Oh Calcutta!

28 August 2012
Vidyasagar Setu, Kolkata
The Vidyasagar Setu links Kolkata with its twin city Howrah.

By Shayantani Sarkar

During my recent visit to Kolkata, I chose to revive my childhood memories of the city. I had spent my school days here, when it was then known as Calcutta.

Contrived during the British colonization period in India, Calcutta was the capital of India in the 18th century. The city still clings to its past as it transitions into the dynamic modern-day Kolkata. The encompassing flyovers fail to keep up with the ever-growing traffic and the life-saving metro railway is the easiest way to commute.

Calcutta, as I still prefer to call it, teems with emotionally driven and culturally enriched people. The city and the people have always contributed effortlessly in the field of art, drama, music, film and science. The friendly people are equally passionate about football (soccer) as much as they enjoy cricket and sweets. The city still has some of the best street-side eateries. The locals have their own favorites for biriyani and kathi rolls — Nizam and Arselan, to name a few.

Walking down the narrow alleys of College Street I remembered how we would flock here attracted by the competitive prices on reference books. The bookstalls lining the pavement sell everything from Chaucer to Shakespeare and Astrophysics. Weary from walking, I could not resist the temptation to sip coffee at Coffee House. It is the best place to feel the pulse of the city. People get together for informal gatherings -- or "adda" -- and the discussion ranges from politics or poetry.

Hand-pulled rickshaws are common in this part of town. They were brought to the city by Chinese businessmen for ferrying goods. Although they were banned a few years ago, the government has failed to implement the ban stringently as many rickshaw-pullers depend on it for their livelihood.

Park Street was the hub of prolific night life in the 1970s and 1980s. The restaurants served great continental food back then — or possibly my taste buds have changed. The live band was a major attraction in restaurants like Trinca's and Moulin Rouge. The place now lacks the lustre of the past but it remains one of my favorite places.

Victoria Memorial is the most prominent testament of the British era. Surrounded by greenery, the monument's Indo—Saracenic architecture is a major tourist attraction. To soak up the Victorian-era nostalgia, ride a horse carriage.

A few kilometres away from Victoria Memorial is the Prinsep Ghat located on the banks of the Hooghly River. Walking down the banks is a perfect way to end the day. You can also enjoy a ferry ride.

Every time I return from Calcutta I feel I still have not explored the city enough. There is so much more to do and see but prior commitments and paucity of time stops me. I always console the wanderer in me saying, 'Perhaps next time'.

Shayantani Sarkar has lived across the length and breadth of India, but spent her initial years in Kolkata, the city that influenced her as a person. She works in the IT industry and loves her work. She is passionate about travel and photography and reading Paulo Coelho. She relishes good food and gets high on Latin music. She lives in Bangalore. Discover more of her work at her blog

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