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It is a personal journey too, partly down his own memories of the city and the family that had been moved over from East Bengal after partition and Choudhury wants to rediscover the places that made him who he is now.
In this thriving city, he is seeking those stories that rarely make the papers and certainly not the headlines to add greater breadth to the everyday lives of this city.
It is an enjoyable book to read with a fascinating insight into a city that is still thriving coupled together with his personal story as Choudhury rediscovers all that he loves about the chaos of his home city.
A minor detail on this too is that the gold blocking on the cover makes this a sumptuous cover to look at.
Nov 25, Sabyasachi Dey rated it it was amazing. What is particularly refreshing about this book that stands out is its brutal honesty regarding every aspect of the city.
The author is evidently in a dilemma like so many youths and millennials from the city who have to take a call on whether to be in the place you belong, or the place where you work and seek greener pastures.
The more local you are, the more global you are. Migration for work life is more of a global phenomenon, the feeling of being in 'Unaccustomed Earth' Jhumpa Lahiri , the feeling of longing for your roots and the recurring desire of return and finally the emphatic victory of mind over heart.
Since I am from the city, I am at a certain vantage point in a way that I can visualise the images that the author conjures up of streets of North Kolkata through my own experience and mind's eye.
The streets of Manicktala, Bowbazar, College Street, Shyambazar are the ones I have traveled on foot umpteen times with my college friends and hostel room mates.
There is hardly much to see to relish on those narrow bylanes, it was just walking through history, through a concoction different flavors and ages of humanity, an experience that is hard to explain.
And that is what kind of sums up Kolkata, a humongous conundrum, a city which you can either love or hate.
Talk about one man's food is another man's poison. Honesty in the book is related to the fact that the areas where the city falls flat, falls short, falls apart are brought out in excruciating details with amazing ruthlessness of the practical eye.
And of course idiosyncrasies specific to the city, the adda over endless cups of tea, the obsession over College street, the seeming apathy towards the polished and marketed 'good life', the teeming population, humidity, dilapidation of the strained infrastructure, the mini bus, the passionate arguments over history and films, the time warp.
Intermittent dollops of humor does not hurt either. Overall, good weekend read especially to rejig your nostalgia in case you are harboring both fond and not so fond memories of the city.
Jan 14, Vikas Singh rated it it was ok Shelves: owned-book. Just another book based on experience called Calcutta.
There is no newness in the plot and at several places it is a drag. Does not give any great reading pleasure. I have always been fascinated by Calcutta — right to its portrayal in movies to books to even theatre and sometimes even TV shows that are genuinely set there.
I remember my first visit to Calcutta. It was and I had gone there to prepare for a course, which meant Calcutta was home for about forty-five days.
The city was hesitant to be my friend initially and as I learned its ways and sought it out, it almost became a second home. Everything about it seemed better and yet there were times that nothing about it made sense to me.
Sometimes I would find the people cold and distant and at others extremely affectionate. The polarity of the people lends itself to the city or is it the other way around?
Kushanava arrived in New Jersey at the age of twelve — migrated from Calcutta with his parents. After graduating from Princeton, he decided to move back home — Calcutta that is and this book is a medley of experiences of that movement.
As I mentioned earlier, you cannot encapsulate Calcutta in a book, but people must and need to so readers can know about this soulful city.
The book traverses through the city and Choudhury introduces to places and people off the streets. He makes us acquaintances of jobless men, of looming buildings, of a city abandoned and people who are there and yet only in a limbo.
Calcutta belongs to a different era perhaps. Or it did. Yet, it struggles so hard to keep up with the rest of the country.
Choudhury at the same time in his writing is hopeful of what the future holds. You want to know more about the place and yet you want to resist, because Calcutta then seems like an aged queen whose grandeur is not lost, yet she is.
Aug 18, Aritri Chatterjee rated it it was amazing. The City of Joy, the city of dreamers and poets, the city that is known for its sweet delicacies and intellectual debates, the city that is now almost dead.
All that is left of Calcutta or Kolkata is a ghost of a city that refuses to die despite regular murderous attempts by innumerable assassins.
