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Grand Delusions: A Short Biography Of Kolkata

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Indrajit Hazra’s exploration of Kolkata—once Calcutta, headquarters of the Raj—goes far beyond the expected stories about a metropolis that has been mined for its clichés by a long line of writers, artists, grumblers and tellers of tall tales. He takes us to the eccentric paras (neighbourhoods) and clubs of the north and the south; past buildings crumbling silently into sp Indrajit Hazra’s exploration of Kolkata—once Calcutta, headquarters of the Raj—goes far beyond the expected stories about a metropolis that has been mined for its clichés by a long line of writers, artists, grumblers and tellers of tall tales. He takes us to the eccentric paras (neighbourhoods) and clubs of the north and the south; past buildings crumbling silently into spectacular ruins; deep inside Park Street’s iconic restaurants and watering holes; through roads choked by political rallies; to rundown cinema halls haunted by lonely men; and into the lairs of soothsayers and tantric love gurus. Part personal essay, part documentary, part cultural history, Grand Delusions is utterly distinctive and full of surprises. Both intimate and provocative, it shines new light on a great and fascinating city. ‘As someone whose formative years were spent in Kolkata, I read Indrajit Hazra’s book with keen interest—and delight. He conveys his deep knowledge of Kolkata’s history and culture with style and wit, deftly capturing the city’s glories and disenchantments, its ironies and its anxieties. The personal and the political are beautifully blended. I thought I knew Kolkata very well—now, after reading Hazra, I shall visit it afresh with new eyes, and greater understanding.’— Ramachandra Guha


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Indrajit Hazra’s exploration of Kolkata—once Calcutta, headquarters of the Raj—goes far beyond the expected stories about a metropolis that has been mined for its clichés by a long line of writers, artists, grumblers and tellers of tall tales. He takes us to the eccentric paras (neighbourhoods) and clubs of the north and the south; past buildings crumbling silently into sp Indrajit Hazra’s exploration of Kolkata—once Calcutta, headquarters of the Raj—goes far beyond the expected stories about a metropolis that has been mined for its clichés by a long line of writers, artists, grumblers and tellers of tall tales. He takes us to the eccentric paras (neighbourhoods) and clubs of the north and the south; past buildings crumbling silently into spectacular ruins; deep inside Park Street’s iconic restaurants and watering holes; through roads choked by political rallies; to rundown cinema halls haunted by lonely men; and into the lairs of soothsayers and tantric love gurus. Part personal essay, part documentary, part cultural history, Grand Delusions is utterly distinctive and full of surprises. Both intimate and provocative, it shines new light on a great and fascinating city. ‘As someone whose formative years were spent in Kolkata, I read Indrajit Hazra’s book with keen interest—and delight. He conveys his deep knowledge of Kolkata’s history and culture with style and wit, deftly capturing the city’s glories and disenchantments, its ironies and its anxieties. The personal and the political are beautifully blended. I thought I knew Kolkata very well—now, after reading Hazra, I shall visit it afresh with new eyes, and greater understanding.’— Ramachandra Guha

