Bursting at the Seams
A couple of weeks before Durga Puja the roads that you normally take to and from your work place, suddenly without so much as a by-your-leave, can become the locus of a pandal for the deity and you find yourself stuck, not knowing what to do. This is what happened to me this evening while driving back and I found traffic which normally takes this route come to a complete standstill. As I waited for something to happen, I had a chance to scrutinize the expression on the faces of people on the road, most of whom were returning after a day’s work: Angry. Irritated. Exasperated. Resigned. Multitudes of people, just waiting on the sides of the road for some sort of transportation to take them back home.
People were trying desperately to scamper onto buses that were already packed to capacity. Pushing, shoving, shouting, swearing. People ran after taxis that zoomed past, hoping against hopes perhaps that maybe they would get lucky and find one that wasn’t already occupied. Fat chance of that happening. People were pleading with drivers of three-wheelers—which can legally only accommodate four passengers, and illegally about 6 or 7 (when this happens the driver can be seen practically spilling out of the front seat!)—to squeeze them in. This is the way most people travel to and from work every day in our city. The local trains, the subway rail, the trams, and even the rikshaws…they are seemingly always bursting at the seams during the morning and evening hours. If you’re in a private car or a motorbike, it doesn’t make you any less angrier—not to mention guiltier—to realize how little “the powers that be” thinks for us.
But who exactly is the relevant “power that is” in this case? Is it appropriate to hold the entire state government —or successive governments—responsible for this chaos, this suffering? Is it the lack of urban planning? Is it the lack of population control? Are individual cars taking up space that should accommodate more efficient public transport? Maybe we should all cycle to work? They do it in parts of Europe. I’ve often thought that as a solution to Calcutta’s traffic—not to mention pollution—problem. As I was thinking this I noticed the streams of cyclists on either side of the road. Yes, I would say about 10 percent of Calcutta does cycle to work, but somehow we don’t notice them. Maybe because those who do belong more often than not to the lower economic social strata and they cycle to work not because it’s fashionable or “socially responsible” but because it’s cheaper than owning/driving a car. Our office peon Sachin cycles nearly 17 kilometers to work. Babulal, the man who is painting my mother’s house cycles to all his assignments at distances that range from 7 to 70 kilometers. In our smug class-conscious ignorance we fail to appreciate their contribution in alleviating at least some of the burden of Calcutta transportation woes.
This week another attempt was made by an ‘intruder’ to try and ‘reveal’ a recent photo of Suchitra Sen—Bengal’s very own Greta Garbo—who, like the legendary Hollywood actress, herself withdrew from public life and became a recluse nearly three decades ago. Over the years curiosity about what Sen—once considered one of the most virtuoso—and beautiful—actresses in Indian cinema—now looks like has grown in leaps and bounds. Paparazzi and others whose professions revolve around prying into the private world of celebrities and the like, have been attempting—mostly in vain—to try and click photos of her. Then one day about half a dozen years ago Sen fell ill and was admitted to a city hospital. A television anchor of a reputed Bengali electronic channel saw in this an opportunity and sneaked into the hospital pretending to be a patient. He claimed to have had not just a good look at the aged Sen but told viewers that he also had taken photos of her. He said however that to respect her privacy the photos would not be splashed on screen. But he revealed that she was just as beautiful as she always was, only older.
