Kolkata, now, or Calcutta, then, is one of those cities on majority of the Indians' list of places to travel to, to get to know our country better. And rightly so, for this is a juxtaposition of our colonial past and a strictly Bengali culture. So needless to say, Kolkata receives hordes of travellers every month. Speaking of travelers from abroad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Goa are a popular staple (give or take a city or two). The logic being, Kolkata has something to tell about India. But Kolkata is an acquired taste and that is what I'd like to discuss.
1. Here for the heritage:
We associate Kolkata mainly with the British but hey, it did have a culture before the British made it their port. What a contemporary traveler would see, is years before the British, years of the British and after it (the cosmopolitanism). So Kolkata is a guaranteed culture shock. A lot of the past has been preserved which gives the city a bit of a ghostly feel when the traffic dies down but don't be fooled, it is NOT a dead city.
2) Where are the Bengalis?
A common surprise would be to see that the city actually has very few Bengalis. It is a mixed bag between a lot of different communities and unlike the past where the Bengalis were dominant, it is not so now. The city has a little room for everyone; so when you're disgusted with the poverty, think of it as the city providing a haven for everyone who comes to her.
We have a strong community of hawkers here but unlike other South Asian countries where they have laws to maintain them, we don't. But they keep springing and form a very important part of the culture and something we have grown up seeing. Don't look down upon it for they keep the streets lively.
4. Bangla jaani na (I don't know Bengali)
Oh we Bengalis love our English and for the past few years, we love our Hindi too. Language, really, is no barrier here.
Bengalis absolutely love their food. In a way, you could say that we're a people that's obsessed with food. One has to make a choice between keeping up high-classery or getting to the streets and trying out all that's on offer. You cannot have puchka with mineral water, it just doesn't work that way. Bengali cuisine is the obvious choice but Kolkata is also known for its Chinese population so make sure you add that to your list.
As a parting note, I'd like to stress on how important it is to accept what the city is offering. She is such a generous host and always has been but it is always the traveller's decision to feel her warmth. And once you have, you'll know that Bengalis are a giving lot who absolutely enjoy showering affection and making everyone feel at home.