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28 August 2009

Mad & sad about Kolkata

IN ANY relationship, it’s always easy to get so used to its familiarities that when novelty wears off, we forget about the good things that made that relationship work in the first place. I was thinking of this while traveling away from Kolkata this week. I’ve lived in West Bengal’s proud capital city long enough—exactly two years this month—to be accustomed to its nuances and nuisances, but half of the time I still moan and groan about everything that it is and isn’t.

For the record, Kolkata is NOT an easy place. It’s one of India’s four metropolitan centers (the others being Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai), but the city formerly known as Calcutta—famous, and infamous, for its ferocious independence of body and soul—seems to perpetually reject the advances towards modernity of those three other cities. It’s impossible to translate in the city the cosmopolitan attitudes seen in Mumbai, the urbane spirit in New Delhi, or the disciplined ways in Chennai. “They can all be the same, but they are them, and we are not them” seems to be the mantra of daily living for the Calcuttans.

However, traveling in Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Ahmedabad in the past four weeks and getting caught in relentless heat, reckless traffic, and ruthless pollution, I found myself actually missing Kolkata, where sun is fun and traffic is slick. The truth is, there are endless things that make me mad and sad about Kolkata. These are my tales of Kolkata, the stuff that fortify my bumpy relationships with the city.

You’ll begin to read about them on this blog.