May 31, 2016

Kolkata Kalling

12 years ago in Kolkata. At the time still much referred to as Calcutta. Now less so.

The city doesn’t change; but you do.

Every picture I have of it from 12 years ago still looks like it could have been from December, when I last visited. Perhaps even today. When I land at midnight later, there will not be the crisp, muddled air of the winters I love in that city, just the night time counterpart to the heat that I know will pound on my face, and the ground, sometime in the morning.

All that I know, all that I do, I owe it to this city, even if it will never know it.

When my school friends were road-tripping across European cities for ‘summer break’, or perhaps even the big cities of China and America for work and school, I found solace here. It can be hard to see, but Kolkata is a hard act to beat. It’s the ultimate summer. Followed by monsoon. And the sounds of….

It’s a monsoon and the rain lifts lids off cars

Spinning buses like toys, stripping them to chrome

Across the bay, the waves are turning into something else

Picking up fishing boats and spewing them on the shore — James, Sometimes (which somehow always comes to mind when I think of this place

How to beat it?

The start, really, of empire. The fall, or rather the fading away, of one. The majesty of India’s cricketing hopes and dreams, and occasionally the dashing of, projected unto Eden Gardens even when the matches aren’t in season. The death of Marxism, available for the world to see at every adda and every failing piece of infrastructure. Tagore’s poetry. Indian Coffee House. The children of Tollygunge, who taught me so much, 12 years ago. Sandesh.

On hot afternoons when the sun hits the ground and meets engine oil, the smell reminds me of my first love among the many other putrid Asian cities I have come to love:

“So in the streets of Calcutta I sometimes imagine myself a foreigner, and only then do I discover how much is to be seen, which is lost so long as its full value in attention is not paid. It is the hunger to really see which drives people to travel to strange places.” — Tagore, My Reminiscences

This foreigner is not done discovering.