by Jacob Jarvis
India can be a daunting place for foreigners – it’s chaotic and busy and incredibly different from anywhere else in the world. So the friendly and welcoming culture of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, was immensely appreciated when I visited the cultural capital.
In ‘Cal’, as the younger locals call it, it seems everybody is a little more relaxed. The traffic, though still intense, appears to run more smoothly. The workers, though still busy, aren’t running at full speed constantly. The culture, though still as rich and impressive as any other Indian city, is less daunting than elsewhere. In Kolkata, everyone can fit in, regardless of background. Even tourists like myself can blend into the crowds, if we try hard enough.
Arriving at my friend’s grandparents’ home, where I would stay throughout my trip, I was welcomed so warmly I felt like I might never want to leave. Straight away the family embraced me as a temporary member, and began imparting their knowledge of the cultural highlights of the city on me, highlighting everywhere I should visit.
It seems unanimous of everyone here in Kolkata that they are immensely proud of the city they are from. From the architecture, to the food, to famous icons such as Mother Theresa and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, you can see there’s plenty which can be bragged about. And as an avid reader, I was flabbergasted I hadn’t heard of this literary hero from the city. Hundreds of poems, short stories galore, mammoth novels, even national anthems – he did it all. And the people you meet will be happy to brag about it, probably because the rest of the world doesn’t bother to.
Wherever we stop along the winding streets of Kolkata we’re met with friendly greetings in Bengali dialect. Everyone seems to speak to each other as friends, regardless of how little they happen to know each other. On the street, in shops, or at cafes, people pick up conversation freely – a skill which has been lost in so many places across the globe.
Wandering along Park Street, if the weather were cooler, you could mistake it for London. The architecture practically yells, “Rule Britannia!” in your face, and the quaint restaurants and cafes have a distinctly English feel. For anyone who’s experience ‘Delhi belly’, these eating options will provide you some relief, with simple and familiar meals all readily available.
If you’re reading this and you’re planning a visit to India, make sure Kolkata is on your itinerary. If you live in the country and have never visited, hop on a train. And finally, if you’re from the city, thanks for being so friendly.