Friday, April 13, 2007
After having been filled with rage, sadness and despair about Calcutta, my city has suddenly started captivating me. A few days ago driving past a pond I thought that Calcutta must be unique among cities in the world for the large number of ponds, tanks, lakes and water-bodies spread throughout the city. From the Laldighi (opposite the Writers' Buildings) and the Manohar Das Tarag (opposite the Chowringhee-Lindsay Street crossing) in the very heart of the city, to hundreds upon hundreds of small, medium and large water-bodies all over the city, and especially in its fringes.
Though water-bodies are being quietly (illegally) filled up and built on, there is a law in place, there are enforcement authorities, and public and community awareness about protecting these are growing. I would like to think Calcutta shall always have her water-bodies.
I wished I could fly over my city like a bird and have an aerial view of all the water-bodies!
Travelling to some far-flung areas, I realised I had really traversed this city through my life and work: central, north, south, east and west; day, and night. How well I knew this city, and what a feeling of intimacy and satisfaction I feel about that. The city feels like a beautiful green sheet over which my body is spread out in embrace.
Summer in Calcutta can be harsh. Around 20 November last year, I thought - now the pleasant season is here; for 3 months one will enjoy it. Towards the end of February, I was thinking, sadly, about the torrid summer to come. But the summer was late in coming. And even before its shown its fury - the cool north-wester showers and gales are here already, with no delay. How kind and loving nature is, to help us bear the coming 2 months of heat and extreme humidity before the monsoon rains descend.
In the past I have felt that Calcutta was the worst place on earth. I felt it was a maggot-infested carcass. I used to feel I was cursed to be living in Calcutta. I used to say that when people sinned grieviously, they were reborn to live in Calcutta, to pay for their sins. But now I think Calcutta must be the most pleasant, comfortable and gentle place to live in, among all the metro cities in India. It is also perhaps the cleanest, prettiest and most well-maintained city among all the metro cities. While all my rage and despair arose from society, culture and politics, it is my growing sensitivity to NATURE in my city and fond attachment to her common folk that makes me feel this way now. After a very long time, simply being here makes me happy. I feel like a member of a proud, privileged elite.
I cannot but remember the lines of the great 19th century Persian and Urdu poet of India, Mirza Ghalib:
One should be grateful that such a city as Calcutta exists. Where else in the world is there a city so refreshing? To sit in the dust of Calcutta is better than to grace the throne of another dominion. By God, had I not been a family man, with regard for the honor of my wife and children, I would have cut myself free and made my way there. There I would have lived till I died, in that heavenly city, free from all cares. How delightful are its cool breezes, and how pleasant is its water. How excellent are its pure wines and its ripe fruits!
If all the fruits of Paradise lay there outspread before you,
The mangoes of Calcutta still would haunt your memory.
And also :
Ah me, my friend! The mention of Calcutta’s name
Has loosed a shaft that pierces to my very soul.
Its greenery and verdure take away your breath;
Its women’s charms are such that none escapes them whole.
... All freshness and all sweetness are its luscious fruits;
Its mellow wines are pleasing beyond all compare.
Image: Radar image of Calcutta, source - NASA.