Monday, 10 June 2013

Travelpost: 10 Things about Kolkata, from an Outsider's Perspective

Wikipedia enumerates the following steps to be followed in the process of doing research
·         Identification of research problem
·         Literature review
·         Specifying the purpose of research
·         Determine specific research questions or hypotheses
·         Data collection
·         Analyzing and interpreting the data
·         Reporting and evaluating research
Since I don't think I have the right orientation for this kind of work anyway (I am after all quoting Wikipedia), I will dispense with any pretence at a scientific enquiry. The following are my (sometimes biased) observations about Kolkata, formed through a lifetime of summer holidays I have spent here.
v  Kolkata is only a different type of hot. While Delhi’s heat will announce itself to you, with its nasty sun and the infamous loo, Kolkata’s will sneak up from behind and take you by surprise. The sweet wind that appears to be blowing outside, when you are at home will conspire to stand still as soon as you step out, and reduce you to a sweaty mess, in the first ten steps you take.
v  Getting work done here, especially in the first attempt, is a near impossibility. This would normally be fine, except when you are working according to Delhi deadlines.
v  One of the reasons for the above is the interminable lunch hour(s) that shops here follow. Long enough, to ensure that the worst administration departments of the best Delhi University colleges are a distant second.
           Last week I needed to use the cyber cafe here for a few printouts. Admittedly, I reached the market at 3:30, and was justly informed that I would have to wait for the shop to open. At 4, I spied the owner entering the market, a man I had known since I was 10 (having overheard him planning a ganja party over the phone, but I digress). When I limped after him to ask when he would open, he waved me away, saying ‘later’.
 I went again to the cafe at 4:25, thinking it was sufficiently ‘later’. He had the shop open and most of the computers on too. I smiled. He grunted and said ‘Come at 4:30’.
I showed him my watch, pleading there were only 5 minutes for that.
He turned around now facing me properly for the first time. He seemed to hesitate first, then something in my eager, pleading face helped him make up his mind. Taking a deep breath, he leaned forward and said, “4:30 means 5.”
An important life lesson learnt.
v  People are unnaturally chatty here. Especially in comparison to Delhi, where even the Metro keeps reminding you to not befriend any strangers (lest you get drugged and raped/ drugged and looted/ not drugged but still sweet-talked into parting with all your money etc.).
The chattiness can sometimes be nice, when you receive a nugget of absolutely irrelevant information. When it takes the form of unsolicited advice, then it can be a little infuriating.
v  Kolkata is second to known, when it comes to political awareness among its citizens. Domestic help/ guardsmen/ vendors etc. take en-masse leave during election season to go back to their native villages to cast their vote. A few years back, my three year old cousin examined my fingernails and disappointedly surmised that I hadn’t voted.
v  Children are very precocious here. Okay no, children are precocious everywhere.
v  Kolkata kids (students) are very hard working. At the tender age of nine when their Delhi counterparts don’t know what an essay is, these kids are mugging up dozens of them every week. When a Delhi kid has difficulty pronouncing participle , the Kolkata kid is far past the stage where he/she wrote the participles of 10 verbs every day. The Kolkata kid, as soon as he/ she enters class eight, is reminded of the impending Board examinations. Life outside school ceases in class 9. That’s when they start going for two tuitions for every subject. And if you have a cousin in Kolkata who is in tenth standard, the same year as you, then besides all the studying/mugging/ tuition-taking, he/she will also make life very miserable for you.
v  People (adults) have a lot of time on their hands. Markets, have dedicated spaces here, where people congregate to chat, have tea, while away their afternoons/ evenings. In fact no time is sacrosanct.
Today, at 12:15 pm, I saw two youngish-men, dressed in formals, at the neighbourhood park, SWINGING. Yes, on those contraptions designed for kids-which they no longer need, given how busy they are, studying or just being precocious.
Mind you, these were bhodrolok, not the unemployed youth who loll about in Delhi’s Central Park.
v  Scatological humour is big here. This is tied in to the general pre-occupation about one’s digestive systems and food.
v  Food’s everywhere here. And relatively cheap.


  1. you are so fond of kolkata. :)
    don't be biased with delhi, write something special like this for the so called 'dilli' also :D