Kolkata the city of my birth has always been the most underrated and most infamous of the Indian metros due to many reasons. Nevertheless, as I was born, bred and wed in this city, it obviously strikes a loving cord somewhere in my heart and tends to make me partial enough to pen down some of its brighter sides.
Kolkata, the capital of the British Raj has always had a cherished heritage. So much so that a whole generation of its staunch supporters (including my own father) still exist who believe that it still towers above the rest of the world like it did in its glorious past.
The Kolkata or Calcutta of my childhood was definitely far cleaner, more beautiful and more liveable. Nevertheless, as we grew, the city grew up too and flyovers and smarter shopping malls overshadowed our neighbourhood by lanes and grocery stores. While we do miss the old world charm that the city used to exude some years back, however we also do not resent the smell of the global brands that spread through our nostrils deliciously as we step into the delightfully air-conditioned malls and super markets.
However, no mall can take away the special position that New Market has etched out in the hearts of Kolkatans. New Market or Hogg Market as it is also called occupies a huge area on Chowringhee, the central part of Kolkata and makes sure that everything that you want is available under its roof. The red tiled façade is a reminder of the days of the Raj that it has witnessed. Despite having braved two great fires and seasonal water logging, New Market still defines the quintessential Kolkata shopping experience. No shopping is complete without a visit to its august interiors.
In the 1970’s Kolkata was a revered spot to enjoy fantastic night life. It was said that while the world sleeps, Calcutta wakes up to a roaring time post sun-down. The nightlife of Kolkata though a weak shadow of its elite past, is still quite happening. For the disco maniacs, pubs and night clubs are abundant. Someplace Else and the Tantra at The Park offer some wholesome entertainment. Other than that, Shisha-the Hookah bar, and Underground at the Hotel Hindustan International are some of the others waiting to entice into a wild wild night.
Kolkata is one of the few cities in the World, which has still retained the tram cars from its yesteryears. I remember travelling to school and back in one. The slow peaceful pace of the tram somehow still seems to have a soothing effect on my senses. I feel far removed from the everyday hustle and bustle and am at peace with myself and my surroundings. A trip on the tram car ride around the Kolkata Maidan ( the biggest open air space any city can provide) is a definite addition in your to-do list when you plan to visit Kolkata.
Winter is the best time to visit when it does indeed live up to its name of city of Joy. Every street is lit up with Christmas celebrations. Kolkata is home to probably the most joyous of spirits who despite all odds jumps up to celebrate every festival, irrespective of which religion it belongs to, with equal pomp and gaiety.
The months of December and January in Kolkata are meant for fairs, exhibitions and wholesome enjoyment. Schools are closed for winter vacations and as a result entertainment parks, zoos, theatre halls and every other place of entertainment seem to be overflowing. People take out their best and most fashionable woollens irrespective of whether the weather requires it or not. After the sweltering heat and the muddy rains, winter is like a breath of fresh air rejuvenating the spirit of the Kolkatan.
The months of September, October and November, have their own special significance in the hearts of the Kolkatan. It is the time of Durga Puja. Durga, the symbol of power in Hindu mythology is believed to arrive on earth every year around this time to visit her kinsfolk. She comes in all her regal finery accompanied by her four children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Karthikeya. The city simply goes berserk in their joy to welcome the goddess. Roads take on a different look, cars become banned from certain areas, houses are often blocked off to accommodate the Pandals that come up to house the deity. The Pandals are huge often resembling a well-known building, temple or even a whole area with local clubs competing with each other to bring out the best designed pandal. It is during this time that the city does not sleep for 5 days. Families set out on war footing to see the maximum number of pandals and seek the blessings of all the Durga deities they house.
It is during this time that the Kolkata Street food needs to be savoured the most. However, going by my verdict, Kolkata street food is no doubt the best in all situations. The rolls, a Kolkata invention, are actually spicy succulent meat cubes rolled into soft round flour breads (paranthas); Puchkas, crispy semolina balls filled with spicy mashed potato and chickpeas and dipped in a tangy tamarind water is my personal favourite. Then again we have the masala muri which is a spiced up mixture of puffed rice with all sorts of assorted stuff. These are just a few and the list is endless. Try some when you are here and you are bound to want more. However, for the weak stomach ones, it might be best avoided.
I can simply go on. Drop me a line when you are planning your next visit to Kolkata. I can assure you that Kolkata despite, its people, processions and pollution will remain a trip you will cherish forever.