Thursday, June 4, 2009

The city that flows in my veins..












A city I feared as a child. hated as a teenager, and understood as an adult.

Having always lived in small and peaceful cities, Calcutta was a nightmare to me. My fears gripped me as soon as the train pulled into Howrah station. It felt as if the hungry, desperate maddening rush at the platforms would gulp me down and I would choke and drown in its boiling belly. I clung to my mother's Saree for dear life till we were inside a taxi. Even then, I dared not look outside the window. My parents pointed out various sights of the city to me, but all I did was just slide down the seat slowly. The loud voices of the people all around, the beggars, the barely clothed mad woman hitting on our taxi window smiling a toothless, sinister smile, the street fights, the long rallies with men and women shouting slogans and waving red flags were too much for me. We usually went to Calcutta for 15 days in the summer months and then we would head to Patna where my maternal grandparents lived.

Those 15 days seemed like eternity to me. More so because the moment we set foot in this city, Baba was transformed. I almost became secondary to him. He was always going somewhere or the other. He was rejuvenated here. I guess I also saw Calcutta as my competitor. Not that he did not ask me to go along with him, but I was too scared to travel in that city and preferred to remain at home. I counted days when we would catch the train to Patna. I sulked and clammed up and remained an unfriendly and snobbish little girl to my relatives in that city.

Whether I liked Calcutta or not, did not matter at all, as every year the trips continued. By the time I reached my teens, I got used to the mobs at the stations and on the roads. I also got used to the dirt and the stark poverty. I resented the narrow lanes which had me, a rickshaw, a diseased dog and a skinny cat and at times even a cow together at one single point in time, with just me being the uncomfortable one. I walked the roads worrying that a running bus would at any moment spray the immensely dirty sewerage water, that had logged the streets onto me. My skin crawled each time a beggar sitting on the footpath would touch me and ask for food or money. I could never shoo them away, neither offer them anything, but the faces haunted me at nights.

The city dwarfed me. I remained an outsider who marked each day on the calender waiting for the 15 days to get over. I often heard Baba say, "you can't escape loving this city, someday you will understand its spirit, that day you will never be able to say no to Calcutta. This city lives, it has a life." I just about managed to bear the comment and hurriedly got into my train for Patna. leaving him behind in the city of his rejuvenation. As the train moved out slowly, his wave would be my focal point and I would deliberately make myself feel that the horrendous and bad mannered crowd of Calcutta was enveloping my Baba and taking him away. Even then I knew it was a silly thing for me to think, but such was the hatred for the city.

As fate would have it, as an adult, I had to come and live in this very city. There was no Baba now, but his love for the city made me take my first step towards getting to understand it. I had just started my career. The office and the home being on either ends of the city, ensured that I travel the entire length of this city twice everyday. The crowded buses gave me anxiety attacks to begin with, and yet my ears perked up at the wit of the people. The trademark one liners and repartees of the bangali were scattered like gems every where. Till then I had thought wit belonged to the elite. As days passed, warmth was added to the wit. I came across the genuine warmth that this city has. The only city probably in our country that has time to stop and give a detailed direction route to a complete stranger, that too on a scrap of paper. The only city where a phuchka walah will look at a kid and ask if she would like to take home some phuchkas for her old grandma. who probably is too old to come all the way, adding that he would give it for free. the city with its theaters and book shops was something I was discovering for the first time.

The second hand bookstores that abound here were my paradise. At any given excuse, I would head for them. Spending hours here and being offered cha(tea) and a stool to sit so that i can peacefully browse through their treasure. Not only this, the stall owners were extremely knowledgeable about their products and were happy to discuss authors and books at length without even once giving the impression that I needed to make a purchase. It was always a smiling "come again" that they said as I left their stall.


The Red road with its beautiful greens and the majestic Victoria Memorial soothed the tiredness out of my eyes. The old world charm of The Esplanade and the Chowringee made me reluctantly fall in love with the city. Park street with its lights and happy bustling people made me proud I belonged here. The various homes of Mother Teresa humbled me. The city of trams and the first metro, the city of cobbled streets and horse mounted traffic police, the city that napped in the afternoons and had about 3 bandhs each month, the city with dreams washed in the Ganges and the city of indefatigable spirit. I still hated the station, but had started loving the rest. This was a city that would never leave me alone, it would walk towards me and poke me, nudge me, share with me its troubles and encourage me to do the same. This city can never be indifferent, and neither could I.

