When you first breathed the communist air of hope and brotherhood, you were in your mother’s womb. You made a pledge unto me then… that you would never forget my ideals nor stop trying to make them your own. You would enjoy the revelries of Durga Puja and Diwali with equal fervour. You would continue to cherish the old-world charm including the fatherly Ambassador taxis. I am Kolkata.
Through the gullies of Burrabazaar, and the posh lanes of Ballygunge Phari, my soul found its multitudinous avatars just like you did during your childhood years, mingling with neighbours of various castes and communities from all over India. Sometimes you played in the well-manicured parks of Auckland Square and Minto Park with children you didn’t know, sometimes you admired the sunset at Outram Ghat with friends. Every time your cousins visited from other countries, you brought them to see the Victoria Memorial or the Indian Museum — as if their tribute would have to be still paid to Her Majesty of England for 300 years of British Rule. I am Kolkata.
Sometimes the lethargy of the city got into your bones also, and you preferred to spend hours at the college canteen just like your uncles did at the Coffee House in Dharamtalla. At other times, you were content roaming the SS Hogg Market with your mother bargaining hard for great deals. Not a single day went by during your college days at St Xavier’s without a visit to Park Street, dotted and knotted with bars and restaurants, now a bit tired and rusty. But your favourite stop was always Flury’s with its fifth generation Butter cream pastries and Chicken patties. I am Kolkata.
You loved me and I loved you — without any conditions or notions. But then you had to grow up, leaving your teens behind and eager to explore the other worlds. Even the candlelight dinners at Peter Cat, or the charm of the Academy of Fine Arts hosting art exhibitions, or the spicy Jhalmuri and pungent Phuchkas at Victoria Maidan couldn’t lure you back. Marxism, which was your favourite subject at the college canteen debates, took a backseat. You no longer understood the philosophy of the Naxalites and wondered why there wasn’t ever going to be any new jobs or industries here. I am Kolkata.
Our love affair ended on a bitter note — because I didn’t want you to leave but you did anyway, and chose not to return for many years. My streets didn’t want to change, or the colours of my springs or winters. I still felt proud of the aged Bihari rickshaw puller who earned hardly a hundred rupees every day. I still loved the dancing fountains with their newly-installed coloured halogen lights at Victoria Memorial. I still embraced the beautiful sunrise over the Howrah Bridge. I still liked that tiny earthen tumbler of chai being offered for just one rupee! True, now there are some new shopping malls and fancy public transportation, but I still wake up more relaxed than other cities. I am in no hurry. I am Kolkata.
Your return was a surprise to me — and how do you think I felt? With your fancy clothes, your foreign accent and new money, all of which is against the ideology of our combined destiny, you came to see me again but no humility. Am I not your favourite love story then? Could there be another one like me? Now you love New York City I hear, but does it have a rich heritage like mine to offer you or the precious memories of childhood? Have you forgotten the best of the Raj that I shared with you and still hold dear… including the innumerable clubs in the city? I am Kolkata.
Where have you been all these years, my beloved? The soul which you have today belongs to me, you know, full of all the poetry and romance, love and passion which people want to be a part of! Your education went beyond Shelley and Keats, and your social acclimatisation wasn’t all about Deen Mistry and Lillete Dubey’s famous English plays at Kala Mandir. You have as much of Tagore in your blood as I have a loving tendency to give sanctuary to Bangladeshis. I am Kolkata.
Accept it. Your love affair with me can never end. Because I am YOU.
(The writer is a communication specialist)