Good Old Kolkata

Being a Bengali I find it very difficult to explain my inadequacy of knowing Kolkata as a city. Having studied in Delhi and now working in Mumbai, I can at least give a passing commentary of what to do and where to go in these two metros. Kolkata on the other hand I am getting to know only in Instalments. So this week when I visited my friend’s wedding, I updated myself some more about Kolkata.
At first glance it looks like Kolkata is stuck in a time warp. Not so much in the development or the infrastructure point of view but more from the behaviour of the people. And for someone like me who has stayed in the other metros, it can be quite unsettling. The last time I went for a movie in one of the multiplex, I was surprised that the movie hall during the interval got transformed into a second class railway coach with hawkers peddling their food items with full glee. I was thoroughly amused. I did not have to be from a different country to crash land into the unique culture of Kolkata. Kolkata is different from the other metros and I shed my sophisticated corporate propriety and watched with amusement at the food fest.
Today I visited College Street for the first time. And walking around the hallowed institutions which have produced so many men and women of arts and science, I could not stop comparing the two campuses – Kolkata and Delhi University. The two campuses are more different that similar. College Street is crowded, Delhi University is expansive. Yet walking through the lanes and by lanes of College Street area, with rows and rows of books store, I kept on wondering how long will Kolkata be able to hold on to history. I was both happy and anxious. Happy-that the city has retained its old cultural identity and quirkiness. Anxious, if it can withstand the ruthless onslaught of time or get transformed into a relic which people will visit only to soak in history and heritage.


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2 Responses to Good Old Kolkata

  1. Ankita Srivastava says:

    🙂 The first time I visited Calcutta, I could not stop comparing the rentals between Bombay and Cal!! is undoubtedly a time wrap about the city- quaint, genteel and charming.

    Despite the change in name to Kolkata, I still cannot bring myself to call it Kol (how unkewl is that!). And that underlines dissonance in its basic character vs new name and therefore, there are no clear associations that the new name generates in my mind.

    To stand the test of times, the question to ask is whether Cal will be able to reinvent itself and retain its relevance, create engaging associations. Whether as a hub of culture/ sports/ industry, the need is to step out of history and evolve at least one focal point that will create relevance and differentiation from other metros/ cities in the present and for future.

    In this context, I find it interesting how Delhi is evolving as the culture and fashion capital of India, something which is very slowly but definitively adding another dimension to its character. Even as the Bombay- loyalist in me protests, there can be no denying that in the last few years things have slowly started gaining momentum- this apart from the government and institutionalised efforts that have always been there. That attracts fresh talent, more investment and it becomes a sort of virtuous cycle.

    What Bihar has done is to start a truly remarkable virtuous cycle- it cleaned up administration and provided basic standards of well being and safety. What this clean up has done is quite sufficient for the moment in creating relevance – emotional fulfillment and strengthening a sense of pride and belonging for Biharis outside the state. The basic product/ service has been served right. The next stage in the life cycle is to have a competitive advantage, which will be a bigger challenge. But then, Rome was not built in a day.

    Rome reminds me of another city, which like itself, continues to fascinate – Benaras- the oldest living city in the history of civilisation. Classic example of having a strong differentiated proposition that despite deteriorating packaging has continued to sell strong.

    Maybe Calcutta with all its history of governance, art and culture could take a lesson ot two from these cities at different stages of their life cycle – whether it is in strengthening a proposition, adding a new dimension or reinventing itself. Only time will tell which way the winds of change carry the city. Who knows whether we will live to see whether Prith’s anxiety is well founded. 🙂


  2. Being a Bengali myself, and that too one from Kolkata, I can appreciate your sentiments.. The thing is this that like all cities across the world this one is unique in all that it has to offer.. But perhaps the best thing about this metropolis is that while it does not have the glitz and glamour of say Delhi and Bombay, the heritage and the history that it has to offer is priceless… Yes, its multiplexes are not PVR or the likes of it, but the there is this romance of experiencing what our fathers and their fathers had in their time..

    As for College Street, if by any chance you are a book lover, then you have had it, one afternoon: I say probably a lifetime of afternoons are not enough to soak in the spirt of the place with the “hallowed institutions” casting their eyes upon you… An experience one would have in Oxford or Cambridge.. And as for your anxiety you can be assured that Calcutta has bourne one too many brunts to die out into a mere memory.. It will falter, it will fall and like the proverbial phoniex rise from the ashes.. Yes, it has its flaws, its politcs is debilitating in more that one respect… But then which city does not have flaws… The question here is that whether Kolkata will be able to overcome all this and move ahead with the time yet maintaining its old worl charm? Being an optimist Bengali I vehemently believe that it will.. in its own pace and in its own way….

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