Just the other morning I was attacked by a question from an out of townie, a question that has plagued others and me several times – What is there to see in Calcutta? *sticks face in palms*
Answers can vary based on what you appreciate and what you don’t. That’s as diplomatic as I can get. Yes, it’s true we run out of landmarks beyond Victoria Memorial, Vidyasagar Setu, Birla Mandir, Tram rides, Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, Jorasanko Thakurbadi (three of these even I haven’t been to) – ofcourse a lot of places are not romanticized on the web/travel magazines and a lot of those places aren’t maintained or popularized in the way they ought to be. There’s more from the past than from the present. We have the same established eateries doing some wonderful business, with new ones coming up every six months..and that is the sole reason for the existence of basic level of social life in Calcutta. The only passion Marus and Bongs truly share is probably food, so you can’t really go wrong. But what if you’re on a diet, like these cousins of mine were a couple of years back or want to look beyond food, supposing..just supposing – we realized that it rules out 75% of our “list of things to do with outsiders”. Our only option was to take them shopping – which again is of a very particular kind. If you’re young and preppy and enjoy your brands, there’s not too much for you to shop for. But if you’re “ladiss” you’ll feel like you’re in saree, dress material and Sabyasachi heaven. And don’t worry at all, we get very good copies of every possible designer that will fit your budget, whatever the budget be. That done, history is present in every nook and corner, dilapidated but it’s there if anyone’s interested (Great for when foreigners come), but what about repeat visitors, what If they’ve already been to all these historical places? I see people in Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi complaining, crying, bickering about and eulogizing issues related to traffic, transport, areas, floods, state of newspapers, trash, autowallahs on all forms of social media. But the dearly beloved residents of my city have no such issues to hum about. I haven’t witnessed this kind of frustration of any manner in the city. There’s a part of the past that remains the way it is – yes once in a while, when there is a fire – they make some noise about the dying forms, but otherwise life goes on, as it is – neither fast nor slow. But mostly slow if you’ve experienced the fast life. And so people move out for jobs. But Calcutta, lives on – like a bubble floating in a circle of clouds, never managing to break out but somehow managing to pass without bursting…In other random facts -the city’s ruling newspaper has The TOI biting dust and has one of the best editorials and content, the clubs here are like second homes for members and have been established since the days of the Raj – some still don’t permit chappals and shorts, the idea of a holiday starts with Darjeeling and ends with whatever your budget can satisfy, Momota didi makes for good idle talk and progress is generally slow.
All that jazz aside, recently another visitor from a newly stressful city pointed out that sometimes routine life is a good thing..in comparison to the rat race. That had me thinking about the idea of acceptance. Maybe Calcutta’s acceptance levels have stayed simpler while other cities have not settled for the simple and raised their acceptance bars. While the benefits of either is an endless debate, I simply wonder – how long should acceptance levels remain simple – or maybe some are meant to be simple for life – should I accept that? Or should I continue my quest?