The city of Kolkata evokes distinct feelings for everyone. For some it could be the football mania, the lebu chaa (lemon tea) or the black-and-yellow ambassador taxi, for others it could be the phuchka, hand-pulled rickshaws or the grandiose colonial buildings — it is a juxtaposition of the contemporary and the yesteryear.
The vibe of the city, so to speak, is rather relaxed (often on the fringes of being considered laidback) where people engage for hours — which the locals call ‘adda’ and is considered a determiner of a true-blue Kolkata-resident — on varied topics ranging from politics to world cinema to music to books to sports et al. Coupled with this is an aura of nostalgia reflected in the old dilapidated buildings, the ever-flowing Hoogly river, the gigantic Howrah Bridge. At the same time, one can also find fast-moving cars, decked-up flyovers, high rises and hustle of daily work. Despite all its eccentricities, one can never seem to get over the city. There’s a story – of love, of separation, of the times gone by – in every nook and corner of Kolkata.
In an attempt to see the city through different lenses, Kolkata Centre for Creativity in association with the West Bengal Tourism Department invited photography enthusiasts to send in pictures that showcase the very ethos of the city with the theme ‘My Kolkata in Kolkata’. With the city’s popularity worldwide as a thriving centre of art and literature, the Govt of West Bengal, as a collaborator, has supported the realisation of this exhibition which has created a space to witness Kolkata as seen through the eyes of foreigners as much as of the locals.
Dhapa is located in the eastern part of Kolkata. The area consists of many landfills where the solid waste of the city is dumped. “Though ‘garbage farming’ is encouraged, a huge portion of green vegetables of the Kolkata market comes from this land,” Mitra informs. He lists improper segregation of solid waste, unmindful use of plastics and poverty as the major issues plaguing the city. “These issues need to be resolved to save our Kolkata,” he alarms.
When the Howrah Bridge was under construction, it faced numerous delays and mishaps. Today, it stands as one of the prime markers of the city. “Despite all the odds then, this riveted bridge is our pride now,” says Chakraborty.
Talking about the photograph, he mentions, “After an exhausting swim, he (the child in the picture) came out of the water and questioned, ‘Even I dive, then why do they not feature me on television?’ In response, I cited the above example.”
Chowdhury’s photograph is a tribute to the art and artists of Kumartuli which literally redefines Kolkata during the city’s most important event, Durga Puja. “Year after year toiling silently in the by lanes of Kumartuli, these artisans dedicate their life and soul in moulding the culture of Kolkata,” Chowdhury says. He further adds, “They breathe life into the wet, clay and hay as they divinely craft the Maa Durga idols.”
Capturing one of the laundry streets in Kolkata, Narang shows a different kind of imagery. Explaining his vision, he says, “You can only jeans pants drying above the whole street, it appears to be a kind of ‘jeans roof’ encompassing the street.”
Every year the temperature is rising degree by degree in Kolkata, and this notion is echoed even more by the citizens during the summers. However, Dutta, with his photograph shows a rather different side of the story.
Dutta says, “I often go to the ghats (riversides) which make me fall in love with those places.” Talking about his photograph, he adds, “During the summers, in Jagannath Ghat, the local riverside kids rebel the scorching heat of the sun with their playfulness by diving and swimming in the Ganges to celebrate the summer.”
“Their adventurous spirit actually feels like an amazing daily adventure in the ‘City of Joy’.”
“As an urban [dweller], I am fully surrounded by concrete jungles and high-rise multiplexes. So eventually, these objects have appeared in my DSLR’s viewfinder consciously or unconsciously. But when I see the beautiful bonedi (heritage houses of the colonial period in Kolkata, I wonder about the rich architectural and sculptural forms, which were also rich in cultural and architectural values,” Adhikary mentions.
She talks about the coexistence of Indian sculptural and architectural forms (Hindu architecture as well as Islamic architecture) along with Greek, Roman, Portuguese, British and Victorian architectural forms. “In these bonedi houses we can see Indian architectural styles such as the motifs, elephants, tigers, lotus, conch; reliefs of Indian gods and goddesses. At the same time, there is a prominence of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian style of Greek architecture; the arch form of Roman architecture, and many others,” she says.
Through her creative photography, Adhikary researches on it to capture those architectural forms of the heritage houses which are situated in and around the metropolis of Kolkata. She feels if the Bengali literature, Bengal’s patachitra, Baul songs, Bhatiali songs, Tusu and Vadu songs are the symbols of Bengal’s culture, so are these bonedi houses.
Over the years, some of these houses have been replaced by the high-rise buildings, others are on the verge of ruin. “My heart mourns when I see the present condition of these tottering heritage houses,” Adhikary laments. “So, I think this (her photography) is the only way I can present these architecturally and culturally rich heritage buildings to our next generation.”
While urbanisation is essential, and Adhikary gives a nod to it, she also advocates the conservation and preservation of these “markers of Kolkata’s colonial history.”
An excerpt from Patodia’s caption note:
“The city that people love not for what it is but for what it used to be — a love affair with history; a love affair of friendships strengthened over addas and hot tea; a love affair with stubs flicked to the wind while boarding a running bus or taxi.
Talk about living, studying, making a career or planning things post-retirement, one would barely find a taker ready to discuss such things. The city inhales this reality, sighs over it, shrugs it off and shines stealthily. Although, we citizens of this abode sulk about how not so joyous our living in this “city of joy” after-all is, the city blithely breathes through what no one sees.
Last year, I got a call from a friend who had been born and bought up in Calcutta but was presently settled in Germany. He was coming back to the city for a holiday. I hopped over to meet him and we lurked around places I had been a visitor to when I was a kid. We loitered in parks which were now an epitome of strewing love publicly; of sumptuous tales relished over lunch. With much hesitation we entered a heritage, shifting our submissive apprehension to candid amazement. How gorgeous and gracious were the treasures! The sunset glazed the dome of Victoria Memorial perfectly, lighting the vast expanse above it with shades of red, crimson and pink.
We, then, barged into an art exhibition running at a nearby Academy, generally in news for keeping the visitors away with its ostentatious flags and zealous protests. Quite ironic to its reputation, life inside the walls of those restricted dilapidations still reeked of the city’s age-old spirit. Paintings left the otherwise abandoned and daunting walls beaming with inexplicable hues and frames. A celebration amid cacophony!
On my way home, I scrolled through my phone’s gallery. Buildings, parks, cafes and libraries that had once welcomed a swarm of visitors still stood as they used to be. It was I who had been looking at them differently.
It was I! It was us! It had always been us, the citizens, who should have been blamed for the city’s misery. For what we had done to her. For what we had left her with. With nothing but a memory of blows which she now tolerates unhesitatingly.”