Wrapping Up My Time in Kolkata

KOLKATA, India — A bustling, urban center of 14 million people, Kolkata holds a place as the cultural and intellectual capital of India, and it’s easy to see why.

23469405933_c6b1d0fb02_bFrom the stately colonial palace that is the Victoria Memorial Hall to the shabby-chic treasure trove of the Marble Palace, from the hammer-and-sickle flags of the city’s Communist Party to the financially faltering Calcutta Film Society, there was a vibrancy that felt familiar to me.

The storefront sweets and the Bengali cuisine dazzled my taste buds and completely obliterated what I had thought of as “Indian food.” (Imagine eating a hot dog and fries and imagining that it was what all Americans ate.)

From Mother Teresa’s missionary headquarters to the crowded intensity of Kalighat Kali Mandir, I witnessed faith in action. Long interested in how deeply held beliefs shape people’s lives, I felt fortunate to have glimpsed the piety and the practice in a land far from all that was familiar.

Yet, I also knew that Kolkata was no more representative of the whole of India any more than New York served as a stand-in for the United States, and I was becoming eager to see more.

What did I hope to experience yet? I couldn’t say exactly, only that I would know when I saw it — or maybe I’d realize much later that I had seen some crucial element of life on the subcontinent.

The ultimate, abstract goal would likely be to peer into the soul of India itself. But I don’t hold my breath for such an experience, hoping only to be open to it if it were to materialize.

Just steps from my room at the Fairlawn Hotel, the city burst forth with life. At top, the Indian Museum was less than a five-minute walk from my lodgings. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)
The Birla Planetarium sits in Victoria Maidan, opposite Victoria Memorial Hall.
The Academy of Fine Arts had more of a contemporary look.

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