Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oh! Calcutta

I'm worried that this post can offend many Bengalis, especially from Calcutta (some might even feel my calling it Calcutta instead of Kolkata inappropriate) so I am gonna start with the things I like about Calcutta and then maybe move onto the things I am not so crazy about. So here I begin.

Things I like about Calcutta –

  • At 5'8'' I am above average height here in Calcutta.
  • Even at 10 o' clock in the morning I don't feel late in the office.
  • You don't have to take a lot of Bathroom breaks here, as all the water out of your body is evaporated as sweat.
  • The rush hour is over if you leave office by 7.
  • Whenever on the road you have no chance of Car accidents, the people have made sure of this by using a strategic mix of narrow roads, lot of ambassadors and encroachments.
  • Pedestrians have the first right on the road, the cars have to look first left and then right before driving on the road.
  • Even after 10 years of completion I still proudly say that I live in a 'New' building in Calcutta.
  • There is no problem in getting a seat in any restaurant on weekdays which doesn't sell 'Maach Bhaat'.
  • There is always this hope that this some Bandh is going to get you a Holiday this month.
  • After sitting and chatting whole day in office I still get to say to myself convincingly 'I work harder than most people of this city'.
  • I get approached by Pimps and Pros right out at Park Street, no need to even go to Sonagachi.
  • Taking a leak by the road side has never felt so dignified when others are doing worse things (Taking a bath or taking a dump) right there, in the Posh Areas of Calcutta.
  • Driving a Accent still gives me that 'Ooh I have a big car' feeling here.
  • Stepping out of the building every day I am treated to people fighting over price of fish and chickens getting their throats slashed right on the road, nothing else works better to drive out the last trace of sleep out of your head.
  • And yes, I heard that during Puja it's very easy to get laid.

Now that I have put up all rosy things up front I don't think anybody would mind if I rant a little. Though there is hardly anything to dislike here except the horrendous traffic, the stench of fish everywhere, bad food and worse weather or the fact that there is rampant poverty and standard of living here is very low. But the city is very likable, though that is when you overlook the regressive mentality of people, their stubbornness to change and their falling back on culture and the accomplishments of a poet who has been dead now for 70 years and the other Bengalis who themselves do not stay here in Calcutta when it is pointed out that how far lagging behind they are from the other 3 metros. Like my friend pointed out that all the successful Calcuttans have become so outside Calcutta. Now I am sure that some people maybe boiling up after reading this, and they would like to remind me about me their Engineering Marvels, the Hoogli bridges or how Calcutta had Metro for past 20 years and how the English chose Calcutta as their capital as it was the most advanced city in India.

Anyways, jokes apart. That is all correct, Calcutta had the metro 20 years back but the fact that it has hardly added any new stations or facilities after that and just runs on one straight line through a small part of Calcutta speaks volumes about the city and its people. And yes the English did chose Calcutta as their capital as it was the most advanced city in India, WAS. Whatever the people of Calcutta are proud of, the Maidan or the Victoria Memorial were built by the British, the city just froze in time after that. To quote SRK from Swades "Jab bhi hum log muqable mae dabne lagte hai, hum log ek hee cheez ka aadhaar lete hai, sanskar aur parampara". Fine I agree that Delhi has no culture, but it is full of people who are taking risks and living life to the fullest instead of people who are 'Maroing Adda over endless cups of cheap tea and cigarettes discussing whether Argentina's team is better or Brazil's or debating politics endlessly and then voting the same party to power every time who is most responsible for their backwardness (in my humble opinion only) ; I also agree that Bombay is full of on-the-run, detached people but they are moving the weight of the nation on their shoulders, and not coming late to office because their biggest concern is finding good and fresh fish for their family in the morning. I will also be the first one to point out to you that Bangalore is full of Techno junkies who work as Cyber Coolies in IT/ITES companies for American or European countries and give the city hopeless traffic jams every day twice but there is something in them which are making all the IT companies flock to the city where here one Di has successfully driven out the only company which was foolish enough to invest in this state to make a 'cheap car'.

The thing which bugs me is not how people don't want to change and have this notion that whatever has been going on should go on but the fact is people here know that they are like this and defend it vehemently and vociferously. They scoff on people who want to change, who ask them to concentrate on work rather than forming unions and boycotting work every day, who ask them to build new buildings rather than just admiring the old ones, who asks them to replace burned out lights rather than just reading poetry about light, who asks them to show heroism rather than worship old war Heroes.

But then there are a lot of things I like about this city too, things you can't find anywhere else, first is of course the women, yeah I have a thing for Bengali women but this is not about that solely, the fact that they are so dynamic and outdoorsy here should be a inspiration to women everywhere in India. The polite people, somebody stepped over my shoes in a crowded Disc here, but instead of the shoulder shove that I had prepared myself for, after staying in Delhi for 2 years I got a 'Oh I am so sorry' and he meant it, never anywhere else in India. People go out of their way of to help people, our Zonal Service Head offered a ride to Dealer Sales Executive because he had slightly mentioned that he was not feeling well, my landlord religiously asks me to come to his club every week even though I have slept well past his coming back time for the last 5 Sundays. Then there is the music, after so long I could find a band playing live rock music here. And of course the number and the size of bookstores here, it always reminds me to read more. There is this one thing, a common thread, a part of the whole which everything shares in this city, which unites it. People here call it their city's culture, Vir Sanghvi called it its soul, I don't know what to call it, but I feel it and I like it. Calcutta has a lot of eating joints too, though I don't like the Bengali food and the joints which serve them, nor do I like the Biryani here or the sea food on offer, but still it's great to have so many choices. Good nightlife too, the bars are plenty and good too, though I was amazed to see properly formed Queue outside liquor shops, with no pushing and no commotion, nowhere else in India will you find this much decency. Even after the fact that Liqour is big taboo here while Smokers and Cigarette shops are plenty and people are cool about it too.

So there are a lot of things I like and lots of things I dislike, and as it is almost my policy, I do not judge. I do not judge a person; I am certainly not going to judge the city. I have my own reasons of liking the city and people might or might not agree with me and I have my reasons to dislike. To quote from Vir Sanghvi's article of Calcutta "

In Bombay, a man with a relatively low income will salt some of it away for the day when he gets a stock market tip. In Calcutta, a man with exactly the same income will not know the difference between a debenture and a dividend. But he will spend his money on the things that matter. Each morning, he will read at least two newspapers and develop sharply etched views on the state of the world. Each evening, there will be fresh (ideally, fresh-water or river) fish on his table. His children will be encouraged to learn to dance or sing. His family will appreciate the power of poetry. And for him, religion and culture will be in inextricably bound together."
Fine, just don't expect me to appreciate this. I have my own views about what a man should do with his life.

But then good or bad this city has many things inside it and it never ceases to amaze me, and at most time I can only utter this phrase which is the name of a painting, a play and a chain of restaurants – Oh! Calcutta!.


  1. bhai u seem bored of ur life ,slow sarkari type life lead kar rahe ho ka,want some life?mayanagri,tinseltown is the soln to all ur probs,and yeah its true u ,as they say ,u fall in luv wd d city once u live here

  2. mastttt....very well written..
    kudos 2 u andy!!!!!

  3. @Prateek - My life is no way slow or Sarkari .... Don't worry about me ... You enjoy in the Mayanagri ...

  4. Wow Andy, very well written..captures most of the Cliches associated with Calcutta..

  5. @Suhas - Thank You ... Unfortunately most of the cliches are there for a reason ....


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