The City of Joy Lay Within Me
I was setting foot into the city of joy – Kolkata – after more than twelve years. This was the city where I was born, the city that had selflessly lent me my very first sense of identity and belonging. Even before I had realised, the city and its culture had infused in me mega portions of ‘Kolkata’ that had refused to abandon me in spite of my apparent disconnect with this place later in life. There was more ‘Bengal’ within me than there was ‘me’ in Bengal. I was now anxious to see how my disdainful NRI heart would react to this culturally rich and memories-clad city.
“Didi, do you need some help with your luggage?” asked a gentleman in Bangla at the Kolkata international airport.
A sudden sense of comfort and excitement consumed me as I could instantly relate to the language that held the status of being my ‘Mother Tongue’. Since this was the language used at home, I instantly related ‘speaking in Bangla’ with ‘being at home’. I had a hunch now that this would be a trip that I would treasure for the rest of my life.
As we crossed the city outskirts from the airport, the driver introduced me to localities and monuments that I struggled hard to recognise. One after the other, the city cheekily started throwing hints at me. I saw the tramline and even crossed the Victoria Memorial Hall that looked no less majestic than the Vatican in Rome! It brought back memories of my visits there as a child with my grandparents. I realised now that there was little that I had managed to forget about this lovable city, perhaps a handful of facts had faded away, but they seemed irrelevant now. And so, in spite of suffering the temptation of playing the quintessential visitor, I decided to rely on that little inner voice that cried ‘this feels like home!’
But I was here on another commitment. I was here for less than half a day before heading off to my next destination, IIT Kharagpur. As the noise of buses and trams poured into my ears, my practical NRI heart began to melt into the nostalgic Bengali’s heart once again. The only respite now was that my next destination was no less significant, though in a completely different way.
An Adopted Alumnus of IIT Kharagpur
After a two-hour drive from Kolkata I reached Kharagpur, a place with which I share a strong connection even without having visited the place even once. The unassuming route, replete with rustic charm, led me into this colossal college campus. On this side of the institute gate there stood a different world – quiet, clean, extending beyond the distant horizon.
Coming from a family where most around me had graduated from IIT Kharagpur and other IITs, this venerated acronym had clung on to me almost like a second name, though none in my family would have ever imagined my remotest association with this esteemed institute. But here I was, heading to that very IIT to don a judge’s hat at their prestigious National Level Debate and Mighty Pen contest at their annual Spring Fest.
The common thread that connected me with this feisty bunch of students I encountered here was our independent thinking. We shared a love for expressing our opinions unabashedly and unapologetically. We revelled in our non-agreement and our ability to question prevailing mindsets. After all, only an enquiring spirit could make one think, question and pave the way for progress.
There seemed a strange similarity between these students and my book ‘Goddess & Whore’ too. Both celebrated the questioning spirit and the freedom of the eternal human spirit. My book had finally found the right home in the hands of these eloquent orators and budding paradigm-shifters. It was an honour for me, as a judge, to hand out copies of ‘Goddess & Whore’ to these winners. I returned with a heart full of good memories and an acquired status of being upgraded to an ‘Adopted Alumnus’ of this prestigious institution.
© Madhurima Duttagupta 2014