Between two angular hanging bridges on the river Hooghly in India, a city moves and pulsates with life from different angles. Yes, it is Kolkata, the erstwile capital of British India where the old and the new brush shoulders with equal aplomb. During a recent visit to the city where I was born several years ago,I set out like a tourist. I discovered glimpses of Kolkata from a moving window as I criss crossed across the city.
I walked through its many alleys on foot and sometimes watched life go by availing many modes of transport. It is the only city in India where trams and hand pulled rickshaws can be seen doing brisk business through the day. Walking through the narrow lanes of North Kolkata where sunlight peeps in through precarious angles, I was overwhelmed by the sounds and smells of creaky doors, street corner adda (banter) and noisy kitchens. At the end of the lane, the hard working rickshaw puller made his way through the crowds with a not so light passenger occasionally ringing his hand bell to make way.
I stood there for a while and then boarded a nearly pre-historic tram which rumbled through busy traffic of familiar yellow taxis, private cars and multitude of different sized public buses. Trying my best to relax on the hard wooden seat to the sound of “ting -ting-ting”wondering how far to go, the familiar sights of years gone by appeared at the window side.
The sights of a man struggling to pull an overloaded 3 wheeler cycle drawn van , the one on the cycle competing with the bus and the one abundantly using water from the overflowing street corner pipe that sprayed water in a trajectory. Each one of them immersed in their own world of survival with an idle observer in me, the tram moved on.
I got off close to the river front from where the suspended cantilever Howrah Bridge can be seen. As a child I often thought it would fall down someday just like the London Bridge in the nursery rhyme.
Deeply relishing my fill of mouth watering street food, I observed scores of people hurrying to the deck to board the ferry across the river. There seemed to be an order in all the chaos and a story at every step.
After a while, a short ride beside a breezy window of an empty compartment in the overland circular railway took me to the other hanging bridge (Vidyasagar Setu). It took ages to build this one which at sunset is nothing short of a ramp beauty competing with the likes of the Golden Bridge of San Francisco. Watching evening revelers in horse drawn buggies, I finally took a boat ride in the river to watch the sun slip away behind the bridge.
Humming a familiar Tagore tune to celebrate a day well spent, I went underground to go home with the Kolkata Metro (Ist in India) which however inept it may appear to be, took me home comfortably. While browsing through the pictures of the day, it appeared to be a story of angles of varied degrees nearly perfect in geometry but most perfect in the die hard spirit of the human angle that defines Kolkata with its ability to laugh, to love and to live.