Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oh, Calcutta - day 2

Day 2 was not so eventful. But, it showed me that part of Calcutta that is cut off from reality. I went to the Ramakrishna Mission (Belur Math), Howrah, Hooghly, and most other parts of the old city.

What struck me the most was the abject poverty there. The utter disconnect that people in this half of the city had with the rest of the world. Old, old, old buildings, that nearly looked like they would fall off any minute. Clothes hanging from balconies. I saw potters, barbers, carpenters, cobblers, and the like. I even saw masons yelling at their workers who were lifting cement bags and other commodities onto carts.

There was a certain silence in these parts. As if, they were asking, "what wrong have we done, to be summarily dismissed and not included in India?" Some of the buildings I saw really scared me - they had flags of a few political parties hanging out of the windows. I was left wondering whether these politicians knew about these citizens and were doing nothing about their upliftment, or had people just given up and had no chance of revolting against these politicians. Sad, sad, sad.

I so desperately wanted to go on a boat ride on the Hooghly river, but lack of time did not allow me to do that. There is a certain melancholy about the Howrah and surrounds that is hard to capture in words. There is dirt on the roads, there is pollution in the locality, there is acute poverty around, there are dilapidated buildings that look close to run-down, people seem to get on with their lives with no great ambition but to ensure that they make their two ends meet. Two square meals a day seemed to be a luxury in this locality. I suffocated in the 2-3 hours that I was there and I can only imagine the health of these citizens in this sort of a very, very unhealthy locality -sure place for an epidemic to break out.

The irony is that, as soon as I came out of the Howrah bridge, I noticed that the main road leads into the Chief Minister's office - the Writer's Buildings, as they are famously called. I was left wondering whether these power centres were even bothered about doing something to provide a basic livelihood for these parts of neglected Calcutta.

I had rented a cab for day 2 of my trip in Calcutta. And I had a Bihari driver for company. His Hindi was so classical and different from the Hindi that the average Bengali spoke. He gathered pretty quickly that I was not from these parts and took me right around the city, showing me famous buildings and other locations of import. Very helpful chap, who validated a lot of the stuff that I had read up on the internet. And it also added to my knowledge of the city.

I spent the afternoon of my second day in Calcutta at the Science Museum. Fantastic place and a must-see for everyone who visits this metropolitan city. It has 3-D shows, a space show that talks about the solar system and how the sun impacts things in life, rockets, information about all the planets in the universe, GSLV, PSLV etc. Big domes that have graphics of science and definitions of scientific terms. Good place for kids too and to expose them to the world of science.

Now to the last bit. The Calcutta cops. These guys essentially adorn a white uniform and a white helmet. What stood out for me was that this uniform and helmet stays white, despite the heat and dust that the city throws up. I could sight cops from a distance, merely because of their attires. Phenomenally maintained! Or, for lack of better explanation, they use detergents well in the Calcutta police force!

The trip was also my first glimpse of a yellow cab in Indian roads. The only other place that I had seen them was in New York city. However, I felt these Calcutta cabs were far more reasonable than their Big Apple counterparts! I remember, that cabbie who asked me for an extra ten rupees, just because it was late at night and he had to drop me to the other end of the city. Forget, New York, any other Indian city would have fleeced me at that time of the night. That, in itself is a measure of the city - simple, uncomplicated, and living life on their own terms to a degree. What with extensive opinion on everything that happens in this country and the interest that people have for art, science, law and other finer nuances of life.








10 comments:

Anand said...

Great read Arun! I thought football was more popular in Cal but you seem to suggest that cricket is not too far ( or rather ahead!). Also lack of IT and BPOs I guess automatically lead to a better work-life balance. The "white uniformed police cop" is really funny! Bengali women...umm...no comments!

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