30 review for Grand Delusions: A Short Biography Of Kolkata

  1. 5 out of 5

    Pallavi Kamat

    I happened to pick up this book purely by accident while browsing one of the online websites. And I am glad I did. Kolkata is one of those old, charming cities which its inhabitants seem to adore completely, despite the traffic & the pollution. To me, Kolkata conjures up images of the Hooghly bridge and Durga Puja, of the underground metro and the tram, of sandesh and puchkas. Indrajit Hazra has captured all this and more beautifully in his ode to the lovely city. Hazra discusses the intricacies I happened to pick up this book purely by accident while browsing one of the online websites. And I am glad I did. Kolkata is one of those old, charming cities which its inhabitants seem to adore completely, despite the traffic & the pollution. To me, Kolkata conjures up images of the Hooghly bridge and Durga Puja, of the underground metro and the tram, of sandesh and puchkas. Indrajit Hazra has captured all this and more beautifully in his ode to the lovely city. Hazra discusses the intricacies of the geographical spread of the city (North vs. South), the political scenario – past & present [including the Naxalbari movement], the movie industry, the bookstores & eateries on Park Street and the different communities co-existing peacefully in the city [prominently, the Marwaris who migrated from Rajasthan to Bengal in the 17th century to trade in cotton, opium, salt, cloth and indigo]. Hazra has lived away from Kolkata for the last 15 years. He says he is one of the best people to write a book on the city because “After all, you don't see the Mona Lisa from inside the frame; you have to stand in front of it.” There are quite a few nuggets of information liberally spread out across the book. For instance, I learnt that the Calcutta Club on Lower Circular Road changed its rules to allow women members only in 2007. The book is an easy read and, at 145 pages, a quick one. The author's writing style is free-flowing & informal. Since the book speaks about different topics, it is not necessary for one to read it from start to end. Read the book for a different take on the city – a take of an insider, who's now an outsider. And the cover of the book (by Turmeric Design) is stunning - really captures the essence of the city. On my first, and so far only, visit to Kolkata in March-2010, I took time out to visit the Victoria Memorial, the Howrah Bridge and Flury's – all of which find mention in the book. I also took a tram ride and visited the oldest banyan tree in the world. Though the book may not be intended as one but you can also use it as a travel guide, bookmarking sights & activities that you may wish to tick off when you visit the city. This review first appeared on my blog www.pallosworld.blogspot.com.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Athena

    I have read countless articles and books on my city, both by renowned authors as well as friends and acquaintances. Respect is due to them to be able to pen down words that try to capture Kolkata. I am sure I will never be able to pay homage to the place that has been home for over two decades. I will just never find the apt words, hence I shall never try. Hazra's short biography is just that, short. I can fully understand the trepidation he must have felt, just trying to fit in decades and centu I have read countless articles and books on my city, both by renowned authors as well as friends and acquaintances. Respect is due to them to be able to pen down words that try to capture Kolkata. I am sure I will never be able to pay homage to the place that has been home for over two decades. I will just never find the apt words, hence I shall never try. Hazra's short biography is just that, short. I can fully understand the trepidation he must have felt, just trying to fit in decades and centuries into 150 odd pages. I identify with his vision of Kolkata. His sense of nostalgia is like mine...beloved but from a distance; fiercely possessive but will never commit. Living away from the city, I know how Hazra must feel.I am not one of those who will sing Kolkata's praises and put her on the highest pedestal. She is as human and flawed as I am. And I love her to bits. Hazra walks you through the city without rose-tinted glasses and it feels so real. Though he is perhaps a little more inclined to North Kolkata specifically. But that is forgiven....one's 'para' definitely will feature in the limelight. It is inevitable. And of course, I am yet to understand Hazra's political stand, but that is hardly relevant. Special gratitude to Hazra for mentioning Skyroom...long forgotten but awakened in me memories that are priceless. I have felt, smelt and seen my beloved city in these pages and I am grateful. Perhaps now I can go back to forgetting her...just so the next time we meet, she will again bedazzle me. "It's a fun that no other city will fathom. It's a happiness that those who once lived in Kolkata are almost relieved to forget."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Divakar KS

    I got this book ahead of my trip to Kolkata and this really has opened up my thought process about the city that I have been asking lot of questions to my friends from Kolkata over the past week. As it says, this is a 'short' biography of the city and thus it gives a gist about the city's past and present. The writer covers the political history of the place more than anything else. Would have loved more detail on the places he has written about but may be that wasn't the intent behind the short I got this book ahead of my trip to Kolkata and this really has opened up my thought process about the city that I have been asking lot of questions to my friends from Kolkata over the past week. As it says, this is a 'short' biography of the city and thus it gives a gist about the city's past and present. The writer covers the political history of the place more than anything else. Would have loved more detail on the places he has written about but may be that wasn't the intent behind the short biography. A good read, nevertheless!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sairam Krishnan

