Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Oh Calcutta!

Kolkata has to be my most favourite arrival in the whole wide world. Not the clammy weather, neither the crowd, the terrible civic amenities nor pollution can change that. The legend 'Kolkata', 'Kolikata' in English and Bengali atop the airport building has never failed to thrill me. But this time I was in for a surprise as well, when I landed in Kolkata one night couple of weeks ago. Everything was quiet and the rain had washed everything down and the air was deliciously cool. And the ride home was the usual catching up on family gossip with Ma and R. and so rapt we were that it was only when the interiors filled in with steam and I thought we were all going to die of exhaust fumes, that I noticed that our old rickety Amby was now fitted with an AC! Ah possibly that is why Calcutta felt so cool and comfortable! (Turned out the AC was too much for the old radiator and heat up frequently).

In the clear of day I realized it was not a dream after all. Calcutta looked and felt cleaner, neater, spruced up. In the past two weeks, I have been noting with pride the enormous improvements in places. To a visitor it would still look dingy and crowded. But a seasoned Calcuttan like me can appreciate the finer nuances of an entire footpath or one pothole less. The roads under the newly constructed highways are all clean and functional; most roads have large and prominent signboards as do houses of famous people. In case you are wondering what is so great about all this, well I’d have to say you have never been to Calcutta ever or lived here for any stretch of time. If you had, then you would have understood! The New Hooghly Bridge and the maze of roads which led up to and ran down from it all have large boards showing the different directions. It had led many a motorist, a merry dance up and down those roads before they found themselves half way down the GT road and down to Bangladesh! Because when the spanking new bridge was inaugurated, the signs were not up!

I am both delighted as well as apprehensive about all these improvements: What if the person responsible for all this be replaced or retired.

There are other changes too. New shopping arcades, multiplexes, restaurants and popular hangouts. Wonder if anyone goes to the century old 'New Market' anymore. Cal is studded with some beautiful old houses, a hodge podge of colonial and Bengali style. Most are coming down to be replaced with more practical but ugly modern apartment blocks. Some however manage to resist the temptation to modernify.

And that's not all. Apart from the new architecture, the city seems to have been taken over by young, smart things strutting about, hanging about in new sprung up places discussing new stars, new idols and in the process making me feel outdated. Afterall I was strutting about myself out here a few years ago. Was it really 4 years ago? Feels like 40.

A few things however remain the same. The wonderful feeling of waking up in my old room, swapping ghost stories (ma and R are big fans) with them, solving Bengali crossword of the The Statesman with baba.

Being away has made me appreciate my family and home much more than I ever did. I always took the whole comfort factor for granted. I am relishing in it, relaxing, savouring and lapping it all up. What? Just being around them doing the mundane things that families do. Get on with their daily lives. But with one difference. My parents and R alongside. Of course they are constantly surprised that I am actually around and not running off to some adda session with my friends or somewhere else.

I am home. Kolkata. I still think of it as my home and not my parents! Its still feels great to be back home...even if for a short while.

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