I came to Kolkata 2 years back. It was for the first time that I was setting foot on the soil of Eastern India. I think I would never have visited Kolkata if my husband was not working there. Because, for us Keralites, Kolkata is always a ‘far-off’ place, although Mumbai or Delhi or even the Gulf countries are not so far for us.
My husband, a bank officer, had come to Kolkata in the year 2003. And had fallen in love. Fallen in love with this city. I got married to him in 2005 and have lived here ever since. But it is time for us to leave now. In search of greener pastures…
My parents and relatives were worried that I was going to a metro city more than a couple of thousand kilometers away from the small state of Kerala. And to add to their worries, there were no direct flights from Cochin to Kolkata. And even now there aren’t any. One has to first fly to Bangalore or Chennai and then take another flight form there to Cochin. And the cost of doing so is prohibitive. So we always travel by train. And the journey takes around 44 hours!
My first memory about Kolkata is that of a hartal*. Our train had reached Howrah station when one of the coolies told us that vehicles are off the road due to a hartal. That was my first trip to Kolkata and we were tired after a 2 day journey. Hartal had become a part of our married life since a motor strike had been observed in Kerala on the day of our marriage, to protest the rise of oil prices. And if my memory is not betraying me, it was towards the same objective that the hartal was being observed in Kolkata. So a clear connection got established in our minds between Kolkata and Kerala.
We had to pay double the normal taxi fare and had to pay the touts too, because there were not many taxis at the railway station. But there were no road blocks, no mob, no trouble on the roads and we reached our rented flat near Triangular Park safely. And the very next day we left for Shantiniketan. It was something of a honey moon trip for us. There were five days before my husband had to report for duty at his office. So we could have gone to Darjeeling or Gangtok, but we had not planned in advance. And moreover my husband was very fond of Tagore’s little township. We came back to Kolkata after a couple of days and I was taken to the Botanical Gardens and to the Victoria Memorial by my husband. There was a heated argument between us as to whether it is the Victoria Memorial or the Howrah Bridge that can be said to be the symbol of Kolkata. Neither of us won.
Since then we have visited almost all the places of tourist interest in and around Kolkata: Swabhumi, Indian Museum, Science City, Maidan, just to name a few. And on one vacation we went to Darjeeling, on another we went to Gangtok, on still another we went to Puri and Konark. Although all these places are very far away from Kolkata, our memories about these places form part of our memories about Kolkata itself, because when we write home about our trips, it really doesn’t matter for our loved ones whether Gangtok or Puri is within the geographical boundaries of West Bengal or not. For them what matters is that we are far away from them and that we have gone to ‘Kolkata’, and they find solace in their belief that one day we will return from‘Kolkata’ to stay with them. And whatever happens in between has to do with Kolkata and Kolkata alone. Because it is Kolkata which has snatched us from them.
But now when we return back from the hills of Darjeeling or the beaches at Puri and Konark to our quiet place in Kolkata, we feel as if we are returning home. And that says it all.
During the early days when I was taking in the sights and sounds of Kolkata, there were so many things which seemed striking to me: the trams that were floating on the road, the hand pulled rickshaws, the underground metro railway…
The buses that were plying on the road looked as if they belonged to the 19th century. They were really shabby and worn out. You won’t find such buses even in the remotest villages in Kerala. Thus I found out that the people of Kolkata are not a very demanding lot. They are satisfied with what they are given. My husband agreed with me and told me that his customers are much less demanding and more friendly than the customers that he had served during a short stint in Mumbai.
My husband told me there used to be a green strip of grass right on the middle of the Rashbehari Avenue and the tram lines were laid on this. Other vehicles used to run along the road on either side of the tram line. Passengers could safely get down from the tram on to the grass carpet, which was at a slightly higher level than the road. Now the grass has been removed, the ground has been leveled and the road on either side of the tram line has been widened towards each other, the ostensible reason being to increase the total width of the road and to thereby reduce the traffic congestion. But my husband used to like the green patch very much and is sad to see the tarred road which has taken its place. To him the change from green to black is a symbol of the changes taking place in the whole of West Bengal: from the natural to the artificial, from agriculture to industry… from tilling the land to manufacturing Tata nano cars… Lets hope that the changes are for the better… and lets hope that wasteful extravagance which are so characteristic of Bengalis will be replaced with ruthless efficiency…
What is written above was penned by wife Lishin in her diary in 2007 while we were in Kolkata. She has mentioned about the search for greener pastures… and here we are… now in Delhi. Greener it definitely is, literally and metaphorically. She was an educated housewife in Kolkata who tried hard to find a job and failed. But Delhi has made her a research scholar and she earns a reasonably good remuneration. I think there is no better place than Delhi to make one’s career. If you are talented, opportunities will come your way. And once you grab the opportunity, then you start the race. You become part of the mad rush. You push through the crowd and surge ahead and ahead and ahead…You feel you have the energy to work 18 hours a day. You use your Sundays to hone your skills and increase your knowledge to stay ahead. And then when you get tired, you fondly recall the lazy charm that was the essence of Kolkata: the snail paced trams, the hand pulled rickshaws, a leisurely walk around the Victoria memorial, the Sunday afternoon siestas, the long list of public holidays including four/five continuous days during the Durga Puja, hoping from pandal to pandal, the Dhunuchi dance, Rabindra Sangeet, baul gaan, the five night long Dover Lane music conference which starts at 7 in the evening and continues up to 6 in the morning, immaculately-dressed educated English speaking middle aged and aged ladies smoking cigarettes to brave the winter chill during interval breaks between concerts, the men sipping tea from earthen cups, the queues which are formed automatically without anybody’s coercion while people enter a concert hall or a movie theatre or for that matter wherever a queue is the better option, the pin drop silences inside auditoriums, halls, theatres… I have never experienced all these anywhere else, not in the South, not in Mumbai, and not in Delhi.
But here we are in Delhi, me and my wife, trying to build our careers and lives. We hate the rudeness, the arrogance, the insincerity, the selfishness, the indiscipline. But we may well decide to settle down in Delhi for the rest of our lives. Period.
*Hartal = A general strike which is quite common in India especially in Kerala and Kolkata.
Lishin Anoop, born and brought up in God’s Own Country, Kerala, is pursuing full time PhD in Management with HR as specialisation and is working as a Research and Teaching Assistant in School of Management Studies, IGNOU, New Delhi. She holds an MBA degree and a Masters in Hospital Administraion. She is also a UGC NET-JRF holder.
Anoop A.V. is a nomad, both in terms of profession and in terms of geographical location. He is a Mechanical Engineering graduate who has worked for 3 years as a Software Engineer and has been working as a Banking professional for the last 9 years. He has now completed his Masters in Banking and Finance. He was born and brought up in Kerala (South India) and has worked in Mumbai (West India), Kolkata (East India) and is at present a Branch Manager at a Scheduled Commercial Bank in Delhi (North India).
Lishin and Anoop got married in 2005. They read, write, travel, attend concerts and watch movies during their spare time.