I never get into arguments about Kolkata…anymore. I had to qualify that statement with the word ‘anymore’ because in my young and foolish days I asked my foreigner boyfriend to leave the city because he made an innocent (and true) comment about the dirt piling up in the corner of a street. I have wizened up since. I have finally realized that if I look from an outsider’s perspective, Kolkata does not appear very lovable. Kolkata needs to be discovered. It does not open itself up easily. One needs to have a deeper insight to dig within and discover the charm that hides underneath its veneer of dirt, dust and traffic. And this wooing the city takes time and effort.
I met a young American woman at the Dubai international airport as we waited to get on our connecting flight to Kolkata. Upon hearing Sahana and I converse in Bangla she asked if she could practice her Bangla with us. She was exuberant about the city. She, we found out, goes to the city often for her dissertation.
“My fiance is from Kolkata. He lives in US but he introduced me to the city and I fell in love. How can one not fall in love? It is full of these new discoveries that one can make almost everyday of their stay if one is looking. The people are wonderful, the food is to die for, the street dogs are adorable!” I had found a kindred soul. Her praise of Kolkata made me all shy, tongue tied and all warm and fuzzy. Praise of Kolkata does that to me, every time. 🙂
Since my love of the city is deeply personal.
I woke up before everyone on my first morning. Part jet lag, part excitement of being home, part anticipation and partly – desire to be alone with my thoughts and the first glimpse of Kolkata as it awakens into a new day. I tiptoed out so as not to bother the tired help, sleeping in the living room. I perched myself on the wide window sill of our back windows which opens up to a wide vista of the sky line of South Kolkata. A few tall buildings, coconut trees, the solemn white dome of the Ramakrishna Mission, the terraces of the neighborhood houses and the wide expanse of Kolkata sky. I sat still, savoring my first hello to Kolkata after two years, soaking in the slowly lightening sky, the sights, the sounds of the city – so familiar. My very own rendezvous. In the cooing of a lonely dove, the eccentric flight of numerous crows, the whistle and distant rumbling of the first local train, in the sound of water filling up a bucket, Kolkata embraced me deeply, meaningfully. The city opened up its palm to show a glimpse of my life that I spent here.
‘Nothing is lost. I have it all here within me. Safe’. First morning of Kolkata said to me.
I arrived truly, at that very moment.