An Afternoon with Kolkata

We were returning on a bus that went from Anandapur to Saradapark. We’d been walking. It was June, the clouds piled high in the sky- silken bundles, one after another, the molten silver sunlight glittering off them like so many crystals scattered across a universe of the deepest blue.

It was Ashadh, the month of the rains.

It was raining, the steaming drops warm against our skin. Buildings were floating in puddles, colourful like toys built from toddlers’ blocks. The sky was awash, the ground was awash, smoke rolling across the slick tar, rolling in smooth, fast waves. Flurry after flurry went by; we broke through the ocean of fog and boarded a bus for Sarada Park. It was 3 pm. 

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The bus was warm; it rattled comfortingly, like a known friend, a familiar knowing that wrapped you in a vast friendliness and you knew exactly where you were. The sun ribboned on the ribbon-shining road; it was everywhere, golden, wide, welcoming; Rashbehari Avenue embraced you like an old friend; Deshopriyo Park to your right lay in wait for the afternoon lovers. And you were taken back to that moment years ago when the sun broke through the clouds on Sealdah Bridge and suddenly melted across Kolkata and fell lovingly onto the great chaos spread peacefully below. And you were taken back to the moment you fell in love with this city. 

This city of endless mazes, its patchwork brokenness, its struggle to be anything in a world where everything is nothing and everything at the same time: this city in its gossamer dress laughed and ran and you couldn’t help but follow.

This city.

Then the clouds rolled around in sun-lit ecstasy and the rain made patterns on the tar-black road and the leaves made patterns against the bronze tree-trunks, shifting, shifting, never moving, and Rabindra Sarovar arrived, a train thundering across the red-brick-bridge, crowds walking swiftly, slowly, on the road and the footpaths.

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A mother and a daughter climbed up the steps, the wind from the tunnels making their clothes swirl.

They will shortly be in the great steel caterpillar that will carry them across this city, in its underbelly, through the vast catacombs carved under its dripping surface. The city that moves, like clockwork, no rest, no sleep,  clicking away above and beneath and everywhere else, thundering in the tunnels of life. The digital clock blinked 15:47.

There is a rush; some women are disembarking; white skin, carelessly tied hair, smiles; they each say “thank you” and “Goodbye!” to the conductor who stares after them, unblinking, skin creased and white teeth flashing, and “Bye-bye”, he says, to each, hesitatingly, unarmedly, and you think how  sad it is that how few of us wish the man “goodbye”, the man who takes us home everyday, and how happy he was that of the thousands that greet him, four said “goodbye”, and of how greeting the man at the door who tirelessly screams, “Tollygunge- Sodepur- Karunamoyee!” and saying “goodbye” to him every day should not be such a startling question.

Southern Avenue is long gone: the great fork in the road carrying a stream away never to meet like the Ganges in the hills, yet all of the Ganges’ lovers find their way back to her in some time and so does the Avenue, winding its way through the heart of the city, find the road that finds you at the Sarovar again, and as you roar past, you see them embrace; as you roar past the stores preparing for iftar near Tipu Sultan’s mosque and you know the magrib will begin soon, floating its way through the skies, touching every rooftop; you see the people in caps greeting each other and the sun bathing the mounds of fried sweetmeats  ready to be eaten in revelry.

The air is celebrating, the clouds are celebrating, and the traffic is hurtling towards Tollygunge metro.

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But it is time; you climb down at your stop and this time, you bid goodbye, and his smile lights up the golden streets and your heart sings an unfamiliar tune that the whole city seems to cry: it is good, it is good. And you walk home, across puddles and sand ditches, across men and women and children coming home from school and bicycles weaving their way through the madness and the clouds singing in the sky and one young lover telling another: let’s get married soon!

And now you are home, under a wide wide sky aglitter with the sun going down.

The ribbitting of the crows have quietened; smaller birds chirp now. The clouds are quiet, peaceful- they quiver above the western buildings in which tea is being made and televisions switched on and the breeze ruffles your hair lovingly, tumbling across your feet. The birds race across the sky, the leaves are fluttering, and you are rushing against time, racing with the sun to finish this, this love letter to everything- the sky, the clouds, the birds, the sun, the tree leaves, the terrace you sit on, the azan you can hear ringing through the air.

And somehow, somewhere, you know- you are steeped in this city, its sun in your mind, its taste in your breath, its body intertwined with the very air you sit in. Somehow, you are this city’s to love.

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And somewhere, on this evening, with the pink-orange clouds in the sky,  this city is yours as well.

 


 

Excerpts (yes, believe it or not, this is a shortened version) from something I wrote sitting on my terrace a few weeks back. It’s time I wrote a love letter to this city I’ve learnt to love. This was what I call nothing-writing, aka writing without thinking, hence the sudden skips in time/tense, person and absolutely no attempts to correct them. The kids I teach would punch me in the face if they knew how I violate the rules I yell at them about.

Photographs are all mine. (Which is why they’re so bad.)

Thanks to my mum and dad for making sure I didn’t get the names of places wrong! And thanks to Seher for making sure I got all Islamic terminology right. Teamwork, yay!

What is your favourite thing about Kolkata? Tell us in the comments. (I like using the royal ‘we’ sometimes.)

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