Man. What a city. Kolkatta had always been one of those cities that I knew was important and interesting but I had never had or made the opportunity to actually inform myself about it. Perhaps to my own benefit for these last 4 days in Kalkotta have made me fall madly in love with this vibrant, cosmopolitan and beautiful city. It is one of those cities where you can just wander to your hearts content and just watch and be. There is so much going on at every moment and it seems that there is always something for the senses. There are so many picture perfect moments I am actually too overwhelmed to take pictures: A man sits on the sidewalk getting a shave from another man;two naked children gleefully wash themselves at a broken fire hydrant; two fashionably dressed young girls holding umbrellas jump over a crumbled building facade; a skinny hand-cart puller pulls an immensely fat man on his cart through the street; Two women in bright saris dart across a traffic-congested street.
I love the hundreds of markets everywhere, it seems that all anybody does here is shop. There are huge, old-fashioned meat markets with row after row of carcasses and intestines hanging on hooks and a stench so strong my entire digestive tract seems to knot up inside me; A vegetable market selling bright purple brinjal and piles of lady fingers and odd shaped tomatoes with the vendors hollering out their prices in sing-song Bengali; An incense market thick with the smell of sandalwood and mango flower that transports me back to a different India, an India found in temples and devotion and pujas and aarthi.
And then there is the music and poetry that emits from the people and the place. More than anything I like the Bengalis. They are not as aggressive as the North Indians, not as distant as the South Indians and have a bit of what I can only call a bite. Everybody always seems to be singing-my taxi driver, hand cart pullers, shop keepers but maybe I just confuse it with Bengali which is a profoundly poetic and romantic language to listen to.
So for your short history lesson: Kolkatta was established by the British as a major trading fort during the 16th century with the British eventually buying land and trading rights up until the mid 18th century when they established rule over India and made it the capital of their colony. What is fascinating about Kolkatta is that before the formation of Kolkatta it was just a tiny village but attracted so many traders and settlers that its population increased drastically over the next few hundred years with every kind of people from Bengal and India and South East Asia as well as Armenians and Dutch and Portuguese and Jews and of course the English. At one point it had the highest density of people per km in the world. This created two opposing but fascinating sides of Kolkatta. On the one hand you have this old beautiful crumbling colonial architecture which reminds me intensely of walking around old Havana expect that its bigger and has more grandeaur. On the other hand this cosmopolitan city created some amazing poets,singers, play writes and authors as well as becoming a major center for the independence movement.
One of these writers was Rabindranath Tagore, whom after visiting his house and reading his poetry for half the day has filled me with such a wonderful sense of joy and peace that I cannot help but appreciate why he is revered almost like a Saint here. For four days I have breathed in Kolkatta and feel that I have only barely had my fill of this magnificent city.
Perhaps this is intensified by my knowledge that I am finally leaving India. As it always is, I am slowly realizing more and more the attachment and love that people cultivate towards this country. I wonder if I will ever leave India with that sense of closure, the sense that this time was my last time. As it is I leave with the feeling that this, really, is only just the beginning.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.