- Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, India. Photos.com/Jupiterimages
French novelist Dominique Lapierre called his 1985 novel set in KolkataThe City of Joy. Not merely a flight of Gallic snarkiness, the title is a translation of “Anand Nagar,” the name of one of the city’s worst slums. So-called by an earlier 20th-century jute mill owner in a moment of bucolic wishful thinking for the workers he had established on the site, Anand Nagar metastasized into a basti, or shantytown.
It has since evolved little. Multi-story dwellings of dubious provenance now serrate the skyline but the grinding poverty and paucity of basic services like electricity remain the same. The stagnation of the “City of Joy” is all the more striking in comparison to other regions of Kolkata. Like many Indian cities, the former Calcutta still lugs much of the baggage left by British colonialism as it modernizes, leading to wide disparities in quality of life.
- Sri Ramakrishna Math Universal Temple in Belur, West Bengal, Kolkata, India. © jaimaa/Shutterstock.com
Fashioned by the colonial British in the manner of a grand European capital—yet now set in one of the poorest and most overpopulated regions of India—Kolkata has grown into a city of sharp contrasts and contradictions. Kolkata has had to assimilate strong European influences and overcome the limitations of its colonial legacy in order to find its own unique identity. In the process it created an amalgam of East and West that found its expression in the life and works of the 19th-century Bengali elite and its most noteworthy figure, the poet and mystic Rabindranath Tagore.
- Howrah Bridge linking Howrah and Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Photo by Monster eagle
This large and vibrant Indian city thrives amid seemingly insurmountable economic, social, and political problems. Its citizens exhibit a great joie de vivre that is demonstrated in a penchant for art and culture and a high level of intellectual vitality and political awareness. Crowds throng to Kolkata’s book fairs, art exhibitions, and concerts, and there is a lively trading of polemics on walls, which has led to Kolkata being dubbed the “city of posters.”
- Lake at the Indian Botanic Garden, Kolkata. Latika Das.
Yet for all of Kolkata’s vitality, many of the city’s residents live in some of the worst conditions, far removed from the cultural milieu. The city’s energy nevertheless penetrates even to the poorest areas, as a large number of Kolkatans sincerely support the efforts of those who minister to the underprivileged.
In short, Kolkata remains an enigma to many Indians as well as to foreigners. It continues to puzzle newcomers and to arouse an abiding nostalgia in the minds of those who have lived there.
Kolkata was once the intellectual and cultural capital of the nation
It is hard to find a description that would do justice to Kolkata, capital of West Bengal and home to over 14 million people. A city of amiable contrasts, Kolkata has an alluring old-world charm and tranquil pace of life which can’t be experienced in other metros of India like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru or Chennai.
Standing on the banks of river Hooghly, Calcutta developed as a trading hub of British India in the east and went on to become the most important city of the British Empire outside of London.
Influence of the Raj can be found in the city and in every walk of life. From rambling trams, to grand Victorian-era buildings, Kolkata has retained its British past. Though the city ceased to be the capital of British Raj in 1912, the city continued to be a centre of cultural creativity.
Kolkata has established its own traditions in film, theatre and literature and it has gained wide audiences. The Bengal film industry has won acclaim all over the world. Kolkata’s famous auteur Satyajit Ray was even honoured with an Oscar.
Kolkata has produced other notables most prominent among them being Mother Teresa, the saint of the gutters. While talking about notables, the influence of nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore can’t be overlooked.
‘Calcutta’ tells the history of the city from its birth in 1690 with the advent of a merchant of the British East India Company. The film traces this glorious history through the archival footage, reconstructed visuals, and memories of renowned artistes of the city.
The video was first published on http://voiceof.india.com. Voiceof.India.com connects Indians to India and India to Indians – both at home and abroad. From insightful research papers to lectures by eminent speakers to latest events coverage to analysis, the content on Voiceof.India.com is as diverse as India.