Wednesday, September 09, 2009

O Calcutta

I write this in Calcutta, my hurried second trip to this magical city. And yes I am intrigued. It is a city that I could not ignore, was not one of those cities that you land in, finish your work in the allocated time and zip out of. The city forces you to notice it, not that it is vying for your attention, the grandeur (yes I use that word) and the irony forces you to stop and stare.
The city whizzed past me in techni-color frames as I sat in an Ambassador and traveled from the airport to the factory. I have abandoned many a post started for this blog because I could not complete them, but this one I shall. I shall talk about the city and what I saw and eventually fell in love with. So here goes, a quick list:

1. The city is layered much like many other old living cities. The layers co- exist, next to each other, often merging and blurring the boundaries. The most apparent one being the old and the new. There are old old buildings, some grand complete with facades often resembling half of a hexagon sometimes freshly painted sometimes old and peeling. Layers of poverty and comfort. Layers of rustic and urbane. Layers of literary and materialistic.
2. The many renditions of Durga familiar yet different but always beautiful with the kohl lined dancing eyes.
3. The Pandals being set up for Pujo, you can feel the festivity in the air.
4. The Bangla script, it is lyrical, poetic and artistic. I love how it adds to the many bill boards rather than just being a sub script for legal reasons as is happening with many regional languages.
5. I loved driving over the “Alipore Bridge 1932”, it was old and regal but the neglect saddened me.
6. The chaos, and how the women in their crisp cotton border sarees and big bindis seem to be dealing with it better.
7. How painting as an art form is integrated in the pop culture, how Vodafone does buntings with intricately painted Pujo scenes printed on them. How bill boards use paintings rather than photographs.
8. The color red splattered around the city in the old style big bindis, in the single bangle signifying matrimonial bliss, on the buildings and the bridges,in the CPM flags. It makes me wish I could paint.
9. All the buildings old and new had the beautiful and colorful cotton Bengali sarees hanging down from their terraces waiting to dry in the moist air, the Dhakai, the Kantha they added to the tapestry of the city in a wonderful way.
10. The city is green!!! Could not miss the mini swamps as I drove from the airport. The rain washed green foliage was refreshing.
11. I saw a building named “Artmosphere”; it does encapsulate the city in a way. The many music and dance schools I saw are a testimony to that.
12. How everyone is Dada, it is not just a word but the fact that the chaiwallah, to the taxi driver to your jolly old colleague is Dada in a way signifies dignity of labor. Somehow because I call the Taxi driver Dada, he is not compelled to dumb himself down or be cautious in my presence. He can be as intelligent as he really is and that is amazing.
13. As I drove past Calcutta I could not help but compare it with London, where I reveled in the old that London had to offer, but the old in London was grand, the old was heritage, the old was a lot of hard work and maintenance and preservation, the old was a matter of pride. Sadly old in Calcutta can also mean derelict. A lot of the old buildings are dying, peeling off and breaking down bit by bit door by door. These buildings are not abandoned; they are lived in but often because there seems to be no choice. In Calcutta I could see why it is easier to tear down the old, build the new and maintain it till the new becomes old and cumbersome. The difficult choice is to keep the old well old but mint new. The old in Calcutta sometimes doesn’t look like a choice but a compulsion, sometimes it doesn’t look heritage but more like hardship. But still the old in Calcutta is a matter of pride. Thanks for not tearing down everything like everyone else.
I wait for my next trip to Calcutta where I shall discover more of the city (and its food) not through a taxi. Because I am intrigued, I really want to know more about you Calcutta.


Abilin Mukherjee said...

you should have been born a bong... whenever u need a Raju guide to show you and Manasvi around my hometown let me know... and yeah you should see the city during Durga puja... its an experience

Nandita said...

@ Abilin (though not needed since u are my sole reader for this post) but yes I know... but will imbibe as much bongness as I can in this lifetime!!!!

Prof. Jai Prakash Sharma said...

What all you depicted of Calcutta is true, yet the same is true of India too, the land of paradoxes and contradictions, affording co-existence of old and new, tradition and modernity, mundane and the sacred, order and chaos, and so on. Calcutta thus decaying and simultaneously renewing is what makes it the microcosm of India.

Anonymous said...