Kolkata to me is a stranger. Bridges awash in Argentina colors, pictures of the greatest cultural icon after Rabindranath festooning the streets with self-effacing humility that would make Kim Jong Un go “hamba hamba dumba dumba”, cleaner and prettier than before but also more garish, the Kolkata of today is cognitively dissonant from the Kolkata of my imagination, burnt into my memories, banners of Sukhen Das in jean-jacket and Tapas Pal and Chiranjeet as cowboys, the Brando and Dean and Clint of Bengal, and the ubiquitous hammers and sickle of the Communists, sickle-cell anemia brought to life, dirty grey walls with “Taka mati mati taka promaan korlen Prasanta kaka” graffiti, speckled with spit and cow dung and Rorschach tests of dried urine, with the only relief being a poster of a dirty film: Bedroom Eyes at Navina or Sirocco at Bhavani, or buxom silhouettes of the women of Ora Kara playing at Sarkarina, all set to the background music of the rush of rubbish in the open drains and the dance of mosquitoes.
The Kolkata in my mind isn’t very nice nor does it smell well and it is as oppressive as it is today, if not worse. Nostalgia makes everything better, but it still can’t save the Kolkata of old. But whatever it be, the city was familiar, the gray skies, the forever rains, the waterlogged streets and even amidst the multitude, people I knew, from school or tuition or college, and wherever you be, the familiarity of food.
Oil, starch, sweat, sugar, and plastic jugs, things that made you once happy, are still there. But as the song goes “Tumi aar nei se tumi” or “you are not you”. And so the comforts of old appear as figments of a nightmare—-a phantasmagoria of cholesterol, diabetes, jaundice, and suffering, clogging you up inside, squeezing out the only thing that is truly yours.
The Kolkata of now is strange, it’s neither London nor is it still Kolkata.
I am not in it. But it is still in me.