I learned what it is like to travel by air. When those machine birds fly overhead, I don’t look up in awe and wonder any more. Now I look to them with a knowing smile.
I learned even though Delhi, my city of birth, holds the notorious distinction as the city of thugs, deception of gullible tourists by smart city agents is a universal phenomenon. Dear Kolkata is no exception to the rule. (The taxi driver who took us from the airport to my uncle’s house in south Calcutta drove us long enough to charge us nearly double the actual fare.)
I learned rude station officials make me lose patience faster than the quickest running train on the network.
I learnedthe exhilaration of train trips across Bengal’s countryside hasn’t worn down for me through all these years.
I learned even though the ethos created and nurtured by Rabindranath Tagore at the inception of Shantiniketan has eroded beyond measure, the place still reverberates with Tagore’s “echoing green” spirit. The chord that keeps pulling me back to it.
I learned that affable rickshaw-wallahs in Shantiniketan more than make up for the rude station officials of Kolkata. Anwar, our rickshaw-puller-cum-guide became a friend in three days.
I learned part of me hurts to be enjoying a journey through lush green fields tilled with the farmer’s labour and love when police firing kills villagers trying to hold on to their land. (The Nandigram firing incident happened on the day we reached Shantiniketan.)
I learned that looking wide-eyed at endless stretches of paddy fields across Bengal is an activity I will never tire of. While traveling through these landscapes I for once wished the journey would never end. I was in no hurry to arrive at the destination.
I learned that some of the tourist lodges run by the West Bengal government need major overhauling—both in infrastructure as well as in the management’s outlook.
I learned popular Indian pilgrimages can make for the worst of travel destinations. I am not pious enough to overlook lack of hygiene, obnoxious pandas (touts swarming religious places), and the histrionics of overzealous devotees.
While visiting the terracotta temples of Bishunupur, I learned in awe how sound architectural wonders were built in 17th century within the constraints of that time. It’s no surprise as to why these temples have held their ground not just architecturally, but also as exquisite works of art.
I learned the weaver creates a piece of fine Baluchari silk sari after painstaking days on the loom, but in the end earns just a small piece of the fat income his employer gets.
I learned Kolkata is truly a foodie’s paradise. If you love eating, make money in a place that has a higher per capita income. Then go spend your savings on food in Kolkata.
I learned Kolkata is in general a safe place for women, and I admired that. Sadly, I cannot say the same about the city in which I live.
I learned there’s not a single soul in Kolkata that’s not passionate about cricket. From vegetable vendors to book sellers in College Street and coffee drinkers at Coffee House, everyone was seen discussing detailed ramifications of the World Cup points table.
I learned no matter which city we live in or how different it is from other places, we are still the same everywhere. We are one in the final tally. And that’s all that counts.