The Epic City : The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury

It was the same story we told ourselves as a city. You may only see squalor now, but once, once Calcutta was the fabled City of Palaces.”

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 abundance of water and renowned educational institutions. No wonder, Bengal produced eminent personalities such as Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Dr. Jagadish Chandra Bose and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. 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.

Kushanava Choudhury who moved out of Calcutta as a little child, comes back after graduating from Princeton to live in the one city that he had known to be his home. He works at Statesman, the city’s most accomplished newspaper at that time and feels the rhythm of the city in sync with his heart beat. After doing his PhD from Yale, he permanently settles down in Calcutta with his wife, Durba.

In this book, we come across Calcutta in sepia tones, in tea-stained musk-like smell of old books and in politics coated with dried blood. Taking us into a nostalgic journey, The Epic City brings forth the essence of Calcutta that cannot be described in words but only through experiences. It also lays in front of the readers the naked and unbiased truth behind the tragedy and the downfall of this epic city. Tracing the 200 years of British rule, the Bengal Famines during the Partition of Bengal and then the partition of India, the years of Communist rule, the Naxalites and the struggle with the Marxists, the trade unionism that cost thousands of jobs and lives of innocents and finally the year when the new government takes over the left front, Calcutta finds a new lover in the author and then a sacred place in the hearts of the readers.

This is one of those books which makes you take pride in reading and you feel like recommending it to everyone. With its easy and beautiful writing style and its one and true character, Calcutta, the book makes for a warm and peaceful read.

If you have picked up this book as your next read, then prepare to fall in love and have your heart broken by a city of lost dreams.

Publisher : Bloomsbury

Pages : 208

Rating : 5 / 5

You can buy the book here.


6 thoughts on “The Epic City : The World on the Streets of Calcutta by Kushanava Choudhury

  1. Ankitaa says:

    “In this book, we come across Calcutta in sepia tones, in tea-stained musk-like smell of old books and in politics coated with dried blood.”

    What a beautiful review, Aritri!


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