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She, the City.

Maria Uzma Ansari

Even though I hate naming things, I could never live in cities divided into sectors. I would much rather live in old cities with streets named after real people, that speak to me. Our summers were spent with us pretending to be tourists in our own city, where we would mark out every road on foot. Our mornings would begin with pancakes and bacon at Flurys and end with a scoop of Vanilla at Mags' ice cream parlour.

If you want to see my city, you will have to seek out the people she houses, You shall have to share a cognac with the Armenian community and give the Anglo-Indian community living in houses painted red & green at bow barracks a visit; maybe even witness the extravagance of the Gujarati community at Elgin.

How a sharp turn at Russel street leads one to Park Street or how going further than Park street lands one in Wood Street, are all lessons I learned from the road. So, if you want to know my city, you must sit in the middle of the park street cemetery and light a cigarette while listening to the Maghrib azaan.

You should go strolling in her dingy alleyways of the North and go through hundred years of History in a single breath while looking at the Protima in Maddox square during Durga Puja. Go, go to her jewish synagogues and her Catholic chapels & her Protestant cathedrals.

If you want to feel her, you feast your eyes on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at Nazrul Manch and spend a day at Nandan. Take a hand pulling rickshaw and end up at the national library on college street, find the best tea at the Indian Coffee House just opposite to the two hundred year old Hindu College before spontaneously getting a tram ticket to Shyambajar.

If you want to find her, stand on the intersection of Rabindra Sarani and Zakhariya street and listen to the call for prayer and while you are at it, don't forget to stop by the antique violin shop, that looks like it is lost in time at a busy street in Shakespeare Sarani.

Here, you can go back in time while taking a walk through Dalhouse while breathing in the finest of colonial architecture and when you exhaust yourself, savour the momos at Sikkim House; listen to live music play at Hard Rock, gorge on the Chelo Kebab of Peter Cat and down a beer at Oly Pub.

Ours, is not a concrete jungle. Not an urban culture that was brought up in malls. This city, lives in the kids playing football among horses at the maidan, with the city's skyline towering over them. This city exists through the couple sitting on the bench at millenium park, overlooking the sight of the Howrah bridge. It lives because of the awkward apprentice history lover, who loses her way only to find herself at the museum, on an odd weekday.

This city lives in the train line that passes through Prinsep Ghat and in the boat rides that allow you to gawk at the grandeur of Vidyasagar setu. It lives in the painter who spends his day sketching at the Victoria memorial and in every horse cart ride you take around it. This city, lives on the promise of the multitude of artists who promise to never stop making art.

Today, the jews, the greeks, the chinese, armenians and the kabuliwalas may have all fled the city, par aaj bhi tumhe koi insaan chai ki dukaan par baitha, haath me kulhad liye, Murphy Radio par Abhi naa jao chhod kar, sunte huye mil jayega (But even today, you may find somebody at a tea stall with an earthen cup of tea in hand, as they hum to the tune of ''Abhi na Jao Chhod kar'' on Murphy Radio) because Calcutta is no less than a page taken out of a History book.


3 comments

  • Thank you for writing such an exquisite piece. Thank you for feeling Calcutta!!!…

    MohiShashur
  • Beautifully written!! Such an engaging read!!

    Anita Mary Varghese
  • Beautifully written!! Such an engaging read!!

    Anita Mary Varghese

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