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CALCUTTA IN 20 HOURS TEXT AND PHOTOS BY DAVID BOYK

AGNES GONXHA BOJAXHIU, BETTER KNOWN AS MOTHER TERESA, MAY HAVE BEEN BORN IN SKOPJE, BUT CALCUTTA BECAME HOME FOR THE ALBANIAN NUN. OUTSIDE INDIA, BECAUSE OF MOTHER TERESA’S HUMANITARIAN WORK MANY THINK OF CALCUTTA AS A CESSPOOL OF DEPRAVITY AND DESTITUTION. INSIDE INDIA, IT HAS A REPUTATION FOR HIGH-CULTURE SNOBBERY. IN REALITY, IT’S EASY TO LOVE THE CITY FOR THE REASONS THE BENGALI PEOPLE DO: FOR ITS EASYGOING AND EARTHY STREET CULTURE, FOR ITS MASTERY OF THE FISHY ARTS, FOR ITS INTELLECTUAL AND ARTISTIC SOPHISTICATION AND FOR THE LOVE ITS PEOPLE HAVE FOR TALKING. CALCUTTA, LIKE INDIA’S OTHER BIG PORT CITIES, WAS INVENTED BY COLONIALISM. THE BRITISH TOOK A FEW VILLAGES IN BENGAL, FAR FROM ANYWHERE IMPORTANT, AND MADE THEM INTO THE CAPITAL OF THEIR INDIAN EMPIRE. LIKE MOST COLONIAL CITIES, CALCUTTA — WHICH HAS BEEN RENAMED KOLKATA TO BETTER MATCH BENGALI PRONUNCIATION, THOUGH MANY RESIDENTS WRITE AND SAY IT THE OLD WAY — WAS DIVIDED INTO TWO ZONES, NOT-SO-SUBTLY CALLED WHITE TOWN AND BLACK TOWN. THE EUROPEANS IN WHITE TOWN GOT WIDE STREETS, SEWERS AND MONUMENTAL BUILDINGS; THE INDIANS IN BLACK TOWN GOT OVERCROWDING AND BETTER FOOD. THE BRITISH ARE GONE, AND THE CITY HAS EXPANDED HUGELY, BUT IT’S STILL EASY TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN THE TWO SIDES.

#3 RELIGION SPRING/SUMMER 2012

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