My first impression when I got off at Howrah station was “God! There are so many damn people here”. The image that I developed of Kolkata at that time got progressively worse. As I left the station to hail a cab, I saw along line of cabs standing outside the station and an even longer line or people queuing for these cabs. The moment I saw the cabs, I thought that I had time traveled back to the sixties with only ambassadors in sight as far away as I could see. Or even that perhaps I have stepped into a place which is filled with inhabitants from a different planet. As it turns out, after my later interactions with people and observing their cultural habits, I was right. It is indeed a new planet.
My subsequent foray into the city did nothing to dispel this notion of mine. The city was filled with people, people crossing the road, people standing on the traffic junctions, people chewing beetle leaves and spitting on the road, people in lungi and baniyan, people without lungi and baniyan and so on and so forth. The roads were lined with Victorian architecture, grand buildings from the British era and other miscellaneous decrepit structures. It was like the entire Kolkata is Chandni Chowk (The original one from Delhi) all over. The first thing to strike my mind was that Kolkata is like a woman who must have been good looking in her prime but has now let herself go.
The one overpowering feeling that I got while traveling through Kolkata was that it is now a decaying city. True that the city hasn’t lost all of its earlier glory, true that it may have a rich culture. But it also true that there is little, if any, growth in the city. Most of the parts of the city are now stagnant. Filled with the human life forms thronging together, it is somehow going through the daily motions but the disease seems have to have set in. the symptoms are there for all to see, people just ignore them. I don’t know if it would ten years or twenty before the city finally given in to the forces and let the collapse settle in. And I know this, I wouldn’t want to be there when that happens.