The Epic City
by Kushanava Choudhury
“Calamity could befall you at any moment in Calcutta,” Kushanava Choudhury writes of the crumbling city of his childhood. And yet it continued to exert its pull, years after he had emigrated, with his family, to the United States. A newly minted Princeton graduate in 2001, he returned to a city festering from neglect and eclipsed by others, such as Delhi. But unlike the urban hellhole many reduced his hometown to, he looked for its high culture, in the form of, among other things, “Bengali all-stars”, Rabindranath Tagore, Jibanananda Das and Satyajit Ray, murals of whom were reminders of the greatness of the former capital of the British Raj.
Kushanava first worked in what is now known as Kolkata with The Statesman newspaper and later to research and penetrate a city caked in nostalgia. No romantic, he recoiled at the omnipresent bouquet of urine and remembered the people who fought over communism “while sipping tea served by a ten-year-old boy”. Choudhury also reminds us of the literary “little magazines” still published, in defiance of capitalism, which have disappeared elsewhere, along with their small readerships. This is a love letter that must be kept.