The place where you are born and grow up is always special. Ask people, and nine out of ten are likely to say the same thing – no matter whether it is Asansol or Ranchi, Kanpur or Raipur, Anand or Baroda, Thiruvananthapuram or Hampi. For over centuries many people have chosen to remain in their place of birth, content to work and raise a family there, and retire and die in the hometown. Even those who ventured to distant lands have felt the urge to return and spend retired life where they grew up and studied, had friends and felt completely at home.
Of course, nowadays, after the great IT boom and scores of Indian youngsters having settled abroad – most of them in the developed world of Australia, the UK and the US, many in West Asia – chances of that much-looked-forward-to return is not on the cards, may never be. But out of that lot I’m sure there will still be some who would want to get back to a place they call home.
I was born and brought up in Calcutta and during my growing years, the city, although no longer the country’s capital, still had a lot going for it. If Bombay scored with its commercial enterprise, sense of discipline and the romantic charm that Hindu films and film stars offered, Calcutta always exuded warmth and care, where old-world charm never threatened to let go and leave. And that is how the city is even today, with the same laidback atmosphere and the Bangali Bhadrolok’s love for chai and Capstan filter remaining intact, as much as the boudi's penchant for non-stop shopping in Gariahat, the schoolchild's love for Salim's ice cream, and the college-goer's fascination for Park Street and the gorgeous girls of Loreto (the college was founded by the way in 1912).
To a casual visitor, Calcutta might sometimes almost seem like being at the edge of an abyss – an abyss of hopelessness, of despair. A friend in Chennai, speaking to a small gathering recently, took sarcastic digs at the City of Joy, where apparently he had spent a few years studying – not in a school that was top draw then (must have deteriorated further) or a sought-after school. He was speaking from impressions gained from that influence; even so, I was left wondering how somebody who had stayed in the city, a city known for its generous heart, could speak so disparagingly.
Memories of Calcutta never fail to bring me alive - of my good old friends, and my days in Don Bosco and St Xavier's. This year I suddenly realised that I had missed out on the pujas the past 28 years! Although I do go there once a year, I have never made it during Durga Puja.
I belong to what I call the ‘sandwich generation’, sandwiched between the old world and the new, where nostalgia often gets the better of the present. I also happen to be an ‘uproot’ (I know it’s a verb, but never mind); years ago, my mother had judiciously decided to uproot half the family and head for Madras. For some reason (many, really) the city never really grew on me. I always belonged to Calcutta. My heart is always there.