Yesterday, a wave of nostalgia hit me without warning as I read on a website that according to a survey, Calcutta is the best Indian city to live in. I will admit, I was puzzled in the beginning as the city is far from ideal right now. However, as I read the piece I found out that the result was based on civic factors such as electoral process, urban planning and voters turnout. To be honest, I don’t really care for surveys and was drawn to this particular one only because it highlighted the city of my birth; a city trying to brave into the future but with a foot firmly steeped in the past. Perhaps this is why Calcutta has never released me from its memories even after years of leaving the city; it has been shielding them from time for me.
It has been almost a decade since I lived in Calcutta. I was a schoolgirl back then. Leaving your school and friends can never be easy but it was particularly hard this time. I have always wanted to go back to pay a visit at least. The practical side of me does not want to live there any more, the vibrancy and ambition driving Mumbai appeals to it. However, I have come to believe that the sentimental side of me still resides in the city. It is inexplicable really, but sometimes when I close my eyes and search for a place of peace, I invariably find myself there.
It is really strange that thinking about Calcutta does not conjure any specific memory or chapter from my life. Specific friends have stopped coming to my mind; neighbours, teachers, acquaintances are largely forgotten faces. What I remember though are random days and moments, very uneventful, very vague. I don’t know why I remember a rainy evening while shopping at Camac Street but have no recollection of the people I was there with. I remember gorging on Puchkas and Rasgullas on the busy crossing near my building but not the crowd (this is one city which is more than capable of keeping up with my insatiable sweet tooth). I remember travelling to school in a public bus but not the conversations that happened there. I don’t remember most of Bengali words but remember how the language’s saccharine like phonetics rang in my ear.
Of all the cities I have lived in, Calcutta takes the most pride in its history. Rightly so, given it’s highly rich and distinguished past. Even when I lived there, I wanted to be secretly transported to the city of the 50’s; the glamorous, romantic, buzzing seat of culture. Much like Dicken’s London and Fitzgerald’s New York I find Calcutta of the 1950’s immortalized in my mind. If I had to be born in any other era of India, I would surely choose to be born then. It is probably the source where my love for literature stems from. Unmistakably the most refined and intellectual state of the country, this place would be where book lovers would come to die. Apparently, Thackerey’s father, one of Dicken’s sons and Rose Aylmer (the inspiration behind Landor’s beautiful poem of the same name) are buried in Calcutta.
I do not know when I will visit Calcutta. I certainly do not know when I will finally learn to call it Kolkata. But I do know that the place will preserve all the memories from eroding with time like it has been doing for so many years.