Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kolkata...a city like no other

I was just watching the opening gambit of one of Anthony Bourdain's (the noted celebrity chef-turned-travel writer) Travel Channel shows featuring Sao Paolo, and it struck a chord with me.

I have never been to Brazil, but according to Bourdain, it is a city where "one needs to know people". It is not a pretty city by any means (allegedly), and where one could be stuck in traffic for hours on end. It's dirty, polluted, frenetic and full of contrasts. He said he hated it the first time.

But then, he managed to make a lucky acquaintance with several locals, who showed him how exciting the city of Sao Paolo could be. Through them, he learned about the resplendent food markets, the captivating night life, the people with substance and character, and the glorious restaurants. He saw a side that no outsider could see. The city made sense to him.

Kolkata in Eastern India, is one such city. It is the city where I grew up, and the city which formed me. Polluted, overcrowded and dirty it is. But there is an underbelly, and I use that word in a most positive sense, of optimism, culture and energy. You have to know someone here to understand that this city is just as exciting as New York or London. I've lived in the latter, and can vouch for this. Glorious food, intelligent people, a love and thirst for knowledge, a fanatic following for soccer and cricket, that's Kolkata. And of course, the obsession to entertain and be entertained. Kolkatans love 'adda' (casual conversation about anything under the sun) and eating. Being invited to each other's house for a delicious and comprehensive meal is the norm. So if you ever need to or want to visit Kolkata, see if you there is anyone you know who could give you a taste of the real thing. The genuine warmth underneath the conspicuous sheath of corruption and despair.

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