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Kolkata started off as a collection of three villages, in what is now presently North Kolkata. The British quarters expanded in many directions till about the sixties. Then the city expanded still more southwards till at present its hinterland too comes wihin the area of greater Calcutta. Not surprisingly, each area has its own ethos.Concievably, the city depicts the legacy of British India and reminds one of the yesteryears.
The central and northern parts of the city are pretty congested with narrow streets and serpentine lanes. The arterial road which links the central business district of Esplanade to College Street and further north to Vivekananda Road is crowded with cars, buses,trams, carts pulled by men and cursing pedestrians. There is no sign of the famed Bengali laid back charm. It's more like bedlam,with short fuse tempers and loud angry voices ordering each other to get out of their way. Suddenly one is struck by the sight of men and women stooping low over the pavements with their backs to the street. Some of them are oblivious to the jostling of the streaming crowds of people passing while others are engaged in a spirited discussion with the person who is behind a makeshift stall consisting of old, rare and treasured books. It is not out of place to pick up standard English classics for ridiculous prices as well as the Complete works of Marcus Aurelius. The grime is never a deterrent to the intellectual Calcuttan.
If that is where the average Kolkatan satifies his mental and intellectual desires, there is another spot where he can actually give free expression to all his literary aspirations, though some would rather say unkindly, 'pretensions'. Step inside Nandan, the theatre next to Rabindra Sadan, (Kolkata's biggest auditorium)and you find earnest young men handing out leaflets of poetry and some of them reciting aloud. There is a gentleman who also sings Rabindra sangeet full throatedly as he strides up and down the inviting lawns of the complex. He has being doing this for years now with no signs of flagging. Singing only to satisfy his soul or to attract attention, one doesn't really know. ...
If the mental and the physical can be satisfied can the physical be far behind? The Victoria Memorial and the Musical Fountain which are located nearby are the preferred places for hanging out with a special friend and sometimes making out under the cover of darkness. A visitor from conservative Kerala was scandalized beyond repair to see the number of couples kissing in the open. "How can they allow it?" he seethed, forgetting conveniently that it is a free country... But yes, if you were to walk down the streets of north Kolkata a feeling of being in a time warp would definitely hit you. Strains of rabindrasangeet being practised by as-yet-untrained voices waft down thedark alley ways combining with the pungent smell of 'beguniesand piaji' (brinjal and onion fritters respectively) fried in hot mustard oil and the unmistakable scent of coconut oil coming from the tightly braided hair of the young girl passing by you, make this a kind of experience seeen now only in black and white Bengali movies.
It's as far removed both geographically and metaphorically as possible from the fashionable Camac Street / Shakespeare Sarani areas which have fast replaced the nearby Park Street as the most hip palce to hang out in. Here the crowd is more universalised in a fairly mind-numbing way of the regaulation sphagetti straps, the de-rigeur jeans and the right BPO trained accent. Here the humble muri and the saliva-dribbling phuchka can barely hold its own against the charms of a Pan Pizza or a hamburger. It's as necessary to be seen to eat 'right' to appear 'right'. It's hard to say whose a Bengali and who is not; American clothes and American food being The Great Leveller....
Tourist Hub: New Market Neghbourhood
Many of the calcutta tourists prefer to stay here. Sudder Street, Kyd Street, Mudge Lane are the favourite sites. There are many budget and mid-range hotels around this area - but what makes this place unique is the lively but crowded locale. The New market - with its chaos and crowd is unique - so is the Free School street. The Cafes on Sudder Street are lively with people from all over the world meeting, chatting and sharing their common love for coffee and tea.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kolkata was the epicenter of an intense social reform movement. Popularly called ‘The Bengal Renaissance’, this movement questioned existing orthodoxies, particularly with respect to women, marriage, the dowry system, the caste system and religion. Religious scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all came together during the Bengal Renaissance in a vibrant intellectual awakening.
The area around College Street in Kolkata was the heart of this movement. Several leading institutions of learning were set up here, which continue to be the premier colleges of the city. The entire street is lined with bookstalls, and there are usually crowds of students browsing through the wares, looking for specific textbooks and tutorials.
In addition to schools, colleges and universities, this area is also home to reformist social movements like the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj, which have their own unique belief systems. The Buddhist Mahabodhi Society’s headquarters are also here.
If you can get hold of a good street map with these places marked out then it makes for an interesting stroll.
Another popular Kolkata landmark in this area is Coffee House. This large airy café has long been the traditional “adda” or hang-out where Calcutta’s intellectuals gathered to discuss and debate every issue under the sun.
A visit to College Street provides an interesting insight into the social and intellectual concerns that shaped India, culminating in the struggle for independence from British rule. As you walk through the area, you encounter a heady and diverse set of belief systems and philosophies.You also also get a glimpse of today’s educated youth, their concerns and ethos. A lot of the books which are sold are guide books for exams!