One river to bind them all
In cities like Calcutta or Paris, the river is the precious that brings together the livelihoods and lifestyles of the people of the city. There is no denying the differences of course. In Calcutta, Ganges river is wide. Wide enough that on a regular traffic clogging business day, crossing one of the two bridges can take an hour or more. For many in Calcutta, the river is everything. They live in small precariously placed shacks along the riverside, cooking on crude stoves, bathing, urinating, defecating in the river, making a living off odd jobs by the riverside. Every once in a while the city police comes by and tears down the shacks and the cycle starts up all over again. For other Calcuttans, the riverside is a sanctuary from the hot and muggy interiors of the city. Often in the evening, when the rays of setting sun make the silt laden water look like gold, the Bengali babus can seen heatedly debating politics and cricket accompanied with roasted peanuts and hot chai. The local train line is just by the banks so every once in a while the toot of the train pierces the surrounding noise and the din. Is it just the mugginess that makes everything feel slow even in that throng of moving bodies? Large ferry and cargo boats crawl past without attracting attention. Tiny little picturesque boats offer rides to young lovers who can perhaps steal a kiss away from the throng of hawkers and gawkers. Nothing spectacular but nevertheless stunning.
Paris, by Seine, on the other hand is spectacular. Walking by, you can be impressed by the glorious Notre Dame or be dwarfed by Eiffel tower. River is narrow. In places the other bank is only a stone’s throw away. Bridges, nay the Ponts, are by the dozen. A child would be tempted to run across back and forth, back and forth. Numerous motorized riverboats gladly take a handful of euros to offer gawking tourists a chance to be gleeful. There are hawkers selling geegaws – eiffel tower on a keychain, eiffel tower on a T-shirt, eiffel tower on a mug. There are artisan markets by the river that sell foie gras or pate or cider or jams. Parisians are often seen walking their perfectly manicured lapdogs. The spotlessly maintained cafes by the river are busy serving wine and quiche or cafe and croissant. And yes, young lovers by the banks – sitting together with longing in their eyes. Their long kisses, and deep sighs make you want to fall in love again. While the riverside is far quieter in Paris than it is in Calcutta, the pace of life here feels much faster. Perhaps because I am a tourist in Paris in a hurry to pack it all in a few days.