Lost in a glorious City… (guest post)

The first time travellers narrate all that they have seen, heard and encountered at a new place; sometimes comparing to their home state or to what they have read and heard about the place. A second journey to the same place after a significant gap results in a totally new script, comprising mostly of the changes you are witnessing; what has evolved and what has stood still. 

This juxtaposition is most evident in the city of Kolkata in India, the erstwhile British capital of India, once the epicentre of political power, culture and industry; now a  mere shadow of the former halcyon days.

Synonymous to its popular multi-act Broadway theatrical Oh! Calcutta! today’s linguistic Kolkata comes with many new features especially the political rigidity and city filth. It’s a fusion of spirited people, partisan politics and, hordes of immigrants. Just as well for everyone to see, the glorious past which nourished eminent educationists, selfless community and national workers, and stout communist policies does not display any signs of revival. The city still moves on with its tottering brigade of ambassador cars, creaky old trams, and a well-oiled workforce, the last of which is claimed as majorly composed of rural folk and immigrants. New factories, e-businesses, and educational institutions of repute are glaringly absent.

Along the river Hooghly
Along the river Hooghly

The geopolitics and ideological barriers did not allow new businesses and industry to grow in recent years and, as a result, many employment opportunities were lost to the present generation. Consequently, the city and state noticed an exodus of youth to other prospective parts of the country. This is clearly evident in the number of young students qualifying the competitive exams to join top educational institutes elsewhere.

Peter cat restaurant on Park Street, Kolkata
Peter cat restaurant on Park Street, Kolkata

All was not lost yet. The Park Street retained its erstwhile grace and charm. A visit to one of the eateries in this stylish downtown area is testimony to why the revelers frequent this part of the city. Flurys, Peter Cat, Mocambo are lively meeting places which can stimulate and regale the bon vivant. Hilsa, one of the most expensive and nutritive fish in the subcontinent, is the taste of home for Bengalis living around the world. On one of the state visits to India, it is said that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh expressed a desire to cook the President of India steamed hilsa, a delicacy that the latter loves, in the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Hilsa for sale at Kolkata
Hilsa for sale at Kolkata

Just as the Victoria Memorial is a standing monument entwined in history, the Howrah Bridge continues to serve as an object of suspense and hold the visitors in awe. The Birla Planetarium and the Science City are regarded as splendid learning centers for the young and old alike.

Birla Planetarium at Kolkata
Birla Planetarium at Kolkata

A traveler has to take into account the fact that the auto-rickshaws are united in their attitude to customers and it’s all about sharing seats. A point-to-point ride poses little threat to one’s purse, no more than the dangers of sharing the front seat with the driver and listening to ignominious calls from the irate traffic around. Totos, as they are fondly called, also exist as e-vehicles in an ingenious design using electric motors for propulsion, but operate only in the rural districts. Despite their environmental-friendly features, the city’s diesel-run rickshaws frown on them for lack of speed, limited range, and as the object of traffic jams. The critical thinking that collective ownership still runs in the society. Even the bus conductor has a cut in the rake. The city does not get high ratings of a globe traveler.

Totos, as they are fondly called; autorickshaws in Kolkata
Totos, as they are fondly called; autorickshaws in Kolkata

It would not be far from reality to comment that one of the oldest and most glamorous cities and the British capital of the country has lost its charm of yesteryear. There’s little coherence in the political agenda and guidance, and a suitably charted out development portfolio is missing in the state. The planners would do well to woo investors and create business-like environment, including that in the IT domain. They should also find solutions for the city’s overwhelming waste by devising methods to convert them into useful forms of energy. One can only hope that the region’s rich heritage and tradition of nurturing eminent statesmen in the ranks will stand in good stead. The legacy of Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Theresa, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Swamy Vivekananda is a beacon to carry, and the city can look up to retain its gleaming old charm.


Thank you for reading.

The author Saji can be reached at sajisalk@gmail.com.

Till next post take care !!

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