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Falling in love with Kolkata over and over again!

14 February, 2020 20:31:41
Falling in love with Kolkata over and over again!

Saheli Mitra is a journalist, author, poet and runs her own content and walking tour company Tales, Talks & Walks

But ‘I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You’… yes I fell in love a hundred times with you… every time I walked past your broken down frames, your dirt-strewn roads, your colourful kharkaris peeping through dilapidated walls, your century-old telebhaja and sweet shops, your stately colonial buildings and fountains, your blind lanes, your quaint shops selling an old radio, your yellow taxis riding slowly past zooming modern app cabs….. I fell in love with you Kolkata, so much so that after 45 years, I have decided to rediscover you and re-invent myself through you, walking down your bleeding heart on my walking tours. 

Artlanes of Kolkata


Decorated kharkharis

Seeking knowledge, rekindling passion, between you and me --- for only you witnessed my childhood, when my tiny fingers embedded in my father’s large palms, I walked past High Court with dad telling stories of the illustrous judges, his forefathers and the buildings around. You only know how my lover took me down your historical ghats as I sang Tagore’s songs, my nimble feet maneuvering down the stone steps which hold in its bosom the first Sati daha plaque even today! You only know how I bartered my pain one afternoon by feeding begging children to sweets at iconic K.C Das, just to feel fulfilled and then walked down the famous Food Street of Dacres Lane, sat on a half-broken bench alone to gobble up Chitta da’s stew with a piece of bread. You not just made me walk miles and miles to discover you and keep myself fit, you also told me tales of your golden past. 

Hooghly flows by at Coomertully Ghat


School children on city walks

My sense of pride grew manifold, living in Kolkata, a city that has gone into my DNA, a city that was once almost given up as a hopeless case of dilapidated buildings, many branding it as a dying city. Yet in death, I fell in love again with you. For I knew you can never die, you are so vibrant, you just need to be discovered once more. And how? By walking and bringing in meaningful walking tours. That’s exactly what researchers like PT Nair or Radharaman Gupta did decades ago, riding on a passion to know the history of a city they lived in and loved and then penning down what they discovered in books that can be read by generations to come. 

Walk and the Talker

I always feel lucky to have been born and brought up in a city that has one of the richest historical past compared to any other city of the world. A history that was scripted even before Job Charnock’s Kolkata came to fame as the British Indian capital. Undoubtedly, such a city will harbour in every nook and corner, vignettes of those lost chapters and buildings that have not yet fallen under the hammer. Even communities who made this city their home, who still survive the dirt and grime and continue to love Kolkata down generations. My walking tours took me past the historical police headquarters of Lalbazar to the Lipikars of Kolkata, down the famous flower market of Howrah where flower traders have traded for generations, I walk down Kumartuli to see how the patua community make mesmerizing idols, so much of talents hidden everywhere, or even the famous sweet makers of Kolkata cooped in their century old shops, yet making a mark in the global culinary circuit even today. 

Through the alleys of Kumartuli


500 year old Shiva Temple

The best way to discover an old city like Kolkata is definitely through walks and knowledge tours. To instill that sense of pride, even school children should be taken on walks. However, when such walks (many are running in Kolkata these days) turn to business ventures only, they lose the focus. When I started my knowledge trails, I knew it was all about weaving tales through a moving city, of gaining knowledge and sharing it with my next generation so that the past of this lovely city survives, just like folk tales do over centuries. For Kolkata is not just about old plaques and buildings, it is also about its ‘People,’ something that my recently co-authored book ‘People Called Kolkata’ celebrates, it is also about unwritten, undocumented tales and architecture that saw influences of global heritage over centuries. 

Deputy zamindar Govindaram Mitra's house


Stainglass verandahs

So, every time I walk down the heart and soul of Kolkata, I whisper that Elvis Presley tune to myself: ‘Take my hand, take my whole life too, for I can’t help falling in love with you.’ I will again do so this Valentines Day. After all Kolkata is my Valentine. 

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