white building

Kolkata: The City of (kill)joy

My family hails from Kolkata, the (supposed) grand and noble megacity. I have ranted about this city many-many times, especially during the only 1 unfortunate year in my life that I stayed here. But that was more than 15 years ago and since then, I have never stayed here more than a couple of days at best (My shortest trip was a few hours long).

Because of the holiday season in Thailand, I decided to go visit my parents for slightly longer and re-analyse this city to see what has changed.

Full disclosure: Even within Kolkata, my parents stay in an objective worse location, so my point of view may be skewed compared to people living in more affluent areas.

Nature

Kolkata is quite green, compared to other cities in India. Especially the area where my parents live, there are many trees around.

Palm Trees & Greenery
Palm Trees & Greenery

At one point of time, Kolkata was dotted with ponds & lowlands. In fact many of the neighbourhoods names end with “pukur”, which means pond. Over the years, these ponds have been paved over and lost to eternity; leaving only their namesake “paras”. However, there are still some around, in the less affluent areas.

Cleanliness

There’s no way around it; Kolkata is the filthiest city I have had the misfortune of visiting. There’s trash and filth everywhere, even the fancy neighbourhoods. No one gives 2 shits about cleanliness.

People openly spit on the streets, throw their garbage anywhere they want.

Services

If you want to get work done, Kolkata is not the right city for it. Mobile services are one example. Banking is the biggest one. I already discussed how I spent shit loads of effort doping paperwork to convert my SBI account to NRO. What came of that? Zilch. They just sent back everything without an explanation. This time, when I went there to close my account, they were quite annoyed to start their working day on a negative note of account closure.

Private banks are not much better. I required some services around my Home Loan, so I looked up “Loan servicing branches” of my bank and spent an entire morning visiting them one by one and they all refused to help me. They would either say “we can’t do this, go to xxxx branch”, or simply “We have never done this before, we don’t know how”. Eventually I did find a very good branch to assist me and my work was done.

Similarly, calling labour to your home for repair work is a nightmare with them not coming on time or not showing up at all.

One particular example. I needed to update some details on my Aadhaar card. So I looked up a list of Aadhaar processing centres across the city and went on a (seemingly) easy mission. Here’s what happened

New Alipore Useless Post Office
New Alipore Useless Post Office
  1. Attempt 1 – Hobe na (Won’t happen, no explanation given)
  2. Attempt 2 – Ekhane hoye na (This doesn’t happen here)
  3. Attempt 3 – Lok neyi (Don’t have staff)
  4. Attempt 4 – Token shesh hoye gechhe (Out of tokens)
  5. Attempt 5 – Election duty te gechhe (Gone on election duty)
  6. Attempt 6 – Kalke aashun (Come tomorrow)
Bhowanipur useless post office
Bhowanipur useless post office

Eventually, I had to go to the main office 26kms away, where my work was done reasonably fast.

Transportation

Transportation in Kolkata is a proper shit-show.

Road Transport

Kolkata people have a special affinity towards honking. Almost all the cars would start honking a few seconds before the lights turn green. Some cars even keep honking while the lights are still red. There’s honking while overtaking and especially when there’s a traffic jam. The first few nights, I could even hear the honking in my dreams.

Typical sound on Kolkata roads

If you drive your own car, it is a nightmare. People have no sense of discipline and you need to do all you can to keep yourself from getting hit. Very-very stressful experience.

One funny thing I noticed was the affinity of Kolkata Traffic Police towards road barriers.

The traffic police like to strew road barriers randomly on the streets (In the middle of major roads) with no explanation. You are driving along, minding your own business and suddenly there’s a barrier blocking your way and you either have to brake to a stop or swerve. I really don’t understand why this is. Not like the traffic is very fast here to begin with, why slow it down even further?

Random Barrier on the road
Random Barrier on the road

At traffic signals, the traffic needs to divide itself into 2 streams on the left and right sides of the barrier. Crazy.

If you decide to take a taxi, best of luck with that, too. Uber in Kolkata is notoriously bad. Every time I get a taxi, the driver calls me immediately after and tells me to cancel the trip and pay them cash. It is not even a one off incident, every time I call one, I go through 4-5 drivers who demand cash and cancel when you refuse. The cars are filthy inside and stink. The drivers also resist turning on the AC unless you keep pestering them.

The roads are also all littered with ugly billboards.

Curiously, most billboards in Kolkata are either for gold jewellery, political ads or house construction material (TMT bars, pipes etc).

Public Transport

Why use road transport you ask? Why not use public transport? Because that sucks balls, too. Kolkata people keep boasting about how they had the first metro in the country, but fail to mention how it has failed mostly into disrepair and has seen little expansion in decades.

Where else in the world can you find a metro with a frequency of 50 minutes between trains?

50 minute interval metro
50 minute interval metro

Where else in the world can you find a metro which doesn’t run on weekends? When my parents first told me about it, I thought surely they were misinformed or joking. But no, it is true.

In short, going anywhere in Kolkata is a struggle, whether you are rich or poor. We all suffer equally.

Food

Restaurant Food

Food in mid-end and high-end restaurants in India is quite costly for the value provided, but no different than the rest of India.

The good part is, there are many good restaurants and delivery is ever-present and fast.

But restaurant food is not what Kolkata is known for.

Street Food

Street food is where Kolkata really shines. It is cheap, delicious and (mostly) hygienic.

Others

Kolkata has many malls, but they compare nowhere to Delhi/Bengaluru/Mumbai mall standards.

South City Mall, Kolkata
South City Mall, Kolkata

However, the character of Kolkata lies not in the malls, but in the by-lanes.

By-lanes of Kolkata
By-lanes of Kolkata

Airport

Kolkata airport international terminal is the lousiest airport terminal I have been through. Unlike normal airports, both sides of a check in counter are named the same alphabet, but used by different airlines.

To make things more difficult for everyone, the displays above the counters don’t show flight information, but propaganda on how the airport is the “best improved” airport ever.

Guess which flight it is
Guess which flight it is

The immigration counters are sparsely staffed. When I travelled, there were 2 babus manning the counters.

The security check area has only 2 lanes.

2 lanes of security check
2 lanes of security check

The duty free section (as pcthepathfinder aptly said) looks like a stall at Pragati Maidan.

Kolkata Airport Duty Free joke
Kolkata Airport Duty Free joke
Bengali Airport Fight

Overall, I am glad to turn my back to this city and go back home.


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2 thoughts on “Kolkata: The City of (kill)joy”

  1. So relatable in so many ways!!!!! The greatness of kolkata seem to be dying under the care a damn attitude! Won’t do ki korben korun is what shines through now! (do what you can won’t move an inch attitude)

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