Kolkata, then, was one of the richest and prosperous cities in India, with its monumental buildings, wide docks and ports for export and import of high-quality goods, artisans and craftsmen, the abundan The City of Joy, the city of dreamers and poets, the city that is known for its sweet delicacies and intellectual debates, the city that is now almost dead.
Kolkata, then, was one of the richest and prosperous cities in India, with its monumental buildings, wide docks and ports for export and import of high-quality goods, artisans and craftsmen, the abundance of water and renowned educational institutions.
Kolkata, now, has become a hell hole where talent is sucked out of deserving individuals, and the politics isn't limited to politicians, where the youngsters would give an arm and a leg to escape the disastrous city in search of better education and job opportunities.
How did the capital of the imperial British Raj come down to its knees? What made this gloriously epic city come to a standstill? What is it about Calcutta that still makes the Bangali's heart swoon in pleasure?
Why, despite leaving the city for well and good, do Calcuttans yearn to see its beauty every autumn?
The Epic City answers all these questions by taking you into a tram ride through a beautiful yet sad city.
Kolkata is the people's city and in such a city, the lives in the streets and the culture of its different paras or localities best describe the city.
After failing to get over the charm of the city, as Choudhury relocates to Kolkata, his family and personal background put him in a unique position to Kolkata is the people's city and in such a city, the lives in the streets and the culture of its different paras or localities best describe the city.
After failing to get over the charm of the city, as Choudhury relocates to Kolkata, his family and personal background put him in a unique position to observe and describe the city.
In search of his childhood city as Choudhury roams the streets and paras of mainly North Kolkata-the older Kolkata, he goes on describing its food, culture, politics and realises, nothing much has changed.
The effect of his upbringing in his mother's aristocratic North Kolkata household is evident from his anti-communist orientation which could be different if he was brought up in his father's refugee family.
In masterful prose that read almost like a novel, Choudhury mixes his observation, nostalgia and the colonial and post-colonial history of the city to give a narration on how is Kolkata and why it is like that.
This was a tricky read for me. Sometimes it was so negative I couldn't stand it. Other times he made Kolkata sound amazing and fascinating.
As someone who has never been there and knows far too little history and culture of the area, I can't begin to comment in a decent review - so think of this less about the book and more about me.
There were times I thought I would give up on it and other times I really enjoyed it. It made me also question "what is travel writing for?
Should it always be from the perspective of one in the know? Should it be all-knowing and say "This is what Kolkata is" or acknowledge they're seeing a tiny fraction of what is there - but that fraction could be one of many contradictory realities of the place.
I don't think any of us could hope to present a perfect picture of any place no matter how much we know so then how do we present our own perspective?
What I did take away from this, though, is how little history I do know. So I guess I'm glad I read it even I didn't always enjoy it. It opened my eyes to a whole bunch of things I didn't know about before and that will likely result in my going down a whole bunch of other interesting rabbit holes.
View 2 comments. This book is about migration and longing to return and romanticising the city you are from, and specifically about Calcutta, and the rise and fall of the city.
The author is educated in the US, graduates from an Ivy League school and decides This book is about migration and longing to return and romanticising the city you are from, and specifically about Calcutta, and the rise and fall of the city.
The author is educated in the US, graduates from an Ivy League school and decides to go against the grain - becoming a management consultant or investment banker - to return to Calcutta to write for the Statesman.
Jun 23, Nikhil rated it really liked it. Having left Calcutta soon after my cocooned school days, I have often found a strange yearning for the city of my birth and childhood.
As they say, you can take a Calcuttan out of Calcutt Having left Calcutta soon after my cocooned school days, I have often found a strange yearning for the city of my birth and childhood.
And then begins a journey which takes one back and forth across years of history trying to provide an explanation about why the city is as it is.
Dying but never dead. Full of contradictions. A city just unable to reconcile between its glorious past and its sub-ordinary present, its false idealistic pride and its struggling sense of self-worth.
The author takes us through the paras of North and Central Calcutta and triggers tremendous nostalgia walking through the boi-bajaar book market of College Street, the commotion of Sealdah, the artistry of Kumhartoli, and Kush reminds us that the wounds of partition not only dented the Punjabi psyche but forever altered the relationships between the Bengali Hindu and Muslims such that even in the height of communism, the two communities could never truly come together.
