Where's Kalighat? In Calcutta, it's home to a temple for the much-worshipped Indian goddess Kali. A fearful sight, she's a "black-skinned woman with blazing eyes" and blood dripping from her protruding tongue. Devotees give offerings to encourage her to scare away demons. As a symbol, Kali is representative of the bustling city of Calcutta in all its vibrancy and extremity, a city which Joe Roberts vividly evokes in this sensitive travel book.
Joe, wife Emma and baby son Llewelyn moved to Calcutta for five months to experience its rich intensity. What they found was a city that "despite its poverty and overcrowding" is "grand, battered and soulful". Roberts's book tells the story of their stay, of the history, art and culture of the place as well as the idiosyncrasies of the various characters they meet. A post-colonialist languor tinges the world in which they move.
Roberts, who also wrote about India in Three Quarters Of A Footprint, pulls no punches, describing the upsetting poverty that exists in this melting pot--a point of view counterbalanced by Llewelyn, who doesn't view Calcutta with western eyes and values. Punctuating the book are the Roberts family's trips around the city driven by Abdul, a friendly taxi driver. He helps them distinguish his Calcutta from the one that's the target of so many western negative judgements, and after reading this perceptive work you may be able to distinguish it too. --Anna Hornsey
"Roberts is a fine writer and his portrait of the city is recommended reading.." -- Time Out, March 8, 2000