Sunday, July 28, 2013

Spot on

I just read an article by Clinton S. (Tad) Brown called

Buffalo boy’s Calcutta crush!  It was published in The Telegraph in May.  The excerpt that I am including is a very accurate portrayal of Kolkata.  I am not sure that I love it as much as I could if I stayed longer.  Right now, I am still too overwhelmed by all of its contradictions and tensions, but when I read this article, I totally identified with his feelings.


I believe that, more than birthright or bloodline, the essence of being a Calcuttan is to accept and embrace the city in all of its glory and madness. Not to like it so much as to love it. “Liking” is easy, too easy.

And Calcutta is, quite frankly, not very likeable. White sand beaches and quaint ski villages are likeable, nice places to visit.

But they are not lovable because they are practically devoid of life, real life. Calcutta, by contrast, is teeming with life, throbbing with life. It is a living expression of the human experience in all its rich contradictions, the energy and inertia, the creativity and the chaos that somehow coalesces into a semblance of order before spiralling again into seeming chaos, the vibrancy, the ambition and despair, the rot and decay.

To walk the streets of Calcutta, even to sit stuck in traffic, is to, at the same time, marvel at the endurance of human accomplishment and to muse on its futility. Stately buildings and imperial monuments stand testimony to feats of greatness accomplished in centuries past while the crumbling bricks and disintegrating mortar remind us that dust goes only to dust. The frailty and finality of the human condition are never far from view in Calcutta, and you cannot live here, as you can in so many other places, and not think from time to time of your own mortality.

Calcutta does not try to sweep these realities behind a curtain — it couldn’t if it tried. Rather, the city has somehow found a certain peace or, if not peace, perhaps understanding. This is why Calcutta is not likeable and can only be loved, or hated. I fell in love more than a decade ago, when I first arrived as a tourist from neighbouring Dhaka. I’ve fallen in love, again and again, over the last three years. In my affection for Calcutta, I can’t help but see a reflection of my attachment to my hometown, Buffalo, New York. Both cities have spent decades down on their luck after prolonged periods of greatness. Both have become the butt of national jokes and are fiercely defended by proud diasporas that have moved away in search of employment but otherwise remain tethered by loyalty to their native place. Both have inspired and continue to nurture world-class artists and thinkers.

I leave Mumbai and L.A. and Chennai and Manhattan for those who are drawn to gleaming glass and tall towers. Me, I’m looking for a city to live in, not in comfort or at ease. A city that will remind me I am alive even when I’d rather forget, a city that celebrates life.

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