Like in every other Indian city, the streets of Kolkata are a crazy barrage of deafening car horns, dust, dirt, hundreds of people and every kind of vehicle. Kolkata has a delightfully cosmopolitan feel, there are people here from all over India, South and Southeast Asia, mingling with a few Westerners like me. Consequentially the street food is excellent, a mix of yummy Bengali snacks like rolled up flatbread holding fried vegetables and egg, plus fried noodle dishes from Tibet and Burma, and influences from as far away as Punjab and Pakistan.
This is a classic developing city with a mishmash of old and new side by side. Modern office blocks beside crumbling colonial buildings fronted by makeshift hovels and, at their base, the sleeping forms of the destitute. The streets are mostly tarmacked here, but lack of planning means that the pavements are crowded with dangerous obstacles. Piped water supply is poor and even smart restaurants frequently have to rely on street pumps. Those living and working on the streets drink and wash in this water.
The lowest strata of society here, those selling fruit, pulling hand-rickshaws, manual labourers and so on are mostly illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They come across the nearby porous border to seek their fortunes and to escape devastating floods and other environmental hardship.
We tried to show a picture of what it’s like here in the video below, but it’s a bit of a rough attempt (again). Bear with us as we try to get it right!