I just took a tiny step towards it and Calcutta in turn embraced me for life!!

47 comments:

अनिल कान्त : said...

आपकी पोस्ट पढ़ी बहुत अच्छा लगा ...हाँ कहीं न कहीं ऐसा ही होता है अक्सर ...वैसे कलकत्ता के मामले में और भी ज्यादा क्योंकि उसकी तारीफ़ औरों से भी सुन रखी है ...

मैंने अपने पैत्रक शहर फिरोजाबाद को कभी पसंद नहीं किया .... वहां मैंने सिर्फ 4 साल ही बिताये ....लेकिन कुछ आज भी ऐसा है जो मैं यहाँ delhi/faridabad में आज भी खोजता हूँ ....शायद कुछ ऐसा जो सिर्फ फिरोजाबाद में ही हो

amrit said...

Very fervently written. :)

ARINDAM DEY said...

Beautifully written!
"you can't escape loving this city, someday you will understand its spirit, that day you will never be able to say no to Calcutta. This city lives, it has a life."
So true... so true...

Chriz said...

same case for me when i think about chennai...

loved your two kids.. awesome foto there

Pradip Biswas said...

Kolkata is live because the city dwelleres are like that. But now typical residents of Kol are moving away from the Main being defeated in the economic battle. The street foods and discussions during taking food are valuable. Atleast with me it shakes me up to my root and inspire me to write something. Very gfood post lovely and Lively Ektu Cha khan sange Moorie Aar Piyanzi.

Gymnast said...

DO u know ur writing never fails to bring images to one's mind ? The trait i have seen in very few bloggers . Honestly , you are wonderful writer , Sujata.
You managed to give me a glimpse of the city from the eyes of a prejudiced little girl , and from the eyes of an open minded young woman.
I'll think of you , someday, when i visit the metro.

eye-in-sty-in said...

nice description.. home is where the heart is!

SGD said...

Beautiful! The last para brought tears to my eyes...you touched a hardcore Calcuttan somewhere deep insided!!
Spent the first 18 years of my life in the city. Although the next decade and a half , I was in and out of the city, I miss its warmth, wit and humaneness even today!
But yes, I too hate Howrah Station..

PURN!MA said...

This sounds like a love story where first the hero n heroine are logger-heads at each other and then eventually fall in love. Same has happened with u and the city?

I loved the way you have drawn the picture of Kolkata as a vivacious city.

M crazy abt Pune just the way you are abt Kolkata. :)

SGD said...

Love your new colour scheme....it's very soothing to the eyes!

sujata said...

Thanks @Anil for sharing your thoughts on Firozabad.

@Amrit..is that a compliment? and what smile is that?

@Arindam Thanks a lot.

@chriz thankyou.

@Pradip Biswas yes, the city is what its people make it to be, and the warmth of Calcutta cannot be ignored.

Thanks @Gymnast for the encouraging words. I like to read and books and writeups that have vivid imagery too, maybe so my writing is like that. That is one reason I dont like to see a film on a book that I have already read. the film always falls short to what I had seen as I read the book.

Thanks @Eye-in-sty-in you can be critical as well.. I should be able to take it:)

@SGD once a calcuttan always a calcuttan, I realised it later in life..but I realised it for life!! Thanks for liking the new look of the blog.

@Purnima maybe it is more of a prodigal daughter finally coming home. I love Pune too. Have stayed there for 4 years before coming here. I have my flat there under lock and key and we make it a point to stay 7 days each year in that flat and just soak up the city.

R. Ramesh said...

I visited Cal two decades ago..its dynamism is magnetic..and the Bongs, they r gr8 guys, ya ya gals, yaar..

