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Monday, January 17, 2011

Kolkata: Don't Breathe- Part 1

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By any standards, Kolkata still stands tall amongst its more prosperous peers like Mumbai, Chennai or Delhi.
But that’s just what it does. 

Stands Tall.

I returned to Kolkata in the wee hours of a January winter morning after a span of 12 years. I quickly passed through immigration and trudged wearily to baggage claim and waited for the conveyor belt to roll out my luggage. 

To my utter shock and surprise ..what I witnessed next got rid of my jet lag in a jiffy. A majestic cat entered through the luggage shoot and onto the conveyor belt, its movement deliberate, its eyes slit being woken up from its slumber. I stood dumbfounded as this cat walked by me and then suddenly yelped and jumped a few feet into the air as the conveyor belt started moving. I am sure I heard a giggle from the little girl who was nestled in her mother’s arm. I looked to my right and saw a fellow American passenger dismiss the incident with a raised eyebrow and the typical “American Shrug.”

I breezed through customs and the car which my office had sent drove me to the hotel in Salt Lake the IT hub of Kolkata. No complaints about the hotel. Well managed, courteous staff and great food. The Indismart hotel affiliated with Indian Institute of Hotel Management. I would definitely recommend it.

Weary from my 20 hour flight, I fell asleep almost immediately and then was instantly woken up rudely by one of the loudest noises I had heard in 12 years. The piercing blast of an air-horn (I thought they were banned) of a bus. As I nearly fell off my bed..Realization dawned on me …..I was home.
As the pace slowly picked up on the streets outside my hotel, I could hear the loud chatter making its way through the windows of my hotel room. Adjacent to the hotel, the giant cement mixer started whirling loudly, laborers with metal baskets on their heads waited in turn for the cement mixer as if they were in line for a hot bowl of soup in a community kitchen.
A quick shower followed with a sumptuous Puri Bhaji breakfast and I was off to explore the new Kolkata.
The Infinity twin towers stood tall as I walked up the steps to my office. After a quick hello, I decided to step away and explore my home town a bit. I hailed a cab and decided to visit my cousin in Alipore. Surely I could direct the cabby to the location. I was mistaken. Kolkata has changed. There is construction everywhere. Buildings, overpasses, traffic, traffic and then some more. The Eastern Metropolitan bypass which usually used to be a haven for speedsters was a mess. The middle of the highway is being converted and dug up for the metro and the two lanes on either side were bumper to bumper traffic.

There were clearly two lanes, but my cabby preferred to hog both lanes by driving in the middle. Busses whizzed past either side of my cab making me wince at the thought of an impending collision. My cabby ignored my discomfort and went on honking as he negotiated the traffic like a man possessed. The dust was all over. My hands were by now like sandpaper; my mouth was dry as I realized that I was actually breathing in the dust filled air. I could not even take a deep breath to calm myself down. The trees were covered in layers of dust, the green color replaced by a filthy color akin to mold which one sees in a restroom in America.

I wanted to shout out…Kolkata How do you breathe?

Next: Disaster Strikes Kolkata

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sangeeta said...

brilliantly written.

Ayona said...

Devasish da , I fully second and empathise you on this !I have seen and suffered the same'catastrophe' last summer when we visited Kolkata. However , my reactions were milder since I was visiting my hometown just after 3 years!