Borrowing from Amitabh Ghosh, I am going to tell you a little about the city of Joy now that I am back to it. While I remained in denial for the initial few days of coming back, I cannot escape the vibe of the city. Calcutta travel blogs will tell you about its generally helpful, albeit gossip-loving, somewhat lazy people – tasty and cheap street food, post-colonial architecture, a little china town and amazing oriental breakfast place in Tiretti Bazar, the memorial of the old British queen – now one of the greatest sources of tourist revenue, the Ganga ghats and their pretty sunsets, as well as new cafe culture. That was Calcutta for the tourist – in a nutshell.
Searching down through the two decades of memory junk, I realize that I hardly knew my city until I started photo-walking along its streets. Some things, I know will not change about Calcutta – just like people still prefer to call it Calcutta with clandestine colonial romance.
Resourcefulness will always be a character. People can start a shop anywhere, any day. They are entrepreneurs, as opposed to lazy as popularly believed, if somewhat unambitious. While the Marwaris – also a sizeable community in the city – are traditionally known to be ‘the business class’ of India – typically brown and pot-bellied bangali men and their migrated counterparts are not far behind. I find them particulary hardworking also typical of a region far behind in achieving equitable or sustainable development.This is because Calcutta is not only about the so-called ‘Bongs’; it is about a great mixture of migrant population.
This is an usual topic and I accept that. Tea and Nap are two sides of the same coin, two rituals of the same day. There are hundreds of ubiquitous tea shops spread across the entire state of West Bengal, and many in the city of Kolkata itself. They are solely responsible for waking up bored government officials and over-worked traffic sergeants from the sweet nap they were about to give in to. If the too much rice relaxes, a cup of tea stimulates. Chai is a day starter, twice – because average people here divide the day between two parts – the part before and after your afternoon siesta or so-called dupurer ghum. People will never ever be tired of sleeping in the afternoon; it comes to them naturally. Whether you are an entrepreneur or a executive – a nap is must. I am deliberately exaggerating this point, though.
3. Old businesses:
I mean when is that homeopathy shop inside that 18th Century house going to break down? Probably never because Calcuttans thrive on stuff that are perennial – they last forever and are timeless. That is why there are still small traders seen – the service class – of carpenters, plumbers, mochis and the very useful umbrella mender. Despite proliferation of its fair share of glitzy malls and departmental stores, small parar dokan and stationary shops as old as Jogubabur bazar and burrabazar – are here to stay.
4. Whimsical Public transport:
It is a known fact that autowallahs, bus drivers and conductors are the king. To add it all, there is no security anywhere. But thanks to the population, there is usually a lot of people even in the last bus or train – although at times it can get scary.
- The Behala Part and the Howrah Part: No cab wants to go to Behala and Howrah. Why? Because these places are not considered cosmopolitan enough. And I can vouch that they are not! While Behala seems to be stretching way too far along the perennially potholed and now under the constructive hullabullo of second ever metro line – Diamond Harbour Road and omg, Joka! – since a few years now. Nevermind though, Ola and Uber are here, and doing great because what is political risk for the ever-refusing yellow no-refusal conventional taxis here is opportunity for the corporate-run app-based cab services.
There are places even more unthinkably far off and pretty rural if taken rightwards. The Howrah part is worse; with incredibly increasing number of commuters from the western districts doing ‘daily passengery’ at the break of the dawn to the only urban centre with jobs, presumably – the journey is hardly pleasant for outsiders. These passengers cramp into poorly maintained buses and regularly hang from the door with their lives for the trip that can get unbearably long given the long traffic jams. Not the least because Calcutta Tram Company buses are new and at the same time worn-down due to lack of maintenance.
Howrah has been traditionally neglected by local authorities – except in the recent years when some affirmative discrimination has been shown and a new mall, elegantly lit riverside road and covered drains have been constructed. This is especially around the seat of the recently shifted government. The rest is nothing short of an adventure.
The rest obviously count the pottery industry, year-round making of gods and goddesses and well, street dogs.