“Calcutta: Two Years in the City” by Amit Chaudhuri: A Personal Odyssey Through the Heart of Kolkata


“Amit Chaudhuri’s “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” offers readers a deeply personal and introspective exploration of Kolkata, the vibrant metropolis that has captivated generations of poets, writers, and artists. Through a series of essays, Chaudhuri invites readers to accompany him on a journey through the streets, neighborhoods, and cultural landmarks of Kolkata, offering glimpses into the city’s rich tapestry of history, culture, and everyday life. With his lyrical prose and keen insights, Chaudhuri paints a vivid portrait of Kolkata, revealing its complexities, contradictions, and enduring allure.


“Calcutta: Two Years in the City” is a collection of essays that chronicles Chaudhuri’s experiences and observations during his two-year stay in Kolkata. Divided into thematic sections, the book offers a multifaceted exploration of the city and its inhabitants. From intimate reflections on family, memory, and identity to insightful analyses of Kolkata’s literary, artistic, and political landscapes, Chaudhuri offers readers a panoramic view of Kolkata, revealing its hidden gems and lesser-known corners.

Central Themes:

  1. Urban Landscape: One of the central themes of “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” is the urban landscape of Kolkata, with its labyrinthine streets, bustling markets, and iconic landmarks. Chaudhuri takes readers on a sensory journey through the city, evoking its sights, sounds, and smells with vivid imagery and lyrical prose. He explores Kolkata’s rich architectural heritage, from its colonial-era buildings to its vibrant street art and graffiti, and reflects on the ways in which the city’s physical environment shapes the lives and experiences of its inhabitants.
  2. Cultural Heritage: Chaudhuri celebrates Kolkata’s rich cultural heritage, which spans centuries of history and tradition. He delves into Kolkata’s literary legacy, paying homage to the city’s literary giants such as Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. He also explores Kolkata’s thriving artistic scene, from its traditional crafts and folk traditions to its contemporary art galleries and experimental theater groups. Through his essays, Chaudhuri highlights the ways in which Kolkata’s cultural heritage continues to inspire and influence artists, writers, and thinkers today.
  3. Social Dynamics: “Calcutta: Two Years in the City” offers insights into Kolkata’s social dynamics, from its vibrant street life to its complex social hierarchies and inequalities. Chaudhuri reflects on the ways in which class, caste, and gender intersect in the city, shaping individuals’ experiences and opportunities. He also examines Kolkata’s political landscape, from its history of leftist activism to its struggles with corruption and governance.
  4. Personal Reflections: Interspersed throughout the book are Chaudhuri’s personal reflections on his own experiences and memories of Kolkata. He shares anecdotes from his childhood visits to the city, as well as his encounters with Kolkata’s diverse inhabitants during his two-year stay. Through these intimate glimpses into his own life, Chaudhuri offers readers a deeper understanding of the emotional and psychological dimensions of Kolkata’s allure.

Impact and Legacy:

“Calcutta: Two Years in the City” has had a profound impact on readers, both within India and beyond. Chaudhuri’s evocative portrayal of Kolkata has inspired countless travelers, scholars, and artists to explore the city’s rich cultural heritage and to engage with its complex social and political dynamics. The book has also sparked important conversations about Kolkata’s identity, history, and future, as residents and visitors alike grapple with the challenges and opportunities of urban life in the twenty-first century.


In “Calcutta: Two Years in the City,” Amit Chaudhuri offers readers a lyrical and introspective journey through the heart of Kolkata. Through his evocative prose and keen insights, Chaudhuri captures the essence of Kolkata, revealing its complexities, contradictions, and enduring allure. As we reflect on the legacy of Chaudhuri’s work, we are reminded of the power of literature to illuminate the human experience and to forge connections across time, space, and culture.

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