Oh Kolkata!

By Sunil Kumar

The Bengali renaissance is one of the most poignant aspects of Incredible India‘s multi-fangled story. So; my first trip to Bharat’s East was a semi-exciting event in my mental calendar. After all; the land of Aurobindo, Tagore, Vivekananda and other notable luminaries is an interesting study in itself. Satyajit Ray movies and Feluda stories painted an intriguing picture in the periphery of my consciousness.

Rabindranath Tagore

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in  Cover of Rabindranath Tagore

People; jampacked buses; the serene waters of the Ganga and some rather old jaded buildings. Calcutta; often bestowed with colorful epithets including “The City of Joy”; the “Black Hole”(I can debate the historical facts behind this obvious colonial racism); or the “City of Dreadful Night“. There is a spirit of gentle otherworldliness that could seep into your character living in Kolkata; but that feeling could be limited or specific to me.

English: Higher detail image of Swami_Vivekana...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in English: Higher detail image of Swami_Vivekananda.jpg Swami Vivekananda, September, 1893, Chicaco, signed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a big world out there; and people have been manufactured differently. Anyways; to cut a long story short; or make it bigger; after some interesting technological discourse; and Hare Krishna sankirtana; it was time for exploration.

Sri Aurobindo is one of the most respected fre...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in Sri Aurobindo is one of the most respected freedom fighters from Bengal and also a poet, philosopher, and yogi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Praktica MTL 5 +  Helios 44-2 2/58 - Hare Kris...

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in Praktica MTL 5 + Helios 44-2 2/58 – Hare Krishnas 3 (Photo credit: Kojotisko)

The iconic image of Balraj Sahni in a Bimal Roy movie stuck somewhere in my brain; and I remembered that the rather seriously sad image of hand-drawn rickshaws had been banned. But; rules; the bane of Indian existence; are meant to be made in the wise jurist’s image; and then violated at every interval. So; I see a rather well-built lady seated comfortably in such a contraption(the hand-drawn rickshaw).

The former capital of British India; Kolkata has many visible marks of their exploitative and interesting presence; but most colonial era buildings seemed to be in a sad state of disrepair. The imposing facade of the Victoria memorial; an ode to a long-dead obese queen from empire-builders had betel-stained staircases.

The north facade of the Victoria Memorial (Kol...

The north facade of the Victoria Memorial (Kolkata), India. The statue of the Angel of Victory is fixed atop the dome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cleanest and most serene monument of them all was across the Hooghly; in Howrah. The Belur Math; conceived in part by Ramakrishna Paramahansa‘s most famous disciple; Swami Vivekananda was a monument to the humanitarian ethos of some of the inspired visionaries that have graced Bengal. My personal favorites have been pre-independence revolutionaries; who displayed exemplary courage in the face of very trying circumstances.(100,000 Englishmen ruling by proxy(using fellow Indians) over a massive accumulation of humanity).

19th Century Bengal; a distant relic of the past nevertheless comes alive in fiction and televised reality. Unlike other nations; India probably believes in living history; and does not bother about the massive amount of heritage which could be restored to great effect. The question here is not of resources; the massive contributions to religious institutions or big political scams proves that our juggernaut has the ability to generate a cash flow.

The new airport is an example of planning going right for once. My other stop on this trip; Bhubhaneshwar was a small gem; haphazard, uncut, noisy and eclectic like the rest of the country. With excellent roads; and development in what was and still sometime remains one of the country’s less-developed states; Odisha’s capital seems to be standing up to claim its place in a changing world.

Kolkata is a city caught between the old and the new; remnants of its past glory sometimes shine through in the incongruous reality of today’s jigsaw. Here’s hoping that all of India retains a sane balance between the old and the new; sheds some of its ancient garb; and in Tagore’s words; “Into that heaven of freedom, Lord, let my country arise”.




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