Monday, August 08, 2005

High-Cal diet

I'm back from Kolkata, after spending five days in the city. I spent these five days trying to figure out the city, grasp as much as I can. My idea of visiting a city is not just about visiting the tourist attractions, I think one can get closer to the character of the city or the soul of the city by spending time on the roads, in the buses, by mingling with it's people. Of course everyone's impression about a city is bound to be different. Bandra, Juhu, Marine Drive is all of Mumbai many stars will know while Mumbai means mainly Powai for me. Similarly for Calcutta, my impression is affected only by the places I visited and if first impressions are anything to go by, the city is very old, old and dingy but alive.

The metro, though quite popular, can't be called the life-line of the city (as in the case of local in Mumbai). The coverage is poor; it has only one single line. It seemed to me regulars know each other and unlike the silent, sleepy commuters of Mumbai, people like to chat in the metro. I could over hear talks on topics ranging from Jyoti da to East Bengal's match with Tollygunge to Parineeta. The metro stations were not crowded with shops and it was much more organized & clean than Mumbai locals. The buses are very old in general. It seems they haven't renewed them for atleast some decades. Very few new cars are to be seen on the roads. The taxis, all of them Ambassadors, are driven by people ranging from Sikhs to Biharis to of course Bongs. Like any other place, you must bargain beforehand to arrive at a mutual consented price.

The next day of my arrival at IIM, I decided to check out the city alone as my friends had lectures to attend. IIM is located quite far from the city in the area known as Joka. One can take an autorickshaw (which is shared between 5-6 travellers) to Shakher Bazaar and then take another auto to Tollygunge. Tollygunge is the last station of Metro. I took the Metro to Maidaan, which is supposed to be the city center. I had to travel a bit to get to an ICICI ATM. The ATM hunt got me near to St. Paul's Cathedral. It is a marvellous, huge building built in typical cross shape. Just next to the church is the M.P.Birla Planetarium. One show was scheduled in next 15 minutes, so I decided to check it out. The dome shaped theater was very comfortable compared to humid conditions outside. I slept for the most part of the stale presentation, most of which I could remember from my visit to Jaipur's Birla Planetarium some 7-8 years ago. After I came out of the planetarium, I could see the dome of Victoria Memorial and the new Howrah bridge. I decided to walk in their direction and soon I was into one park. I don't know what is it called, but Cajoling Couples' Cave would fit it well. Many couples in various levels of compromising positions were at the park, at about 3 in the afternoon! Sometime later I noticed that probably I was the only single person in the park. Soon I left the park and asked my way to Victoria Memorial. It's hard to do justice to the grandeur with words. Sprawled across huge space and made with perfect symmetry, it's an awe-inspiring monument. The museum was closed at that time so I had to give it a miss. The new Howrah bridge was visible from here too, so I started to walk in it's direction. After walking quite some distance, I asked for directions at a signal and was directed to get into a bus. I got down from the bus when I thought it might be near to the bridge. I was wrong again, but thankfully I got down near Eden Gardens. Just opposite to the ground was the East Bengal club. As I walked little further, I noticed a soccer match in procession. I got into the small stadium and took a seat to enjoy the game. The game was between W.B.Police and Calcutta Customs. The level of game wasn't very high; Police was dominating the game majorly. The awareness level of the crowd was quite high for the kind of crowd present there. They were mostly common peasants, perhaps some rickshaw-drivers too. I left the stadium at the half time.

This time I took a cab to the Howrah Bridge (Also known as Rabindra Setu). I was watching the old dying buildings (It was Strand Ware House IIRC) and all of a sudden the magnificent bridge appeared! The view was breath-taking. I crossed the bridge by taxi and asked the driver to drop me on the other side. I was clicking some snaps of the bridge when the traffic cop held me up. After he yaked for a while in Bangla, I gave him "Ami Bangla bolte paari na". It miffed him further and he took me to his superior in the thana nearby. One officer was sitting there eating chaat. I deleted the pictures in front of him, he didn't look very bothered anyway. I came back to the bridge after this little misadventure. The bridge was bustling with a large influx of humanity. I walked to the middle of the bridge and watched the new bridge from there. Some steamers were busy ferrying people across the river, though I could not spot any small boats like the one in the Parineeta song. The neon lights at the Howrah railway station were blinking and some bathers were busy washing themseleves at the ghats below. It was a balmy evening and the wind was pleasent against my face. I wanted to take a ride on the ferrys below. I went to the Goa ghat, taking the alley below the bridge. Boy! was it dirty or what?! The ferry took me under the bridge and stopped at the Armenian ghat on the other side of bridge. The bridge, now lit with street lights was looking splendid. At the Armenian ghat I could see some small fishing boats, just like the one in Parineeta. The day's fishing was done and it was now cooking time; they cook too on the boat.

I took another cab to Flury's at the Park Street. Yes, you heard the name last time in the movie Parineeta. The other name mentioned in the movie, Moulin Rouge (Where Rekha sings and shakes her booty), was just opposite to Flury's. I had some pastries & got some packed for Pankaj Jain and his friends. Pastries were nice, but not really out-of-this-world great. I'm not a great fan of pastries anyway. Soon after finishing the pastries, I left for IIM.

The next day I wanted to get on a tram. So I walked out of IIM upto Behala and walked into a tram there. Quite frankly, it felt more like a toy-train to me. It would stop at any place to get people overboard. The tram-tracks look as if it's not in use now. I got down at Shakher Bazaar and took auto to Tollygunge. We watched Yahaan later in the evening at the Inox multiplex.

The city felt like stuck in time to me. As if it is waiting for something to happen, waiting to wake up from slumber. Surely it must have been a magnificent city with all the huge havelis and markets, but it feels as if it doesn't want to move ahead. Almost every part of the city is filled with ancient buildings, many of them just at the verge of collapsing. The inhabitants are easy going people, who like to take it easy. The shops are shut down in the afternoon, no one is wishing to push it harder for that extra buck.The buzz of Bombay & rush of Delhi is absent here, it's just cool & calm Calcutta for you.

P.S. : Today I received my passport back, with visa granted for next one year.

4 comments:

Reshma Sanyal said...

Congratulations on your visa.

Reshma Sanyal said...

Some points:

1) Also, it is St Paul's CATHEDRAL.
2) It is Birla Planetarium, not MP Birla Planetarium. MP Birla is a school in Cal.
3) The second Hooghly Bridge is called Vidyasagar Setu. Yuva was shot there, and Vivek Oberoi broke his leg.

Varun Singh said...

Sorry RS, it's MP Birla Planetarium. Check out http://education.vsnl.com/planetarium/
:-p

himanshu agrawal said...

the place where u boarded the tram is joka tram depo, behala is 8km from campus