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The Nostalgia Called Calcutta

Non-Fiction, Feature Article submitted by Alokananda Nath

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কলকাতা আমাকে ডেকে নেয়
বহুকালের ডাকে
বেনামী ভিড় থেকে টেনে নেয়
তীব্র চেনা বাঁকে
– Arun Mitra

“Calcutta beckons me
In familiar names,
Calls me close in the midst of anonymous crowd
On an intense, familiar bent”

(Translation) 

Calcutta, yes, Calcutta, and not Kolkata, is the city where I was born but never really lived in, till I started college. So whenever I boarded the Lalgola passenger from Berhampore with my parents to visit my relatives in Calcutta, I always got thrilled. The city had mesmerized me since then with its alluring sights, smells and people. Back then it was beyond my reckoning that the knot that I got in my stomach every time we were about to visit Calcutta was the feeling that you get when you fall in love. Yes, love it was, the emotion that enticed me to the city. I moved to this bustling metropolis, the capital of culture, our ‘tilottoma’, at the very first opportunity that I got. Little had I imagined when I stepped out of my home to finally come and live in Calcutta, that nothing would be the same again, that I would finally grow up in this city. Since I was studying Architecture, Calcutta seemed to be the most fascinating city at that point of time where the past blended so well with the future. I would be transported to the era of ‘babus’ while meandering through the alleys of Shyambazar and Bagbazar, would be awestruck by the colonial buildings standing tall along Esplanade and Park Street, and would be enthralled to see the very ‘modern’ Sector V in Salt Lake. If there are cynics out there who are yet to be convinced about this particular facet of Calcutta, I would strongly recommend them to take a walk from K.C. Das in Esplanade to Nandan along the footpath and soak in the charm that the city presents. I have taken this route many a times to save some amount from my pocket-money and take a bus from Rabindra Sadan towards my university. And each time I came across different sights, different sounds and experienced the city in a whole new way. The vast expanse of Maidan, the majestic Victoria Memorial, silence of Rabindra Sarobar Lake, nostalgic Princep Ghat, boat ride along the Hoogly, each place, each one of them lends to the uniqueness of the city. These are some of the places which I frequented but there are many more that make Calcutta so special. Although I lived in Calcutta only for five years but nevertheless it has now become a part of my existence. Amazingly Calcutta is not the city I grew up in but still I feel more connected to it than any of the cities I have lived thus far. I have to admit that the city guided me to become an independent woman from a school girl, with my own ideas and ideologies. Calcuttans are very often criticized for being overtly romantic, argumentative and nostalgic. But living in the city made me realize how important it is to keep these aspects of one’s self alive amidst the constant struggle to exist.

I have probably moved on. I have shifted from one city to other in last ten years, but the experience called Calcutta is still as fresh as the first drop of rain when it hits the ground. People have questioned my constant need to defend the city so fiercely, and have asked me then why did I leave. Why did I not stay back? And this is where I stumble to answer. Given all its charisma and charm, Calcutta somehow was unable to hold me back. I ventured out in search of new horizons; those that the city was not able to offer. I would have stayed if I could have but there were very limited options for me. I went to Ahmedabad to do my post-graduation. I was there for two and a half years but the pseudo capital of Gujarat failed to captivate me like Calcutta did. Yes, it was safer for a girl to be in the streets even at 3 am, yes, the city offered me lot more than I could possibly ask for. Yet in some way it could not match up to Calcutta. When I saw a caption in a social media platform on Calcutta – “Calcutta is like your ex (boyfriend/girlfriend). You know you cannot go back to that person but nevertheless you keep comparing him/her with your present partner”, I thought it was quite an apt description of the city.

When Sandip Roy traced Calcutta’s journey from thriving culture capital to decaying nostalgia capital , it struck a chord with me. He writes “A power capital’s rise and fall is quickly apparent. A finance capital’s rise and fall is easily measured. But a knowledge capital’s decline, as it rests on its laurels, can be harder to track. It can moulder most picturesquely. At some point the cultural capital becomes the nostalgia capital and no one knows the difference” (Roy, 2016). This is so true. I feel that the city is probably drowning in its own glorious past. With little political will to resurrect the city and limited economic opportunities, Calcutta today is facing its own decline. The massive amount of brain drain has turned the city of joy into a graying metropolis with 60 plus population being the largest in the country . Now during my trips back home I feel a pang of pain, the feeling of joy that I had in my childhood has been replaced by melancholy. City of joy is slowly disappearing into black and white still photographs – an urban nostalgia. If, only if there was a chance to be back, a chance to fulfill my dreams in the city. But alas! I have not yet found one. The urge to go back to Calcutta is slowly dying inside of me but I am unable to come to terms with it. How can I possibly give up? Some call it the city of paradoxes, some say that the city is dead but nevertheless, for me it would be always the place where I learnt to live. That is why Calcutta still beckons me.

 

References:

[1] http://www.arunmitra.org/03_poems/02_come_home_arun.shtml, accessed on June 27, 2017
[2] http://www.inspirationalstories.com/poems/in-calcutta-arun-mitra-poems/, accessed on June 27, 2017
[3] http://kindlemag.in/city-india-forgot/, accessed on June 27, 2017
[4] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/Kolkata-is-ageing-faster-than-other-metros/articleshow/49546289.cms, accessed on June 27, 2017

 

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About Alokananda Nath (2 Articles)
Alokananda is an Architect-Urban Planner by profession. She has been working in the urban development sector in India for past 6.5 years. She is also an avid reader and traveler; prefers seas and oceans over hills and mountains. After an academic hiatus of 2.5 years, she is back in Delhi, currently working with the German International Cooperation (GIZ) as a Technical Advisor.