Romancing the Past in Kolkata

“Sir Turn left … no right…..no  …no… no… go straight…..” screamed Aravind shuttling his eyeballs between the streets and the map in the 4 inch screen of the iPhone. “Is it right right or left?” asked Dr. Ajith without loosing his temper amid the hullabaloo of the city. “Left sir… left” replied Aravind having full faith in the ‘master of all gadgets.’ Our car turned left and suddenly there echoed a heavy interpellating whistle that slowed down our Mitsubishi. A man in white came with a book in his hand and a peevish laugh on his face. Ka jaana he… patha nai ye onn way he?

 Oopss… We looked around, there was no sign boards explaining the trap. Some roads in the city become one-way either in the morning or afternoon. The map doesn’t have such information in its database. Dr. Ajith and Dr. P.K. (my teacher and the renowned critic/writer/journalist of Malayalam Dr. P.K. Rajasekharan, thanks to these two great personalities, had it not been for their benevolence this trip wouldn’t have even come to our dreams) accompanied the policeman to the nearby police station while Aravind and I shared the backseat of the car.

Trams – the cheapest mode of traveling in Kolkata

I tried to catch those rare moments in my camera through the rear window of the car. Suddenly something crawled towards our car blocking my view. Since my camera was in full zoom I couldn’t make what that beast was through the viewfinder. The beast stopped just behind our car and a man came out of that beast looking at the direction of the police station. The beast was a breakdown van and the driver was waiting for the orders to chain our car. Both of us jumped out of the car hurriedly. I couldn’t think of anything else other than that gut-busting image of the car hanging from a tree in the movie Gods Must Be Crazy.

That was how we were welcomed by the city of Kolkata. A city that has a personality, a city where history enjoys its uninterrupted sleep, where past settles in every nook and cranny.  For a boy who has spent most of his life in the small villages and towns of Kerala this city was really an exciting experience.

Hand-pulled rickshaws

As soon as you step in to the Kolkata city a strange feel of antiquity will embrace you. Here everything has an antique aura. The city with its centuries-old heritage buildings and dust painted facades carrying the memories of colonial occupation, the symbiotic relationship that grew between the antediluvian parapets and small trees, broken window glasses, old red walls everything pulls you some two centuries back in the timeline.

The Parkstreet, Kalighat, Takur Badi… the city is brimming with life and looks like a medley of colours and sounds. Here life never comes to a standstill, except for the noisy impasse created by the traffic jams. Roads have long forgotten those remarkable moments of silence. They are thickly populated with yellow taxi cabs and the wonderful cab drivers who believe that it is set for them to press and hold their thumb on the horn whenever they take the wheels. May be this is the way they overcome their existential crisis on the roads leaving us on a neurasthenic crisis.

Then comes the rickshaw pullers with their agonizing areee bhayyeeee call that resonate the streets and swathe their faces with a primitive helplessness.

Victoria Memorial Hall – the imposing structure in Kolkata

Thanks to Bimal Roy, I knew their story even before coming here. Watching them pulling the rickshaw I was confirmed that the casting of Balraj Sahni in the lead role of Do Bigha Zamin was a perfect move, for none in the Bollywood of that time had the physique of a rickshaw puller. I admire Shahni a lot as an actor, amid the stars and superstars (especially the Kapoor and Kumar) of 50s and 60s he was a genuine artist with an excellent mastery on his profession.

Another essential element that adds to the personality of this city is the tram. They are the funniest thing we met in Kolkata.

Tram looked to me like an old man from a prehistoric period who accidentally slipped from his trees to the clamor of a city. When he comes creeping with an earsplitting blare every one clears the road with much disgust and aversion.

 Not just these appalling yet nostalgic rushes, the city preserves its past in quite a few other monumental edifices. We have the Victoria Memorial in its Indo-Saracenic style, the National Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Howra Bridge… the list never ends.

 Even after coming back to our rooms we could feel the past muscling in to our mindscapes furtively. Now that was Kokata for me after the first day of our trip. The story is not over but I don’t want to tell all of it in a single blog. Hope I will get time to come back and mull over more on those rushes.

Eden Gardens internationalcricket ground, Kolkata

 Please click here to watch more Kolkata videos.

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