Kolkata: A hymn to the city

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Sometimes all you need is a spark to start a wildfire. Samuel Taylor Coleridge found that spark in opium. Rabindranath Tagore found him, in the raindrops falling on the leaves. I would make myself a laughing stock if I compare myself with these literary greats, but I found mine on my way back from a recent trip to Betla. It was the wee hours of the morning when Shaktipunj Express entered Howrah station. The morning sky was still struggling to shrug off its black shawl and waking up to the cacophony of the birds. As my cab plodded along the roads of the age-old city, I started rediscovering it. The half-illuminated half-dark town took me to a trance-like state, and within minutes, images starting flashing up in front of my eyes, motivating me to write a hymn to my city, the city that has given me life, nurtured me and will perhaps serve as my deathbed in the coming years.

My Dear Tilottoma

You have served as an inspiration for several poets and singers throughout the ages. Sunil Ganguly in “Me and Kolkata” wrote:

O Kolkata, rejecting my hand, where will you go?
No way you can hide in Canning Street –
If you sprint through the pothole-pitted lanes of Chinatown, I too
Shall sprint behind you like a pursuing tiger,
Run traffic lights, pass through Bara Bazar, cross Chowringhee Avenue
As if it were some convalescent’s panacea.”

Bengali band “Chandrabindu” have also paid tribute to the city through their songs.

How can I be any different? Your tender heart breathes for me as it does for everyone else inside it. As the sun’s first rays fall on the dew drops early in the winter morning, your beauty attains an entirely new level. It is a heavenly experience to walk along the idle tram lines adjacent to the Maidan. Young kids, wearing white uniforms start arriving in groups to start their early morning cricket practice.

In the distance, the dreamy angel atop the Victoria Memorial wakes up to the first rays of the rising sun. She then waves her magic wand to remove the cover of fog, dictating activity across the city – life resumes. People are seen coming out of their houses – their stalled feet gradually catching pace as they trudge towards their workplaces. While finding means to earn a livelihood is an essential prerogative, not everyone is as busy as the other. Some enjoy the warmth of the morning tea, reading the newspaper, and discussing the nation with their friends. In the process, they become the source of envy for their fellow citizens. However, there is a certain kind of warmth in the first sip of the morning tea, whether taken in a hurry or idleness.

As the days drag on, we see you being wrapped up in the cover of dust. The harmful gases oozing out of the industries and an ever-increasing number of vehicles do their best to defile your purity. However, your experience, combined with an unmatched intellect, helps you cope with the deception. You thus shrug yourself off that suffocating blanket at the slimmest of opportunity.

With sun closing in on its job of completing a half-circle around the sky, you brace yourself up to do the needful. As the toiling in the offices drags on, tired souls are seeking respite from the onslaught. You keep waiting for them outside with open arms, ready to pull them in and give them the warmth of your heart.

With the slanting rays of the sun falling on the tombs of Victoria Memorial Hall, the horses are standing just outside the gates set about their activity. The coachman waits for his ride – some fun-loving folk who will come along with his friend or relative to enjoy the leisure ride and offer him the money that he will take home for his unfed children. On the horizon, the tips of the second Hooghly Bridge receive the last glint of the sunlight. A touch of melancholy fills the air.

Evenings in Kolkata have a different feeling attached to it. The street lights escort the cars by standing at attention on both sides of the roads. The ferries continue carrying fatigued people from one side of the Hooghly River to the other. From the deck of the ship, the lights adorning the Howrah Bridge and the Second Hooghly Bridge look dreamy. When seen from atop, the roads look like giant glittering snakes, crawling their way through the dark depths of caverns.

As the evening stretches towards the night, your tired soul seeks peace. You seek coziness, and the blanket of the mist provides you with it. You crawl underneath to not only find coziness but also the warmth on a cold winter night. Under the cloak of fog, several homeless folks – some rickshaw pullers, some daily laborers, some truck drivers crawl against each other, trying to get that much-required touch of warmth. They have one thin blanket to cover themselves up with, no matter how cold it is. They, therefore, desperately looking for means to find means of warming themselves up. Some night birds light up fires and sit by their side; some use alcohol for heat.

The others, which have roofs over their heads and warm blankets to cover themselves up, have their dinner and climb up their beds to get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the day.

Out on the streets, the numbers of headlights become minimal. The Ola and Uber drivers, though, have no option of seeking rest as they ply between one pick up point to the other, looking for rides – turning out to be messiahs for people in the end.

At the stations, the tired express trains return home, delivering the weary souls to their destinations while the fresh ones depart. And thus life goes on. The same routine continues day after day, people tire out, but still, they revive. You have that magic potion that can help the dying survive. The warmth and heartiness are as unique as the rosogollas and fuchkas you offer.

Featured Image Credits: Flickr

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