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Kolkata

The Sea of People


population

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…

Men Not Allowed


800px-Men_not_allowed

Troubles always come in groups… huge groups. And troubles have a special affection for your dear author. And the beloved troublemaker of all times… The laptop… (For glimpses of the trouble-making refer this followed by this). So one fine day pretty close to exam time; when my laptop entered the yearly phase of trouble-making (this time it was motherboard which had passed away); I had no other option but to bunk my classes on a weekday and give the service center a visit.  And after gloomily handing over my beloved laptop in the center; and having ‘something’ to eat from the roadsides of Kolkata, I decided to return back to the hostels. And this is precisely where the fun begins…

I look at my watch which says 5:30 PM and rush to the metro station… And I saw exactly what was expected – A sea of people… No literally… Combine the following facts together – End of the office time; a country of 1.2 billions; a city of over 4 millions and the cheapest metro of the world. What else would you expect? So waiting for the metro amidst the crowd you realise how insignificant you are and how large is the world. 😛 And as soon as the train arrives, the fiercest of the races starts – the race to a vacant seat. Being extremely well versed in the art, I kicked a person ahead of me, punched another who was trying to get ahead and gloriously sat on the seat which I had won. But as fate always has it moments of glory were limited. A couple of moments elapsed and I realised the mistake – the above the seat, proudly announced, “WOMEN ONLY”. And so did the eyes of a lady standing just in front of me. I cursed my luck and the race which I lost after winning and humbly left the seat.

After the metro, came the train, where luckily seats are not reserved for women (certain compartments are). But there too, neither my luck nor the fairer gender spared me. After successfully establishing myself on a hard earned seat, I thought I could relax an have a nap. So with A.R. Rehman plugged in my ears, I peacefully dozed off. But for long… a (gentle)man wakes me up. I realise that a lady is sitting next to me and the (gentle)man sat besides her. “Don’t sleep!  Sit properly!”, said he. I analysed the situation… dress extremely traditional, age- 40 to 50, man and lady sitting side by side – Conclusion: They were a couple. And the problem was that in sleep there was a slight possibility that by mistake I touched her wife. I mean… what the hell… If you have problem with sitting besides a young ‘potentially dangerous’ man, why don’t you exchange your seat with your husband? Why disturb the sleep (which is the most dear thing to a student) of a person who is now forced to keep his eyelids open, staring at nothing for the 2 hour journey?

And finally the bus… For the half an hour journey, I deliberately chose a bus which was scheduled to depart an hour later (as it was be empty) so that I could securely get a seat and ‘relax’.  No use… Slowly as people poured into the bus, I could see millions of standing souls. And… despite 50 per cent seat reservation… a few of the souls were ladies. Unfortunately one of those souls stood besides my seat. And being a young blooded gentleman, I forgot all my sleep and left the seat for her… so that the atrocities of the violently rocking bus (yup… it was on Indian roads) are born by these tired legs…

In short that day (as many other  days) made me realise that we are the most unfortunate group in India. Caste reservation eats up half of the seats in the competitive exams for any ‘general’ candidate. As a ‘young’ citizen you are supposed to be responsible and sympathetic. And as a guy, you must be considerate towards women – even though they receive reservations in buses and trains; they pay atleast half of the fee we pay in any exam, preferential treatment in scholarship and so on…

But… Ladies! Beware! Every gender has its day (or set of days)… There would be a day when train compartments would announce “Women Not Allowed”

Floral Snapshots: In Kolkata


Some snaps of flowers, plants and sky in the rainy season…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Creative Culture Called the Locals


Someone please give me a bravery award! I managed to get a seat in Krishnanagar Local at 5:30 PM on a Friday! You did’t get the point? Then you have not lived in Kolkata for sure. Anyone who has lived in Kolkata for even a short period of time and does not have a pretty loaded wallet will understand the value of the achievement.

For others, let me explain. Kolkata is the economic, social and cultural hub of all of east India to say the least. Millions of people living around the city travel to and from the city daily generally for office work. And the most common mode of transport used by them is the local train (because it is the cheapest). Hence there are two peak times for train travel (dictated by office hours) – around 9:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the evening. And if you ever get the opportunity to be in Sealdah Station someday during these times, you will understand what do they actually mean by saying The Sea of Humans”

The locals have a life of their own…a uniqueness quite difficult to describe in words. Here you will find scenes which are bound to change the way you think that things may happen. Take for example, the vendors – one of the identifying features of the train. You will be amazed to see how a person carrying a huge head load can squeeze through the compartments where people hardly find any space to keep themselves in a vertical position.

