As I pen this article down in my own room in our 200+ year old house in North Calcutta, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much my life has changed in such a short time after my 5 month long First semester in Manipal. The green yellow autos whose minimum charge is Rs 6 is a great welcome from Manipal where the minimum charge is Rs 30, the availability of the iconic Calcutta Yellow taxis surrounded by the Hand drawn rickshaws is refreshing and not to mention that cab apps like Uber start working again!
Supposedly found by Job Charnock, this old capital of the country has the capability of making people drown in a plethora of imagination and nostalgia. Being a resident here for all 20 years of my life, this was my first outing from the city for such a long period. Manipal is undoubtedly a very happening town that provides great facilities and freedom to the students residing there, but there is something about Calcutta that makes you fall in love with the city even if you don’t spend a long time here. Maybe it’s the narrow streets of North Calcutta that reeks of history, the buildings that fading but still standing strong for centuries, a marvel of British architecture, or maybe the various “Phuchka” stalls greeting you every 200 metres. The overcrowded buses that I dreaded so much now feels like a sign of how welcoming the people here can be, making space for others to get on the bus stairs of the bus while they themselves have no place to stand. The smell of the incense sticks and my mom chanting the Hanuman Chalisa while Grandma plays Rabindra Sangeet downstairs feels extremely welcoming.
As you go through the different parts of Calcutta, you can clearly understand the difference between the places, something I didn’t feel while going through Manipal and Mangalore. In the North there are just massive houses built in the British era, yelling out the strength of the aristocracy that was the driving force of Bengal until recently, being surrounded by various “Bastis” that came up in the last few decades and as you go South, you see the high rise skyscrapers with the quaint parks and the massive shopping malls. The metro and the ferry, both of whose minimum price still stays at a measly Rs 5 remains my two favourite ways to transit through the city.
Passing by the Victoria Memorial in the iconic Calcutta Tram and seeing all the couples there made me reminiscent of my special person whom I wanted to go horse drawn cart riding with on Maidan with the massive St. Paul’s Cathedral in the backdrop but fate played out in a different way and all I could think was “maybe some other time, with someone else” as the tram rumbled through the Boulevard of broken dreams in the City of Joy.
The joyride comes to a halt at College Street, the biggest open book market in the country, where people from all over the state gathers to get their book needs. Though this time, I didn’t as physical books for me has been replaced by my Paperwhite Kindle, but looking at all the books all the hundreds of shops, big and small made the booklover in me drool. As it had already begun to become dark at 4 pm and I was not really in the mood to go through the cold evening in the Not so warm clothes I was wearing, I decided to end my trip at the famous Indian Coffee House that has supposedly stayed the same over the decades starting from 1876, being the top hangout place for the college goers of the city in the past century when the world was not littered with the giant shopping malls and and where emotions had a place in real life instead of social media. As I ordered my food along with a coffee (which I couldn’t finish the last time because it was horrible) and waited for it to be served by the waiters who are still dressed like the servers from the British era, I was just wondering how much the city has changed over the course of my childhood where I was wondering through the very same streets every day to now, where I don’t even know when I am going to return to the city next after I leave for Bangalore in the next 2 days.
The food along with the coffee arrived and as I took the first sip, I smiled, not because the coffee was good but because it was still terrible. I came to the conclusion that the city never really changed, only I did and the City of Joy had a big role to play in that.
PS – Didn’t mention anything about the food because food of Kolkata deserves a separate appreciation post, it’d be injustice to include them in a small paragraph!
All photos by Arunopal Banerjee, follow him on Instagram @arunopal17 for more beautiful pictures!