My Calcutta holiday is already a distant memory as more pressing realities take over, such as deadlines that have to be met, deadlines that have to be faked and deadlines that have been missed. On top of that, the publication of my book is so gloriously uncertain. So perhaps this is a good time to relive the good times, eh?
The first thing that strikes you about Calcutta is that it is so much more relaxed compared to Delhi. The second thing that probably strikes you is a 1980s-style bus that comes hurtling down the road and knocks the hell out of you! Yes, the traffic is AWFUL! The roads are not as crowded as Delhi or Bangalore; and it was quite a shock to find that people actually stop behind the stop line at traffic lights and leave the zebra crossing free for pedestrians! But the driving makes you call upon all sorts of divine powers.
And going by Indian standards, it’s pretty clean, too. Flyovers and cleanliness drives have changed the cramped, filthy Calcutta of old. “Modernization” has taken over, but some sort of old world charm remains. And the schoolkids actually look like schoolkids! The narrow lanes and old houses are still there, but shopping malls and spanking new housing complexes have sprouted all over the city. While hailed by all as a good thing, I was personally a bit disappointed. As for the trams, though depleted, they are still going strong.
The Calcutta Metro, the first in India, is now around 20 years old if my calculations are right. Though it does not have the high-tech sophistication of Delhi’s, it is truly unbelievable. It is cheap and efficient. The trains may not be air-conditioned and the carriages may clang along, but it is definitely faster than Delhi’s Metro; and they are at least three times longer!
To sum up quickly, here’s what I liked about Calcutta:
- Not having to speak Hindi! I associate that language with disagreeing with auto-drivers on fares and generally fighting with the population of Delhi. Even though my Bengali makes my mother pale, I got along quite well, thank you very much!
- The people are nicer! But then, that is an automatic given if you’re from Delhi.
- Everything is so cheap!! Imagine getting a chicken roll for Rs. 12!
- The taxis! Even though they still seem to be running on the same engines that they had when I was a kid. You can just get into a cab and say where you want to go, and they’ll take you, by the meter! Unbelievable, what? (The only bad thing about taxis is that they are very expensive following a recent fare hike.)
- You still get ice-cream soda! (For those puzzled by this, ice-cream soda is a term for flavoured soda made by, as I recall, Spencer and Bijoligrill. You only get the latter now. It looks like plain aerated water, but tastes great.)
I had gone to Cal with a checklist. My hits and misses were as follows:
- Visit the Victorial Memorial: 🙂
- Eat phuchka: 🙂
- Eat fish fries and chicken cutlets: 🙂 (right on the first day!)
- Eat misthi doi: 🙂 (the relatives took care of that)
- Ride the Metro: :-).
- Breakfast as Flury’s: 🙁
- Eat chicken rolls: 🙁 (but I did manage an egg roll at Howrah station)
- Go to College Street: 🙁
Am I going back in a hurry? Uh, NO. Oh no! Not because I didn’t like it there. Quite the contrary. It was just that our staying at a guest house caused a major family upheaval! Various factions of relatives were mortally offended that we chose not to stay at their homes. Needless to say, if we had, the ones we hadn’t stayed with would have been even more offended!
Family politics in this part of the world need an entire encyclopaedia to explain!