The road to world revolution lies through Peking, Shanghai and Calcutta. — V.I. Lenin


Picnic Gardens to Esplanade,
Regent Estate to Lake Town,
Japani Gate to Salt Lake,
Golf Green to Jubilee Park,
Strand Road to Orient Row.

The city’s face is crisscrossed
with the crow’s feet, creases and wrinkles
of bus routes that change
with the hours and moods
of traffic policemen.


Minibuses, like jaded brides
decked up in maroon-and-yellow saris.

Or ramshackle tinplated contraptions,
old hags in tattered rags
moving in cacophonous lurches.

Government triple-deckers,
matronly and buxom, malodorous and red-faced
their sides plastered with posters
of Marxist trade unions.

Sleek chartered buses,
with a bare minimum of stops:
high-heeled, pink make-up,
fast girls of the night.

Calcutta’s streets have room
for everything and everyone,
a trip to suit every pocket.


The game of the name
is the name of the game.
So Harrington Street
(with the US consulate)
becomes Ho Chih Minh Avenue,
while Dharamtalla Street
turns into Lenin Avenue.
Park Street becomes Mother Teresa Road.
Minto Square is reborn
as Martyr Bhagat Singh Park.
A place by any other name . . .


On the cracked posteriors
of Calcutta’s private buses
are tattooed rhymes, aphorisms, epigraphs
to prove that life itself
is a metaphysical journey.

Bengali, Hindi, English
all jostle for space
in the signs of the times.

“hey, this road your father’s?”
“don’t follow me, you won’t get nothing!”
“friendship at home, business in bus.”
“too many worries, too little sleep.”
“don’t go around giving advice — do something instead.”
“driver’s life. new city, new wife.”
“world is stage, life is drama
man is actor, God is director.”
There is the signoff:
“see you later, pal.”
And the postmodern signoff:
“nothing to say, so I keep it . . .”


It is quite a bumpy ride
on potholed roads
and derelict streets
for Calcuttans in their trip
to world revolution.