Things About Calcutta


On a flight i was reading the magazine and the magazine was talking about the “City of Joy”. What is interesting is that the article about things in Calcutta (or Kolkata if you may) was refering to the parts of Calcutta which i think are not things which make Calcutta stand out as one of the most charming tourist destinations, leave aside being one of the most wonderful cities in the world. The things about Calcutta which the article was talking about were Nicco Park, Science City, and a few of the things which more or less you could find in most of the cities around the world.

What i am talking about are the things about Calcutta which make the city stand apart as a city with a soul. The article didnt talk about the Phuchkas of Calcutta (to someone who loves eating thats probably the first thing that comes to mind when one talks about Calcutta given that Delhi and Mumbai claim their place in the Phuchka world with their Gol-Guppas and Pani Puris). Of course ther was no mention of the wonderful view of the city on a rain drenched morning having breakfast at Flury’s, one of the landmarks and a must-go-to place if you a re a visitor to the city. There was also no mention of the Egg-Chicken Rolls on some of the places to eat on Park Street. Nor does it tell you about the veritable gastronomic delights of Park Street or rather the half-kilometre stretch of road which can give you probably the best fare you could find in any part of the country. From Trinca’s (the music is probably not the same as the Iyer Sisters but nevertheless quite good) to Ming Room, or the wonderful fare of Kwality’s to One Step Up or (if you are an old-timer) the Steaks at Ollie Pub (a landmark of venerable vintage) to the veritable delights of Flury’s or the delightful Chelo Kababs (yes they come from Iran but Peter Cat knows the way to make them probably as delightful) at Peter Cat. There are also the delights of Tung Fong or if you are a die-hard Bengali food fan, Kosturi or Rodhuni which specialize in Bengali cuisine. The Prawns and the Fish there are simply amazing but then reading about them is not quite the same as eating them. There are the modern eateries too, Eats n Treats for example, which gives some very good food. And the Fish and Rice on the roadside at Sector V which is a veritable treat though not when Calcutta is having her affair with high humidity.

The article also doesnt tell about the mini bus waiting for a passenger who is probably half a mile away and the indignant fury of the passengers wondering aloud whether the bus will move at all or not. This doesnt also talk about the banter in the bus. Nor about the charms of travelling on an overcast day by tram through Maidan at a speed which can at best be described as leisurely. The article though did say that the CTC has introduced glass ceiling trams. Looked nice.

More than these, though, what the article didnt talk about was the spirit of Calcutta. Of the friendliness of the people of Calcutta, of their way of making you at at ease (with a bit of condescension but thats to be had with a pinch of salt) of their love for anything intellectual, whether it be politics, football, Dada’s (Sourav for the uninitiated) scoring average or Shakespeare to Satyajit Ray or Jamini Roy. Of course it definitely doesnt include the spirit of College Street, the pilgrimege of anyone who has more than a passinf interest in books, or of the intellectual atmosphere of the Coffee House there.

What Calcutta has is very difficult to describe and i know that many writers who i am not capable to holding a candle to have written volumes about the charms of the city but still, i try to write and say that the city has the charm and delight which is rather more than a trifle difficult to find in today’s world. Whether it be the Radha-Bollobhis or the Indrayanis, or the Sondesh or Roshogollas, Calcutta has them all and Calcutta can have you eating out of her many varied colours or charms for as long as you would like. And this is something which belongs to the people of Calcutta, and no matter where the city goes in terms of modern economic terms, this is something which onone can take away from the people of the city. What i would say is that having Breakfast at Flury’s on a leisurely morning, with a few cups of Tea, watching the city walk by you is an experience which is quite difficult to find anywhere in the world, more so with the backdrop of Park Street, or maybe i should say Calcutta.

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3 Comments on “Things About Calcutta”

  1. Hi Atul,
    This is Indrasish. We met at Chennai in Mahesh’s hotel room for drinking if you remember.

    This article on Calcutta is very truthful. I know because I have grown up in that city. Yes, Bengalis have a penchant for anything intellectual but, again I agree, they are also a little condescending. Bengalis are generally academic minded and even if one is not good at studies, the person holds a good student in high esteem. This doesn’t help someone like me who was a very poor student. The only problem with Calcutta is that it has fallen behind in the race of economic development, which is why many like me have had to leave the city. But I am planning to go back again.

    If you want to read something about the history and old culture of Calcutta and Bengalis – read Those Days by Sunil Gandhapadhay.

  2. Mark says:

    Awesome post on Calcutta Atul ! I believe every newbie to Calcutta must read this post in order to understand the flavor of the place. Indra (my friend whom you met in Chennai – KM India – Oct 30th) and I have tweeted about this post. Between, I had a brief opportunity to visit Calcutta in the middle of 2006 for a short 3 day period. What struck me there was the honesty of the cabbies and not once did i get ripped. Wish I could have spend more time exploring the city…..

  3. thoughtsandme2004 says:

    havent read Those Days but one which gives a nice picture of Calcutta is Chowringhee.


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