(Last Updated on : 07-03-2011)
Kalikata Kamalalay is one of the earliest prose pieces in Bengali literature
dedicated to Kolkata
. Literally translating into 'Kolkata Abode of Lakshmi', the Kalikata Kamalalay is a mix of various contrasting narrative features that defies literary categories. The text of the Kalikata Kamalalay is a little longer than forty pages. It is a fragment, consisting of a short introduction, a simile and only the first of four announced Tarangas, waves. The introduction describes the text as a guide for migrants from the villages in the shape of a dialogue between a city dweller and a villager. The simile is a very interesting symbolic representation of the city. In it, the city is compared to the ocean: both are 'abodes of Lakshmi'. The ocean contains undrinkable water, Kolkata is filled with money. Whereas the water leaves the ocean during the monsoon and comes back through rivers, the money leaves Kolkata at the time of big jobs/sacrifices (Brhat Karmakale) and flows back into the city through 'currency streams' (Mudranadi). The ocean was stirred in the battle between the Devas and Asuras; Kolkata was stirred in the battle between the English and the Nawabs. Sharks and crocodiles are present in both-in Kolkata this refers to the fault-finders and ignorants; and lastly, there are waves on both, caused in Kolkata by the delusion from money.
In the dialogue of the first Taranga, a villager seeks advice about urban ways of life. The city dweller has objections first and gives five reasons why the villagers should not come to Kolkata. But, impressed by the eloquent speech of the villager, often interspersed with Shlokas, the city-dweller agrees to answer his questions. He first classifies Bhadraloks and their Achar, behavior, in matters such as eating, washing, prayers, social obligations etc. When asked whether people in the city only run after their pleasures, the city dweller points at the good pay for Brahmins in big ceremonies, indicating that the rites do not vanish and Sanskrit is still in use. The villager objects by giving a long list of foreign words used in urban speech; the city-dweller counters with a list of indispensable foreign words without Bengali or Sanskrit equivalents and states that there is nothing wrong in using foreign words as long as such use is limited to business affairs and does not affect the ritual sphere. Next, there is a description of a kind of patronage system by which the rich maintain pundits, and a long discussion of the problems of guarding one's reputation in the city. A further topic is the various societies and associations and their compatibility with the caste system. Then discussion moves to education and books. The last theme of the discussion is flatterers, whose ways are again explained in terms of a patronage system.
The prose of the text is stable, Sanskritised Sadhu Bhasha. Punctuation, however, is almost absent. The only punctuation mark used with a certain amount of consistency at least to finish paragraphs and passages of direct speech is the dart, single and double. Commas are few and used very arbitrarily. With regard to syntax, there are found to be complex sentences with most of the participle clause connections common in later standard Bengali; the number of conjunctions in use appears few, but all the current additive conjunctions (ar, o, ebarri) are there, which indicates the influence of Persian and English formerly absent. Sanskrit syntactical markers are common.
It is difficult to assign Kalikata Kamalalay to any existing genre. The text appears on a Tabula Rasa, and cannot be linked to the Charita as the Babu narrations. In Kalikata Kamalalay, Bhabanicharan draws mainly on primary genres: oral communication in the form of learned discussions and, more specifically, Upadesha, formal advice/ instruction, a primary genre which in fact has always been an important parr in pre-modern Indian secondary genres. Another feature inherited from traditional Indian texts is the Mangala-Charan, invocation. The colonial, multicultural city of Kolkata does not come into view in the work. Features of city life that are positively treated are the problems of migration into the city; urban social structure explained in terms of a patronage system; and the lack of transparency. Kalikata Kamalalaya's not as obviously comical and satirical as the other Nakshas. The main significance of Kalikata Kamalalay is in its involuntary, non-verbal message. The author's specific intention remains in the dark, but his general intention was most probably to create order in the perception of urban life.