There are cities where you regale in the luxuries and let yourself be pampered. There are cities where you cannot help but complain about the state it lies in. And then there are cities where even though you complain, you still bathe in its charm. For you revel in its character like none other. Kolkata – truly a city of the lords, that now seems at least two decades behind the other Indian metropolises.
A city where the old and the new stand juxtaposed. A city that enamors you into a time warp. I decided to nose around one of the city’s oldest parts and yet one where the posh hobnobbed. ‘Twas where I started my jaunt. Where I let myself be. Park Street.
Wandering along the pavements, we came upon a few rambling iron gates that warily allowed us peeks at crumbling and yet haunting buildings inside. They told a forlorn silent account of a bygone era when affluence marked their presence. We walked past shops that reeked of elitist riches, and past churches that painted sepia pictures of the colonial times. An early afternoon, which had so far allowed us to check into our hotel – The Corporate and enjoy a scrumptious Chinese buffet lunch at Tung Fong. Satisfied, we set out to seek the revered dead – quite literally! Our next stop – the South Park Street Cemetery.
A step inside and I was greeted by a pavilion lined by a series of very old moss lined graves under a dense tree cover. I remember thinking to myself – “how dignified do they look!”The dense overhead canopy blocked out the evening sun and yet gave the cemetery a warm feel, with remote green corners awash in sunlight.
I noted the many graves that had been beautifully built – an ode to children loved and lost. The headstones spoke out heartrendingly.
It was a sight to note the green buds rupture out of the age-old graves.
Those of a couple, placed side by side, reached out to me – together in death. The timelessness of the bond echoed somewhere deep within.
The caretaker, a frail and yet enthusiastic old man, shelled out the facts on being asked. It’d just been over 6 years since he’d joined as the caretaker of the cemetery. He hails from Goa, I learnt. Leading us through the grave-lined paths and grass-covered patches, he brought us to the oldest grave as the sun started waning.
And then on to the grave of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a teacher and a poet, a radical thinker and one who first brought in the idea of disseminating Western education among the Indian youth – an icon in Bengal and well, a celebrity of the cemetery!
The tomb of Sir William Jones, the founder of the Asiatic Society, is an imposing one, built in the Indo-Sarcenic style, displaying a rich impact of the Hindu architectural styles and a respect for Hinduism.
As the last light seem to bade us a warm farewell, we made our way out, chatting with our host who seemed to take to the rare visitors that sought him.
As the utter quiet of the cemetery dissolved in the cacophony on the streets, we walked back towards the heart of Park Street.
A tea at Flury’s, and a walk to see the Victoria Memorial lighted at night took us through a shop that sold freshly squeezed grape juice. The tang lingers till date – one I’ll definitely revisit when I’m back!
Sauntering through the dark passageways circling the Victoria Memorial, we passed the tower of St. Pauls’ Cathedral.
We were one night away from a full moon. The tower shone against a night sky. Turning around, we were presented the brilliantly lighted Victoria memorial, a sight to behold.
A dinner of the famed ‘chelo kebabs’ and biriyani at Peter Cat rounded up our day.
As we waited our turn at the entrance, the attendant informed us there was no peak and no low for the restaurant, that had been opened some 35 years ago. No reservations. You enter if you’re lucky enough! The wait was worth it.
A city of unhindered joys, where my heart latched on!
- The South Park Cemetery is one of the world’s oldest non-church cemeteries.
- It was opened in 1767, to house the dead of our erstwhile colonial rulers.
- And got its first grave in 1768!
- A few graves have the earth ruptured beneath and beautiful creepers lining them – eerily beautiful.
- Graves of children with thoughtfully built graves and even more sincere headstones.
- Its last grave was in 1790, post which it fell into disuse.
- The headstones make for interesting reads – a spooky chance to get to know a few dead strangers from the distant past.