SoulCity – Inside stories from Calcutta

I have never been to Calcutta and have no family connection to the ‘City of Joy’ either. This is why my knowledge about the city is limited to what I have heard, seen or read about it in the books, cinema or television.

When I chanced upon this book, one read of the blurb on the back that read,

“There is Calcutta and then there are Calcuttas. Each one is intriguingly different in hue, taste, sound and touch from the other. This book is an attempt to gather some of these essences into one heady collection, to present the soul of this incredible entity called Calcutta. Sixteen voices from different parts of the globe come together to create this labour of love. Savour it!”

made me make my mind to go ahead with reading the book, to get an inside view of Calcutta. Two things intrigued me in first sight. One, the seemingly unorthodox, rather modern cover of the book and second the limited number of pages, just 64.

In my heart, Calcutta has always been synonymous with its yellow cabs, Mishti Doi, Machher Jhol, Rosogolla, Hand-pulled Rickshaws, Howrah Bridge ( I fell for it after watching Yuva), Suta Kababs, Rabindra Sangeet, Durga Pujo, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Sushmita Sen and so much more.

My biggest curiosity lay in the fact, how would a book of 64 pages do justice to the sheer magnanimity of the city of Calcutta?

What all aspects would the book cover and how would it gauge their importance before trimming off the rest?

Soul City-1

The day the book arrived, I stared at its jaunty cover for ten long minutes. It’s a modern-day scene, shot outside the Metropolitan Building with domes, a clock tower, arched recessed windows on a rainy day with a balloon seller in focus.

The beauty of the cover lies in the clever portrayal of the glorious history of Calcutta with Metropolitan Building in the backdrop while letting the urban, modern life take a foreground. The monsoon shower sings well of the geographic proximity to the sea but what stands tall is the undying, conscientious spirit of Calcutta and its people brought alive by the balloon seller.

Designed to be a coffee table book, the book opens with a monumental, poetic prologue that subtly hints at what lies ahead, while warming up the reader to expect nothing short of excellence in the pages that follow.

The book is a collaborative effort of 16 people who’ve poured their perspectives, their passion, their fond memories, their sense of belonging being an inseparable part of Calcutta in their artistic contributions. The beauty of each contribution is, it isn’t limited to being a memoir. Due care has been taken to not title the individual works, keeping the seamless flow of the spirit of Calcutta intact.

“She is a big working city, going full-blast; a hard-working city, throughout the livelong day. Still going, gentle into the night, as she has always done.” ~ Brian Paul Bach

If Brian Paul Bach’s words paint expectations from Calcutta, Ahona Panda’s memoir warmed up my heart with the candid narration of how Poppy(s) touched the lives of people in her family. If street food is what you wish to indulge in, Deepanjan Ghosh has it served, spicy, hot, delectable and bringing alive the authentic eateries making you wish to gobble up the pictures laden with exquisite foods.

“This nighbourhood is like beer. Few like their first sip. And yet somehow you learn to appreciate it, and after a while, it’s all what you want to drink.” ~Deepanjan Ghosh

I loved the echo of ‘homecoming’ in Sajani Dutta’s words, of how she learnt to find Calcutta in her literary sojourn around the world. The fleeting joy of discovering the love-connect of Calcutta and  gully Cricket in a gripping read by Sammya Brata.

I lived a day in the life of Calcutta in the ‘harmonious trills and jars’ by Preeti Roychoudhury. One of my favorites is the piece by Amava Bhattacharya on the city’s footpaths and the life of hawkers. In words of Amava, I traveled across the lengths and breadths of Calcutta savoring Paneer Bharta, Roti, Chili Chicken, to the humble khichudi to boiled eggs and toast to smelling paperbacks, met the trams, watched them turn in ways I’d never thought was possible. But what makes it a classic is the way how all these events portray the quintessential Bengali life as oozing in dignity and diligence.

“Throughout the busy day, Calcutta plucks at the strings of her roads and lanes, coaxing chords out of the struggles and striving of all who breathe under her interrupted skies.” ~Preeti Roychoudhury

If you thought this book was all about the life in modern, downtown, metropolitan Kolkata, please be prepared to face the agents of the BERAL in poignant words of Nandini Banerjee.

While creative, candid photographs add to the perspective and depth of reading this (seemingly short) compilation, the sketch illustrations by Jit Chowdhary add the highbrow dimension of Kolkata to this alluring book.

If you thought, the creators of this masterpiece didn’t see how much people from and outside Kolkata love to indulge in the vast array of its unorthodox eating joints, Samit Roychoudhury has that sorted with ‘The Calcutta Cartograph’. It’s a map of Kolkata highlighting the food joints with names of foods they’re famous for.

The book is a unputdownable read that’ll make you want to go back, re-read a sliver, discuss a picture, connect dots with your own memories, yearn to share with friends, call up friends to plan a trip to Kolkata and most of all want to read another, longer, but in every-which-way similarly put together volume of this book curated with heart and soul.

I wish to congratulate the entire team on the success of evoking love for Calcutta in its true, urbane, metropolitan form; breaking free from the pre-conceived notions that a non-Bengali bears in his/her mind through this masterpiece project.

However, I would like to suggest addition of an English translation to the contributions made in Bangla for the benefit of people like yours truly, who cannot read or understand the language and missed out on reading the works by Amartya Saha and Rajib Dutta.

About the Book:

  • Title –  SoulCity : Inside-stories from Calcutta
  • Curator – Preeti Roychoudhury
  • Publisher – Samit Roychoudhury
  • Genre – Non- Fiction
  • Pages – 64
  • Price – INR 450
  • ISBN – 978-81-901457-4-9

Rating – 4/5

You may consider ordering the book here at Flipkart

Head here for more book reviews and rules of reviewing books on my blog.

12 thoughts on “SoulCity – Inside stories from Calcutta

  1. Lovely review ME. Can almost visualize what you visualized while reading the book.

    Indeed, there is an air of romance to Kolkata, a metro city which did not feel the need to develop as rapidly as others during times of exploding growth. And barely anyone fails to mention the amazing food in the same breath when they mention the city.

    Looks like it’s time for you to visit it. Happy New Year 🙂

    Like

    1. The book is a visual treat and presents Kolkata as a more modern, young city than what we have known it thus far.
      If given an opportunity, I’d love to explore all I’ve read LIVE in Kolkata 😀
      Thank you Vishal.
      A Happy 2016 to you too 😀

      Like

  2. Sara

    “The day the book arrived, I stared at its jaunty cover for ten long minutes. ”
    And I thought I was the only one who does that regarding book covers. But I don’t really go into such an in depth analysis like you do. You know for all the books youve reviewed the authors and the illustrators might actually be impressed with ur sophisticated analysis if they get to read it. Who knows even they might have not thought about it so much or maybe I feel it that way because you describe it so beautifully. 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you Sara, for noticing and appreciating my effort at commenting on the book cover & illustrations 🙂
      We so often judge books by their cover (even if sub-consciously) I think it is only correct to give the illustrator their due credit by adding a few words to say if their attempt(s) were a hit or a miss.
      Much appreciate your kind words Sara 😀

      Like

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