What’s the population of your city?”
This innocent looking question seemingly becomes one of the most frequently asked question in ‘foreign lands’. And if you are live in the west ask this question to an Indian, well I, being an Indian can guarantee you that situation will become humorously awkward in in a few moments. Why? Two reasons… Firstly, we generally don’t remember the population statistics of our cities. On the contrary I (including my friends) find it weird that people in the west actually remember their city’s population. So the most common answer that you would get any of the facial expressions expressing shock and confusion, a strange look, five seconds of pin-drop silence followed by a hesitant ‘quite large’. And I am telling you, he is being modest. Secondly if you meet an exceptional statics-crammer or a person who has faced this situation earlier and learnt from it; well then his answer will most probably blow your mind out. Believe me! Me and my friends have been asked this question many number of times in our short foreign tours and… there have been no exceptions… ‘Shock’ is the only word that can describe the situation of the person who asked the question.
Example required? OK… I am from Kolkata. And the population of Kolkata is… well infinite. No… probably ‘more than infinite’ is a better approximation. You may object to this claim and open up Wikipedia and say that it is ‘ONLY… 14 MILLION’… and then after a gulp, still defend your pride by saying… “Well that’s still not infinite.”
To that I would only say, “What matters is the feeling… Come to Kolkata and you would realise what I mean.” Upon that… it is not the population what matters is the population density. And you CANNOT beat my city on that. People seem to be crammed up in this city. Open up the list of densest cities in the world and you will find 5 out out of the top ten cities to be Indian. What is more surprising is that ALL of these cities are practically in Kolkata. Beat that if you can!
And if you really want to see the population miracle of the city; board the local trains. It would be an astounding experience for the newcomer to realise the various weird angles at which our human bodies can bend when crammed for space. And if you are a young boy; you might very well try hanging out from the doors of a running train. I have tried it (or have been forced to try it) several number of times and trust me… you can never get bored (my parents are not reading the post, right? 😛 ). And if that was not enough, your self-esteem will surely get a severe blow once you see a vendor with a huge basket on his head moving smoothly through a compartment which you thought could not accommodate a single more soul.
But all of this said, Kolkata is a city of its own kind. The cheapest, the vibrant and the nostalgic. quoting from my earlier post. There is something in the city which always captures your imagination. There is something in the city that it has produced so many greats in the world. There is something in the city that I just want to be a tiny drop in the sea of people… forever…