Kolkata – the Drug and the City

Written By

Sudarshana Ghosh

kolkota the drug and the city-08 Loading

It was a long time since I last took this short cut. The other road had a really long queue of cars. I looked up from my phone and immediately had a sense of déjà vu. It was as if a portkey had transferred me back to my 18 and a half year self who was coming back from her tuitions. Animated, and engrossed with thoughts of rebellion. You know those kinds of feelings when you can disassociate and see yourself from another lifetime? Surreal!  It seemed oddly strange that nothing seems to have changed really. The houses were the same. The lane was unchanged. Only I seemed to have criss-crossed an entire galaxy of a life-time and returned.

I have been in Kolkata all my life. Never really been the been-there, done-that type. Still Kolkata manages to give me that kind of a feeling at times. Anack kanach or nooks and corners still remind me of times gone by. A very mellow late afternoon in November, and coming by Nicco Park, which earlier used to be Jhil Mil; always brings to my mind school excursions and friends. The bus rides home. The exhausted chatter mellowed down, and the inevitable pang of realizing the day is almost over.

Similarly with Book Fair, you know.  I am talking about the annual Book Fair, which had not yet shifted to the Milan Mela grounds, and would be held opposite the Birla Planetarium. We used to be taken to the Kolkata Book Fair from school. Everyone lined up and filed into in the bus. And then with 20 rupees (that was quite a lot of money, in those days) I bought my first book along with Sam and Pu, two of my closest friends, from the Kolkata Book fair. It was Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s Ujaan.

Then those rainy days! When Kolkata would be half submerged; and we would roll up our trousers and go and catch a movie in the erstwhile Jamuna. Alas, it’s no more a movie theatre, having metamorphosed into a fashionable banquet hall. The movie theatres or cinema halls, where we had started our cinema-appreciation course, are no more.  Light House, Globe, Jamuna or Tiger…all have become retail outlets or banquet halls.

Does the smell of a wood rose or kanthchapa ever remind you of Kolkata and a time left behind? It does to me. The kanthchapas will be strewn all over the Academy of Fine Arts. While walking out from the Academy, I always pick up some and bring them home. I’ve done the same thing on my innumerable walks from Kalamandir (the grand hall for cultural events) to Jimmy’s Kitchen (the friendly neighbourhood eatery). Oddly enough, even with a huge, swanky restaurant newly opened somewhere on Bypass, the Jimmy’s outlet near Kalamandir remains comfortably like old times.

My children haven’t got into a tram. Neither have they seen the Book Fair on Park Street. Their Kolkata; or what is now OUR Kolkata is the more organized, highway criss-crossed, blue and white Kolkata. It is of multiplexes, corner coffee shops, malls, theme pujas, theme restaurants and boutiques.

I love this Kolkata too, as much as I used to love that Kolkata of my childhood. That Kolkata has mellowed and endeared itself to me in my memory — the one at which I would indulgently look back on certain days. This Kolkata makes me rejoice and celebrate her fiber-glass, blue-green globe; her swanky malls, her AC-bus networks and  multiplexes.

Kolkata never leaves you.  It knows you. In and out. Knows your first love, knows your childhood, and knows your carefree teens.   It had given you an entire sky to spread your wings. Tweaking Jeet Thayil — I found Kolkata and opium, the drug and the city, the city of opium and the drug Kolkata. And we are still so cocooned by it.

Isn’t the city a character with whom you grew up? Isn’t the city someone who also grew up and changed itself with you? Didn’t the city also lose some of its innocence along with you? Didn’t you lose your one love in this city?  Yet we come back. Yet we bask in the once known warm glow of happiness. Yet we love. And we live.

 Kolkata is Home, and that’s where the heart is.




Sudarshana Ghosh worked in HR in an earlier life. She is now an avid blogger and single mother of two kids with an ardent interest for writing and an enthusiasm for life.

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