CITIES I HAVE LIVED IN AND LOVED
I grew up in Kolkata, which was Calcutta those days, then moved to Delhi for college. My working life started in Chennai or Madras as it was then called, then back to Delhi, Kolkata, Delhi, and finally I am in Mumbai now. Over time, I have learnt to love these four metros I have lived in, with their very different flavors and quirky charms. I will try to share my impressions of these cities here.
If cities could be compared to women, this is the impression I gather.
Kolkata is the ageing courtesan, captivating in her youth, now sadly past, trying halfheartedly to hold on to her old glory, not quite succeeding , but barely concealing her heart of gold behind a faux haughty façade.
Delhi as the loud, brash, nouveau riche buxom Punjabi matron, busy gossiping, plotting intrigues, flashing her unearned wealth and power, but large hearted, full of life, living it up, boisterously enjoying all life has to offer as her due, and generously including all comers to her party.
Chennai the prissy orthodox disapproving Amma, keeping a strict lookout on her domain, with pursed lips and forbidding expression, least anyone acts inappropriately. She is protective and feeds you healthy and filling meals.
Mumbai is an enigma. She is schizophrenic. Not sure whether she is the smart new age woman or the vociferous bai or the Parsee matriarch, she keeps switching roles, being many things to many people, but welcoming all in her tight claustrophobic sweaty sexy embrace, that absorbs you, never letting go, making you lose your original identity and becoming part of her progeny, a Mumbaikar.
First impressions of a visitor—- Kolkata and Mumbai, that of people, people, oh my god sooooo many people!!!!! Assuming you are arriving by train, whether to VT, now renamed CST in the greatest sex change operation in the world, or in Howrah, the sea of humanity overwhelms you. But in Kolkata, the Ganga immediately outside or in Mumbai, the sea a short distance away provides a relieving breath, reassuring you that you can come up for air.
If by air, both Kolkata and Mumbai scare you with the visions of the urban sprawl below, but reassure you with glimpses of the Ganga or the sea in between.
Delhi strikes you with the immense space and the threatening people, and you realize you have to battle to survive and capture those spaces, starting with the duel with the autowallahs
Flying to Delhi of course stuns you. The T3 beats the famed Changi of Singapore or many vaunted international airports, and the Airport metro outshines its counterparts in most metros in the world. No other Indian city boasts airports or metros that are comparable in luxury and efficiency. Even the drive to the city through the octopus flyovers and Chanakyapuri and Rajpath creates the necessary awe that the imperial capital must inspire in the native subjects.
Chennai scares you for another reason. For the first time in your own country you feel an alien. The language spoken, the signboards are all, well, Tamil to you, and getting directions is a nightmare. The shoddy airport doesn’t help. The autos outside the station are as good at fleecing as their brethren in the Capital, but do so in an incomprehensible language.
So much for first impressions. Will continue with my further studies on getting directions, street food, morning sounds and making friends in the four cities in the weeks to come. Ciao for now