Sunday, 4 November 2012

City Lights - Part 2 : The city of joy

[...continued from Part 1]

Kolkata has been referred to the city of joy. For me, it will always be the city of special love and that is one thing I immediately associate with the city - just plain and simple love and the faith that love cures all things going wrong. Right from the times when I first visited Kolkata in my high school days to the special weekend visits during the two years of MBA life, Kolkata has always been something special – a city with a heart and soul of its own. It was lot of fun getting to explore the city and its nuances. For the to-be corporate grads like us secluded from city life at our institute, Kolkata was the city where we would all rush to escape from the dull life. Since Kharagpur lacked a passenger airport, malls, software parks or anything faintly related to urban life, Kolkata was the go-to city for all these luxuries once in a while. Also, all opportunities like sponsorship for fests, interactions with corporate world, etc had to happen in Kolkata. More importantly, exploring a new city with some special friends and relatives always gives good memories of the place and Kolkata is one where I have lots of it.

For me, the most striking of all memories in Kolkata starts even before entering the city. To someone who loves the railways like me, the 22 platform Howrah terminus is nothing short of a holy shrine. The mad rush on the platforms, the red painted towers, the non-stop announcements about arriving or departing trains, the red uniformed coolies, the aroma of Comesum’s biryani near platform 18, coaches in all colors and classes to carry passengers – ah! Never has any Indian railway station fascinated me so much. Whats more – my first glimpse of India’s fastest train – the Duronto express was in Howrah. Even the first double decker AC coach connecting Howrah to Dhanbad was first spotted in the Howrah station. I have so many lasting memories of the Howrah station and the numerous journeys I used to take from Kharagpur to Howrah and back. I have travelled on this route so many times and in so many classes of trains – ranging from the basic Rs. 19/ ticket local train to the super luxury Rs. 541 priced ticket 1A coach on the TATA-HWH Steel express. I have also made these 2.5 hour journey at almost all times of the day/night – the most frequent of them being the early morning 6:20 MDN-HWH local to Kolkata and return on the 1930 is HWH-MDN galloping train. The oddest hour when I made this travel was at 0230 in the night when my flight landed in Kolkata at midnight on a cold December night.

Most of these journeys were undertaken in anticipation of special moments – be it sponsorship amounts, travel back home on flights, job interviews, rigorous academic terms that lay ahead or spending time with special people in the city of joy – each of these had a flavor of its own. There was a time when I could easily list out some 20+ stations on this route even in my sleep. It was always the same pattern - the vast expanses of lush green fields while passing through Jakpur and Ballychowk, then some green forest cover while passing Radhamohanpur and Panskura, the thermal power plant at Kolaghat and the bridge across river Rupnarayan. We would then zoom past the suburbs of Uluberia and cover stations like Phuleshwar, Chengel, etc and land into Santragachi junction, only to cover the next 10 kms in such frustratingly slow pace that entering into Howrah would make you want to get out of the train and dance.

The station, river, bridge the city and trams are something very unique to this city. While most other cities of the world have combinations of the above, Kolkata is one which boasts of having it all! The vintage yellow ambassador taxis and wooden framed colorful buses on Rabindro Setu with the silently flowing Hugli below is like a picture postcard you can mail to dear ones for having travelled here. When you get into the huge streets with old angrez buildings on either side, you will realize that these are places which have survived the test of time – they could be easily a century old. Park Street, Camac street, etc are essentially where the midtown madness is. Esplanade and the market areas around it are places where you can shop for any item –old and new. Each landmark or area in Kolkata gives you some sort of thrilling feeling when you know that there is a lot of history and heritage associated with it. When I pass through the huge maidaan, I just imagine the sports Englishmen used to play here back then. Eden gardens still echoes the roar of the 100,000 people who were there to witness that epic test where Aussie pride was dusted. Passing through Kalighat, Gariahat via Rashbehari avenue makes me think of how Mother Teresa used to nurse the leprosy patients on the streets here. Passing through Nandan talkies somehow reminds me of gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and his legendary compositions. Victoria memorial stands in testimony to the glorious Fort William days. Kali temple at Dakshineshwar and the ‘across the river’ Belur math makes me bow in reverence to Paramahamsa and his famous disciple Narendra who carried the essence of Hinduism across the world. I just felt every place in Kolkata had a story to tell and tried to listen, see and experience it to the fullest.

The newer areas, read Salt lake, Rajarahat, etc dotted with all the technology companies, high rise apartments and malls are akin to any other metro. However, purely from an economic standpoint, Kolkata is much less expensive as compared to the others. I just might be wrong here. But this is just a personal opinion. Maybe it is the variety of options the city offers which presents the overall combination as being a little less expensive. You can use the buses, the trams, the underground metro, the rickshaws, taxis and the ferries or a combination of these to get to any place you want. You can eat at roadside thelas, carry carts, fast food outlets, or the big restaurants depending on your wallet size. And regardless of your wallet size, you must have chai samosa at local tea stalls and rossogollas at mithai shops at least once! :)

One thing that people say defines Kolkata is the pujo time. It seemed to me that the Bengalis have only one festival in the year – Durga puja! There are different flavors that the city offers and the pujo flavor can easily be termed as its flagship. Pandals at every nook and corner of the city, each one built with so much thought and artistic design put into it make the city look so beautiful during the times. The all night stalls, the dance and the rituals and the variety of food on offer during this time make it a very memorable one for anyone. However, since the college used to shut down for almost a week during the pujo times, I ended up missing the real pomp and glory of Kolkata during pujo, as I used to come back home for vacations during both the years. I just wish that I get a chance someday to visit the city during puja time and experience it.