    Disappointed with this one, even if only because I am a fan of this series and some of them are so good. The writing veers from passable to sometimes just bad. Which is not to say that it doesn't have value or is unreadable; it just thinks of itself a little more than it should.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Preeti

    What I enjoyed the most about this book was the constant crisscrossing of timelines- past and present, and narrated so seamlessly. The author has picked up the other idiosyncracies of my city like the sun revolves around the earth graffiti, or the plethora of astrologers as well as the interesting parallel between the communists and Mother Teresa. A most enjoyable read!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nidhi

    writing about Calcutta is always fraught with clichés and an overriding sense of loss and remembrance of things past but this book is refreshingly devoid of those trappings, bringing the city alive to those of us whose relationship with it has been, for better or for worse, mediated through shared memories.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Plumpernickel

    I read Indrajit Hazra’s “Grand Delusions” few days ago. Indrajit Hazra is a journalist and columnist and I read his exceedingly well-written columns regularly. He also happens to be my sister’s friend’s (also our neighbor) cousin and we would gawk at him when he would visit very occasionally as if he was a rockstar, and he looked the part being tall, dark and handsome and cultivating a long, shaggy hairstyle at that time (later 90s). However, I digress. This book is a book about Calcutta (old na I read Indrajit Hazra’s “Grand Delusions” few days ago. Indrajit Hazra is a journalist and columnist and I read his exceedingly well-written columns regularly. He also happens to be my sister’s friend’s (also our neighbor) cousin and we would gawk at him when he would visit very occasionally as if he was a rockstar, and he looked the part being tall, dark and handsome and cultivating a long, shaggy hairstyle at that time (later 90s). However, I digress. This book is a book about Calcutta (old name)or Kolkata (new name). It lovingly explains everything that is the essence of Calcutta: architecture, food, politics, sports and most importantly Durga Puja (the most important festival of Bengal, similar to Rio’s carnival, only more conservative and ritualistic). The author explains very aptly how the degeneration of Calcutta came about, thanks to the long ruling communist state government and how the current state government came into power. The book also succinctly explains how Calcutta came to exist and beautifully details North Calcutta and how it is different from the pretentious babu log (masters) South Calcutta. The author is able to be objective about this beautiful, crumbling city we have made our home, because it is no longer his home. From a distance, things appear clearer and not being from South Calcutta, he is not obligated to make googly eyes at anyone in the city. I am very glad I bought a hard cover version of this book, because I plan to read it over and over again. I thoroughly recommend this book to people who want to understand and decode Calcutta or who like to know more about other cities and countries. I would make it mandatory reading for all diplomats posted to Calcutta or for people visiting Kolkata for short assignments. Friends and family, hit me up for copies! P.S. isn’t the cover mind blowingly beautiful?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dhruv Bhandula

    Of all the books I have read from the City Series by Aleph Company, this has to be the best of the lot so far. Mind you I have still not read the books on Bangalore, Chennai and Patna so this can be a premature declaration on my part. But considering the cities I have spent a considerable amount of time in (others being Delhi and Mumbai), I loved the description of Kolkata the most. The author has sticked to the vibrant culture of the city and has not commented too much on the politics of the ci Of all the books I have read from the City Series by Aleph Company, this has to be the best of the lot so far. Mind you I have still not read the books on Bangalore, Chennai and Patna so this can be a premature declaration on my part. But considering the cities I have spent a considerable amount of time in (others being Delhi and Mumbai), I loved the description of Kolkata the most. The author has sticked to the vibrant culture of the city and has not commented too much on the politics of the city (barred from couple of incidents like Partition riots and Naxalbari incidents). That's what makes this book more enjoyable than the ones on Delhi and Mumbai which had too much politics for my liking. Kolkata is a city where I spent the most amazing 2 years (or rather a year and a half) of my life. However, I missed out so much of the city busy with the hub-dub of studies, projects, job interviews etc etc. So this book reminds me of so much that the city has to offer which I had missed during my time there and also acts like a call from the city to me to give it another visit and complete what I missed out the last time. Hopefully, I would get a chance to see this wonderful city and visit my alma mater again in the nearby future. Thankfully, this time I will have a nice guide with me telling me which places to lookout there.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Simran Sharma (Craartology)

