Every city has its own flavour. And in those flavours there might be, some flavours we like, some we fall in love with and some which we can never define. And it doesn’t matter if we have lived in a city forever or we are just visiting we latch on to one or more of these flavours. Something that never leaves us. And it goes beyond the buildings or the environment. I am speaking about the subtle elements.
I wanted to share with you, some memories I have of Calcutta. For no particular reason it drifted in today. So I thought I would pen it down. For me Calcutta has a lot of memories woven with me, even though I have never lived there. However I travel to the city a lot and therefore I am familiar with it. This city is not a easy city to introduce anybody to. Physically it is not a beautiful city. It doesn’t exude the beauty of youth. Yet It carries with it a lot of past beauty. The weather can be quite tormenting , the North Indian summer though harsher can actually feel mild, simply because it doesn’t carry with it the weight of humidity. People are laid back. Things move slowly. For a lot of people they don’t like this easy laid back attitude. Because we assign the idea of ambition and fast movement to progress. The fact that people actually like afternoon siestas and shops close for it, makes many people raise their eyebrows.(Albeit if the same thing is done in Spain, people loooove the European culture:)))
Yes, it does have it’s idiosyncrasies, and trust me it gets to me too, but this is the only city in the world where I have seen people, complete strangers have the time to interact with each other as people. Interested enough to come and talk to them if they are curious enough to want to know.
Park Street is an iconic street in Calcutta. And one summer afternoon , I was walking down with a violin on my back. The weather though humid was not too bad to walk around simply because it was a bit overcast. Suddenly out of the blue, three young college students yelled out for me. They beckoned me to stop, and made an effort to cross the busy street. They were simply excited to see a musician walk around. And they actually stood around for a few minutes asking about the instrument and the kind of music I play. And then it must have occurred to them they had randomly stopped me, apologized and thanked me for my time and left. I have walked around many cities with music cases on my back but this pure innocent interaction I have never experienced anywhere.
Move on to another day, I was browsing around a hobby shop, and the owner saw me standing staring at model ships and planes. He was leaving the shop, but he decided to turn around. I knew he was in a hurry but he decided to stop and talk. I told him I wasn’t really looking to buy. I was just looking. He smiled and said how did that matter. He stood there explained about different ships and flying model aircrafts. I was impressed by his knowledge. And then he happened to see some music books peeking out of my backpack. He smiled the broadest smile and told me how played the jazz piano. And he was in a hurry but hopefully we would bump into each other again and talk more.
I will take you to another day (this also revolves around an experience with music). I needed to get my violin bow repaired. However the only shop I could find nearby (I have luther who I know well, but his shop was a bit far away). So I found this little shop in a little street. And once my job was done I realized I was short of money, perhaps by 1000 bucks.(Can’t remember too well). These shops don’t have credit card options they are small workshops. So I immediately told the old luther, my predicament and I offered to leave my bow and come back again to take it when I could pay him again. He looked at me with a rather straight face and asked my why would I do that, after all you cannot play the violin without a bow. You can come and pay me later. I refused after all he didn’t know me, and it didn’t feel right. And I know most of these craftsman really struggle for money because it’s not the most lucrative profession. He would hear nothing of it though. He said, I don’t think you will cheat me you can come and pay it in a couple of days but to not play music, how silly. I could argue no more.
So what is the essence of that city, it’s a city full of ups and downs like any other. But these interactions made me realize something. Each moment made me feel more human. Yes, the city has the capacity to make people feel human.