Reading a good book means opening a new road to allow some more light to your soul. All of us have different shades of our own, sometimes, it becomes impossible to identify the myriad hues as they mingle with each other producing a blank canvas- the mind. Every moment, new emotions and passions are etched on it, changing the pattern and process of thinking. The more we learn, the more we unlearn.
A city, like an individual, has a soul too. A soul throbbing with life and lust, flavour and fantasy, images and imagination, pathos and poesy. The city I belong to, my city, Calcutta/Kolkata. The lady, I used to think I know her, the aroma, the streets, the history, the nooks and corners, the whole nine yard so to say till I lay my hand on the book, SoulCity: Inside-stories from Calcutta, curated by Preeti Roychoudhury. Sixteen individuals have contributed, cascading their fondness for Calcutta from different perspectives through ebullient words and impressive photographs. Each story coincides at one point- that Calcutta is an inseparable part of their existence, whether they live here or not, the city lives in them, with them.
The book opens with a poetical prologue by Preeti herself. Like a true word-conjurer, she has set the stage, revealing the contents in a subtle way helping the readers to anticipate what is in store for them as the pages are turned. And, lo! As you turn the pages, one by one, the lady comes alive with all her exuberance.
None of the stories bears any title and, thus, they have become not only personal memoirs but a chord in the sequence of notes that has formed the symphony of Calcutta.
The first one, Brian Paul Bach’s account, unveils the lady’s different moods, the fun, the architecture, the heritage, the comfort and, the coherence. To quote Brian, “The bland has no place here”. The line has been deeply accentuated by Deepanjan Ghosh’s story, a perfect concoction of history and street foods of Calcutta. A delectable mouth-watering account with some food for thought, too. Sajani Mrinalini Dutta is able to discover Calcutta in small things around the world. The love never dies because, she says,“Calcutta can be anywhere, if I decide to allow myself to find her”.
I find resonance in Ahona Panda’s memoir, perhaps because I grew up in that part of the city she has written about, I had a dog who died an untimely death, my uncle lived in Midnapore, and, I love dogs.
Sammya Brata Mullick weaves a gossamer of thoughts, almost in a surreal way as he chases his own shadows (or dreams?) in the serpentine lanes of North Calcutta. His writing has made gully cricket so alive! Preeti portrays the lady in changing canvases of the day, the love and loss, triumphs and setbacks soaked in some “imperfect melody sung by Time” with an impalpable harmony existing somewhere.
Amava Bhattacharya has written a vibrant saga of the footpaths and hawkers. Truly, the pavements are impregnated with so many untold stories, of joy and grief, loneliness and solidarity. A very entertaining read by Nandini Banerjee would make you acquainted with another aspect of the city, the BERAL (yes, the feline flavour is there, but there’s more to it).
There are two contributions in Bengali, one by Amartya Saha and another by Rajib Dutta. Both the pieces are short, crisp, precise hitting where they are intended to. The sketch illustrations by Jit Mukherjee are meaningful with subtle nuances that bring out the character of the city or ‘bangaliaana’ to be precise. Pictorial contributions of Anamitra Ghosh, Soumyadeep Mukherjee, Farah Gherda, and Chandradeep Mallik have made the book a treat to the eyes.
The Calcutta Cartograph at the end of the book by Samit Roychoudhury provides an excellent food map of the city featuring some reputed and some not-so-well-known food joints. Indeed a treasure for the food aficionados.
This coffee-table book is a musical kaleidoscope, of myriad colours and vibrant tunes, of unknown hues and unheard music. A book that would make you pine for the city if you’ve visited it ever, if not, you’ll find your imagination running wild and your heart throbbing faster to have a glimpse of the city.
Calcutta is not only a city of bricks and stones. She is a living lady, her irresistible pulchritude, her agony and madness, her mundane melancholy- these are the inside stories, the Soul of the City.
One thing I would like to mention regarding the two contributions in Bengali, they should have a gist written in English for non-Bengali readers. It would have helped them to grasp the meaning correctly.
Recommended for all.
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