Sitting in a cab that was driving through Kolkata, from the airport to what would be my home for the next three months, there was this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had been here before. Not just that catch-all thing you call deja vu, but a real sense of a life lived and loved in that city. Three months are over, and I’m back in Bengaluru but the streets, smells, sounds and people of Kolkata flow through my veins like oxygen and it’s quickly running out.
Kolkata at first sight looks like it’s about to crumble any moment. The colonial-era architecture juxtaposed starkly against sleek suburbs and urban slums make it hard for you to even blink in this city, just in case you miss something.
The yellow cabs that say ‘No refusal’ on the side, but actually never really want to take you anywhere, the public buses that will stop for you no matter where you want to flag them down from, the conductors who will always (I reiterate always) give you exact change, the old rickety metro trains that ply thousands of people every day (every time you’re at the Kalighat station, you’ll notice people praying to Kali Ma within the train), the puchka wallahs who will regale you with stories no matter how many customers they’re tending to, the gorgeous women with their long black as kohl hair, the spindly men with their kurtas and jholas and spectacles, the shabby old beer cafes and pubs that play outdated music, the lanes of College Street that have more books than vehicles and people, the terribly ancient Coffee House with its high ceilings and much too severe waiters, the rains that flood the roads and buildings, the single screen theatres that somehow still thrive — this is all a part of why I fell in love with Kolkata.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing little stories and pictures from what can only be described as a life-transforming experience. Not all stories are happy, but if they were, would we ever learn?