What more? If you are lucky, you would be able to find an example of exceptional memory retention power. In the compartments with daily passengers; you may find a time when a tea vendor enters the compartment; gives a cup of tea each to a selected set of people, and goes away without asking a penny. I was astonished by the scene when I first saw it. Then a gentleman quenched my curiosity as he said that the tea vendor recognises each of their faces. He takes the money once in a month. That’s amazing! the vendor keeps track of not less that 500 people, and remembers how many days he was present in a month! That is a walking record book!

Another characteristic of the train-passengers is their passion towards playing cards. In a situation where people are literally falling on each other, you would find a group of four people who would have spread out a large handkerchief between their thighs and are peacefully playing cards (and not to forget, the advisory group sitting right beside them, giving suggestions on the moves they ought to play). Recently I noticed newer trends as I discovered people standing on gate of the compartment and playing cards and people without a handkerchief playing cards on the floor of the compartment.

There are many more scenes that you can never forget once you visit the local trains – people carrying portable hooks to hang their bags, the awkward angles in which a human body can bend in space crunch, the strive to place some commodity on the seat in order to book it and unusual taglines used be the vendors to allure the customers. Millions of people struggling to reach their destinations on time.

And between all this chaos, when you hear a passenger saying, “Dada! Ei train er alada nesha achhe. Apni roj ei train ke dhorar jonno ja khushi tai koren (Mate! This train has an attraction of its own. You can do whatever it takes to board this train daily).” You realise that you are in the land of weird,
nostalgic and loving people – The Land of Bengal.

The City of Joy…The Epitome of Culture


There are many ‘eye-catching’ cities in India, posh, vibrant, full of sky-scrapers, luxury buses and what not. Go to Mumbai or Bangalore and you will realise that ‘mordernisation’ is the talk of the day. Malls coming up all around the city; AC buses running up and down the road and what not.Talk to anyone of the ‘iconic’ city of the country and they would name Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and maybe Hyderabad. There is one city however which does not look so ‘mordernised’ at first sight. But it is that city (or the state) which has left an imprint on my heart which can probably never fade away – Kolkata (or Bengal).

A striking difference between Kolkata and other metropolitan cities of India is that Kolkata is Bengali by soul. As Vir Singhvi (a reputed journalist) says, “Tell any person in Mumbai that the city is essentially Marathi, or any Delhite that his city is Pujabi, he would most probably raise an objection. However it is not so with a person in Kolkata; he believes that the city is Bengali and he even feels proud of it.” There is a very strong sense of cultural awakening in the region. Bongs are in general very very proud of themselves and their culture.

The city will definitely not please any outsider at the first sight. The first thing that scares a first time visitor is the GIGANTIC population. Probably the number is too large for anyone to imagine. Other problems include traffic jams (which occur very frequently) rains (let it shower for 1 to 2 hours and large parts of the city are flooded) and humidity (95 to 98 percent at summers with temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius).

But the lovely part of the city is its people. Here you you can meet rickshaw (a non-motorised public vehicle), who finds it difficult to make his ends meet, being extremely knowledgeable about the highest quality of poetry in Bengali. Here people who never met earlier can be found discussing regional politics. This is a place where you can have a decent lunch at prices as low as Rs.5 (Rs. 50 = $1). This is a place where people are evaluated not on the size of the wallet but on the size of their heart.

Live as a common man and enjoy the beauty of the city. Sacrifice the feeling of being special and see how the city captures your imagination.

There is certainly something in this land which gives rise to greats – people who defined their own feild. Take Rabindranath Tagore as and example. A poet who created timeless beauties. What more, he also composed music for each of these poems to convert it into songs which are now known as the famous Rabindra Sangeet. Sons of the same land include Vivekananda (the man who shook the world with his words in Chicago), J. C. Bose (who showed that plants have life and discovered radio), S. N. Bose (co discoverer of Bose-Einstein Condensate) and Subhash Chandra Bose.

One must remember that it is the people who make a city. A city is not a dead piece of land – emotionless and mechanical, but is vibrant entity – personal and affectionate. In today’s world where relations and emotions dry out, this is a city which still preserves its personal identity. This is the city of joy; the epitome of culture: Kolkata…

N. B: If you are wondering why in this post there is no mention of the Durga Puja or the Local Trains of the city, I would like to say that these aspects of the city are too elaborate to discuss here – they require a post for themselves. So keep your fingers crossed…

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