For years Kolkata’s origin has been associated with Job Charnock, the East India Company trader who arrived on the banks of River Hooghly in 1690 and bought the three villages Gobindapur, Sutanuti and Kalikata and merged them together to form “Calcutta”.
Kolkata, previously known as Calcutta is a city that spells dichotomy-loved by some and dismissed by others. You may call it a dying city but there are others who label it the “City of Joy”. This city has an aura of its own and no matter which part of the world you belong to, this city and its people with their unmatchable warmth will make you feel at home.
Even after having lived in this city for a little more than a decade, I am still intrigued by its beauty. It remains an enigma to me till date. It puzzles newcomers and arouses an abiding nostalgia in the minds of those who have been here. This city is alive and throbbing. The people are passionate about everything. This city has an undying legacy and there is so much to be said about this place that a couple hundred words are just not enough but I will try my best.
Here’s an A to Z (literally) of Kolkata’s very own passions and legacies.
A-Adda. There is no substitute for the word “adda” in English or any other language perhaps. Or even if there is, I am not sure it would convey the essence of the word. A quintessential Kolkatan loves adda and engages in it every now and then, the time constraint of modern times notwithstanding. A person visiting Kolkata will go back with this word added to his/her limited Bangla vocabulary and several cups of tea that his digestive system would have had to bear while engaging in adda.
B-Books. It would be an understatement to say that this city has a passion for the written word. Boi Mela or Book Fair is in every aspect a festival. Even though books sales are dipping due to Internet accessibility, the old and the young flock there to leaf through books and soak in its intoxicating smell. And yes, for the round-the-year book fair, one has only to go to the bookstalls that dot on the College Street pavement where they may chance upon a rare book and if you are really lucky, it may also come at half the price since it’s second hand!
C-Coffee House. Coffee House exists in College Street although “Coffee House shei adda ta ar nei” (Adda at Coffee House is no more). For the uninitiated, this is a famous song by Manna Dey in which he speaks of his nostalgic adda at the Coffee House.
Trivia 1: The two floors at Coffee House are fondly referred to as House of Commons and House of Lords.
Trivia 2: Several Presidency College luminaries initiated their intellectual meanderings at a corner table here.
D-Durga Pujo. One just cannot take away the spirit of pujo from the Kolkatans. With shopping to do, pandals to hop and competitions to participate in, every Kolkatan looks forward to this time of the year for their very own reason.
E-Eggroll or paneer roll? Nowhere else in the country can you get a sumptuous “maida” wrapped roll at a price point of maximum Rs. 35/- Young Kolkatans are also releasing healthy varieties of the same replacing “maida” with wholegrain.
F- Football is a passion of every Kolkatan. Supporters of Mohan Bagan and East Bengal still clash over their matches and leave many injured. In fact, a football match has the potential to bring about major law and order problems!
G-Ghats. Kolkata is truly the City of Ghats. Although, all the ghats are not as beautiful as one would like them to be, a stroll by the ghats of Hooghly make you see the real Kolkata as if insulated from all the trappings of modern life.
H-Howrah Bridge. One can go on and on about this majestic bridge that is considered to be one of the busiest in the world.
I-Ilish or Chingri? Fish fry of which shop is the best in Kolkata can trigger off a verbal duel!
J-Jhalmuri. I am perfectly convinced that Jhalmuri (savory puffed rice) was discovered by accident. I mean, how could a rational mind think that mixing chopped vegetables, peanuts, spices, sprouts and a lot of puffed rice would produce one of the most decdent snacks ever?
K-Kumartuli is not only the abode of artisans making clay models of various Gods and Goddesses but also an interesting place which has been extensively photographed by veterans like Raghu Rai to budding amateurs.
L-Langcha. This sweetmeat is something every Kolkatan has craved at least once in their lifetime.
M-Mother Teresa is Kolkata’s pride. But if there is a Mother Teresa, there is also a Sarada Ma, wife of Ramakrishna for the larger number of devotees.
N-Nandan-the cultural hub in the heart of the city with its auditoriums and venues for film festivals draws large crowds and displays a Kolkatan’s passion for films.
O-Occasions. It is said that Bengali’s have “Baro mase tero parbon” (Thirteen festivals in twelve months.) All the Kolkatan’s need is an excuse to celebrate!
P-Phuchka. This is what a Kolkatan craves on a hot summer day, a rainy day, a gloomy day, basically any day! Mind you, this is not the same as pani puri or any other attempted variant across the country!
Q-Quest. It seems as though a Kolkatan is always on a quest for more knowledge. They’re on a quest to learn more and take in everything that this world has to offer.
R-Rabindranath Tagore abounds everywhere. Kolkatans swear by him and he is fondly called “Gurudev”. He is not just Kolkata’s obsession; he is the nation’s obsession.
S-Singing. This is something every Kolkatan is fond of regardless of whether he/she can sing or not but a majority of Kolkatans do have the gift of voice since birth. In fact, if you go about visiting houses in Kolkata, you will find that there is an aspiring singer in almost every house!
T-Trams. Yes, there are still people who favor this slow moving transport. Senior citizens particularly prefer this and promptly veto its withdrawal.
U-Uttam Kumar-the man widely regarded as the greatest actor of Bengali cinema.
V-Victoria Memorial is an instance of the city’s colonial past. The city’s colonial past is lamented by every Kolkatan but Kolkata being the ardent lover of art and culture, never fails to appreciate the beauty of the Victoria Memorial.
W-Water logging and wading through water has been a routine feature in the monsoons since time immemorial.
X-*X-mas on Park Street. This street is lit up and men in red coats and hats with white beards are seen everywhere and the sound of carols fill the air. This street that will never fail to give one a glimpse of the British times, acquires an uninterrupted festive mood.
*Christmas. Desperate need to fill in something in for the letter X compelled me to say X-mas. Sincere apologies.
Y-Yesterday’s Capital. This glorious city is not only a favorite today but also was a favorite back in 1793.
At the end of the day, as cliché as this may sound, it is true that you can take a Kolkatan out of Kolkata, but you can never take Kolkata out of that person.
“If you want a city with a soul, come to Kolkata.”
Disclaimer: The pictures used are not mine. Credits go to their respective owners.