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.
4 thoughts on “The Kolkata of Now”
This is the same feeling I have for Kerala. I feel a stranger at times, still I am a part of it. I think it is the same for all those who have moved away from their hometown.
Places, like people, move on too. It’s never the same as we imagine it in our sanitized visual.
Which is why I have not been back to the town I grew up in for over 15 years. I want to remember it just as the way it looked when I left.
Don’t let Kolkata escape from inside you! There’s always grave danger: “tumi aar nei se tumi” translates to “you are not you” only after decades abroad…
Initially, I had similar feelings of not relating to Kolkata in my recent trip. Especially, visiting the country after 3 years, where the world has changed, I was again struck with the magnitude of the difference from our daily lives here in the West. The fans hanging from high ceilings pushing down warm air, heavy with humidity. The doctors’ chamber waiting rooms, fitted with an AC, but without any air circulation, smelling of dried sweat. The incessant blowing of horns, the narrowness of the streets, populated with larger and swankier cars every time we visit, the smell, smoke and hiss of fish pieces landing on hot mustard oil, and such… but then while walking along the Lake in a jet-lagged haze, you suddenly hear “adheko ghume noyono chume shopono diye jay” (“eyes kissed with dreams, half-asleep”) in Sagar Sen’s smooth voice being played from another morning-walker’s transistor radio… I mean, their mobiles (somehow, in Kolkata, people don’t believe in using earphones and selfishly keeping the music to themselves!), and you’re transported to a different world, and you start connecting again in such a deep way, that you would never do with another city… Or, going up the dusty wooden staircase in the Chuckervertty Chatterjee book shop in College Street, to their dusty showroom upstairs, besides the Coffee House, you get transported to a different world!