Rush said...

makes me wanna visit Calcutta..i do believe - " good infrastructure and clean roads will make a city livable,
but it's the people that will make it lovable" - Rush
loved the way u have explained the nicks and nuuh, the beauty and woo of calcutta..the spirit lives..i see that!!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Ah Kolkata...loving and frustrating, adoring and annoying. Loved your complex-mesh of reactions to the city - that is how my mind reacts, too, it is never a simple love/hate story. Only in my case, Kolkata was the place to go and live in, when I was a child from Barrackpore, the lodestar, the El Dorado. Not so any more.

Zeba Talkhani said...

U made it sound lyk a must visit city. And if I ever do then this post will be only reason

Vijay Kumar Sappatti said...

sujata ji ,

i spent a long time in kolkataa with my first company MSA. almost 14 years. The city has a magic , which no city in the world can match ... congrets for this post.


meri nayi kavita " tera chale jaana " aapke pyaar aur aashirwad bhare comment ki raah dekh rahi hai .. aapse nivedan hai ki padhkar mera hausala badhayen..

http://poemsofvijay.blogspot.com/2009/05/blog-post_18.html

Dhanyawad

Aw.S.M said...

Yes i know i was missed...:)

So i can assume that you love the city now?! :)

I spent a week in kolkata at my cousins place once and the one thing that i just loved abt those people is their wit. They are exceedingly funny folk.

Your baba is so right. Its a place on the move but still everyone is so warm and always smiling.

Loved the potrayal. Top notch as always

luv
amith

Aw.S.M said...

The new template looks real nice...and really kool pic too..lookin good su :)

sujata said...

@Ramesh ya the cal gals are quite awe inspiring with their red bindi and vermilion!

@Rush you are so true if the place is lovable, the livable part is easier adapting to.

@Sucharita kolkata has transformed from Ohh Kolkata to Ahhh Kolkata for me!!

@Zeba Am honoured, really it is a must visit place..everybody should feel that city atleast once.

@Vijay Kumar Sappatti, thats wonderful to know, 14 years is a long time. Thank you for letting us know that.

Hey Aw.S.M. you didnt like being addressed as your previous blogname(Dreamer) but I think you dont mind being called Aw.S.M. :) late again..but I got 2 comments so no complaints!!Thanks for liking the city and the picture.

Indrani said...

Frankly, I am a little scared of it even today. It was nice reading the transition in your thoughts.

Rajesh said...

Great. You have expressed very nicely the experience everybody goes through when they come to big city.

Sumandebray said...

Very well said……. that goes a long way to see so few Calcattans leaving the city. People like us who have not grown up here feels so attached to this city; it is understandable how the other half feel. We love the city like the mother does her child ... no failure is BIG enough and no achievement is Insignificant of not taking pride in.
Very well narrated indeed!

bluebird said...

that's one of the best descriptions I have read of any city. Reminds one of Orhan Pamuk's writing about Istanbul.

As for your post at my blog, I thank you for having taken the time.

R. Ramesh said...

hey great friend, thanks 4 passing by..and reg. Faiyaz, he is an eligible bachelor..maybe that's why he is able to take life easy so far..

nsiyer said...

'Whatever you resist, persists'. Good one, It haapened to me when I was transferred to Cuddalore at Tamil Nadu from Mumbai. I did not want to come back to Mumbai.

Imagiantion said...

Hi Sujata have been reading your posts for quite sometime...really nice the narrative is realy amazing....

prithvi said...

Good old Kolkata, though have never much of lived there , but I love it every time I go there, people are making hue and cry of Delhi’s chaat well I say wait till you have tasted Chinese and mughlai in Kolkata. It’s really the city of joy. Your post almost made me feel as I was sitting in the age old yellow ambassador and moving around in the city again. Well written..........

sujata said...

Thankyou @Indrani, for going through all the missed out posts and taking time to comment on each of them. Hope you had a good vacation. Ami bhalo achi, hope you are fine too.

Thanks @Rajesh.

Yes @SumanDebray, I can crib my heart out to a Bengali staying in Kolkata about the day to dat problems..but you have to see my anger at any"obangali"even daring to bring up the slightest negetivity of the place. Totally defend kolkata like a kid.