    Indrajit Hazra's, "Grand Delusions" is an honest and brazen narration of Kolkata. The short biography gives details about Kolkata being overshadowed by "culture" which grandly diluted entrepreneurial ventures in the city and state alike. He writes about the delusional attitude of thriving with its culture and heritage crown, solely. The communist political ideology, unrest, anti-industrial mindset and multiple other factors define the city and the state in this book. He writes about the origin of Indrajit Hazra's, "Grand Delusions" is an honest and brazen narration of Kolkata. The short biography gives details about Kolkata being overshadowed by "culture" which grandly diluted entrepreneurial ventures in the city and state alike. He writes about the delusional attitude of thriving with its culture and heritage crown, solely. The communist political ideology, unrest, anti-industrial mindset and multiple other factors define the city and the state in this book. He writes about the origin of the city from its name to its present state in a sharp and provocative tone showing the city it's real position using impressive analogies. The city's love for "mishti" or sweets, the contributions of the Marwari community in shaping the city, the Durga Pujo and every facet that gives the city it's identity is presented in rapt and intrepid style. The author's keen observations of the trivial and the worthy make bring a balance to the contents the reader is offered. In a small power-packed book a lot is learnt in an impartial yet nostalgic read. It's a 4⭐/5 book, as I haven't come across any narration as honest, unbiased and interesting than this one, make sure you read it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Malvika

    My love for Kolkata is borderline obsessive, so one can guess how excited I was to read Grand Delusions. Indrajit Hazra touches upon several aspects of the city - from politics to Park Street, cinema to cuisine. While he does state that his is a biased take on the city he was born and raised in, he doesn't do sufficient justice to the City of Joy even with his biased viewpoint. What do I wish the book talked more about? Its residents. More than Kolkata, I am fascinated with the people that make My love for Kolkata is borderline obsessive, so one can guess how excited I was to read Grand Delusions. Indrajit Hazra touches upon several aspects of the city - from politics to Park Street, cinema to cuisine. While he does state that his is a biased take on the city he was born and raised in, he doesn't do sufficient justice to the City of Joy even with his biased viewpoint. What do I wish the book talked more about? Its residents. More than Kolkata, I am fascinated with the people that make this city one of the most fascinating cities in India, if not the world. With his easygoing, well-researched writing style, and also one that relies on imagery, Indrajit Hazra could have certainly brought more to the book. Nonetheless, it was an interesting read, one that is enough for me to book my tickets to Kolkata and experience the city like I've been doing in my dreams forever.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Prithu

    The subtitle of this book reads "a short biography of Kolkata". Hence, we know what to expect. Though the book can't claim that it delivers exactly what it promises. Instead, it goes on to provide a few quirky sketches, coloured with the personal experience of its author. The book showcases two quotations on the very first page under its cover. one is an extract from 'Jam', a poem by renowned Bengali poet Sankha Ghosh and the other one, a Latin title of a painting by Clovis Trouille on which the The subtitle of this book reads "a short biography of Kolkata". Hence, we know what to expect. Though the book can't claim that it delivers exactly what it promises. Instead, it goes on to provide a few quirky sketches, coloured with the personal experience of its author. The book showcases two quotations on the very first page under its cover. one is an extract from 'Jam', a poem by renowned Bengali poet Sankha Ghosh and the other one, a Latin title of a painting by Clovis Trouille on which the title of the musical 'Oh! Calcutta' is based. The second quote notoriously translates as "What an arse you have!" There are 13 chapters altogether, excluding the notes and the acknowledgement. Each section throws some light on certain aspect of the city. For those readers who enjoy light hearted paced reads, this book is a treat.

