Rajib De

For most the Howrah Bridge is just another means to connect Calcutta and Howrah, but for some life revolves around it. Be it a flower market or akhara (Indian gyms), industries have flourished for ages around this monument. Traffic snarls, poor children, grime… It's easy to find faults and criticize. But every city has its demerits. Doesn't New York have graffiti plastered on its walls? Is London's East End picture perfect? One cannot fall in love and appreciate the marvel of engineering which is Howrah Bridge unless you meet the people living around it.
Once called the Pontoon Bridge, it used to accommodate more of cattle than vehicles. There are stories of small time businessmen from villages walking down to Calcutta in search of a better life and ending up owning huge amounts of property. It was only in 1937 that the construction of one of the finest cantilever bridges in the world began. Times have changed and the bridge's younger companion ~ Vidyasagar Setu ~ is frequently travelled. But Howrah Bridge has stood the tests of time and remains a landmark down which more people and cars ply than similar bridges like Sydney Harbor Bridge.
To capture life around Howrah Bridge is not an easy task. One day you find a flower seller, the next day you will find him replaced by a toy seller. The bridge accommodates all, be it a person selling a "cure" for piles or for cold and cough. From masseurs to prostitutes, from cobblers to astrologers, every one has a place near the bridge. All you have to do is travel from Howrah to Calcutta often. These are people who are always suspicious, always disinterested in promoting ones self. It's the lure of customers and money that draw them to the bridge. Photographing them is like trying to follow a moth.
Romance, as most of us know it, doesn't exist among those settled here. Earning a few hundred barely make ends meet. With garbage dumps here and there, hygiene is not a thought that bothers many. But all they can hope for is a brighter tomorrow. It's easy to glorify our past but quite difficult to appreciate it from within for what it's worth and, most importantly, cling to it.