Saturday, November 19, 2016

Kolkata - Hoary Empress of the East

When I think drive and I also think Kolkata at the same time, I get the word, impossible. Potholes everywhere. The monsoon filling up the drains that overflow over open manholes. The buses racing with each other on crowded roads, daily miracles preventing thousands of fatalities, and the stench of pee on certain roads that makes one want to puke. Then why is Kolkata my favorite when it comes to drive? Well, the drive of the people who cope with all this, and yet possess a spirit like the denizens of no other city, that’s some drive, isn’t it? It’s the same Bengali drive that has seen people like Amartya Sen and Rabindranath Tagore win Nobel prizes. It’s the same drive that propels Kolkata kids into extremely lucrative posts in the best organizations across the world once they grow up. I’ve not seen this drive anywhere else. Other than the fact that Kolkata roads can be choked with traffic and a terrifying nightmare in the monsoons, driving through central Kolkata can be really interesting, with views of the maidan, and the ancient “New” Market area clearly visible. A drive through many parts of Kolkata would also show you beautiful palace-like buildings everywhere, constructed in the British era. Which brings me to design…

Kolkata is designed so much like an artist splashed some paint over a canvas, and the paint moved randomly in streaks. And faded away. Not for Kolkata are the orderly mains and crosses of Bangalore. And this is what serendipitiously exposes a random wanderer to palace-like building after palace-like building. I still remember a friend showing me a sprawling, moody, three storied giant of a building, tucked away in a sulking bylane of old Kolakata. He said it was called Golokdham, the house of the maze, for once someone unfamiliar with the mammoth house entered it, he or she could surely never find his or her way out again.

Finding one’s way in Kolkata can be difficult unless you know more about the connectivity options possible. It will be a terrible nightmare for you if you want to go to the station by bus. Fifteen kilometers can take a good three hours. Enter the Metro and the Ferry to the rescue. The Kolkata Metro is a miraculous feat of engineering. Built around 30 years ago, the problem to overcome was the fact that Kolkata lies on the Gangetic plain, and just one little poke in the soil, and you reach water. Special chemicals were applied to the walls of the pits to hold the bounteous waters away from flooding underground space meant for the Metro. So much was at stake. The Metro was to go ahead and slash traveling time by more than 70% on some routes. And as for the ferry, it runs on the river Hooghly. There is a ferry port right at the railway station at Sealdah.

Here’s hoping you got to know more about the drive, design and connect of this ancient and intriguing old empress of the East. Do let me know how you felt reading her hoary description. Cheers J