Leave Them Alone
However, the television anchor’s magnanimous act of not displaying the photos notwithstanding the Sens were not pleased at all. Suchitra Sen’s daughter actress Moon Moon once told me that she found the particular television anchor’s action utterly tasteless and wanted to have nothing to do with him ever. However, she did say that the owner of the channel was a dear friend of hers and would continue to remain so. I was thinking, “But wouldn’t the owner know what the anchor was up to?” And “Didn’t the owner tacitly give his nod to such a TRP-grabbing piece of news?” But I didn’t want to add insult to injury by asking such rhetorical questions and let it pass. Then some months later a short video clip with the streamer “exclusive” splashing on screen was aired repeatedly for two hours on the same channel which showed an elderly woman wearing a frumpy housecoat pacing up and down a room. Her thin short hair, completely grey, was tied in a pony tail and her face was adorable much the same way that a grandmother’s usually is. It was Suchitra Sen. The television channel opened phone lines for viewers to call in with their reactions. One agitated man stated, “I am crushed. My image of her as an eternal beauty is completely destroyed. I can’t believe she looks like this!” What I couldn’t believe was this viewer’s reaction. What did he mean that he couldn’t believe she looks like that?! She’s nearly 80, for God’s sake! The same sort of hullabaloo reared its ugly head again this week after Sen was hospitalized for a wrist surgery. But this time apparently daughter Moon Moon was there by her side throughout, keeping vigil. So much so that when photos of an elderly woman on a hospital bed was posted online claiming to be those of Suchitra Sen, few believed it.
Sadly, it is becoming a common sight once again (reminiscent of the Left’s last few years)—members of Bengal’s civil society coming out to protest against some government action or another. On Friday, stalwarts of Bengal’s theatre circle such as veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee, thespian Rudraprasad Sengupta and others sat in on a street protest in front of one of Calcutta’s iconic cultural centres, the Academy of Fine Arts. There was a 200-strong crowd, mostly from the world of theatre but also included other prominent members of Calcutta’s cultural circle. They were protesting against an assault on theatre actor Bimal Chakraborty allegedly by Trinamool Congress (TMC) activists. Chakraborty was reportedly roughed up when he intervened and tried to save a fish vender from being attacked by alleged TMC activists for participating in a Left Front rally last week. The street protest was compared to the civil society protest after the Nandigram massacre during the Left rule. When the TMC swept to power in Bengal, in the Assembly Elections of 2011 it was more than just an anti-incumbency wave. The people of Bengal believed that Mamata Banerjee was a savior who would deliver Bengal from the darkness into which the Left regime had plunged the state. Among her biggest supporters were members of the civil society who first shed their pro-Left stance openly after the Nandigram massacre and came out in droves to lend their weight behind the rebellion led by Banerjee, then in the opposition. Unfortunately, once in power, the TMC administration too, like the Left, have not kept up the standards by which civil society judges a ‘just’ society. Excesses such as the arrest of professor Ambikesh Mahapatra have been alienating Calcutta’s civil society. From celebrated author Mahasweta Devi, who had backed Mamata to the hilt to musician Kabir Suman, who joined Mamata’s movement, the new government’s ally-base is gradually eroding. In all this, the only reassuring thing is that we have a civil society which is not politically-motivated (with a few exceptions) and which takes sides based on which side they think is ‘just’ or ‘right’. Because civil society, like the media—the fourth pillar of a democracy—is our conscience keeper.
For some time now the Left has been a bit confounded. They couldn’t quite figure out exactly how to deal with Mamata Banerjee. The deft politician that she is, she has been usurping their ideologies, policies and strategies like a pro right from under their noses leaving them stunned and somewhat frustrated. Her populist stances on a range of issues from land to FDI in retail are all traditionally Leftist ideas, so the Left could hardly oppose her. But since she is their arch enemy neither could they publicly express support for her stance on any of these issues. Finally this week, a senior Left leader—CPI’s AB Bardhan—came up with an articulate enough phrase to express what she has been doing. Ruling out Mamata Banerjee’s involvement if ever a New Front comes into being, he called her a “pseudo Leftist” saying that she has been “mouthing Left slogans” because the Left has understood what the masses in Bengal want and she is only copying them. This reminds me of lines from an Alexander Pope poem the gist of which is: “This was often thought but never so well expressed.”
Words of the Prophets
Written behind a rickshaw: “Keo karur noy re mone…shob beta beiman” (no one is anybody’s…everyone’s dishonest”
"In all this, the only reassuring thing is that we have a civil society which is not politically-motivated (with a few exceptions) and which takes sides based on which side they think is ‘just’ or ‘right’."
