Despite having stayed out most of my life, Kolkata is always the place the heart seeks to go back to. The city is in itself, an experience. The flavours flood you, and the people overwhelm you.
One of the most crowded cities in India, as well as one of the oldest, Kolkata appeals to the historian in everybody. Seeing the time-tested British architectural splendours scattered all over the city, raises one’s imagination to never before seen heights.
The Victoria Memorial, the foundation of which was laid down in 1906, a memorial building dedicated to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, is a wonder to behold. Time seems to pause within the halls, and the gardens outside the grand hall.
The fairy at the top of the dome was originally built to serve as a weather vane. However, it’s not been in use for quite a while.
The Howrah Bridge, another icon of this great city, which shows up on most post cards, has been built entirely without nuts or bolts, but by riveting. Another ancient structure, its construction was started in 1937, and opened to traffic in 1943. It literally has been around forever! This bridge is the first link to the city, if you approach it by train. Hundreds of vehicles pass over this bridge every single day, and its importance never diminishes. The Hoogly river flows beneath.
By night, its beauty enchants you. The lights capture you, and your spirit revels.
The cricket stadium, Eden Garden is another fine point of pride with the people of Kolkata. It has been home to a lot of matches over the years, and is regarded as one of the finest.
With the mention of history, and cricket, in a city of Bengalis, can food be far behind? With an emphasis on fish, vegetables and lentils served with rice as a staple diet, Bengali cuisine is known for its subtle (yet sometimes fiery) flavours, and its huge spread of confectioneries and desserts. Every Bengali(almost) has a sweet tooth, and rightly so. With food like this, can you even blame us?!
Machher Jhol(fish curry) is epicness personified. Though it is not a personal favourite of mine, I’ve heard reviews, all along the lines of how people will die for it. I don’t understand the attraction, but ah well, to each his own.
Phucchka, which goes by the names Pani Puri, Golgappa, in the rest of the country, is finger-lickin good. No kidding. Ever. Street food will never taste as good, once you’ve had this. And then you die, and go to Heaven. You might even run into Willy Wonka there!
As dessert, Mishti Doi rules the roost in every Bengali household and gathering. It’s only sweet curd, one might say, but it is just so much more than that, as any sweet lover could assure you.
Moving away from the taste buds, let’s talk of another one of Kolkata’s distinguishing factors, Durga Puja.
Who hasn’t seen the processions and the giant pandals through the last five days of Navratri, in every city in India? Now imagine that, raised to infinity, is how grand it is in Kolkata. In Kolkata, celebrations take on another form altogether. There is a pandal in every single housing complex, along with one big one at the end of every street, almost. The entire city is jam packed into every pandal, and there is never a house left unlit with a thousand blinking lights. Guests come from all over, to be able to see just what it is about Durga Puja that makes people so fervent. Some understand, some go away dazed by the glory.
All of these things, and more, make Kolkata all of what it is. Almost everybody who lives there, has had their family around for ages, right where they are now. They have made their homes now. Though it feels terrible to a new comer, Kolkata can truly become a place to love, once you accept it with all its flows, and learn to recognise the glow beneath the rough edges. A lot like a diamond, actually. I wasn’t a big fan of Kolkata earlier, either. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learnt what’s it like to have somewhere you belong, no matter where you have been all your life, all because they understand what you say, once you are done with all the other languages, and resort ultimately to your mother tongue. It brings you comfort, and a sense of joy that there are people around who will understand what you mumble when you think noone is listening. For all you know, it’s probably how you wanted it. The vitality is there, with the heavy traffic, and the huge crowds everywhere. A need for speed is there, while the languishing laziness is also treasured. It takes its time, but it finds its place in your heart, eventually