Calcutta (now Kolkata) was named the City of Joy after the novel by the French author Dominique Lapierre. The novel was based on this city. The people here love to celebrate every occasion and festival. Kolkata has its own charm which is very different from all other regions. And to me, the very name takes me through the journey of nostalgia. Why not? This is my native land and I spent the most of my lifespan in the city. So today I thought of taking my readers through my native city in my own way.
It has been a few years I left this cultural city to make my home in another city, also rich in its own cultural heritage. It is also called the cultural capital of our country. Although it has been a place of various political controversies and had many burning issues in recent past. Bengalis are known for their love to debate. Be it political or be it economical, they can find any topic suitable for logical debate.
The Bengalis also share a great love for their food and other’s food too. And I can bet on their foodie nature. Starting from the small fast food counter to the big brand restaurant chains all are abuzz with people all the time. During festivities, these food junctions see an exponential increase in their inflow of customers. Be it New Year, Christmas, Eid, or the favourite festival of Durga Puja eating out and munching on various delicacies is one of the primary activities.
A place is known by its people and I would say Kolkata too is known by the Bengalis. Like people from various regions across India have their distinctive behavioural nature, we Bengalis too have our own. Which is not always welcomed by others. We Bengalis like to take pride in our rich cultural heritage. We are even overly attached to arts and literary topics.
Our love for football, Kabi Guru Rabindranath Tagore and our favourite Dada – Sourav Ganguly is beyond any level of comparison. Any normal conversation among the Bengalis can either take a turn to the debate of “Ghoti vs Bangal” (Ghoti are the original inhabitants of eastern Bengal while ‘Bangals’ are the immigrants from the western part of undivided Bengal) or end up in the achievements of the great personalities from Bengal.
This is just a characteristic of our particular ethnicity like that of any other region. Leaving apart this funny side, I would like to focus on some great qualities of the Bengalis. Bengalis are known for being soft spoken, simple, open minded, emotional, avid traveller and a great host. They welcome the guest, take good care of them, cook various delicacies and serve them very affectionately as a mother feeds her child. They know the true meaning of “Atithi Devo Bhava” (The guest is equivalent to God).
The simple people here generally tend to live a simple family oriented life. They cook their own food, mostly travel using the public vehicles and lead a modest life. But they make sure of their annual vacation trip every year. Since generation Bengalis love to travel. Taking a cue from Swami Vivekananda’s travel across India and beyond to that of various characters from the different literary piece, all were seen to travel far and wide. The Bengalis have been bitten by the travel bug since ages.
They travel across the world, thus they come to know about various cultures and traditions, meet new people. At times they settle down with this newness making it their own. They also bring back many newly learnt cultural aspect and with passing time it becomes their own. A small example is seen during festivities. When Bengali people are seen celebrating festivals like Navratri, Dhanteras, Chinese New Year, Chatt Puja and many other.
Kolkata is a cosmopolitan city with people from various ethnicity and different cultural background residing together. And the Bengalis has imbibed it all making it their own and vice versa. Kolkata is a multilingual city of people from all parts of India and beyond. The city is home to people from all sphere of life. Be it the social status, religion, caste, sect or region. It is a miniature form of our nation.
Now focusing back on the travel bug bitten Bengalis. As I mentioned before, being family oriented people mostly travel with families. Day trips, weekend trips and long trips during vacations are very common in every household. The major attractions within the city see an inflow of a lot of visitors during the weekend and also on holidays. Kolkata being hot and humid mostly throughout the year, winter is the best time to travel around. And on winter weekends the large queues outside the tourist destinations speaks it all.
All such destinations hold many of my early to late memories. The Victoria Memorial Hall, Alipore Zoological Gardens, Birla Planetarium, Indian Museum, Nicco Park, Science City, Sahid Minar are some of the iconic destinations in Kolkata. During childhood, these were the favourite spots for a day trip. Later it became limited to visit only when relatives and friends arrived from other states. And on entering the work life it was reduced to null. Those became just another building or tower by the road on the way to the office and back home.
Visiting my hometown always brings memories back and throws me into the pool of nostalgia. I visited few places to revive the long lost memories this time. The sometimes plain old Howrah Bridge on my daily route seemed so appealing now. The Victoria Memorial Hall made me recollect my childhood memory. When I rejoiced seeing my name among the displays within the museum. Sorry readers, I do not want to misguide you. It was the play Sharmistha (Sermista as spelt in English) written by the famous poet and dramatist of the 19th century – Michael Madhusudan Dutt. It was his first attempt in writing blank verse in Bengali Literature.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, Princep Ghat, Babu Ghat, Millennium Park, my favourite zoo and many other places hold tonnes of my dear memories. Now staying far from my hometown I miss the essence every single place. Why should I say I miss the places? I miss the tempting food too. And being a true Bengali foodie I crave for the authentic Bengali food. Be it the roadside fuchka – jhalmuri – chop and others or the items of the main course available in the renowned restaurants and of course the food made by Ma.
When it comes to Bengali food then it would be incomplete without the mention of the Bengali fish dishes and the famous sweets which comprise of a variety ranging from Rosogolla, Sandesh, Chomchom, Lengcha, Sitabhog, Mihidana, Misti Doi and so on goes the name. Apart from the sweets, there is also a different identity of Kolkata Biryani. It is a modified version of Lucknow Biryani. There are famous eateries which specialise in Kolkata Biryani. The Bengalis share a great love for their Biryani too. 🙂
Nandan the government sponsored centre for film and culture is another important stop on the map of Kolkata. It is the place of cultural activities. People here from the intellectual sphere gather for ‘Adda’ where the conversation and debate revolve around various topics ranging from politics to different social issues to sports to film, fashion and so on. Even the college goers and other youngsters gather here to discuss on various socioeconomic topics. In short, this cultural stage is also a spot for knowledge transfer and healthy debate.
Another all time favourite of mine is sitting by the Ganges and watching the ripples touching the banks. Kolkata is situated on the bank of River Hooghly which is one of the main tributaries of river Ganges. Since the civilisation flourished on either side of the river there have been many ghats at short distances. These ghats were used to ferry good across the river. Now, these ghats are mostly used as a fast and hassle free means of transportation. I personally always preferred to travel through the waterways, enjoying the ferry moving on the waves sometimes sailing by the Howrah Bridge and sometimes below it.
Thus Kolkata is a part of my life. I have spent the majority of my life here has loads of memories in every corner of the city. I have memories of childhood to adulthood here – some happy some sad. I love the food, the language, the culture, the people and above all I love my hometown Kolkata and I miss it. In my own way, the city of Kolkata is my own City of Joy.