“Sometimes, when I go for an evening walk, I feel a chill creeping up my spine and I quickly rush back homewards,” says Prashant Dhokalia, a resident of New Town, the urban district springing up in the fringes of Calcutta in the last decade and a half. The IT professional, who had rented an apartment in a high-rise tower in the vicinity, had moved to the township along with his wife five months earlier when he landed a job at a software firm in nearby Sector 5, Bengal’s IT hub.
What struck him was the utter urban desolation—for miles, row upon row of uninhabited buildings. Fully-constructed complexes stare at one vacantly through darkened hollows of spaces left for doors and windows. Steel meshes from unfinished constructions serve up an unnerving grin. “Our landlord had said most of the empty flats would fill up, but I have come to learn that it has been years since these were built. But no one lives here. We are the only residents occupying a building with 90 flats.” Dholakia admits that the nights are especially ‘creepy’; the couple is considering moving out at the first opportunity.
New Town is just one of Bengal’s ghost towns—not the abandoned habitations from the past or haunted houses of yore, but magnificent megacities and towering townships custom built for future affluence whose time hasn’t yet come. Most are large enclosures, planned as gated communities, housing anything from bungalows to villas, penthouses, duplexes and condominiums complete with gardens, playgrounds, parks, even swimming pools and basketball courts. Several have spaces earmarked for shops and markets or for entertainment and cultural activities, like clubs and auditoriums, even multiplex theatres. Other than lone occupants like Dholakia, they lie deserted.
The one that stands...