By Saurabh Gandhi:
Vir Sanghvi, said in one of his articles, “You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal, go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer, Bangalore’s your place. But if you want a city with a soul, come to Calcutta.”
Mysterious, respectful, enterprising, enthusiastic, and amazing food. These are some of the words which are seldom linked to Kolkata. It’s time to think again. Here are 10 things you might not know about Kolkata:
1.Â Father of Roshogolla: When you think of Kolkata, you surely think of “Roshogollas”. But do you know there was a man who was called “Father of Roshogolla”. His name was Sri Nobin Chandra Das, coming from a family of sugar merchants. He was a tiny confectioner who did not have the luxury of marketing his unique product on Facebook. One fine morning, a wealthy merchant came to his shop and asked for a glass of water. Nobin, in his true Kolkata hospitality style, offered him roshogollas along with it. The merchant immediately bought a large quantity for his family and friends. Nobin Chandra and his roshogollas became famous in no time.
2. Really on the street: Unlike other cities, where people are so busy that it takes a lot to get their attention, Kolkata is one place where people who are on the street, are really “on the street.” There’s a quote by Tahir Shah – “Calcutta’s the only city I know where you are actively encouraged to stop strangers at random for a quick chat.”
3. The surprises in Rabindra Sarobar metro: The Kolkata metro reached Rabindra Sarobar station. Like any other public transport, whoever has to get down at the next stop, stands near the gate from the previous station. So when an old man sitting in the seat stood up, the young man near the gate moved a little to let him go near the gate. At the next station, the old man did not get out. The young man asked him why he stood up. He pointed to a young woman carrying a newborn baby sitting in the same place where he had sat. The old man got out of the metro eight stations later.
4. TheÂ mystery: Apart from showing the respectful side of the “bhodrolok”, Kolkata metro, and more specifically, Rabindra Sarobar metro also highlights the mysterious side of the city. All those who have watched Kahaani and are afraid of travelling in the metro, do not read further. According to a blog that I read, around 70% of all people who have lost their lives in the tracks of metro have committed suicide at Rabindra Sarobar station. There are stories of people seeing eerie images of figures vanishing with the last train of the day. Frankly speaking, neither I nor anyone I know has witnessed this.
5. Food for all: Talk of Chennai food and idli-dosa comes to your mind. Talk of Mumbai food, Vada pav and pav bhaji come to your mind. Every city has its speciality. Kolkata’s speciality is that it has street food for everyone. For the locals, it has jhal muri, puchka, singara, kachauri and telebhaja. For stomach filling needs, it has kathi rolls and mughlai paratha. That’s not it; the city shows its true inclusive culture by incorporating chowmein, momos and thupka. Also, pav bhaji, chole bhature and south Indian food are a given. All of these at affordable prices. Now before you feel like you are reading a food magazine, let me move on to the next point.
6. Durga Puja: Night life in any city is limited to the young population. Night life gets meaning in this ‘perceived to be lazy’ city only once a year — during the Durga Puja. Families with 90 year old grandma, married couples with their year old baby, newly engaged men and women who can’t have enough of each other, college going guys to the ‘para’ ka ‘adda’ — wherever you look, all you can see is excitement.
7. Let’s talk about the name: In spite of the fact that the name of the city was changed to Kolkata in 2001, many still prefer to call it Calcutta. But very few know about a really bizarre explanation for the city’s erstwhile name. Once upon a time (let’s not worry about the year), a British merchant was traveling through the area which is now Kolkata, when he came across a peasant stacking hay into the barn. Oblivious to his location, the merchant asked the peasant about that place. The peasant unfortunately did not understand English, and he guessed that the Sahib must be inquiring about the date the crop was harvested. In his own language, he replied “Kal Kata” which in Bengali language means “harvested yesterday” (Kal — Yesterday, Kata — cut, which here means harvested). The merchant was happy in the knowledge that he had learned about the name of the place, and left the place. Following English transcription, “Kal Kata” became “Calcutta”.(source: Wikipedia)
8. Business in Kolkata: People in Kolkata are said to be not interested in business. It’s right in a sense. But very wrong in the other. Most people in Kolkata are sons or daughters of people who were in the service sector. There is no inherent urge to do business. Education is of immense importance as it helps you get a job, you are told.
9. For the love of arts: But parents don’t encourage their children to be bookworms, as is the perception. Rather they encourage sports and arts. Specially, girls. In every locality, you will find a girl practicing her singing. And if a guy wants to take up Arts, he is most free to do so. If you have seen the movie Namesake, you will see how old this relation of Kolkata and art is, when the bride is asked to sing and recite a poem in English by the groom’s family.
10. The Argumentative Indian: Lastly, I think when Amartya Sen coined the term “The Argumentative Indian”; he had the Bengali or rather the Kolkattan in mind. Every single person in the city has an opinion about everything. Especially things related to idealism and politics. You just cannot think of breaking the line in a queue in Kolkata. There will always be that uncle who will scold you for making all the other people wait. Trust me, if you are not the person breaking the queue, you really say, “God, bless the uncle.”