Tuesday, August 19, 2008
A colleague recently sent me the following “definition” of Calcutta/Kolkata – whichever you want to call it – from, he says, Sashi Tharoor’s Glossary: An A to Z of Being Indian.
KOLKATA: More a state of mind than a city; it epitomizes all that is magnificent and all that is squalid about urban India: its people, its theater, its coffeehouses, and its bookshops set against some of the most depressing slums, the most wretched pavement hovels, the most noxious pollution, the most irreparable decay in the world. It seems a city without hope, a soot and concrete wasteland of power cuts, potholes, and poverty, yet it inspires some of the country’s greatest creative talent. To the true Kolkatan there is no other city quite like it; if one tires of Kolkata, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson about old London, one tires of life.
I wouldn’t characterize it in quite such bleak terms, but then again, I only spent most of three days there. There were fewer slums than in Bombay, and it was calmer, quieter, greener, perhaps even cleaner. The city seemed in general to have more grace. I met a whole lot of my husband’s relatives for the first time, and over all it was a good trip, and a nice break from the chaos of Bombay.