Kolkata is a city that can delight your senses. It’s also a city that can disappoint your senses—the very reason I describe my visit to Kolkata a delightfully disappointing experience.
Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But then, isn’t Kolkata an emblematic manifestation of ‘oxymoron’ in itself? Where else do you get to see the brightly-lit spectacle of the historic Howrah Bridge, a representation of one of the earliest infrastructural development in the city, against the perpetual presence of vendors selling vegetables around the streets in the dim light of their kerosene lamps?
The stench of rotting vegetable is everywhere. I feel a touch on my ankle—a naked child, emaciated, smeared in dirt, shuddering with weakness; he must be hungry since he was born. The wind must have blown him here—the wind of hope, for the station crowd is a generous crowd. A penny hits his loins. How much more for a meal? It’s already 10 o clock, but the crowd will stick around forever, it will keep him alive with generosity, for we shall see him again lying under the same pole tomorrow, begging. We won’t let him die, for we are a generous crowd.
The ferry has just arrived from the other side of the city. The river, brightly lit with the city lights, is a welcoming sight. Soon, the solitude gets consumed with passengers, and the ferrymen make hopeful calls for a lucrative trip. “Aapni Kothaye Jaaben?” –A ferryman calls out. He looks formidable after I let him know my intent. “You will be fined”, he said sternly, “No photography allowed.” I was startled, but only for a moment until he said: “You will be fined 10 rupees for intruding.”
A gazillion legs tread the floors of the Howrah Junction; it’s a maze. My train departs from platform number 13, and I run here and there following the directions; people are quite helpful here, for they will guide you even though they are ignorant of the path. They will hypothesize one! And while you are treading along the lines of hypothesis you need to be careful of getting hit in the groins by a barrow out of nowhere. The rest can be left to the instincts.