The Idea of Kolkata
Alchemy Publishers pays homage to the City of Joy, which is also in many ways the city of book lovers.
The bustling metropolis of Kolkata (some still prefer the previous name Calcutta) is a veritable paradox. The squalid slums and pavement dwellings set into relief new high-rises and glitzy malls increasingly dotting the cityscape. The melodious strains of Rabindrasangeet can be heard over the honking and screeching at road intersections, while people discuss economics and cricket over a cup of chai at a tea stall. Electric trams can still be seen plying at a leisurely pace on some stretches, along with hand-drawn rickshaws, while sports cars scorch the roads.
Kolkata’s canvas has in many ways been changed by the forces of post-modernity, but never completely detached from its colonial past; the people line up at fast food chains to gorge on succulent fried chicken or delectably cheesy pizzas, but they still love their crispy phuchkas and sinfully tasty kachoris.
A city in many ways is defined by the people who inhabit it. It’s no different for Kolkata, a city which is known for its amiable and friendly populace. Equally important is the para culture whereby the residents of a particular locality become a part of each other’s lives to the point that your otherwise irritatingly snoopy neighbour gladly helps you when close relatives can’t. Furthermore, the people of Kolkata (and Bengalis in particular) are a nostalgic, homesick breed who are as passionate about football and rosogollas as they are about their cultural legacy and politics.
The city of Vivekananda, Tagore, Netaji, Mother Teresa and Ray is steeped in historical significance, and it was always home to many great dreamers and doers.
The Dakshineshwar Kali temple, the Tipu Sultan Mosque , the St. Paul’s Cathedral and Victoria Memorial are but examples of the diverse socio-economic and socio-political (not to mention architectural) influences on the city and its landscape. Kolkata is as much a city as it is an idea of a city that one gets by visiting it, celebrating festivals like Durga Puja , sampling its varied cuisines and even experiencing it as a Kahaani.
And like an idea, it is fluid in its abstraction – its colonial heritage, Bengali nationalist credentials and modernism being but different viewing angles for the same picture.