Kolkata - The 'City of Joy'

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Kolkata is known as the ‘City of Joy‘; we all know that, right? But do we know the actual reasons behind this and from where this name came?

Okay, first, let me give you a shock, The ‘City of Joy‘ was not the nickname of Kolkata; this nickname came from Howrah originally! Well, let’s get back into our main discussion. 

The “City of Joy” is a novel; written by Dominique Lapierre, a French author, in 1985. The original name of this book is  La Cité de la Joie, translated by Kathryn Spink. At that time, India was under the “British Raj”; Kolkata was the Ëconomical Capital of India. Poor people, who lived in Kolkata during that period, had no right to say or do anything without the permission of “Babu(s)“. The base of the novel is on this or you can say the main plot is about this.

City of Joy Novel

There are three main characters in the novel. 

The first one is a young Polish priest, Father Stephan Kovalski (a French priest named Paul Lambert in the original French version). Father Stephan joins a religious order whose vows put them in the most hellish places on earth. He chooses not only to serve the poorest of the poor in Calcutta but also to live with them, starve with them, and if God wills it, die with them. In the journey of Kovalski‘s acceptance as the Big Brother for the slum inhabitants, he encounters moments of everyday miracles amid appalling poverty and ignorance. The slum inhabitants are ignored and abused by the wider society and the authorities in power but are not without their prejudices. These become evident by their attitude towards the lepers and the continuation of the caste system. 

The second one is Harish Pal, a rickshaw puller. The story reveals how farmer Hasari Pal came to Calcutta (Kolkata) with his family after a drought wipes out the farming village where his family had lived for many years. He became a “rickshaw-wala” to feed his family. 

The third main character is a wealthy American doctor, Max Loeb, who had just finished medical school and wanted to do something with purpose before starting his practice with rich people.

The book is not only about the separation of the rich from the poor, but also about the different levels of poverty, caste division, and the differences of many religions living side by side in the slums. It also touches on Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity. The ups and downs of the book are both beautiful and terrifying, the feeling of peace as a whole and the story of good health is over. Despite starvation, a miserable life, illness, bone-breaking work (or no work at all), and death, people still hold on to the belief that life is precious and worth living, so they named their slum Ananda Nagar, which means the “City of Joy“.

The author stated that the characters of the story in the book are true and that he uses many real names in his book. However, the book is considered fictional because many conversations and actions are assumed or created. 

The author and his wife had traveled to India many times, sometimes staying with friends in the “City of Joy”. Half of the royalties from the sale of books go to the City of Joy Foundation, which looks after the slum inhabitants of Kolkata.

Now, why I told “The ‘City of Joy‘ was not the nickname of Kolkata; this nickname came from Howrah originally!” in the beginning? 

The book was written based on the slum “Anand Nagar” which is situated at Pilkhana in Howrah, West Bengal, India. Now you get that right?

The character of Stephan Kowalski, is based on the life of Giston Dayanand, was a Swiss citizen and nurse by profession, who moved to India in 1972 and dedicated his life to improving the welfare of slum inhabitants. The book also refers to Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.

In 1992, Roland Joffé directed a film on this which was starred by Patrick Swayze

Want to watch the film? Click Here

Want to buy the book? Click Here


Dominique Lapierre

Dominique Lapierre

French author


Thankful to Amazon India for providing the e-book.

Got information and images from Wikipedia.


An Aftersearch India Documentation.

Did you know these before? Comment below, and if you want amazing unknown facts, let us know via comment.

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