As you leave Howrah station, you become part of the crowding milieu. For the uninitiated, this railway station is the starting point of those who seek an entry to the city of joy, Calcutta (now known as Kolkata!). If the sight of the population overwhelms you, then rest assured that the gigantic Howrah Bridge that connects people to crisscross over to their destinations will transport you to the magnificence of the yore! Standing testimony to time is the massive bridge under which the river Hoogly (aka Ganga) provides a calm support. Constructed during the British raaj, the Howrah Bridge indeed reminds us of the humongous efforts that would have gone into building the massive infrastructure. For a die-hard Calcuttan, it will remain one of the many artistic and aesthetic expressions that abound the city. From the station to the main-city, is a stretch of distance that will make you a witness of the human spirit and the varied hues of life there.
The persistent honks of ‘mini’ and other buses, the manoeuvres of the biped ‘rikshawallahs’ (hand-pullers), yellow-black ambassador taxis, the motor‘naukas’ (boats) at BabuGhat, the antiquated yet elderly-friendly trams and several other means of transport amidst the hustle and bustle of the city are scenes that will be ever vivid and refreshing in the inward eye. For me personally, many such snapshots of Kolkata are etched in the canvas of the mind rather the heart! But what has these got to do with Cooum, you may wonder. Well, for starters, let me tell you that like any other girl who has to trade her original residency for a newer one following a change in her ‘maiden’ ship status, I too came to Chennai in 1997. The fall of that year is when I tied the knot and since then, like a non-resident Calcuttan, would visit the city as and when opportunity arose.
The first thing that strikes you is the similarity between the two cities, given their historic backdrop. Chennai Central like its Eastern sister Howrah Station is always milling with people. The buzz and the drone is almost ditto like Calcutta. If it was the line of yellow-black taxis that caught your attention in Howrah, you cannot miss its poor cousin, the yellow-black autos (fleecing customers at will) at the Chennai Central! Decibel levels are no different. Tamil is a tongue-twirling language by popular perception but then, Bengali too is not totally unique! Both the languages and their dialects are as sweet, sugary or as sourly and surly as one prefers it to be! By the way, I must confess that I am by birth, a Tamilian and though not genetically engineered, a Calcuttan at heart!
Let’s get one thing straight,if perception associates a ‘fishy’ smell to Calcutta, given the dietary habits of the Bengal citizenry, then it’s high time to dispel a myth! For, it is not the aroma of dosas, idli and sambhar (that the south city is synonymous with) that welcomes you but a peculiar smell. Initially one could mistake it to be that of a balmy, breezy and salty air of the beaches that Chennai is a proud owner of, but, no, wait a minute, lest you get it wrong, it is the pungent stench of the Cooum! Many a landmark in the city cannot escape the clutches of the Cooum, a stark reminder of the grip these drainages have over the city. Tamil Nadu’s capital may draw people from all parts of the country given its prowess in manufacturing and IT sectors (not to forget its intellectual capital) but we certainly need to take the Prime Minister’s pet project, the much-touted ‘Swachha Bharat’ (Clean India) campaign in right earnest. Maybe it’s time to start an inter-city competition that will go a long way towards a sustainable living. A crown for a clean and green Chennai will certainly help it to shed the ‘Cooum’ tag that it has unfortunately been carrying for decades.