Kolkata to me is not just a city; it’s a sentiment, an emotion that brings a smile to my face every time I think, talk or hear about it.
I grew up in Kolkata and later in life lived in different cities across the country, and then away from the country. However, if I belong to one city, then that is Kolkata. As I start writing this article, it reminds me of the song by Kabir Suman: “Ei shohor jaane amar prothom shob kichhu....” Indeed, the city knows every first step of mine.
It is said that character is formed when you are young. Today, I can proudly say that I have too much Kolkata in me. Though I have lived away from Kolkata for many years, my bangaliana has grown over time — to the surprise of many — and I am proud of that.
In my mind, I am never far from my roots. In other words, I live in Kolkata, work in Amsterdam.
Kolkata has many cities within it. You can observe clear differences as we move through the city, and what attracts me is the distinct diversity, the million microcosms.
For example, the way of life in north Kolkata is so different from that of the south, and daily business in Burrabazar is completely different from that in the ‘office para’. Even the taste of phuchka or kathi roll or chow mein differs in every locality, just as the sweets or singara or aloor chop are never the same in two shops. And yet we come across as one identity. It is truly a symbol of unity in diversity.
I read many articles on Kolkata, about its cultural heritage, colonial structures, Durga Puja, fish markets, food, sweets, tea, films, music, literature, book fair and indeed each of these is unique and to be proud of. However, it is the people who with their thoughts and actions make the character of a city. Thus, when I think of Kolkata, three words come to my mind: Simple, warm, and honest.
Let me elaborate.
Life in Kolkata is about simplicity
I have travelled around the world and experienced life in other cities and what still attracts me the most is how simple Kolkata is. The way people live, the way people eat, the way people dress up, its roads, its systems — everything is just simple. Simplicity is in the soul of every Kolkatan.
“Kolkatans are the warmest people I have come across” — Partha Sarathi BasuAmit Datta
Obviously, simplicity extracts its own price — Kolkata can sometimes be chaotic, over-passionate, people might sometimes come across as over-opinionated. But in everything they do, simplicity remains at its core. That’s what stands out. That's what helps people who are not from the city feel comfortable living in Kolkata.
Many of my friends who have lived there and are not originally from Bengal have the same opinion and that is what they miss and start valuing more when they leave Kolkata and start living in other cities.
The warmest people
Kolkatans are the warmest people I have come across. The warmth I am talking about comes from within and is not phoney.
I remember in my childhood I could walk into any house in our locality any time; never felt I was unwanted. Even if the residents in that house were busy, they would ensure I was attended to with utmost care. If nothing else was available in the house at that moment, they would offer at least a mishti or a biscuit — or maybe even a glass of Thums Up.
My mother lives in Kolkata by herself. The kind of warmth she experiences from our neighbours, friends and other people around her is priceless. They all help her selflessly; never with the expectation of getting something back. That’s real warmth.
And yet, they know when to leave you alone, allowing you to enjoy your space.
I love to walk, and that love has taken me through many roads and streets of Kolkata, but I am sure I have not covered even a fraction of the city. To me, the best way to know Kolkata is through its roads and through its people. Every corner of the city has its own history, its own story.
And you do not have to be from Kolkata. You can just walk in and join a group and start speaking to them. You will be welcomed, history will be shared with great passion.
A city that celebrates life
I think Kolkata is one of the most genuine places in the world. As if there is nothing to hide, everything is very much on the face. It’s WYSIWYG — what you see is what you get. No charades, no hiding behind something.
“I love to walk, and that love has taken me through many roads and streets of Kolkata…” — Partha Sarathi BasuAmit Datta
I feel so safe there, mentally and physically. I can be myself. Yes, people may argue, people may fight, people may have opinions on everything — but that is because they are not hypocrites; they are brutally honest.
Many accuse Kolkatans of being lazy and not ambitious enough. Many say Kolkatans do not venture out of Kolkata for a better future. I beg to differ. Why do you need to leave your city if you can be happy and satisfied with what you have? It is not laziness, it is not a lack of ambition. It is sheer attachment to the roots, the love for the city and the ability to embrace a purpose-driven life that is holding people back. I hear people saying, we are like that only. Don’t judge us by your yardstick, neither will we judge you by ours. Life is not all about money and social status — there are things we value more, that resonate with our heart.
Nowadays, a “purposeful life” is a hot-button topic. I think Kolkatans had defined that ages ago.
I left the city almost 25 years ago. Twice a year, I am there for a few weeks but every time I visit, I feel that I can start off from where I left. It is such a great feeling, which one can only experience and not describe.
At the end, I would say Kolkata is a city that celebrates life — throughout the year. You need to experience the festival of life that a regular day in Kolkata is.
I am lucky to be part of that celebration. Thank you, Kolkata!
Partha Sarathi Basu is the author of four books — Why Not! Racing Ahead With Mentors; With or Without You; Make It or Break It; and Mid-Career Crisis. He has worked in leadership positions at Coca-Cola, Whirlpool, IFB group, Tata group and AkzoNobel. His books are mostly based on his travel and life experiences. He now works in Amsterdam.
Video by: Madhurai Banerjee