While visiting my folks in Kolkata I once thought, how do I live away from Bengal?
My family, the friends I made for life and the familiarity of my mother tongue? Where food is art and art is food, my beautiful Kolkata, what keeps me away from the joyful city? I can be critical of it’s potholes, it’s laidback attitude and the politics my state nurtures but every time I hear a comment dipped in sarcasm, I feel a stitch in my heart that makes me restless no matter how hard I try to ignore. Then what keeps me away from my very own metropolitan city which is both vintage and affordable?
In 2008 a metro station was being constructed at a stone throw distance from my house. My excitement mounted at the thought of making it to Fairlawn for a beer and coming back in time for dinner without paying an atrocious amount of cab fare. Nine long years have gone by. I finished my college and my post graduation, got married and had a baby (not necessarily in that order). I never took that ride. The metro looks like a promise that was never meant to be fulfilled. Dissatisfaction followed. For a city that introduced India’s first metro rail way back in 1984, this was plain sad.
The 1950s and 1960s are witness to Calcutta being way ahead of Bombay and Delhi. You might fall off your chair in disbelief but Calcutta in the 70’s took cleanliness very seriously. Every street in the city was washed in the morning every single day and the civic authority was in it’s top form.
Sometimes I wonder, did it start with Communism or the enemies of Communists? While one was offended at the idea of introducing computer science at school, the other took offence in development and technology revamping Bengal. To contradict that, date back and you will find India’s largest business groups and Industrial projects originating in Calcutta.
Most people outside the state do not know much about any other city in Bengal. Well they might know the names of a few cities but the buck stops there. Why is all the pressure on Kolkata alone?
Just like Bhopal and Indore are equal in might yet opposite in texture, topography, business and culture where are Kolkata’s peers in Bengal?
No one outside Bengal can stop laughing about how lazy Bengalis are. How obsessed they are with their ‘Maachh Bhaat’ and how their siesta scores over everything seemingly unimportant. Were we always this lazy? As a child I had read about Khudiram Bose, Binoy-Badal-Dinesh, Matangini Hazra, Netaji, Chittaranjan Das. Were they not Bengali’s? In case they were, are we Bengalis? Something did not add up somewhere. What happened to all the toiling, boiling blood? How did it get redirected to becoming ‘The argumentative Indian’?
I have no answer to that.
Despite an architecture that can be flaunted, one of the oldest transport systems, manpower that equals many countries in the world, what went wrong for the state? While every city – one and two tier is gearing up to become a startup hub or facilitating jobs in every sector technical and otherwise, why do people from Kolkata more often than not venture out? Why do I always hear, If you are used to living in Mumbai you wouldn’t want to go back to Kolkata. Is it the money, I would ask? Partly yes, but more importantly the lack of professionalism and the tendency to politicize everything ruins it all. In the early years of the 20th century, Gopal Krishna Gokhale remarked ‘What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow’. I wonder whether he would still choose to stick to his opinion.
I cannot explain enough how education, art and performing arts are glorified in every household here. They might not have enough to buy an iphone, but there will be a harmonium, possibly accompanied by the tabla, lessons to learn once the Sun goes down and a frenzy for sports no state can match. We learn music, theatre or dance like there isn’t another way of existing. There is a ‘Gitobitan’ at every desk and the reflection of a composite culture in the fairest sense of term.
Here are verses by Filmmaker Mrinal Sen while in conversation with his German colleague Reinard Hauff in the latter’s film “10 Days in Calcutta” (1987).
“We are in the thick of the sprawling city of Calcutta, and I am one of around ten million people living in this city.
This is a city which is loved and hated.
Kipling called it ‘the city of dreadful night’.
Lord Clive, the founder of British India, called it ‘the most wicked place in the Universe’.
Nehru called it ‘The city of processions, of political manifestations’,
and Guenther Grass called it ‘God’s excrement’;
and you, Reinhard Hauff,
you have probably survived the first shock and have started liking Calcutta.”
Bengal is a juxtaposition of history and madness and Kolkata is its bizarre epicenter. If you stay long enough you will criticize the flaws you will fall in love with.
We are the best and we are the worst. At one point we chose to be the best, now we chose to be at out worst.
If the youth here choses not to be idle. If nostalgia takes a back seat and everyone starts living in the present. If para clubs with the ill gotten money from the political parties stop enamoring boys turning them into hooligans. If colleges and Universities sideline Lenin and Marx for a while and channelize all their energy into recreating Bengal’s lost glory, maybe we still have a chance. Maybe we wont be non performing assets any more. Maybe Bengalis wont be called lazy anymore. Just like every beautiful dream has a seed of hope within, maybe we will shock the World and become the seat of art and literature, food and culture, economics and politics once again.