You have heard about Delhi, Bombay (Mumbai) and Bangalore, but my home town (not a town but a metropolitan city) is rarely talked about. It’s a wonderful, fragrant, nostalgic, beautiful place with colonial heritage – it is a city that bleeds revolution. The City of Joy, the city of ‘roshogolla’ and ‘mishti doi‘ (two famous Calcuttan sweets), the city of poetry and literature, of orators and socialists and revolutionaries, the love of my life, the city of Kolkata has my heart.
Not only is Kolkata homely, beautiful, and romantic, it is also the cultural capital of the country. Before Delhi was declared the capital of India, Calcutta (Kolkata) served as the capital of the British Empire. Thus, it still bears colonial roots and influences. From the Howrah Bridge to the Victoria Memorial, from S.S. Hogg Market to the Indian Museum (the oldest and largest museum of the country), Kolkata is a wonder to behold. Catch a ride from Ahiritola Launch Ghat to Salkia (a small part of Howrah). Visit College Street, a book lover’s paradise, which is also the world’s second-largest second-hand book market. Take a ride on the beautiful trams, because Kolkata is the only city in the world where you can get a tram-ride with a view of the effervescent sunset right around Howrah Bridge.
Kolkata is home to five noble laureates and is the cultural breeding ground for theater, dance, music, cricket, and wonderful Bengali movies. It is also high-key obsessed with rock music (where most Bengali teenagers are either listening to Kurt Cobain or Brian May), literature and philosophy, and a lot of food.
Calcuttan cuisine is diverse and delectable, with food ranging from ‘daab chingri’ (shrimp cooked with tender coconut), ‘ilish bhapa’ (hilsa fish cooked in a mustard curry) and ‘kosha mangsho’ (slow cooked mutton). You will find yellow taxicabs everywhere, and be greeted with ‘autorickshaws’ driven by the hardest working men.
Our Durga Puja, the festival to celebrate the Goddess Durga’s arrival to mother Earth, decks the city in the most varying lights for a period of four days. There’s idol worship that brings everyone together to the rhythms of the dhak, a membranophone instrument indigenous to India. Christmas celebrations light up Park Street in color, and the city goes crazy as everybody comes together in Allen Park to celebrate the 25th of December and usher in New Year. Eid celebrations entail everyone making delicious biriyanis and exchanging gifts.
There is beauty in every step in the varied Bengali culture. From “adda” and para culture, a form of interaction where everyone in their community sits down at least once a week to catch up on politics, sports, literature and pop culture, to homely North Kolkata streets where one can buy spicy food from local vendors. The mystical elitist nature of humans who truly are proud of their heritage will surprise you.
You can shop for exquisite jewels at the cheapest price from New Market, and have romantic outings in cute coffee shops in South Kolkata. The pangs, anxieties, love, thrills, delusions of the species that brags about how many phuchkas (deep-fried hollow crepes filled with spicy potatoes and tamarind water) they can stuff into their mouths, are also incredibly proud of the blood that won them freedom.
Our city celebrates Kali and Durga, female deities so badass they slew demons and are worshipped for it. From Kalighat to Dakshineswar, spirituality floats among the romantic hauntings of the city, breathing life into everyone. A breeding ground for utter contempt of mere commerce, a city that is the heart and soul of every Bengali, a perfect marriage of heritage of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and everybody else, one seems to always take back a piece of this city wherever you go.
Kolkata is a passionate city, a city that has the Eden Gardens (just a stadium but it is heaven enough for us). So pack your bags, once it is safe to travel again, and visit the wonder that is Kolkata. Rabindranath Tagore (who is the first Asian Nobel Laureate and the first love of my life who inspired me with his songs and poetry) and Subhash Chandra Bose (the socialist freedom fighter who taught me revolution) will charm you.