  12. 4 out of 5

    V.K. Dadhich

    What made me buy the book - the tag line of the book What I liked about the book - the strange sense of familiarity with which the writer tours us around Kolkata, making us feel like we are revisiting our home town, when in fact, it is a town as alien as Area 51 Who will I recommend the book to - any non Bengali who'd like to know this heritage city, and to every Bengali who'd like to revive the mired memories What did the book teach me - revisiting our roots isn't that bland as I thought #OBAAT One What made me buy the book - the tag line of the book What I liked about the book - the strange sense of familiarity with which the writer tours us around Kolkata, making us feel like we are revisiting our home town, when in fact, it is a town as alien as Area 51 Who will I recommend the book to - any non Bengali who'd like to know this heritage city, and to every Bengali who'd like to revive the mired memories What did the book teach me - revisiting our roots isn't that bland as I thought #OBAAT One Book At A Time

  13. 5 out of 5

    SUMIT MATHUR

    Calcutta, explained by an emigre Nicely written, giving an overview of the "City of Joy" from a different perspective. Covering various issues e.g. Howrah Bridge, Durga Pooja etc. which needs attention from different stratas of society. A vocabulary builder indeed. Will wait for another of your non- fiction. Best Wishes Indrajit Hazra.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Akshaj

    Would have given it 5 stars, if the book weren’t obsessed with being anti-communist.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paras Singh

    Exceptionally truthful To write about the way Indrajit has written about ones hometown where he has captured not only the beauty but also the ugliness is remarkable.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Janhavi

    3.5/5 stars

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

    I'm glad I read this book. It was slow going in many places, due to my lack of contextual understanding (culture, political figures, etc), and certain working vocabulary which would make it smoother. But I think it was worth the journey. Well-written and definitely a detailed view into a city and the complicated relationship that can only be had by someone who has loved it, hated it, left it, and returned to it as a visitor. I think I'll need to read this again at least once to get the depth of I'm glad I read this book. It was slow going in many places, due to my lack of contextual understanding (culture, political figures, etc), and certain working vocabulary which would make it smoother. But I think it was worth the journey. Well-written and definitely a detailed view into a city and the complicated relationship that can only be had by someone who has loved it, hated it, left it, and returned to it as a visitor. I think I'll need to read this again at least once to get the depth of it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sukanto

    Delusions is probably the best word to describe the Kolkata of today, or Calcutta of yesterday that lives on today. I wasn't born here. But I grew up here. And I may not have seen the city 'grow' with me, but try to, at least. I say 'try' because having lived and studied in other cities of the country, there's still some way off between the try and actual growth. It is trying and yet there are things holding it back: be it's politics or it's so-called 'culture.' And I don't say this merely to lo Delusions is probably the best word to describe the Kolkata of today, or Calcutta of yesterday that lives on today. I wasn't born here. But I grew up here. And I may not have seen the city 'grow' with me, but try to, at least. I say 'try' because having lived and studied in other cities of the country, there's still some way off between the try and actual growth. It is trying and yet there are things holding it back: be it's politics or it's so-called 'culture.' And I don't say this merely to look like some high-brow critic, but because this I believe, is probably what Hazra felt while penning down his thoughts about Kolkata as well. Bittersweet feelings that just stay with you, the "pride and anger in Kolkata " that the author talks about. With choicest metaphors that give his narration a grand comic relief to Grand Delusions.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anal Ghosh

    This book provides a dollop of nostalgia for all those Bengalis who have left Kolkata for greener pastures, but have a part of their hearts firmly rooted in the city. The narrative is tempered by the author's personal experiences as he grew up in the city across North and South, and that's the distinct divide with which he starts. All the other typical highlights get covered in the subsequent chapters - the advent of Marwaris, the colonial mansions, food and vintage joints, load-sheddings, the c This book provides a dollop of nostalgia for all those Bengalis who have left Kolkata for greener pastures, but have a part of their hearts firmly rooted in the city. The narrative is tempered by the author's personal experiences as he grew up in the city across North and South, and that's the distinct divide with which he starts. All the other typical highlights get covered in the subsequent chapters - the advent of Marwaris, the colonial mansions, food and vintage joints, load-sheddings, the communist rule, Didi, Pujo, the love for arts and the iconic bridge. The writing stye is pretty casual, however, and the coverage of the content quite superficial. At just ~150 pages, it serves as a great coffee table book but hardly a literary masterpiece.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sayantan Ghosh

