The Buried Soul Of Calcutta
Warnings were plenty when people became aware of my trip to Calcutta. I got vivid descriptions of the city’s dirtiness, its weather, its dilapidation. Sprinkled among them, like the spices in a Bengali curry were the statements about the city’s goodness. So it was not without some trepidation that I packed for the trip.
And it was not a surprise when, for the first few days, under my warning tinted glass, all I saw in the city was shades of her decay. But on my third day in her midst, huddled under an umbrella, watching the sun set over the Princep Ghat, was when I could really see.
I could see that Calcutta is a stained glass of myriad contrasts.
She is noise and chaos, loud horns and even louder people. But under the tarp on a rainy day, sipping on mudka chai, she is peace.
She is a fallen empire, a Queen with her faded throne, a capital long abandoned. But in the streets, for five days in a year, she is a Goddess.
She is unpredictable in her moods, with sultry heat or angry storms. But under the embrace of her people’s touch, she is love.
She sleeps on streets, on carts, under taxis and near rails. But under the banyan tree or on benches in a park, hosting addas, she awakes.
She is grey in her buildings, in her waters and her crumbling monuments. But in her yellow taxis, blue buses, red offices and lush greens, she is colour.
She is scarce in money, her slums and her economies. But in her artists and sculptors, her intellects and her saints, she is lush.
She is lost in her staggered streets and narrow alleys. But in her diverse culture and mixed ethnicities, she is found.
She may be poor in her looks, in her bricks, her mortar and her peeling paint. But, let me tell you, Calcutta is rich in her soul.
My heart feels bereft as I think about the day I have to leave behind this soulful city. As Tagore would have it,
I wish I could take a quiet corner in the heart of Calcutta’s very own world.