We are celebrating the launch of the utterly gorgeous Wanderlust: A Coloring Journal with travel stories! Here is one from Kala’s trip to Kolkata –
Call it Calcutta or Kolkata. It is a city you would surely fall in love with. A city that loves to cling to every bit of its history and preserve its heritage. A bit of the past juxtaposed with the present.
Imposing colonial buildings and ever-spreading banyan trees reluctantly give a little room for modern buildings to squeeze in between them. Old tram cars aren’t intimidated by the massive SUVs that tailgate them, while hand-rickshaw pullers weave their way through busy streets taking tourists from the old Kali temple to the new. As with people everywhere, the old remain stoic and strong while the young creek and complain. The Howrah Bridge, a relic of the British past, stands firm and the new, well… could take a tip or two from it.
I had my early primary education at St. Joseph School in Kolkata. The school was nothing more than a row of small classrooms facing a chapel and a convent. Its roof was painted bright red, and a small beds of flowers added more colors to it. A young mango tree grew by our classroom. Lunchbreak was something we looked forward to. We sat under the tree sharing our lunch with each other and with large kites that swooped down and carried away our sandwiches and chapattis if we weren’t alert enough. It was Amin and Ishwar, two of my classmates who would pick immature mangoes that had fallen to the ground and present them quite grandly to the girls. I wondered–did they remember our visits to Alipore Zoo?
We lived at Belvedere government quarters and the zoo was just across from it. It was an exciting place to visit, especially its pet-the-animal corner. On my 17th visit with my friends, we hit upon the crazy idea, well you could call it a greedy one if you like…. We all had a rupee to spend at the zoo and none of us could decide on what we should spend it on. Peanuts, popcorn, ice cream, balloons, watches or plastic sunglasses? Finally, after a heated discussion, with the animals in the cages watching on, we decided we go in for ice cream. The milky ice cream cost a rupee but a popsicle was only 10 paise. It was Ishwar who gave us this exciting idea–why don’t we go in for ten 10 paise popsicles? We did just that. Imagine the terror I felt when I fell ill with severe bronchitis! I refused to reveal the popsicle secret to the doctor or my parents and haven’t told anyone since. You will keep my secret, won’t you?
I had an opportunity to return to Kolkata last year. I visited my school with suppressed excitement. What was it going to look like right now? Would it have become a large school or would it have just closed down? What a surprise awaited me! My school remained as it was 50 years ago. The mango tree had grown many times bigger than what it was then. I stood under it wondering where Amin, Ishwar, Sheela Das, Bhapi, Kalyani and others were…
The long and short of it is no one wishes to leave Kolkata–not Queen Victoria cast in bronze and not the spirit of a little English girl that walks the corridors of the old National Library building at night. However, it was different for me. I left Kolkata more than five decades ago. Oh Calcutta, I will always be there even though I am not there!
Want to visit Kolkata? Wanderlust: A Coloring Journal is your ticket!