New anthology People Called Kolkata looks at unexplored facets of the city
How hard is it to unravel Kolkata through stories and experiences, that too in one book? A new book called People Called Kolkata is taking a stab at it, and it's a fantastic effort. The making of the book took more than a year of research and features the work of 26 writers who sifted, dissected and interweaved the diverse layers of the city to create this collection of 55 stories about Kolkata and its people. It is a journey in recasting the idea of Kolkata as a city through a rendering of its people. An extensively documented city — in history, politics, arts, food, and nostalgia — Kolkata evokes both strong imageries and rigid stereotypes. It assembles a motley cast, whose collective impressions offer a window into today’s Kolkata while affording an alternate reading of the city.
Four thematic heads help us navigate the anthology better. ‘Culture in Continuum’ explores the continuity and transformation of urban culture and its emergent landscape. ‘A Social Tapestry’ essays eclectic histories of diverse communities that lend exuberance and verve to the city. ‘Extraordinarily Every day’ is a portrait of often inaudible voices who inconspicuously live in the megacity — adding utility and flavour to our lives but only in supporting roles.
‘The Contemporary City’ traces poignant stories on shifting ideas and values that determine the contours of Kolkata’s relationship with its future. With contemporary views and voices, that curates a diverse mix of 25 contributors and perspectives, the book, curated by urban conservationist and educator Kamalika Bose is a journey in recasting our idea of the city through a rendering of its people.
“The methodology we have used is the one which demanded multiple layers of communication with the subject; it is, of course, non-fiction, but it has a documentative and journalistic stance to it as well when it comes to the story-telling. It’s really for and by the people of the city,” Bose reveals during the book launch.
The roster of contributors includes several names from several different cultures and spectrums, including writer Avik Chanda, visual artist Soumyadeep Roy, researcher Debika Banerji, drama therapist Shuktara Lal, and many such names. The book holds up a mirror to different unexplored facets of the city as it features stories which talk about communities which are rarely spoken of as part of Kolkata’s portraiture, such as the last-standing Jewish family in Kolkata, Anglo Indian musicians, the typist outside the High Court, a record seller in Mirza Ghalib Street.
"My interest in the city has been about how the city has been made of several bubbles and the shifts in the spaces created by certain communities. I had a really good connection with my interviewees. One of my subjects, for instance, is a pan-seller, who also runs his own homoeopathy unit where he prescribes medicines, so when he's at his shop people come up to him for medicines," says artist Soumyadeep Roy.
"One of the stories is about a house in Dover Lane, the idea that I was looking at was, that it's very hard to preserve old houses because you don't get any kind of financial aid. The story is also a way of thinking about what we can do to preserve old houses. Another of my stories for the book deals with something personal it's about being a single woman in Kolkata, it was challenging as well as I didn't want to interview someone my age or from my social or economic class, I wanted a different demographic, various ages, and I had a word limit. I messaging Kamalika at some point to say that I don't think I could do it. But Kamalika she's patient and calm and gave me a bit more time," Shuktara revealed.
People Called Kolkata is available now.