Placed in the fertile plains of West Bengal , on the largest delta of the world, amidst a network of irrigating streams and crowded harbors, in the neighborhood of the jungles and marshes of the Sunderbans, lies the multi-stratified, culturally expansive Kolkata. It derives its names from the Bengali phrase Kalikata, which is said to be derived from Kalikshetra which means, the land of the Goddess Kali. Kali definitely had a multitude of reasons to bless this fertile land but had even more reasons to protect it. Despite evidence that the region has been habited for over two millennia, its traceable history truly begins with the East India Company. By 1772 it was the centre of the East India Company’s thriving opium trade and to consolidate its earnings and shipping to and from China , Calcutta was named the capital of British India . It soon transformed into the ‘City of Palaces’ under Richard Wellesley who drained the marshes surrounding Calcutta and adapted Baroque, Roman, Gothic, Oriental and Mughal styling to make it an art and architectural aficionado’s delight.
The 19th century saw rapid changes in the city’s industrial landscape as massive infrastructural developments were brought about by the British government with the textile and jute sectors at the fore. A social mutation occurred with its division into the ‘White’ British town and the ‘Black’ Indian town.
And the 20th century saw Calcutta getting bombed by the Japanese, large scale communal riots and the heartbreak of the partition of India on the dawn of independence. History continued to be unkind with the Naxalites damaging the city’s infrastructure in the 70s and the Indo-Pak war seeing an influx of immigrants that drained the city’s resources. But a decade later, Calcutta began reforming herself to the changing India . Governed by the only communist regime democratically elected, it has seen unsubstantiated growth and today stands as one of the major metropolitan cites of India . It returned to its namesake, Kolkata in 2001 as it cemented its hold on the new century.
As you travel the roads of Kolkata, don’t be overwhelmed by the feeling of having stepped into a history textbook with doodles of modernity on the sides. The city has maintained its artistic artifices that stand proud and tall among the lush greens and the placid water bodies dotting the city. Kolkata has maintained the edge that history gave it in terms of art and literature. It is still the hot bed of furious creative energy and propaganda. The best time to visit would be between September and March. It is during these months that one can truly experience the vivacity and color that is the soul of Bengali Culture.
The legendary Writer’s Building and its archives of documents once was the Gothic grand house for the junior writers of the East India Company. And with some time left, there's the iconic Howrah Bridge, a witness to mysticism in Kolkata’s art, a satire in her literature, keenness in her science and a diplomatic anarchy in her politics. It is testimony to the salty, earthen fragrance that you will carry with you long after you are gone. The goddess and the courtesan, the wife and the lover, the mother and the child, the last and the first- a personification of legacy. Kolkata is destiny’s child. Kolkata is a lady who commands a respectful pilgrimage.