Thank you @Bluebird, Yesterday in fact I went and read your previous posts, excellent work and very heartfelt. I like your blog, keep writing.


No wonder @Ramesh... let his worst half come then we can write a blog on how marriages spoil it all..

Thank you @Nsiyer I can understand your reluctance to go back to Bombay after the stint in a small town. I have never been able to like Mumbai inspite of having stayed there for quite a few years, the place is too impersonal for me.

Welcome on board @Imagination and @Prithvi. Thanks for the appreciation, will soon visit your blogs.

Priya said...

hi Sujata,

chanced upon your blog and i was so surprised to see someone having a same feeling and experience when it comes to our dearest city.

Even i was not from Calcutta, but now me thinks, i know it better than any other places under the sun.

your post was wonderful..waiting to hear from you more...till then..good bye...

Sujatha said...

What a beautiful love letter to your city! Very evocative.

I always meant to ask you - what was the picture that you had in your header before this one?

lakeviewer said...

What a beautiful sad and rich story you tell. Yes, we can choose to let things in and love and be appreciative.

lakeviewer said...

p.s. I tried to become a follower of your blog, and couldn't. Is there a trick?

Amal Bose said...

that was an awesome post..
im in love with calcutta now.. though i have never been there.
but this post made me want to come there and be a part of it..

Aw.S.M said...

yaar su...get a shoutbox!!...

Jarlin said...

Wonderful...I love the way you outlined the Calcutta life and I enjoyed reading.

Babli said...

Very beautiful post. I think everybody goes through a new experience when they land into a big city. Even I have also experienced many things in my life. Excellent!

sujata said...

@Priya you are welcome here. Good to know we share similar feelings about Kolkata.

Thanks @Sujatha. The header before this was a wallpaper that I found very peaceful and serene and the colour scheme matched my then template. A lot of people thought that it was my living room..hahah not possible to have that kind of place with two naughty kids around..

@Lakeviewer Thanks so much for appreciating the blog. You are welcome here, and there is no trick that I know of about becoming a follower on this blog..maybe some connection problem. Hope you try again. I would be looking out for you.

@Amal Bose welcome on board. Thank you for liking the post. You should visit the city once with an open mind and stay for a few weeks to feel it. Hope you do it.

@Aw.S.M. whats that for?

@Jarlin thank you.

@Babli Thank you dear, am waiting for your shayari.

Aw.S.M said...

geez....ahwehi...get one na...

ZiLliOnBiG said...

wonderful writeup. i can understand your transformation, i too feel the same about India as a whole, now that i have been living outside for almost half a decade. There is life of its own in these cities, which you miss and crave once out of it.

Pesto Sauce said...

Will have to visit Calcutta now...

Your post reminds me of my childhood in Srinagar

The Things We Carried said...

Sujata,

This is such a beautiful transition you have written of. I love that your father's words remain with you and give you the will to stretch yourself and try to see as he did. He sounds like such a lovely man when you write of him. The city sounds like all that makes a city frightening and charming at once. You have me fascinated, absolutely fascinated with the beauty of India and her/your people.

I love your writing and the way you weave our words and take the reader with you as you go.

sujata said...

@ZillionBig thanks for dropping by, yes staying abroad does make us nostalgic now and then about our country.

@Pesto Sauce Thank you for dropping by. Hope you have a home coming trip to Srinagar soon, would love to see it through your eyes.

@The Things we carried, I am so glad you like the post. Your words are a great encouragement, am genuinely fond of your thoughts and words, please keep them coming.

sanjoy chakraborty said...

Absolutely fantastic. Great post.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

stop!! stop!! You're making me sob!! I so love my Calcutta and now you've gone and made me wonder when we will be visiting again!!

Suraj said...

I have the same feelings towards Bombay....Never been to Calcutta but after reading your article i will add calcutta to my list of must visit places..

Dipankar Sarkar said...

Absolutely amazing...you are truly a great writer. You know what Kolkata is all about. It's about the spirit...nothing seems to work here...but everything works...everythin happens...time seems to have stopped at some corners of Kolkata...but then if you see under the covers, you will realize the new age has already arrived. Kolkata is a city of amazing contrasts...

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