Friday, August 23, 2013

Kolkata Chronicles Part 4

We keep talking about borders- borders between states, borders between countries. The borders we forget to mention are the ones within cities. Yes, they do exist and even though all of us can feel them we can't define them. I sometimes wonder if they're the worst kind of borders because they separate people living in the closest proximity. I also wonder if we're in denial of their existence. To be honest, I never noticed them until I came to Kolkata. That could be because I was a kid when living in Delhi and in Navi Mumbai I barely went out or interacted with a lot of people. But you know what I think? I think it's because no division is as distinct as the one between North Kolkata and South Calcutta.

Yep. You read that right. The north is Kolkata and the south is Calcutta. Thats just how they're called. It's not that someone purposefully gave two different names to the city. It just so happens that people- perhaps without even realizing it- call it by two different names. Yes, that's how deep divisions between cities can be.

North Kolkata consists of the old parts of the city. If you take a bus to, say, Shyambazar (which according to me is the 'northest' of all), there's no way you can miss how the modern buildings slowly become sparse and the huge porticos, jalousie windows, big courtyards and red brick buildings make themselves dominant. North Kolkata smells like oily food, smoke and muddy water and I know I make it sound disgusting, but it really isn't a bad smell. In fact, it smells like, well, a typical Indian city. Sometimes, I imagine what this place must have been like a hundred years ago. Okay, so today it's the remnant of an era gone by, and it's fast being invaded by the new and advanced. But at some point, big joint families must have lived in those houses and the dozens of children must have played in those courtyards. Businesses must not have been in small kiosks under tarpaulin sheets, but in proper shops. Maybe Britishers walked through the lanes. Places like North Kolkata are reminders of what used to be, and it's nothing but a miracle that they still survive. Of course, there is scope for improvement. Maybe cleaner roads and better architectural conservation can make it even more scintillating. But there's no denying- especially if you're a old world charm fan like me- that North Kolkata has a certain vibe that you rarely see anymore.

South Calcutta is the newer part of the city. It looks like any other average Indian city, with multi-storied buildings and construction sites everywhere, a slightly cosmopolitan vibe and a certain Anglicized attitude that's missing in it's northern counterpart. It even smells different. It smells...neutral. This is probably what the city is today. Yes, it doesn't have the same charm, but it's the need of the hour.

You know what else is different in these cities? The people. I've been noticing for a while now, but people in my college group into tribes and mostly, the tribes are, well, North and South. Now you might ask me what are the characteristics and differences in these tribes. Now this is something I don't want to give my opinion about. So here's a little assignment for you- go find out how people differ in different parts of the city. Is one tribe an upholder of lightheartedness and tradition? Is another one too detached from the past to ever look back on the good things? Or is there one that's just stuck in time, the same for a century and probably never to change? These are questions you'll have to find answers to yourself. Till you do, keep thinking which part of Kolkata you'd like to be in  and maybe you'll discover what the people there are like.