I’m a city person, I have decided. I cannot live without traffic on the roads and lots of random faces everywhere. I especially cannot live without the fascinating menagerie of people, the life in the bustling, and the organized chaos. There is always an unspoken culture, a familiar code of direction, and many dimensions of the same plot.

I have always lived in a city. A fairly small one, as cities go, but a fairly cosy one. It speaks, my city. It tells tales. Everyday, there are stories that it can tell. Of people who have just learnt how to walk, of people who have just learnt to see, of people who have just learnt to talk. (It certainly hasn’t taught anyone to breathe, however. Cities don’t do that. You’re in the wrong place if you’ve come here to learn to breathe.)

This is a story of two cities that I have seen and fallen in love with. One is home. The other, however, took me in as a guest.

It is a city with culture oozing out of its walls. The curtain opened slowly for me, and this made it easier for me to take it in. As my taxi pulled out of the train station, the first thing that caught my eye was the beauty of the buildings. The old bricks, the trees in the wall, the oblivious faces to them all. As I tried to digest the beauty of it all, the place was determined to make it hard for me. It popped up a structure, a bridge, so beautiful, that it was difficult to even savor the spice of the taste in one bite.

I am talking about Calcutta. All I wanted to do was to travel the roads- to walk in the light, filtered through the clouds, under the hint of a drizzle of rain. I didn’t take any pictures, because my camera wouldn’t do justice to what my eyes were seeing. Just the roads are a pleasure.

The buildings.. Oh, the buildings! I could go on forever about them, and not be able to stop. The architecture of them all, the fusion of the structures on every road, the old and the new, the grills in the windows. The proud heritage that they all bear, the regal beauty that they all boast of. The stories that they can tell, the love that they can furnish. The contrast between The Oberoi Grand Hotel, well maintained and well kept, and a random leather warehouse- unpainted for a century, that both seemed to be built two hundred years ago.

On my very first day there, where I hardly spent an hour outside my hotel, I fell in love. In the evening, there were men sitting out on the footpath on every corner, just talking. About life, it seemed, and politics, and the world, about everything, and nothing at all. So enthralling, it was, to watch experiences being shared, opinions being listened to, with a plate of bhel-puri in the hand and twinkle of wisdom in the eye.

At a restaurant I went to one night, there was laughter in the air. A sense of Self emerged, a sense of privacy, a niche in a crowd. Like a friend put it, Calcuttans are a noisy, comfortable lot. They like feeling at home wherever they go. It’s true. I also think it’s true that Bengali evolved into what it is now, because the people found the food hard to take out of the mouth. Their language became one that could be spoken even with a full mouth. (The puchkas! The rossogullas!)

Cities, they have many towns patched together by an old grandmother into the same quilt. There is the town of the old and the brisk walk, the one of the new and striding, the town of the well-off, the town of the thriving. Mostly, there is a fusion of it all, and this is the most mesmerizing.

They all have places everybody knows, but nobody’s been to, places everybody goes to but never realize they love, places they hate, obscure places with the favorite mango juice, secret places that sells awesome biryani at three in the morning, people who gossip to you, people who gossip of you, people who you gossip about.

And what is most intriguing, is the pattern most cities follow. A network of people, most of whom will be undoubtedly connected to another by atleast one common acquaintance.

It is still in the City that I learnt how to breathe, because it is in freedom that you can breathe, and in a conflict of opinions that there is democracy. In a city there is both. Freedom, from the choices you have, and democracy, in the choices people make.


Shelina said...

I've never been to India, but I definitely want to. You've described it very poetically. It seems like every city has its own personality.

Arcane Crapper said...

Eh? All the city taught me was smoking. That too with ppl like you spoiling an innocent littttal bachhu like me...

A Chrysanthemum by any other name... said...

what were u doing in cal?

Sita said...

dear arcane crapper,
yeah right.
with a slight tone of yeah-rightness in the voice,

Sita said...

shelina: actually, all cities have their own personality, but yes, indian cities are an experience. :) welcome to my blog..

chrys: my bro was taking part in the national level rowing championship. me, being the older, responsible, mature (ahem) sister that i am, chaperoned him to cal. :D

Sharan said...

I cant decide if this one or the previous one(the running away thing) is the best post ever on this blog--Sita, your writing keeps getting more and more refined and less arbitrary with every post. Keep it up!
I think the running away post is truly truly truly amazing...

Shravan Narula said...

And I attempt valiantly, yet fail, to suppress my smile, as I fill with pride for my City!
A slight correction, though...
It isn't Bengalis that live in Calcutta. Calcuttans live in Calcutta!

Sita said...

shravan: i thought you'd like this one.
i meant bengali in general.. it's like that in every city.. it's not telugu people or urdu people who make hyderabad, it's hyderabadis!

Sita said...

sharan: thanks ve.. i'm really flattered!

Srikrishna said...

tooooooo much !!!!!!

Manu said...

Thank you! i've never been to the place, but there's something abt it that makes me want to go savour, at the earliest. Brilliant brilliant post, totally loved this. And hey, did you feel a spicier Indian flavor to Cal? It just comes across as a place that has a more distinct Indian-ness abt it!

p.s: mature, elder sister ah? aiite!

Sita said...

manu: spicier Indian flavor, I don't know. Cal definitely has its own distinct Indian-ness however, which superbly fuses the old and the new..
also, heck yeah! dunno bout the mature bit, but definitely responsible older sister :p

srikri: danke!