“There’s nothing half so pleasant as coming back home again.”
In my childhood, I loved Calcutta, today better known as Kolkata, the city I have grown up in. The city had grown with me too. I grew up nurtured by its old world charm. In my teenage years, I wanted to escape from this place. And so I did. In my 20’s, I didn’t appreciate the pace at which the city was moving, neither its work culture nor its efforts to westernise, the pattern did not match its rhythm of its history. Looking for a city that I can call home, I have been a nomad, travelled far and wide, and lived out of a suitcase. In my 30s, I am re-discovering Kolkata and falling in love with every part and even cracks of it, finding it back like a lost lover, catching up with the years lost by, and falling for the way it’s evolving, still maintaining its old world charm, that I have seen while growing up. I have found my old love in a completely new song.
I went to study in Chennai, I worked in Bangalore. And when I quit my job, I travelled across India and other far-flung places. I never thought I would come back to Kolkata. Yes, I would have come back, to see my parents, who are settled here, to meet my family, to meet my old friends from school. But in the wildest of my dreams, I did not imagine to come back to the city, falling in love with it again and travelling within it, lanes after lanes. Everyday, waking up to a new sun under the same sky, it is like resting my head on the old familiar pillow. I found the lap of Kolkata. I realised it’s a funny thing. It seemed Kolkata was waiting for me. Actually no. It wasn’t waiting for me. Everything is same, looks same, feels same, and smells same. What has changed is me. Every time I travel, I come back home to appreciate it more.
I returned to Kolkata, struggling with everything and even my Bengali to communicate. It wasn’t comfortable. It even did hurt. But, now, every time I travel, I take something of Kolkata with me. And I leave something behind, hopefully good.
There is an informality about the way people interact with each other and there is a casual acceptance and friendliness that you don’t see outside this place. You can walk into a shop and people will laugh and joke with you as if they know you. I feel a real sense of connection with the place. I can go back to my ancestral village near Kolkata and walk the same dusty path that my great-grandfather probably walked on and that gives me a sense of being rooted. The mornings are early and the evenings are late. And in the day, the auntie next door smells what’s cooked in our kitchen, and knows for sure we have a guest today. When clothes have not been hung for drying in my neighbour’s balcony my mom’s intuition never goes wrong that their maid is absent. She sends a box full of a dish that’s been cooked for our lunch. Where do you get such love that’s so unconditional, though a little barging affair at times. In the bus, the passenger next to you will almost take your shoulder granted to be as his pillow. In the train, the old uncle would ask for your newspaper and forget to return to you, as if it was his. Initially, all these bothered me and bothered me a lot. I realised, now I have found innocence and warmth in these behaviour patterns and accept this pattern as much as I accept the iconic heritages of the city.
I wake up at 5o’ clock in the morning to travel to the other end of the city in a bus, something I would not do ten years back. I detested taking a bus ride. I like to see the lung power of men, in the wake of the dawn, travelling from one end to the other, to fetch their daily needs. I sit at the Mullick Bazaar Ghats,(one of the famous flower markets near the river Ganga and Howrah Bridge) most of the times turning my face away when people answer nature’s call. But nowhere on earth sunrise is as beautiful as it is here, blooming out like a hidden gem from the lap of the river and rising softly kissing the bridge and leaving it to glitter. I hate city rains; I hate how the puddles leave marks on my trousers and skirts till my hips when I walk. Yet, it’s a weekend regime for me to go to Maidan (the largest urban park in Kolkata) to sit under the open sky, rest my ears on the green grass and hear them beat. If people complain about the polluted metropolitan cities they need some detoxification, they need some dosage of this place after the rains splash the city and leave it drenched in all shades of green. I take the leisurely tram journeys and get down at the old vintage houses in North Kolkata. I cannot stop mesmerising at the colonial houses from the British times, look at their architecture like an awestruck traveller, the verandas, the pillars, the red-cemented floors, the shuttered windows. I start a friendly conversation with the elderly person in the house and welcome myself to their abode over a cup of tea and lots of stories and legends. Like a kid, I often vanish to Nahoum’s, the legendary Jewish bakery in town. The best part about Kolkata is its food. From chicken cutlets to fish fries, to the traditional luchi, alurdom (deep fried flatbread with potato curry), to the lip-smacking phuckas (round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavoured water), the array of street food stalls never stops luring me. I find a cheat day, every other day to treat myself to these gastronomical wonders.
The hand pulled rickshaws in Kolkata are British heritage in India’s colonial treasure. Irrespective of the stories of the inhumanity of city’s unbarred use of man-powered rickshaws, tourists regard it as a cultural icon along with the famous Howrah Bridge and Victoria Memorial. Yes, they are my favourite too. But the more I fall in love with the city, the more I feel like contributing for my love towards the city. With collaborative efforts of few talented and thriving souls, I am stepping into an initiative and drive ‘Aamar Sohor‘ (My City). This initiative includes photo series, capturing the growth and decay of the city, appreciating imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, a journey of transience and imperfection, finding beauty in everything that is Kolkata. I do not want the millennial generation to grow up without knowing and enjoying the parts of Kolkata that I loved while growing up. I feel sad when I see most of their lives revolve around gadgets and malls. I want to show them the Kolkata through the eyes of the one who calls Kolkata home, even after travelling the world. And with all these we will be promoting responsible travelling in Kolkata, spreading awareness about keeping the city in a zero-waste condition, doing our bit in beautification and taking care of city’s icons like the tram, the vintage buildings, its monuments and its local artists. You can find that being updated through my works over time. I will be happy sharing those stories.
Coming back to my city, if you ask me my favourite place in the city, it’s the Ghats in the city, the Outram Ghat, the Prinsep Ghat, that witness the flowing of river Ganga through time and tide. This place creates the same wonders for me what 3D movies do to the kids of this generation. I grew up visiting these places every Sunday, like a ritual in my childhood. I practise the ritual even today. Travellers tell you, they return home either finding it awkward to adjust to the life there or they return home valuing it more. I say, we, travellers evolve. Seeing the beauty and the ugly in our journeys, make us more tolerant and grateful. At least, it has happened to me. Do you like smelling a new book?? For me, falling in love with Kolkata, after every journey, is like smelling a new book, falling in love with a long-distant lover. Do you love your hometown? I am curious if you have rediscovered yourself and your place over time.