It was a year ago that I visited Calcutta. I had been there once before, a decade earlier. The sheer energy on Park Street struck me. I grew up in Delhi, a city of organized chaos and people, many people—23 million of them,in fact. So I am used to crowds, but Calcutta was different. During that week, I saw fleeting glimpses of Calcutta; it was different from where I came from. I didn’t think much about my trip later, apart from memories of Park Street and images of a fading city which for two hundred years was the capital of British India.
I moved to Montreal, and later Toronto, with Ilja. I was an immigrant now, Toronto my ‘arrival city’. Things were new and different. Gerrard Street, with its Little India, was not a place I wanted to visit—not because I didn’t like familiar sounds and smells, but because I didn’t want to feel bounded by a singular identity. Multiculturalism, ethnic neighbourhoods and city planning sparked conversations between me and my partner, colleagues and friends. Weekend explorations of the city, its neighbourhoods, parks and its alleys, informed our understanding of Toronto. A sound investment was made in sturdy bikes, and our exploration continues.
Last year we went back to Calcutta and met Ifte, as an explorer of Calcutta and one of the best people to walk around town with. As Ifte describes on Calcuttawalks, “the walk wanders through the lanes and alleys, tracing the origins and remains of varied communities that hung their boots and called Calcutta home. It’s a walk in which the participants check out why Chinese breakfast still rules Tiretta Bazar, where the Parsis are dwindling in numbers with each passing day, and how the Armenians gave the city its oldest surviving Christian church, while we pass the Anglo-Indians, the Muslims, the Marwaris, the Biharis, and many more that made Calcutta a great melting pot of diverse cultures.”
As we talked further, similarities between Toronto and Calcutta emerged: cities of neighbourhoods, trams and streetcars, Chinatowns and Jewish Synagogues. The tales of these two cities start at around the same time, and their city structure has been informed by similar influences. These cities are cities of ‘arrival.’ Their multicultural composition not only informs their spatial structure, it also sets them apart from other cities.
The Toronto section of the walk traces the history of the Toronto neighbourhoods which constituted ‘The Ward,’ and adjacent parts of the city. We will trace this history through Taddle Creek, which now lies buried. The walk starts at Church of Holy Trinity, with its battle with Eaton. It recounts the emergence of heritage conservation at Campbell House, and goes past St. Patrick Square. It peeks into the history of Harrison Pool and Baldwin Village, joins in with the sounds and chatter at Kensington-Chinatown, and ends in Alexander Park with its story of renewal. Joining the walk will be a host of speakers: Nasim Adab, Ilja Green, Parvathi Nampoothiri, Shamez Amlani in Toronto with Iftekhar Ahsan in Calcutta.
We invite walkers from both these cities to be equal participants as we take this walk. We encourage your questions and conversations. We might have answers to some, to others we might not. We will use social media platform to share these conversations, clips and images as we walk, and we encourage our participants to do as well.
See the walk listing: Toronto to Calcutta - A Tale of Two Cities
Twitter: @TorontoCalcutta & #TorontoCalcutta