A Tale of Two Cities

“For years and years, and even during the time of my first visit in 1962, it had been said that Calcutta was dying, that its port was silting up, its antiquated industry declining. But Calcutta hadn’t died. It hadn’t done much, but it had gone on; and it had begun to appear that the prophecy had been excessive.

Now it occurred to me that perhaps this was what happened when cities died. They didn’t die with a bang; they didn’t die only when they were abandoned. Perhaps they died like this: when everybody was suffering, when transport was so hard that working people gave up jobs they needed because they feared the suffering of the travel; when no one had clean water or air; and no one could go walking.

Perhaps cities died when they lost the amenities that cities provided, the visual excitement, the heightened sense of human possibility, and became simply places where there were too many people, and people suffered.”
— V.S. Naipaul

This was once the Capital of British India, the seat of all power, the cultural and spiritual heart of the subcontinent. Those days are but tales of a former glory. Today, this is a city that has fallen far behind and has done little to reverse the decline.

That is not to say that there is nothing of value in Kolkata. The Victoria Memorial, Royal Botanical Garden, Belur Math are magnificent examples of the rich and diverse history of this splendid, decaying metropolis. Ancient temples and other places of worship adorn otherwise squalid surroundings.

For a region that once produced so many exceptional individuals from all facets of life, the engines have all but stopped and the fire that once burned, embers. Times change and we change with the times. This city unfortunately did not.