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10 Very Interesting Things About Kolkata That You Might Not Know

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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:

rasgulla1

1. 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.

street

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.”

metro train

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.

metro

4. The 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.

Phuchka

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.

durga puja

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.

calcutta

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.

sen

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.”

You must be to comment.
  1. Palash Chatterjee

    Lovely writeup.!
    There’s actually quite a few stories as to how Calcutta got its name. One of the ones is there was a village called “Kalikata” which was merged with its nearby villages to form a city, and due to the British accent, “Kalikata” became “Calcutta”.
    I would also like to include a couple of other things to the list.
    i) Breakfast at Tiretti Bazar: Actually very few people have an idea of this. The early morning breakfast at Tiretti Bazar, where you get momos, dimsums and some other stuff, made by the Chinese community there.
    ii) The early morning addas at the ghats: Right at the break of dawn, you can find many groups gathering at the banks of Ganga, and indulging in “adda”, mostly accompanied with a cup of hot tea. The cool breeze blowing paired with hot ‘special’ tea. Heavenly.
    iii) Luxury car spotting: At the break of dawn, one can find quite a lot of luxury cars at the Race Course stretch as the owners take the ‘beauties’ for a spin around the city. Seeing so many luxury cars at the same place, is a rare sight for the Calcuttan.

    1. Mainak

      Well the Chinese breakfast is nowadays overrun by Biharis selling fried things. And its highly overrated too.

  2. Rashmi Bansal

    I would like to add the Rabindra Sarobar Lake to the list. A truly beautiful place in the heart of the city. I call it Chameleon. In the mornin you find people seriously into walking, business discussions in groups, pranayam practice, laughter club, yoga exercises…. In the evening it is another story altogether. Every bench has 3 to 4 couples, sitting side by side, oblivious to the world, totally immersed in each other, sometimes forcing one to avert their gaze. The Lake changes its character effortlessly.

  3. Avisek Ghosh

    So true… Pts 5, 6, 8 are like very very true, but in a way kolkata is changing with departmental stores and malls its like lacking the nostalgic moments of buying something from Gariahat more and adda with frnds which kinda moved to CCDs and Malls kinda sad.

  4. Ritaja

    A bunch of cliches – Kolkata also has Asia’s largest Red-Light area, it also has most polluted air of all metros, it has people who imitate the outsiders like a monkey rather than feeling proud about their own culture. First they used to imitate the englishmen, then the marwaris and now the Biharis. Bengalees still have a ‘bhadraloks’ among them who reads books and listens to good music and also writes poetries but most of them are addicted to Shahrukh Khan, rajasthani food, Dhanteras and Mahendra Singh Dhoni…

    1. Mainak

      100% accurate Ritaja!!

  5. Narender Singh Phartyal

    Kolkata is famous for its Roshogolla and Durga puja

  6. Sampad

    Excellent article written here, specially the story of “Kal-Kata” 🙂 We used to hear it from our parar dada,mama, kaka, meso, jethu etc 🙂 One point that has been really missed is the helpful nature of people living in Kolkata. Unlike other major cities where people are so ignorant to help without being selfish, or thinks of making a fool for money, or speaking a totally unknown language to harass you, Kolkata has got people who in any way wants to help people in need, whether they are from other states or other country. Also another point which has been missed is however modern and cool a guy or a girl here in Kolkata maybe, the guy will wear a Panjabi and the Girl a saree on Durga Ashtami and Saraswati Puja, which gives a positive sign of respect to traditions. Please keep on writing 🙂

  7. Kolkatan

    The name of Calcutta may have come from a difference place. There are multiple theories. Wikipedia says,

    There are several explanations about the etymology of this name:
    The term Kolikata is thought to be a variation of Kalikkhetro [ˈkalikʰːet̪ro] (Bengali: কালীক্ষেত্র), meaning “Field of [the goddess] Kali”.
    Alternatively, the name may have been derived from the Bengali term kilkila (Bengali: কিলকিলা), or “flat area”.
    The name may have its origin in the words khal [ˈkÊ°al] (Bengali: খাল) meaning “canal”, followed by kaá¹­a [ˈkata] (Bengali: কাটা), which may mean “dug”.
    According to another theory, the area specialised in the production of quicklime or koli chun [ˈkolitɕun] (Bengali: কলি চুন) and coir or kata [ˈkat̪a] (Bengali: কাতা); hence, it was called Kolikata [ˈkolikat̪a] (Bengali: কলিকাতা)

  8. Da Miracle

    You might like this fab read on “Kolkata daring to differ” http://damiracle.com/kolkata-daring-to-differ/

  9. Masood

    Right choice of 10 things to do in kolkata

  10. shiv

    Every major city with a history is a treasure trove. Sadly, my city Calcutta lies neglected with all her history and wealth of stories embedded in brick and mortar without anyone to walk around with wondrous eyes and peel off the patina of dirt and grime and reveal her magic. I want to share my discoveries of the history and culture of this once gem of the Imperial crown.
    Read this Book –http://amzn.to/1klIDZ9 for getting a full insiders view of the “CITY OF JOY” by Keith Humphrey.

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