Friday, May 2, 2008

Living Together

I am here in the stereotypical "hell hole" of cities. When people talk of Kolkata (Culcutta), minds run wild with images of poverty, hunger and desolation. And objectively I can understand these thoughts. For someone who has not spent the last nine months living in the Indian sub-continent, the city of Kolkata would be limited to sights of poverty and sadness. But that is not the Kolkata I see.

Kolkata is a menagerie of diverse people, situations, buildings, smells and realities. This city has history and it has modernity, it has class and it has craziness, Kolkata has life. Located in West Bengal, whose counterpart is East Bengal (Bangladesh), the way of life in Kolkata is very similar to that of Bangladesh, but Kolkata has more class, more pizzazz. The city streets bring you back to the good old days (eg. before my time), the taxis and buses are Indian through and through. The streetcars were made in some bygone era but seem to run with efficient creaking and groaning. But the buildings and construction of Kolkata have been the real draw for me.

Kolkata is an old capital. A remnant of British ruled India, with a modern face. Deteriorating buildings, architecturally stunning, intricate arches and pillars splashed across buildings in need of a fresh coat of paint. Reminders of the rich history Kolkata has to offer. And there, under this historical facade is the face of the new India. A country freshly industrializing, and importing brands I have not seen in months. Passing the Levi's store, the Nike store and a fancy restaurant, I look in and see the rich modernity running its tentacles through the history of this city.

There on the streets lie the most obvious of Kolkata's poor. Those people you step around, beggars asking for some money. Frail men and woman sitting by walls, unsure of their future. This is a sad reality, that should never be overlooked, but is a reality of life in Bengal. This sight, is not foreign to me, and it can turn from sadness to joy in a matter of seconds. The cities poor, showering in the street as the pipe sprays water, sitting down and drinking tea with a friend, the realities of life often bring a lighter face to a city's poverty.

Life in Kolkata is a fascinating experience for the senses, a city with lots to offer and never a boring moment. This place is a place where the old lives with the new, the rich with the poor, the fresh with the rundown, where nothing is as it seems, but you can see everything.


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