and so forth.Right place for people with sweettooth with all the special sweet delicacies yummy!hope so get a chance to visit this "city of joy" nice blog

  4. Enjoyed the account! A historical perspective is available at http://incogrito.blogspot.com/2010/02/calcutta-kaleidoscope.html

  5. The best recollection of metro when i visited in 86 or 87 is that it was spick and span, and airconditioned now that is gone, even than it is fast means of transportation. I hope Mamata spruces up the infrastructure to Mumbai level. Misti doi is yummy, and sea food is tasty…good post Richa

  6. WOW! Just loved this post Richa! Have visited the city a number of times and all those wonderful memories came rushing back! The tram has always been an attraction for me and will always remain so… And the roshogullas, oh yummy! I feel like picking one from that bowl right now! Fabulous post, you captured the essence of the city so very beautifully 🙂

  7. bhavanas11

    As a Kolkata girl, little sad; you know how loyal we are to our birth cities…but at least you enjoyed the mishti doi and the shopping 🙂 And in btw, came to your blog to wish you happy motherhood!!! May you and your baby have many lovely days growing with each other.

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