Evolution is a relative word. When we say something has evolved we compare it with what it was at a particular time before. Calcutta became Kolkata, as I grew up from a new born to 18 years old. I never lived in Kolkata; it was a place where I used to spend some time of my summer vacations. One can say it’s a short time to judge a place, but it provides perfect advantage of being a third party. I have a big family full of ‘masis, meshos, didas, dadus’ and a flood of other relatives in Kolkata.
As I said, evolution is relative; I will describe the city as I saw through my eyes. When I was around 5, I always wanted to stay in Calcutta permanently, let’s say the idea of being pampered by relatives was so much pleasing. As soon as I saw the Howrah platform through the train I used to get so excited. The Howrah is a masterpiece in itself. The colonial architecture never seemed to fail in leaving someone in awe. Even through a child’s eye, all of it was grand, huge and mysterious. I think Kolkata is responsible for inducing the love for colonial architecture in me. That time when one used to come out of the station, which was big to traverse in itself, you used to get autos and rickshaws ready. But that was then; now, a normal person has to wait around 1 hour to get a prepaid taxi!! Another thing I love about Kolkata is the Ambassador taxis painted black and yellow, which swarm the city top to bottom. I still think sometimes, maybe the roads blocked by traffic would be seen as yellow from above!!
As soon as one comes out the humongous structure of station, Howrah Bridge is visible. It just can’t be called a structure of metal and a wonder of engineering world. It is in true terms the life of Kolkata. Kolkata and Howrah are two twin cities separated by the great holy Hubli river, which is a distributary of Ganga. Howrah Bridge connects the two, along with many bridges. One of them is Vidya Sagar setu , an equally magnificent structure but for me, it can never be as important as Howrah, since some things are just important anyways, no reason needed. Once you enter the main city it is just ‘madness’ as it was referred by the adults when I was small, for me it seemed unreasonable why such an interesting ride in an ambassador, with so much to look around, so much to plan for home and so many beautiful buildings to notice could be ‘madness’. Now I realise, what the real madness was, the blowing horns, the sweat from excessive heat, the smell of sewers and garbage mixed with the pure Kolkata air you want to take in was indeed madness, I could notice this after some years since it has increased exponentially.
Although the streets have become roads now, I have to admit that I loved streets much more, where one could stop here and there to pick tender coconuts or peanuts. There is a remarkable change in the buildings too. The city is now filled with high rising buildings. There are not many buildings with grand balconies and lavish roofs to admire from taxi. Although now it’s a deep satisfaction you get, when you see the whole city from a balcony at 30th floor of a residential complex. The sea of small lights seems to be the night sky under your feet.
The two floor complexes I used to live in have changed into apartments and the scattered shops though which I was towed around have changed into big huge shopping malls, though I can’t complain of the malls , I miss the fun of going to several shops just to buy a single frock full of frills.
My father and I are the best companions when it comes to travel around places; it was the same then also. Kolkata didn’t have Metros then. Locomotives running on tracks laid on roads, called trams were very common then. I love the slow moving trams. Even then, we would make it a point to sit in it for a while even if it was heading for a different direction. Now, the metros have taken over. Trams have reduced so much that I have to go to certain streets to get a glimpse of them. I miss those times when I would spot people jumping in and out of tram since it was slow. Maybe Kolkata has been speeding up and I am growing in a much more gradual pace.
We used to go to science city, my father and me. The science city has changed a lot since then, for good. Earlier it lacked in number of facilities one of them being ice creams I clearly remember. But honestly speaking the place has now got a lot of good things to see and guide students. Nico-park hasn’t and won’t ever change for me. It is still the same place where all of us along with my masi who was in 10th standard then and now is married, went and had the best Christmas morning ever. The place will always have a special place in my heart. I still remember that once in science city I saw a documentary named- ‘Calcutta -the city of harmony ’, the whole of it is still totally imprinted in my memory.
Belur math and the Dakhshineshwara temple situated on the sides of Ganga were then just two beautiful places where there were a lot of people, lot of pigeons and a lot of gods. I would everytime be flustered when I returned from that place maybe because of the crowd or the cheap toys available outside the temple I demanded but never got. Then I used to love the Ganga bank and the deep blue water along with the temple. But now the water is polluted and the holy water in which we take a dip to purify ourselves contain large heaps of plastics along with dead bodies of animals floating along with it.
The crowd in the temple has increased but along with it has increased the meaning of the temple. Now, sometimes I find myself in so much peace sitting on the stairs facing the temple that sometimes it feels that the great life which lived here hundreds of years ago would have been a great soul. The trips on the small boats or dongis from temple to the ‘math’ are my most favourite part. The calm but deep river water reflecting the skies above the great city makes one fall in love with it. The journey lasting around 20 minutes gives you a peep through the magnificent history of the city as there are a numerous historical buildings situated on the banks of Ganga.
Maybe the number of pigeons visiting my roof, the size of pot my favourite sweet ‘mishti doi’, the big posters which used to be painted with hand earlier now holds banners of big movies, the number of chop stalls on the roadside, the time taken to reach home from station, size of the cars spotted on the road along with numerous other things I loved about Kolkata have changed. Some of the most important relations I had with Kolkata may be withering away at the moment; there is one thing which won’t ever change. It is KOLKATA. The city will be forever the same mysterious yet mesmerising city In the eyes of a five years old who used to go there every summer. The KFC cannot change the taste of chops on the road sides, the size cannot change the sweetness of the ‘doi’. For me, it is still the place where I want to stay permanently, pampered or not. It defines me- My personality, my freedom and my vision. This is it, the magic of Kolkata, ever-changing yet the same, the city of harmony.