a love letter to the city of joy

Aishee Ghoshal

The city by the Ganges, the abandoned capital, remnants of the British empire,
Ghosts left behind in stained glass windows of cathedrals
And the once white marble turning a pale cream with time, like dusty brittle pages
of a book.
I have walked these streets, all my life, holding countless hands-
A tiny hand clinging on to a larger one as we walked through the light soaked
On crisp October evenings, my feet hurting from the new shoes
And yet not quite tired of the dazzling pandals-
The streets of the city transformed into an art museum.
A little older now, I hold the hand of a friend
Unsure of what I feel for her. I look at her face
The pale glow of the sunset, orange glitter on the white water
As we walk through the narrow lanes of Princep Ghat
Bunking school, getting drunk on cheap vodka
We get soaked in the rain, spitting laughter
Wet cigarette; a drunk nap on the wet grass.
But her parents catch us, her hand slips away
Abruptly and yet painfully slow, each finger- a shard of hope
Slips away, slow- gone, gone, gone.
Then comes the boy, we walk back home from school
Fingers intertwined, because I am scared now, scared of losing it once again.
There is an old tree emerging from the footpath, a phuchka seller
Who doesn’t know our names, but he knows us, he knows our story
He knows how the story ends.
For he has seen countless boys in the green school uniform
Wiping the tamarind water from the lips of the girl in front of him
A girl clad in the same green. He knows, that is how it begins,
He knows, once the uniform comes off, the loves crumbles back to dust-
The distance between the hand and the lips, grows and grows till it’s infinite.
I have held countless hands, some for years, others for hours
And I have bathed in the glory of the city-
The vendors selling earrings or old books calling out to us
As we walk by the high rises of South Calcutta or through College Street.
I have travelled north and walked through the bazaars,
Bustling with life, the stink of fish, the smell of fresh blood from the butcher shop.
I have walked the narrow, secluded lanes of Old Calcutta,
The old houses and the old stories they conceal-
Red pillars and green windows, an ancient past, time now lost forever.
The streets of the city, I have often felt, is like a time machine
The future and the past mesh together- sudden wormholes, we slip in and out of
different eras
Different cultures, different civilizations that have called this city home
And claimed it as their own, leaving behind eternal footprints.
The city has seen decay and destruction, love and loss, joy and sorrow-
Once cherished and then forsaken, the city has grieved and learned to live
Transforming the scars into ornaments adorned.
Sometimes, when a certain hand I was holding on to a little too tight
Slips away like sand through the fingers, I find myself thinking
This city is ruined for me. Tainted with their presence. Each lane, each corner of the
Containing a memory lost to time like an unexpected flower pressed between
pages of old books
And yet, the city of joy was far too big to ever be simply the ruins of an old love.
The streets of this city were far too grand to ever be a thing of the past.
The city- streets covered in yellow taxis and squeaky trams-
Went on, shrouded in nostalgia and warmth and fondness and bitterness,
But mostly joy; the city was of joy.

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