The Epic City: The World on the Streets of Calcutta
No city on earth offers more conflicting allure than Calcutta. For Kushanava Choudhury, who’s returning to his homeland after graduating from Princeton, culture shock hits hard. Despite a formidably restless population nearing twenty million, Calcutta still has a “sit, have tea and roll with the punches” atmosphere, even in the newspaper world where he delights to find himself each day.
Calcutta was a prominent city for British entrepreneurs and their families well into the 20th century. The present day hurly-burly conceals how its prominence is now diminishing. Choudhury shares a whole new perspective on his return, defying his American friends’ surprise at his decision to head back to India. As a reporter on The Citizen, once the leading newspaper and still commanding a wide circulation, he introduces readers to a personal panorama of the city.
Many stories are human dramas. When the three-year-old son of The Citizen’s elevator operator disappears, panic sets in. Was the little boy abducted for money, a ransom? Surely not for his father’s humble salary. Was the disappearance a prelude to renewed Muslim and Hindu riots? No…the child had wandered off and was in a neighbor’s care. And a new story will be readied for the edition.
Choudhury interviews poets rather than politicians and childhood friends from his earlier years as well as strangers. He writes sparingly, a literary style interspersed with a journalistic streak, a satisfying blend that embraces the reader and makes the noise and squalor of Calcutta almost inviting.