Dola Mitra and most other inherently emotional inhabitants of Calcutta/Bengal are too naive in their political thinking even though Bengalees indulge in groupism and politicking for all their collective endeavor- check a local Durgapuja committee for example.
During the communist misrule of three decades Calcuttans naively believed that the communist party is the only villain. Somehow a dhoti-clad bhadralok Jyoti Basu was above board, he was not supposed to commit any wrong. When Buddhadev Bhattacharya became the CM, Calcuttans naively believed in his rhetoric of improving work culture in West Bengal. The educated Calcuttans felt sorry for Buddhadev because apparently the communist villains did not let well-intentioned Buddhadev function properly. Later when Mamata Banerjee was gaining political power by adopting all the anti-development communist antiques of yesteryears and indulging in the politics of bandhs , gheraos and political violence in rural Bengal learnt from the communists, the whole of Calcutta was cheering at the prospects of a Poribartan in political power. Calcuttans supported the agitation against high handedness of the government in Nandigram and Singur, but have overlooked the anti-development platform on which Mamata launched her political campaign. It is too naive to believe that a populist and politicallly opportunist leader (who served both right wing NDA and a liberal UPA coalition) would consider Bengal's economic development as her priority over votebank necessities.
It is equally naive to overlook political oppportunism of Bengal's civil society. Contrary to what Dola and others may naively believe, Bengal's so-called civil society has always been politicized. This could be a result of the CPM's strategy to polticize all educational and cultural institutions by instituting political appointees in leadership and encouraging partisan affiliation to employee unionswhere partisan politics. More importantly, the left affiliated intellectuals, writers, artists and performers also bagged prized assignments, appointments on high power committees, Rajya Sabha nominations, state sponsored awards and rewards ..you name it. Those who did not toe the communist party line were ignored. Obviously the dissenters preferred affiliations to political opposition. Poet Subhas Mukherjee and novelist Mahashweta Devi changed their affiliations to Trinamul. There has hardly ever been an apolitical space in the Bengal's civil society.
About 3/4 years ago sensing a likely change in political power many of the Bengal's intellectuals, writers, artistes and performers who for decades had enjoyed patronage of the communist governments changed their political affiliations. A handful of them including Soumitra Chatterjee and Sunil Gangopadhyay remained old faithful. Mamata of course has not displeased her loyalists. Didi's favorites were on the railways heritage committee. A few renowned actors, singers etc. became MLAs and MPs under Trinamul Congress banner. Poet Subhash posthumously was honored when Garia metro railway station was named "Poet Subhash".
Mamata is a politician. Her acts are understandable in the context of partisan politics that shapes power structure in Bengal or in India. However the hidden political agenda of the opportunist civil society members somehow do not get discussed in the media.
DC >> Somehow a dhoti-clad bhadralok Jyoti Basu was above board, he was not supposed to commit any wrong.
Rightly said.. One of the most amusing myths spun by the left leaning ,mostly bengali (but often lefties from rest of India as well join in spreading this myth) is that Basu not being allowed to become the PM of India in 1996 was a Himalayan Blunder.
Himalayan ? What a croc of pure B.S.. JBasu is the reason why West bengal was wasted and rottoned to a useless state that scores below par in industry, economy and HDI in last 4 decades... and That guy has not even one productive idea to improve the nation of state in his 9 decade long life !! And our left spins such precious myths..
That being the case it is not surprising that west bengal civil society is partisan and refuses to be objective. They are part of the problem !!
Dola Mitra >> In our smug class-conscious ignorance we fail to appreciate their contribution in alleviating at least some of the burden of Calcutta transportation woes.
Europe is a temperate and cold country and unlike hot and humid India, so cycling in europe is a healthy exercise there,unlike in India.
Having said that I fully agree the need to invest more in green - public transportation.And more importantly, elite Leftists of Kolkatta who sing paens for Marx, mao and nehru non stop should step and use public transportation systems available to them.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT