29 July 2006

The city of joy

[With apologies to Dominique Lapierre and his 'The City of Joy' - and the charity he is helping to bring to Kolkata.]

There's something not quite right in writing an epic about a city you've never lived in. You have to be a part of that city, a part of that city's fabric, to blend in. And only then can you realise what that city is all about. Be it London, Paris, New York or Kolkata, you just can't appreciate the nuances of that city with a foreigner's eyes. You need to be one with that city to appreciate its beauty and its benevolence, its demons and its dilemmas.

I learnt this the hard way during my visit to Kolkata. You see, I live in Mumbai now and, on returning to Kolkata after a decade or so, I looked at the city through a foreigner's eyes. I saw how Kolkata was different from Mumbai - not how Kolkata was Kolkata. And in doing so, I missed everything. It was only when I realised that I was a Bengali, born and brought up in Kolkata, did I begin to see things clearly.

Kolkata's joy - and Mr Lapierre is quite right here in using this term to describe this city - is in its bonhomie. It's everywhere. Whether you're asking for directions from a fellow pedestrian, or buying fish at the local market, or attending a meeting with clients, or having a drink at a club, or sitting in on an 'adda' (a powwow with friends or colleagues, usually over cups of tea)… people of Kolkata are proverbially friendly. It is this quintessentially Kolkata trait that makes this city great.

Mr Lapierre, Kolkata is not the melting-pot of misery, violence and struggle for survival that you make it out to be. Its joy does not emerge from misery, but rather from gladness and bonhomie.

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