Whoever decided to call Kolkata(or Calcutta) the 'City of Joy' must have either possessed a smug sense of irony or one of complete denial. At first sight Kolkata seems far from 'joyous' to the naive visitor. If one steps out of a train at the Howrah station and makes one's way grudgingly into the taxi stand, one is hit by the hot stench of the city's odour.The taxi now moves out of the station, over the famous Howrah bridge(still a magnificent tribute to architecture) and drives into 'the city of joy'.The sights and sounds don't exactly exude a sense of rapture.Perhaps I'm searching for joy in the wrong places.
I was born in Kolkata,but raised in Bangalore.My relationship with Kolkata,after more than 20 years, is still rather vague in terms of sentiment.Since Kolkata is the land of my ancestors, I make trips to the city once in two years. Every visit feels like the first time. I don't seem to be able to make peace with the city, or its people or all that it represents.To me, Kolkata represents a thorn of masochistic pleasure; the kind that makes me throw back my head and declare ,"thank god I don't live here".
When I think of Kolkata, I reminisce about schoolgirls with oily braids and schoolboys wearing 'readymade' ties running across the street with their near hysterical mothers. I see married women, wearing their hair in tight knots, the hair parted to make way for 'sindoor'(the glistening red substance that is the mark of all married women).I see middle aged men, carrying jute bags and newspapers on their way to work in the cruel,scorching heat. I see citizens seated,with momentary airs of superiority, on the backs of threadbare rickshaw pullers; who jog breathlessly as they pull their passengers from one street to another.The most lingering and troublesome memory of all would be the one of elderly folk; sitting haplessly at street corners or in front porches of houses,the last sparkle of life glistening through thick cylindrical spectacles, how reproachfully they watch youngsters, tourists and strangers like me.I have often complained to my parents that there aren't enough young people in Kolkata. My mother always said, 'all the young people have left'.
Outsiders have always considered Kolkata to be steeped in art and culture. It is the land of the intellectuals. I love the art but haven't made peace with the culture and I am still searching for my one cup of joy.I know of people who don't want to leave the city at any cost, they say they are happy and will not find that kind of bliss anywhere else.Perhaps it is that small iota of joy that comes from being satisfied with less or from belonging to a city with a colossal history.Maybe it comes from the lights of Chowringhee, from scraps of the city's colonial past,from ancient houses that stand tall as a quiet testimony to neglect or from the collective spirit of human pride and generosity.Yet, how can there be bliss in the midst of so much suffering? Does joy come from suffering with dignity(something that the people of Kolkata do with tremendous panache)? Does joy come from being accustomed to hardship and indifference? Perhaps for the people of the 'city of joy', it comes from a fleeting sense of denial that makes everything seem acceptable.
My present state confirms that my premise is faulty. I am still looking for joy in the wrong places.