    The best thing about this book is that whether you are an outsider getting a glimpse of the chimeric, antediluvian city of Calcutta, or an insider like me who is in complete or partial disagreement with Indrajit Hazra's sometimes time-warped viewpoints, either way you'll enjoy tearing through its pages with guiltless pleasure. Calcutta has let many down over the years, many like me have left. Yet it has and will always be home. And like most homes, its walls may have tainted with time but it is The best thing about this book is that whether you are an outsider getting a glimpse of the chimeric, antediluvian city of Calcutta, or an insider like me who is in complete or partial disagreement with Indrajit Hazra's sometimes time-warped viewpoints, either way you'll enjoy tearing through its pages with guiltless pleasure. Calcutta has let many down over the years, many like me have left. Yet it has and will always be home. And like most homes, its walls may have tainted with time but it is still the place where we learnt to walk, talk, raise a voice in anger, or sought for a corner in pain. And there it has never disappointed.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ravi Jain

    Full review on BookGeeks Indrajit’s book is neither a boring glorification of the city he loves like Edward Glaeser’s ‘Triumph of the City’ about Tokyo, nor is it a disgruntled citizen’s attempt to insult a city like Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’ about Mumbai. It falls somewhere in between these two extremes; a book which tells us why, in spite of all its faults, Kolkata is a great city, a city with a soul. ‘Grand Delusions’ is Indrajit’s remedy to his homesickness. Full review on BookGeeks Indrajit’s book is neither a boring glorification of the city he loves like Edward Glaeser’s ‘Triumph of the City’ about Tokyo, nor is it a disgruntled citizen’s attempt to insult a city like Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’ about Mumbai. It falls somewhere in between these two extremes; a book which tells us why, in spite of all its faults, Kolkata is a great city, a city with a soul. ‘Grand Delusions’ is Indrajit’s remedy to his homesickness.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Saikat Baksi

    The language is superb. Once you begin to read, you can not stop until the final word. But... but...but... What is the book about? Kolkata? That's what the series of books by Aleph claims. But strangely, the book turns out to be the biography of the author and the city takes a backseat. Now, it may not be necessary that the reader is eager to know about the author's life! Nevertheless, there is a pace in the book even if the major part of the book is pointless!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Raghav

    Exactly what the title suggest, "A short biography of Kolkata" is a great introduction to the city and captures all its elements from history, architecture, people, to what makes the city known all over the world. A great addition to the ongoing series of books, highly recommended if you plan on traveling to Kolkata, have ever lived there, or are just interested in India.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Indraneel

    A personal take by a "Probashi" ex-(north) #Kolkata author on the city that he grew up in and now watches from a distance or on visits. As a contemporary, having lived and left the city at a similar time, the book does touch a chord. It evokes contrasting emotions, alternatively delightful and frustrating as the subject itself. Worth a read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Saikat Baksi

    It is an excellent read. The book takes the reader along like a sweeping wave. Yet, I shall not rate the book very high because it turned out to be more like the author's biographical sketch than that of the city!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kareena Gianani

    My review and author interview on the book: http://www.mid-day.com/lifestyle/2014... My review and author interview on the book: http://www.mid-day.com/lifestyle/2014...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Debarun

    Written for the outsiders who will never understand jackshit anyway with their rather odd fetish of Calcutta. Moneygrab for Aleph and Hazra. Nothing you can't know from the Internet.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sumanta

  29. 5 out of 5

    Archita

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tanwir Mir

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