Shy and virginal, or elderly and fixated on perfectionism? Neither image would fit Calcutta, which is supposed to have its birthday either on August 23 or 24, although the idea of a city, especially one as shapeless and unwieldy as this one, springing fully sprawled like the fully-armed Athena from the head of Zeus is a bit unsettling.
But, then, that unsettling feeling is precisely what Calcutta encourages, and accepting Calcutta’s birthday — August 23 or 24 — is just one of those quite amazing things that living in the city makes quite normal. And the zodiac sign for the dates is Virgo — modest, meticulous, logical, fond of order, demanding the highest of standards of others while being self-critical as well. Not necessarily young though, a pernickety elderly lady may do too. Hospitable at best, but far from fun-loving.
Birthday or not, Calcutta obviously refuses to be a Virgo child. But is the city old, or does it insist on being young? Not in terms of years, which are debatable, but in its feel, its looks and its restless, indecisive life. It is forever being ‘improved’ — as flyovers curve and soar (occasionally with bits tumbling down) and intelligent buildings usher in slightly belated dreams of the future, bits of the city slither into uninhabitability — burning, breaking, toppling, flooding, subsiding.
But improvements notwithstanding, nothing ‘happens’ here anymore, and young people are fleeing the city in their variegated flocks. There can be no surer sign of ageing, however ‘young’ Calcutta may be historically. Yet the rush of the streets and the exhausting crowds, the strident alleys and disorderly avenues emanate an energy that simply cannot be associated with age, apathy, or lethargy. You may hate the city, but it does not let you go either — provoking, demanding, urging, threatening, pushing and pulling, like an uncontrollable, potentially destructive child. What is the birth sign for a prodigal, undisciplined, thoughtless, generous, reckless, frightening old-young city?