Issue :   
September 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         September 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:August' 2018


An enthralling read !

M. R. Dua

The Epic City, i.,e., Calcutta, or Kolkata, as it is presently known,was once an immensely glorified city though it’s also said to be a ‘dying’ city. Once home to a population of around only four lakh people, Kolkata now populates over 15 million people drawn from all over India. Calcutta, whose origin traces back to early 1700 AD, has also been famously nicknamed ‘city of joy ’by rich foreigners,probably satirically, because of its all-round deterioration, where extremely poor masses live ‘happily. ’The city holds an undiminished charm and undiluted lure for many a first-time visitor to India. The city was once the darling destination for umpteen number of film-makers, including our own Satayajit Ray, and the French documentary producer, Louis Malle, who put the city on international trail, mainly because of the unremitted poverty of hundreds of men, women and children, permanently sheltered under the Howrah Bridge. While Malle’s documentary on Calcutta received umpteen accolades and a plethora of the most sought-after awards it depicted the miserable lot of utterly impoverished, diseased,poverty-stricken and hungry Calcuttans. One of India’s most celebrated film critics, the late Amita Malik, furiously denounced Malle’ for cashing in on Calcutta’s poor and the deprived. The author of this book, Kushanava Choudhury, is Bengali Indian-American who teaches political theory at Princeton, USA. He knows his Calcutta by the inch, remains a frequent visitor after he chose to permanently settle down in America, has intense love and attachment for the city of his parents and other elders. He describes ‘Calcutta, by contrast.

Kushanava Choudhury The author lovingly, narrates Calcutta’s innate grandeur, as also its ubiquitous dirt, soot and smut. Choudhury, during one of his frequent sojourns here, gets married with his school mate Durba, who also lives and works in the US. He describes how he now sees Calcutta, in memorable words thus: ‘The city is a soundscapepoliticians’ street-corner speeches, loudspeakers belching Bollywood music, promoters yelling business deals into their cell phones, the cadence of passing hawkers, the tung-tung of trams, the calls of bus conductors from footholds… you could listen to a tea shop, as it were a symphony, peering out, the city seemed set on mute.’ This is how now looks the Calcutta of the yesteryears, ‘the fabled city of palaces.’ But where ‘you may see squalor now.’ Systematically and methodically, Choudhury describes Calcutta’s every principal locality, zone and several important bazaars, such as

Choudhury’s debuting book, ‘The Epic City’ makes an enthralling, brilliant read. The book looks like a keen observant tourist or traveller’s tale written with endless passion, love and unrestricted, uninhibited charm for the city.

College Street, Victoria Memorial, Sealdah, Chitpur, listing every outstanding detail of the area that would’ve got drilled in his mind when he used to roam about during his prolonged stay or when was moonlighting as reporter for the Statesman.
Almost all the incidents have been intrinsically weaved in his own or his close relatives or friends’ life. This characteristic of the writing enhances and deepens the reader’s interest -- the style in which Choudhury knits his plot and keeps unfolding lustily.
What impresses the reader is the author’s remarkable memory of the British-carved streets, now many carrying new names, and their peculiar, conspicuous landmarks that once dotted the city and still remain—though regrettably, hugely neglected, where cows wander uncared for. The city was simply one big pisspot.’
The author goes around Calcutta’s roadways, streets, markets, bazaars, thoroughfares, rows, lanes, backways, and wherever, he has a story, fable, anecdote or accidental issue.
Choudhury admits that it’s not so safe and simple to put up in Calcutta these days: ‘For six months of the year, you’re never dry. You take two or three shower a day to keep cool, but start sweating the moment you turn off the tap… From April until October, your clothes adhere to your body like duct tape.’ But despite all this Epic City of Calcutta has an enchanter’s emotional magnet.
The author has a knack of drawing parallels and similarities between what he sees in Calcutta with those in the US, England, France, Spain, Mexico or many other countries he has visited. He matches Calcutta’s ‘unsuitability for urban habitations with that of New Orleans, New Jersey, or California. Despite quitting his reporter’s job in Calcutta’s most reputed daily newspaper, The Statesman, many years ago, he fondly remembers and keeps recalling the names of his old colleagues and friends in the newspaper.
Choudhury’s debuting book, ‘The Epic City’ makes an enthralling, brilliant read. The book looks like a keen observant tourist or traveller’s tale written with endless passion, relentless love and unrestricted, uninhibited charm for the city, its background. The author’s prose reveals a complete control of his idioms and rhythm. It’s at best a beautifully presented face of the decaying Calcutta. Perhaps, a sad fact to admit.