“Was it inspiring? Yes, but in a more subtle way than I expected. When I signed up, I pictured myself exploring remote areas and coming up with trail blazing, revolutionary ideas to change my city. Did I? Well, no. Not yet anyway. Instead, I was inspired by the way uneducated, poor fishermen and farmers work harmoniously to help the environment. What inspired me is that I have the ability to do the same. A whole new, alien world exists for ME to change and for ME to improve. This experience inspired me to actually do something – and I will, as soon as an idea strikes.” – Urvi Kumbhat
Urvi’s words are the best way to describe the two-day programme that was held in Kolkata in June. In a tie-up with Times, EdBrand introduced sixty 14-17 year olds to the Kolkata they overlooked daily. With an aim to expose us to the hidden workings of our hometown, Inspiring Kolkata helped us to look at the other side of our city.
"Inspiring Kolkata taught me a wide range of things. It taught me that creativity and imagination can lie in the simplest of things. They can lie in every mind. It taught me that things truly can be 'so close yet so far' for there are many places in Kolkata which I haven't even heard of, let alone visited, despite having lived here for all sixteen years of my life so far." - Praytush More
We began our journey unsure of what the next two days would hold for us. Most of us had signed up just because our friends had, and thought it would be a good way to spend time together. With this in mind, we started our journey at Baghbazaar Jetty at 6:30 am. Still half asleep, we were all confused at being handed a paper with questions for a North Kolkata scavenger hunt on it. “If you were to visit 12 cities on a boat what would be the price you'd end up paying?” read the first question. Glancing around at our group of 4, I saw the same expression of utter bewilderment on everyone’s face. No one had any idea though we had all been brought up in Kolkata.
“The first part ‘Phase 1’ was something a child would always desire to do – A treasure/ scavenger hunt! We asked people around and they gave us the answers to our questions, which was amazing but at times misguiding. After this, during ‘Phase 2’, the clues and questions became twisted so we really had to use our heads.” – Fatima Rahman
A little ashamed, we trudged shyly towards a boat owner. He smiled at us, and started speaking fluently in Bengali.
We definitely had to interact in Bengali, which we found a little inconvenient. We soon realized that it is very important to know the local language.” – Anva Vadnagarwala
All of us were dumbfounded once again. After a painful 5 minutes translating, and pleading him to speak slowly, we finally got a legible answer. As we travelled from the Jetty all the way to Thapar House on foot, this process was repeated again and again as we did not know the answers to most questions on the scavenger hunt. Through this simple exercise, we got the opportunity to converse with people from this historic part of Kolkata and learn more about our city’s origins, traditions and heritage. From discovering photos of gentlemen who could win a 'World's Wildest Hair' competition to figuring out what has changed in Kumartuli ghat in the last 30 years, we had a chance to learn about both the eccentric and the exquisite.
“Through the scavenger hunt, I discovered the ‘new in the old’. Although places like Kumar Toli and Bowbazar are some of the oldest parts of town, I had never visited them. Thus, the trip was really exciting and new for me.” – Keshav Chowdhary
Next, we were given a task that would stretch our imaginations. We had to choose a building and personify it. For example, Beth El Synagoge. This exercise tested not only our creativity but also encouraged us to look at people and their activities from another perspective.
After an enthralling first day, we were back on Day 2 with a more optimistic view towards the programme. This time we were visiting the East Kolkata Wetlands to connect with nature and understand the economic and environmental systems that exist in this part of the city.
It was an enriching as well as enjoyable experience as we got the opportunity to actually gather some information about the people living in the interiors of East Kolkata and their lifestyle.” – Nauran Khan
Again, we were split into groups of 5 and sent off to interview the various people working around the area. Our group spoke to both a bheri owner and a fisherman. They were extremely busy and did not spend more than 15 minutes each speaking to us. We asked them candidly about their livelihoods and how they sustained themselves. The wealth of knowledge that they imparted to us was astonishing. Their lifestyles are so different from ours that we were left wondering whether we would ever be able to adopt their eco-friendly practices and way of living if we had to.
“I learned loads of stuff from this program like how fisherman utilize select waste from five star hotels and use it as feed for shrimp and fishes in the bheri. The NGO ‘SAFE’ is doing a fantastic job at the East Kolkata Wetlands trying to develop a sustainable ecosystem where there is an equilibrium between the people and the environment.” – Hanza Merchant
After interacting with the natives of the area, all sixty of us assembled and presented our findings. We were surprised to find the amount of social and environmental challenges the people of this region faced. From poverty to pollutions and overfishing, there were a lot of constraints on the locals.
“During these 2 days I got a look at the ‘real’ though not altogether pleasant Kolkata. I am happy to have undertaken this trip as I got to know more about my city and it opened up my eyes to the problems that exist in some parts of it.” – Raghav Tulshan
As this exercise ended, our brains were whirring with project ideas that we could work on to help the East Kolkata Wetlands and do something to celebrate our cities amazing history. The program sadly ended too soon, and we left more energized to make a difference to the community that we live in but were previously never aware of.