It had to be Calcutta, albeit the fact that it has recently been renamed with an ugly K. At the heart of every Calcuttan, Calcutta will always be Calcutta.
The city of my birth, the city that is my home.
So what is Calcutta like? Hot, crowded, dusty, humid, loud, dirty and full of people who think it's their birthright to spit and abuse. Tempers run high, the traffic will drive you mad and the decibel levels on the streets will surely have you moaning in agony. There are a hundred and one reasons to hate the city, to declare that living here is an utter pain.
Yet, I love it.
Here's ten reasons why:
- It's home. I am utterly and totally comfortable in its arms. From the narrow alleys in the North to the lakes in the South. From the Strand in the West to the wetlands in the East, there is no place like home.
- The street food. Whether you are in the mood for a light snack or a heavier something, there's something for everyone. Jhalmuri to Chaat to rolls to phuchkas to Coolfis. It's all here.
- The Southern breeze. No matter how hot or humid it, gets. No matter how much you have been sweltering or sweating in the day, every evening a cool Southern breeze will caress the tiredness off your limbs. That's why South facing housing is so important in Calcutta.
- The connectivity. You don't have a car? No sweat. There are buses, trams, taxis, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and even a metro to whisk you to your destination. Yes, you may be stuck in traffic sometimes, and you may feel like you almost died but you'll get there with little trouble. Usually.
- The riverfront. It's a rather nice walk down the riverside all the way from Princep Ghat to the Millenium Park and beyond. And they are proposing to stretch it further. And there are street food stalls nicely interspersed along the way to make the walk more interesting. And if you are really in the mood, a ride on a dinghy on the Hoogly river at sunset might be just what the doctor ordered!
- The fine dining. Well Calcutta is not New York or London when it comes to food destinations but the food that is served in the restaurants are certainly top class. The Chinese, especially, which is borrowed from China and spiced in Bengal has no substitute in the world!
- The heritage buildings. Take a tour of the High Court , the GPO and the Raj Bhavan area. If historic buildings are your thing there's a world waiting to be discovered. Just take a walk in the narrow lanes and by lanes of the North. Amid the squalor and the haphazard new concrete blocks, you'll be surprised at the lovely old bungalows! Yes, and people still live there!
- The cosmopolitan-ness: Yes, that quiet Christian lady lives next to the Sindhi who blasts music every weekend who lives next to the devout Madrasi who lives above the Bong who hates Dings but learns where to get a good pork curry from them along with the fat Marwari lady who hates the smell of fish frying but loves to share gossip and the occasional chicken kabab with the Muslim family across the street who's father officially does not drink but enjoys a tipple with his friend the Punjabi round the corner. It goes on. They are the butt of each other's jokes. They have the bitterest fights but in the end they all live together. It works.
- The humour: Yes, the intrinsic nature of Calcuttans to "tell you a jokes" and to laugh at everything and anything and specially themselves!
- The Winters: Calcutta winters are perfect although they last for barely 6 weeks in December and January. The temperature hovers around 10,11 degrees C and the sun feels good on the back. Ideal for sitting in the sun and sipping on that glass of chilled beer or whatever. For a game of cricket or badminton in the lawn. To head to the Maidan or the riverside or further from the city for that idyllic picnic. Yes, had I not been living here, surely I would hanker to return to Calcutta every winter. Oh, Calcutta!