Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Oh Calcutta!!

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I have spent the last week or so in my surrogate home town, Calcutta. Its a strange city, Calcutta...strange simply because it is magnificent and pathetic at the same time; marvellous and pitiful at the same time; orthodox and modern at the same time... I have a lot of memories of the place. Navy Blue. That was the color of my school trousers. It is a wonderful color, navy blue. You can dirty it as much as you want and it still looks as grand as new. I had to travel a long way from home to reach my 216 year old school. 21 kilometers to be precise. Invariably someone would stamp over my nicely polished shoes and then flash a sheepish grin, which meant I couldnt snarl back. The very fact that my uniform had navy blue trousers meant that before our assembly, I would rub my shoes against my trousers to get the dust off it. True to its merits, my trousers wouldnt show a trace of the act. I guess thats why navy blue is such a popular color with schools in Calcutta.


I remember once volunteering for the British Education Fair, one of the firsts in the country. This was shortly after Mother Teresa's demise. There was this lady; a delegate from a British University (whose name I fail to recollect) who wanted to see how stark the contrast between Calcutta's opulence and poverty was. "Two sides of the same coin" was what I remember her saying. It was a journey through the heart of the city for me and perhaps a learning experience as well. What did amaze me though, when we visited the slums of the city was that people out there can end up just as happy as us, with almost nothing to live with. Maybe despite the fact that they had little to live with, they beleived they had a lot to live for.


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A lot has changed with Calcutta since I last lived here. Better roads, better education, better infrastructure and better governance. But most of all, I see a sea change in the attitude of the average Bengali. Happily enough there is a generation of new-age Bengalis that are willing to think beyond "cluber paasher adda" and be socially responsible. Happily enough there is increasing awareness amongst Bengalis to ensure that there is better and more accountable governance. The average Bengali has always been an extremely intelligent and well informed creature. What separates the last generation from the present is the willingness to use this intelligence constructively. I am happy that things are finally beginning to look up in the place where I grew up.


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I spent some time with my friends time round and was able to salvage an evening a Sourav's, Sourav Ganguly's multi-cuisine food pavilion. I must confess the food was a grand spread, though it cost me a pretty penny. I also relived my memories of Kusum's famed "Double Egg Double Chicken Roll" (known as Kathi Kabab in other places) and it sure did live up to the hype. Spent some time with my family as well and thank heavens for that...cos I enjoyed every moment of it. Save the weather of course! I still the sweaty, sticky climate... Love it or hate it though, there still is a charm about this city that keeps driving me back here. Whether its the memory of my childhood or something else, I'll never know...all I do know that it still is my "City of Joy"!

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