A Dying City

Written by  //  December 10, 2010  //  National Politics  //  4 Comments

I was in my hometown Calcutta recently and spent a fair bit of time, something I haven’t had an occasion to do in my past few visits. And having done so, I was struck by the complexity of emotion that the city and its people generated in me. On the one hand, Calcutta was my playground, my home with which innumerable memories of childhood were intrinsically woven. Naturally, there was nostalgia, a teary-eyed remembrance of innocent days gone by, the aimless tram rides on the No. 24 through the idyllic Maidan, the egg rolls at my neighbourhood shack Great Taste, the expedition to Howrah Station to catch a train whose logistics had to be planned days in advance, passing the Sealdah Station with its imposing sign “SEALDAH MAIN” and watching the teeming multitudes thronging to catch the evening train back home, all of which made me feel that I belonged here, somewhere in the midst of this overwhelming anonymity in the metropolis I called home. On the other hand, there was the pollution which made me physically sick, the incessant clanking of horns of all descriptions in a cacophonic crescendo that seemed to replicate itself at every traffic junction, the complete lack of civic sense—buses stopping in the middle of the road, garbage being littered outside other people’s homes and an overwhelming dominance of uncultured boorishness that seemed to define the city.

One specific incident which for me best encapsulated Calcutta as I saw it this time around was a protest rally called by the Trinamool Congress against alleged illegalities in land acquisition in the New Town being developed on the outskirts of the city by the government-administered Housing and Industrial Development Corporation. A few facts about this protest demonstration first. The dais for the demonstration was built 20 metres away from a large hospital, blocking access nearly entirely. When questioned, the organiser denounced the hospital as one for “rich people”, which somehow justified blocking its gates. The rally was on an arterial road, in the middle of a working weekday. It drew, on a conservative estimate, 25,000 rallyists who marked their presence by transforming a children’s park into a garbage dump and relieving themselves against walls of private residences. They left in the evening, leaving a trail of rubbish, human excreta and Trinamool Congress flags in their wake.

I don’t mean to use this example as a specific indictment of the Trinamool Congress and its political managers. Rather, it is symptomatic of the astonishing degradation of politics and civility in the state. And for this both the ruling CPI(M) and the pretenders, the Trinamool Congress are equally to blame. For what they both practice in equal measure, is a politics of destruction, of hate, of mindless rallies, of regular killing of each other’s party workers to demonstrate who’s ruling the roost, of vindictiveness, murder and bloodshed, where the common man and his interests, allegedly the raison d’être for the conflict,  are long forgotten. It pains me to discover every day the new depths to which politics in Calcutta and consequentially the city itself has plunged. It pains me even more to realise that the so-called Bengali intelligentsia, the moral conscience of the community too, has acquiesced in this mindless politics of destruction. The thinking Bengali in Calcutta today is either escapist, finding solace in Tagore and Bankim, or arrogantly oblivious of the world outside the city and the state, exemplifying the worst kind of “We are like this only” attitude. If the Singur agitation and the ultimate withdrawal of the Nano plant, which undoubtedly set Bengal back by at least a decade, could be near-universally justified by them as teaching the CPI(M) a lesson, then one realises the all-pervasiveness of pettiness in the state and the absolute vacuity of vision which characterises Calcutta and Bengal today.

In the mid-eighties Rajiv Gandhi had called Calcutta “a dying city”. No comment made by a politician has rankled me as much as that one did. Little did I realise then that twenty years hence I would myself share his view. Somewhere deep down though, I still hope that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. But as I’m preparing to take my flight out, carrying my bags through a puddle of muddy water, in the absence of trolleys and proper drainage facilities at the airport, and I see a huge cut-out of Mamata Banerjee at the airport gates with a call for another demonstration posted next to it, the tunnel seems dark, very dark, all the way through.

4 Comments on "A Dying City"

  1. Shoma December 12, 2010 at 7:26 am ·

    It is true that Bengal is witnessing between two parties hopelessly ineligible to govern. But the aspiring party still deserves support because the incumbent had placed its backside in the chair for three and a half decades. In reporesentative democracy every moron has the rigfht to be elected to power, but if he stays there too long then one must get the electors’ heads examined first.

  2. Arghya December 12, 2010 at 8:41 am ·

    I agree with you completely. Though am not particularly hopeful that it will change things in any way whatsoever.

  3. Sourya Das December 13, 2010 at 6:09 am ·

    hey arghya i completely argue with you on the part that be it the trinamool congress or the CPI(M), both are busy fighting themselves and changing kolkata for the better might come last in their “to-do” list. But what i also feel at the same time is that change is necessary because the ruling party has taken the city for granted…….i absolutely do not support what TMC did, they should realize that responsibility comes with power.But no matter how dark the tunnel might seem its very very important that we keep striving for the betterment of our tilotomma kolkata and take pride in its rich heritage it carries with itself.Maybe we should just try whatever possible in our means to strive and clean it up.And i strongly believe the tunnel might be dark but not very long for us to cross it and find light on the other side.And dat is what we did learn at Xavier’s arghya da ?? didn’t we ? NIHIL ULTRA – nothing beyond !!

  4. LGS December 15, 2010 at 6:10 am ·

    When my family was in Shillong for about three years, almost 10 odd years ago. Calcutta was always transit point and even as a kid (I was maybe 10-12 years old then) the exact same sentiment echoed in my mind, with the exception that I preferred using the words stagnant and decaying.

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