A movement which made the city a four-letter word for all industries and industrialists and in the process gifted its emerging generation nothing but a sense of hopelessness.
An aimless wandering which led the best and the brightest to greener pastures outside and left the city the poorer for it.
Kush brilliantly leverages his own personal struggles at work and married life as well as his family history in Calcutta to break the monotony of the city and enhance the appeal of the narrative.
A good read for all Calcuttans and Calcutta enthusiasts. I picked up Kushanava Choudhury's debut attempt at the airport last week, attracted by the cover art and promise of tales from my home town.
What followed was a trip down memory lane accompanied by muffled guffaws which my co-passengers on the flight kindly ignored. Choudhury brought alive some of the quirks which denizens of Calcutta including yours truly are well-known for, and yes he does go beyond the done-to-death monkey cap references.
My childhood was spent in the newer South Kolkat I picked up Kushanava Choudhury's debut attempt at the airport last week, attracted by the cover art and promise of tales from my home town.
My childhood was spent in the newer South Kolkata, so the stories from the lanes of College Street and Phoolbagan in the older north helped create a perspective of the paras I have only passed through, rather than roamed and breathed in.
My favourite chapter? The one where he takes us to the shut-down factories which have been replaced by the swanky malls.
Onto the brickbats then. Too often the turn of words is repetitive. I counted at least 3 instances where the author has used the exact same phrase to describe the exact same situation.
And in spite of his best efforts, this part-memoir, part-social history remains at best an outsider's view. This appeals definitely to the probashi Bengali in me, but might fail to charm a resident Calcuttan.
The three stars are for a reasonable attempt at capturing all that Calcutta stands for, mainly on account of the nostalgic joy-ride.
The author has described the city when it was still Calcutta; he has skilfully touched all the major aspects. He has taken us to the college street boi para, to the north Kolkata gollies, to kumortuli , to the unknown food joints of park street, to the lovers nest near Ganga and last but not the least- to the Durga puja pandals.
Besides all the places, the main jewel of Kolkata is its people. Kushanava not only describes the life of Calcuttans but their thought process, their struggle, their love for the city which make this book most enjoyable.
As he says you may not find many tourist places in Kolkata; to know this city you need to stay here, to spend time with this city; then only Kolkata will show its beauty to you.
Calcutta is one of three places I have had a lifelong wish to visit - not as a tourist, because that wouldn't do justice to a city of so many unique flavours, but as a local where I can truly soak it in.
Maybe that is why I haven't been able to make that trip yet - touristy or otherwise - for fear that unless it is done right, the experience might be ruined forever.
What I didn't expect wa Calcutta is one of three places I have had a lifelong wish to visit - not as a tourist, because that wouldn't do justice to a city of so many unique flavours, but as a local where I can truly soak it in.
What I didn't expect was for it to be so real. This travel memoir brings the glorious world amidst the streets of Calcutta to life. Strolling through the para neighbourhood , discovering the narrow alleys and tiny nooks, tasting the many smells of the city - it feels as if you are right in the middle of it all.
Reading this book has only made my desire to visit the city stronger. And until I can do that, I will continue to skip through the pages for a quick stop.
Side note: I believe I love the cover of this book as much as I enjoyed the book itself. A totally Instagram worthy book cover!
Mar 26, Piyali rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction. Certain parts of this book truly spoke to me. It took me back to the days when I traversed the city, either with friends, or alone, for work.
The experience of riding a tightly packed public bus, roaming the streets and getting lost in tiny gulleys, observing life that goes on in the remotest corners of this busy metropolis.
Kolkata is not an easy city to love. I can not truly direct a tourist to this city, and the author successfully captures that exact feeling.
The pull of Kolkata, 3. The pull of Kolkata, for us, Kolkatans, is inexplicable and perhaps difficult for others to understand.
There is a spontaneous beat within the city which one can only feel if one is attuned to it. The city is easy to hate and difficult to love. The author nails this dichotomy as he presents Kolkata in his book with warts and all.
