Monday, March 30, 2015

Kolkata: A Mix of Old & New

This past week I had the pleasure of traveling to Kolkata: a city which never ceases to amaze or amuse me.  This place clearly has an identity crisis regarding whether its an old city or a new one, yet its citizens don’t seem to mind, actually they seem to like it this way.

It is so apparent the second you get off the plane and walk through Kolkata’s beautiful new airport only to step into an Ambassador taxi which seems to have been built in the 1950s.  Then you drive down pot holed streets which haven’t been fixed since the 70s and look out the window and see modern high rise apartment buildings as nice as any structure you may see in some of the world’s best cities.  Along the streets, rich Bengalis and westerners walk by the poor and the handicapped who seem to have been sitting in the same position since Mother Theresa’s days.  Even in the city’s best restaurants on Park Street like Flury’s or Peter Kat, or Mocambo you have brand new interiors and menu options while being served by waiters dressed in old fashioned uniforms adorned with numbers reminiscent of the slave trading days. 

This identity crisis can be seen in the football world as well. I had a meeting with the new Indian Super League club Atletico de Kolkata, the club which won the championship in the league’s inaugural season fielding Liverpool FC legend Luis Garcia.    The ownership of the club is all about offering a new, modern way of presenting football to Bengalis with high profile foreign players, international sponsors, in-stadium entertainment and a young, passionate fanbase who begin to adopt Atletico de Kolkata after their beloved Premier League and La Liga clubs.  

Then I headed over to the Maidan and had a taste of the city’s football history while watching the hours go by in Mohun Bagan’s fascinating tent / office.  The club focus here is less about creating the future and more about highlighting the past.  Mohun Bagan is a 125 year old club with supporters going back many generations, something which every member of the club is aware and proud of.  What I found most amazing about the Mohun Bagan tent was the amount of elderly male supporters who just come to the office, practice ground or garden to just discuss (and gossip) about the club. You just don’t see this at any other I-League or even ISL office anywhere else in the country.  It was pretty impressive, especially since I was witness to more people and excitement than normal given that the Mohun Bagan v East Bengal derby was only days away.
It was just a day trip and before I knew it I was back in my 1950s Ambassador taxi heading towards the Kolkata airport to catch my flight back to Delhi.  Although I only had two meetings while on the trip, I left the city clear that Kolkata is by far one of the places most comfortable with its mixed identity as an old / new city and that the introduction of Atletico de Kolkata will only serve to propagate this identity crisis even further. 

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