Kolkata has been portrayed in so many movies in so many shades, the recent ones being Bidya’s Kahaani and Ashima Roy’s haveli in Vicky donor. But to me, the movie ‘Love Aaj Kal’ and especially the song ‘yeh dooriyan’ is one which immediately makes me recall the city and all its memories. ‘Love aaj kal’ was the first movie which I got in super high quality in the super high speed LAN at Kharagpur. The movie and the songs served as constant time pass when I travelled on the trains or stayed in the lodges at Kolkata. Whenever I listen to ‘yeh dooriyan’, my mind races back to the city of joy – to the train journeys undertaken, to the romantic rides on the SaltLake’s cycle rickshaws, to the time spent at Kolkata airport so many times waiting for people/flights. The song is one thing which defines Kolkata in my mind. When I used to travel back and forth on the KGP-HWH route, my mind would contemplate on the lyrics of the song ‘aa raha paas ya door main jaa raha jaane na koi yaha pe’. In retrospect, it is vividly clear on what the lyrics used to mean.

In any city, there can be good things as well as bad ones. One thing I deliberately leave out when I write this articles are the bad experiences. Also, along with all the good things a city has, there will always be some things which you don’t like at all. For example, the one thing which you’ll notice as soon as you get out of the Howrah station is the huge pile of debris and filth. But we can have a separate article dedicated towards infrastructure management which can get on all that. These articles are only about the pleasant experiences the cities have offered me and a recollection of all things nice which I got to experience in these cities.

In statistical experiments as well as in life, people always expect an ‘unbiased’ opinion when looking for insights. And that is exactly the opposite of what would happen if I wrote about the experiences and memories in namma Bengalooru – it would be highly biased because of the fact that over 90% of my life has been spent in this city – the growing up days of the 90’s, the PU college days of 2000s, the heavenly BMS days, the ‘new to industry’ Symbian Ltd. days, the ‘60km daily travel’ workdays and all other days in between. Nevertheless, the only word and emotion which I feel when I think of Bengalooru is ‘bliss’! In fact, if I had to start elaborating on why Bangalore gets associated with bliss, I would be writing an entire autobiography, which I plan to do sometime very soon :) But for now, let me just say that each and every experience that my home city has given me have been such that I always feel good about it. Even the bad ones seem not so bad because of all that they have taught me. Maybe I will write more parts of this article by sampling some of the awesome moments that define Bangalore for me.

Other big cities that I have been to in India include Pune, Jaipur, Indore, Bhopal, Udaipur, Bhubaneshwar, Trivandrum, Hyderabad among others. However, I have not spent enough time in these cities to have a lasting memory or an incident linked to these places. I was just a tourist visiting only the must-see places or using the city as a quick transit point to get to other places. Of course, there have been experiences but nothing noteworthy of sorts. And then there are cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Guwahati, Srinagar, Shimla, Dehra Dun, Ahmedabad etc which I have always wanted to visit but never got a chance to. Maybe I will write more on these cities in the coming days. In the meanwhile I would like to hear from you all if you have any nice city memories/experiences. I know there would be bad points and cribbing about infrastructure, culture etc in all cities. But, no city if perfect in all senses that way. They are all in the development path and will take some time to improve. And the experiences which I shared were only subjective. Maybe someone else would have had the exact same experiences which I had in city A in other cities. The only thing which I want to state here is that people stop judging a city by the stereotypes and self-explore it. Take your own time and explore the city with the pace you are really comfortable. I wish you many more wow moments in your cities.

PS: 1. HWH - station code for Howrah, headquarters for Eastern and South Eastern railway divisions of Indian Railways
2. MDN - Station code for Medinipur. Local trains from Howrah run till Medinipur, passing via Kharagpur (KGP)


Mary Brinda said...

Loved your post :) Initially when i came to Calcutta, I didn't like it much. In fact it took me more than six months, to realize that it is not about the city, but the experiences we have in a city that makes us like or hate the place. I would always like Calcutta, for it was the place that taught me about life, where i found few good people, many good experience, and like any other places few things to forget. I don't even have to tell you how much I love bangalore :)

Keep writing :)

P.S: Your Captcha is difficult :(

Ebizzkolkata Jobs said...

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Ramya said...

Agree that it is one's perception that defines their opinion of a city...after reading this,i feel like writing something on Mumbai. Great post!

Giria said...

that PS at the end were definitely not for me :D

And "In statistical experiments and in Life...", awww man!!! :P

Very well written about a beautiful city :) I would love to read about the city in which you spent 90% of your days (since i have spent my 100% there :P ) but im not sure if ill allow you the time to write blogs whenever you get home :D Then again, if the blogs are of this quality, i have no choice :) :)

Hai Baji said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Wow! Wonderful post.. I personally liked this article for quite a few reasons..
- You have made the cities come alive with your explanation!
- You have done a good job in cherry picking the best things and let go the unpleasant/nasty ones!!
- Most importantly you have brought the gut feeling in me to revisit these places though I have seen all of them before!!!
World is small :)..Hope I get a chance to visit these places with you someday, so that I can see them differently next time ;)
- Anonymous0

Shashia said...

Thanks for your comment :)