Baazigar – Week 17 : Kolkata (Calcutta)

I love yellow. Always have. I get drawn to yellow sweatshirts in apparel stores and aspire to drive sexy yellow cars. There have been girlfriends and bosses who have discouraged this love for the color in clothing and ppt template choices. Perhaps that is why I loved Calcutta so much. The taxis are the perfect shade of yellow. As are the trams and trains. The yellows just light up the streets in the early evenings as people rush home from work. Calcutta isn’t shy of dressing up in yellow. And I don’t look much unlike the yellow ambassadors in my yellow tshirt!

( Read : The entire Baazigar Series – Kunj’s chronicles on Kashmir, Amritsar, Mcleodgunj, Mussoorie, Delhi-Gurgaon, Mughal Sarai – Varanasi, Bangalore,Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Puri, Dantewada, Kanha, Goa, Gujarat and Rajasthan.)

Pic 1 – The yellow beauties

But my love for the city precedes my visit here. You know how on particularly boring nights, you visit a Facebook profile of a friend’s friend and find her perfect? Then you visit her blog and your intellect has an erection? You know that if you do manage to meet her, you are going to fall in love with her. Well, for many years now, Calcutta has been like that for me. I have known the city through newspaper articles and cinema and books and blog posts. And I have always known I would love the city. To have finally come here and found confirmation for my instinct, gives me hope for my theory.

Pic 2 – Victoria Terminus.. Err.. Memorial

While I will not be so bold as to claim it’s universally difficult to capture joy as an emotion in words, I do think I personally find it a Herculean task. Joy is better served by music or cinema or simple body language. Joy is wonderfully served by a place. Perhaps it had to do with the music blaring on the street into which the window of my room opened at 3 am. I was rudely awoken and distraught that I was, I shouted out to the men unloading the truck with goods for the New Market to keep it down at that unearthly hour. The Biharis replied that they needed to be kept awake for getting the work done and they required Kishore Kumar for it. Soon we got chatty, me from my window and them down below, working and talking in equal parts. It dawned on me that those were bloody good speakers for a truck and inquired what brand they were. The driver informed me in between fits of laughter that since it was Calcutta, those were obviously Bose! Or maybe it was listening to the musicians on my way to Shantiniketan, me realising for the first time where SD Burman’s folksy music came from. Or perhaps it was on that first day at Eden gardens where a non descript match was going on and there were exactly 5 people in the 100000 seater stadium – the security guard looking after the camera, an Englishman enjoying the cricket and a sandwich, a local clerk who had sneaked out for an afternoon siesta, a fellow from Haryana on his way home, looking to kill time before catching the train from Howrah, and me. At some point all of us got into the game and started cheering the cover drives, making as much noise as 5 people could make. Cigarettes were passed around and then without warning the Englishman took out a 2 litre bottle of Pepsi, except there was draught beer inside it. He told us how he had got it for cheap at The Street and I realized stinginess has no nationality. I put on some Bollywood music on my laptop and right there in the middle of a working day afternoon, 5 men were partying where on any other day, 100000 people would be crammed in to celebrate Azhar and Laxman and Ganguly.

Pic 3 – The greatest cricket ground in the world – Eden Gardens

Pic 4 – One of the handful places in the city, along with the Birla Planetarium to get intimate in air-conditioning – either with a loved one or yourself

Calcutta is set in it’s ways. Its evident in how red flags still hold sway everywhere. It shows in how places like Burra Bazar and Sona Gachhi haven’t changed one bit in the last 25 years. Or the fact that while the whole country’s police took to Khakhi, here they still wear the white of the Raj. The roads are still those intimate Raj era cobbled streets, also named after such cool guys of yore as Chaplin, Shakespeare, Gorky and Lenin. And on these streets abound shops and shops selling such archaic things as vinyl records and classic literature. While other cities treat their old restaurants more as heritage sites, here the Peter Cats, Mocambos and Someplace Elses are still the hub of the modern day connoisseur of grub and gin. Heck, the same guy at the same street corner would offer to get me weed everyday when I would return from dinner. After being refused for 4 days, he was standing with a rolled joint on the 5th.

Pic 5 – Midday meetings by the city’s favorite party

Pic 6 – High art sold on street corners

In far away Shantiniketan too, students still live as if they were in a university village the way Amartya Sen or Mahasweta Devi or Indira Gandhi would have in the last century – with intimate buildings, bicycles as the preferred mode of transport, old posters announcing fusion dance performances of Vietnamese and Manipuri styles and Indian adaptations of such classics as Roshomon. Students with long hair and tattoos have sitars tied across their backs and rundown cafes, which can never compete against CCDs in the outside world, still abound. It would be almost cruel to imagine rays of wifi going across a heritage campus like Shantiniketan’s. I feel so often that places I visit are stuck in a time warp that perhaps its me who is actually stuck in one.

Pic 7 – The paddy fields and Shantiniketan beyond them

Pic 8 – The art at Shantiniketan

It is then only apt that I write this blog not at a Barista or CCD but at the Oxford book store which is truly one of the best bookstores this country has today. It fills me with a lot of fear and insecurity to look at all the books and writers and just the sheer number of people who have dealt with India and traveling across it as their central subject. Sometimes you start believing in all the hyperbole about yourself and sitting here has a sobering effect. It is nothing unique what I am doing but, as a friend put it, as long as I do it in full earnest, I will have something to be proud of at the end of it all. I have tried my best to do a story on middle class Calcutta here and I have enjoyed the process.

I now leave for Ranchi and truth be told, the anxiousness to get to the Northeast is triumphing over the excitement to visit the capital of another very young state.

– Kunj Sanghvi

(Kunj Sanghvi will be writing about his experiences in each new city every week on At various junctures on this trip, he’ll be found working over cups of coffee in coffee shops across the country. He’d love to meet, talk, discuss with anyone who’d care to meet him; just to know the city and its people better. Follow him on twitter here – @kunjsanghvi. He blogs here.

About Kunj – Kunj Sanghvi is a B.Com graduate from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics and MBA from Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA). Prior to plunging into this adventure he was a Senior Manager at Hindustan Times. He has also worked with in the past. )

You may be interested in :

The entire Baazigar Series – Kunj’s chronicles on Kashmir, Amritsar, Mcleodgunj, Mussoorie, Delhi-Gurgaon, Mughal Sarai – Varanasi, Bangalore,Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Puri, Dantewada, Kanha, Goa and Gujarat.


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