Nov 09, Eric Sall rated it really liked it Shelves: indian-books. I visited Calcutta last week and started this book while I was there.
The author is a young Indian who spent his childhood in Calcutta and the US, was educated at Princeton and then moved back to Calcutta to work as a reporter.
He interweaves his personal memories, his life as a young married man, and his family history with the history of the city.
Great writing and vivid observations. I learned a lot and got a kick out of reading about places and things I had just seen myself.
I definitely wou I visited Calcutta last week and started this book while I was there. Sep 06, Anirudha Bhattacharjee rated it really liked it.
A very NRIsh style of recounting stories of a place the author tries to relate to. Or does he? Positives include a great writing style, but surely that is to be expected by someone who spent most of his formative years in NJ, US.
For the content, well, just as an NRI would react to situations beyond him. Apr 06, Gayla Bassham rated it liked it Shelves: reads , memoir , india.
I do love reading about India, but this book wasn't particularly well structured and it was often repetitive. There is material of interest here, but it's harder than it should be to find it.
As the name has suggested , the book gives us some inside views of Calcutta. The people of Calcutta , the street foods, the culture ,everything has been written with full heart,nostalgia and empathy.
The book is full with minute details about this city and the people. A reader can easily get a vision full experiences through this amazing writing of this author.
The writing of this author is very lucid, which is I really admired. This book has showcased how this city is different from other As the name has suggested , the book gives us some inside views of Calcutta.
This book has showcased how this city is different from other cities of India. And let's talk about the cover. The cover has showcased the street of the city with the Heritage Yellow Taxi.
I think the cover is perfect for this book. A memoir as well as a book on a city, Choudhary captures the dreariness, squalor and decay of Kolkata in the 90's and 00's perfectly, with detours going back a few decades to the time of WW2 and Independence, recounting the horrors of Hindu-Muslim riots, the great Bengal famine and Partition, and the impact of these events on evolution of the city.
In the midst of all this gloom, there are splendid uplifting moments such as when he meets groups of unknown poets, and publishers of 'little' magazi A memoir as well as a book on a city, Choudhary captures the dreariness, squalor and decay of Kolkata in the 90's and 00's perfectly, with detours going back a few decades to the time of WW2 and Independence, recounting the horrors of Hindu-Muslim riots, the great Bengal famine and Partition, and the impact of these events on evolution of the city.
In the midst of all this gloom, there are splendid uplifting moments such as when he meets groups of unknown poets, and publishers of 'little' magazines, who exemplify the Bengali love for the arts.
Feb 07, Gina rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction , memoirs-biographies-autobiographies , giveaways , favorites , india. This book was won in a Goodreads giveaway - thank you to the author and publisher!
The book was very well written and kept my interest. I learned some things I would never have known about Calcutta, the people, and their traditions.
Kushanava Choudhury writes about his time, both as a youngster and as an adult, living between two very distinct and different worlds: India and the United States.
His parents were world travelers, and by the age of 12, he had traveled much more than most of us would This book was won in a Goodreads giveaway - thank you to the author and publisher!
His parents were world travelers, and by the age of 12, he had traveled much more than most of us would ever dream of doing in 10 lifetimes.
After graduating from Princeton, his heart took him back to his beloved India. Despite the horrible weather conditions everything from heat so terrific a person could hardly breathe, to the rainy seasons where you were damp all the time , he loved his homeland.
He talks of mosquitoes so dense it was hard to walk through them, and many carried malaria. Yet fifteen million people still lived in Calcutta.
Working for the Statesman, its leading English newspaper, Kushanava Choudhury found the streets of his childhood unchanged by time.
Shouting hawkers still overran the footpaths, fish-sellers squatted on bazaar floors; politics still meant barricades and bus burnings, while Communist ministers travelled in motorcades.
Sifting through the chaos for the stories that never make the papers, Kushanava Choudhury paints a soulful, compelling portrait of the everyday lives that make Calcutta.
Written with humanity, wit and insight, The Epic City is an unforgettable portrait of an era, and a city which is a world unto itself.
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