Kolkata streets — specially the busier ones — are often veritable nightmares. To walk through them, especially at nighttime, is an adventure. One cannot be sure what will happen and from which quarter. Hair-breadth escapes from death or disaster, sudden difficulty from some unexpected encounter, it may be with a hole or uncovered manhole, or it may be with a banana skin, or with a smart pickpocket, — anything may happen to make one the hero of a drama. He may draw around him sympathetic men lending their help. But a true inhabitant of the city finds all this exciting.
Kolkata streets are ill kept and ill lighted, often death traps Sometimes one wonders whether there is any authority to look after things. The dustbins are full to overflowing and emit foul smell. The pavements are full of holes and puddles and where these are not; there are crowds of hawkers, and beggars and dogs. The hawkers until recently, encroached on and almost entirely occupied the pavements with their wares. The pedestrian is elbowed out into the streets where he runs the risk of being knocked down or run over by a car. And then the noise; one has to hear it to believe it. From morning till midnight, it goes on shrill and nerve-racking.
But when one has leisure or is in an observant mood, there may be great deal to amuse and interest. Nowhere will one see such variety of men and manners. Kolkata is a cosmopolitan city. It has been rightly said, one who has none to help, has Kolkata to call him as mine. The casual sightseer may haunt the shops or just watch the passing pageantry. Here a palmist is gambling on chance ; there a beggar is coaxing out a reluctant piece of coin, the hawker with ready wit-thrusts his wares under one’s nose; motley dresses, peculiarity of manners, idiosyncrasies of habit,- the variety is infinite and unending.
We have not mentioned the traffic that plies the streets continuously. Buses, mini buses, trams and taxis, rickshaws and handcarts, bicycles and, motorbikes and autos, they pass and re-pass all through the day. Kolkata people are familiar with all tricks of traders as well as canvassing conductors and drivers of vehicles. The din they raise, however, is deafening and is enough to get on one’s nerves.
At night, the city is unrecognizable. “All that might heart is lying still” on a rainless day, the footpaths are full of heavy-sleepers, —poor men who prefer the open air, after the day’s heavy toils, to sleep well. Now and then vehicles pass by — perhaps it is a doctor rushing to attend an urgent call. At street corners stand the watchmen with the heavy stamp of authority. The city has, as if by a magic, become silent and asleep. The spell is upon the inhabitants unavoidably.