Monday, Dec 06, 2021
State Snippets

Calcutta Corner

Why the Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji declared that he would like musician and member of parliament, Kabir Suman, to be one of the mediators...

Calcutta Corner
Calcutta Corner

When Nature Calls, They Simply Answer
Let me begin this week’s column by addressing a comment by one of our readers -- George -- who wrote to us from London to make a request. “Will someone please tell KMC (Kolkata Municipal Corporation),” George’s pleaded earnestly, “to build a public toilet at the Park Street crossing?”  

Well, first of all, thank you, indeed, George for your invaluable suggestion. The words spoken by you, if you allow me to quote a couple of lines from the poet, Alexander Pope, are: “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed!”

I can vouch for half of Calcutta that you express their thoughts exactly, except that they wouldn’t restrict this request to just the crossing of Park Street but also extend it to a host of other crossings and intersections across the city and beyond.

Because they know only too well, what it feels like to have your bladder ready to burst but not have any private place for release. Yes, George, they know that civilizations may accept bombs to burst in public, but alas, not bladders!

But it’s the other half that I’d like to introduce you to, in your time of need. And judging by your name, George, I am presuming that you belong to this half! Unless of course, it's a pseudonym like George Eliot.

For this “other half” which is made entirely up of the male population, the entire city of Calcutta is a public toilet. This “other half” does not need the construction of a “toilet” to do their thing, if you know what I mean.

When nature calls, they simply answer. And to do that they need nothing more than a wall. If this is not available anything from a lamppost to a tree trunk will do.

Secure in the knowledge that no one will look – who wants to? – this “other half” relieves itself anytime, anywhere.

However, you appear to belong among those who in spite of being in the “other half” category are either too shy, sophisticated or squeamish to exercise this privilege. Alas, the loss, dear George, is entirely yours.

Nevertheless, I am making an appointment with the mayor, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharjee and will put your request to him. 

In an earlier interview to us about the achievements of the KMC under him, he had pointed out that several public privies had been put up in various parts of the city. 

It seems that this is an issue our mayor has taken some interest in and so he may give us a patient hearing at least. 

The next municipal election is in May. Who knows, maybe your request will give the KMC an election issue that it can centre its campaigning on! So watch this space for the mayor’s response. And in the meantime may I request you to please hold your peace, and by all means, your bladder.

All The World's A Platform...
“All the world is a platform and all the men and women merely passengers.”

No, railway minister Mamata Banerjeee hasn’t exactly said this yet but she might as well have. After she was given charge of the Railways portfolio at the centre, it appeared as though every day there was some new train being flagged off or some new railway route being introduced or some new train station being inaugurated.

I thought she would not stop until the whole of Bengal had been criss-crossed with railway tracks with people constantly getting on and off trains. 

So while the rest of the nation threw barbs at her for being partial to Bengal in her budget, some in Bengal weren't sure if that was such a good thing after all!

Catching Telugu Deepak
When the CID arrested Maoist leader Venkateshwar Reddy, alias Telugu Deepak, from a bus stop in Calcutta last week, it seemed that the Bengal police was finally doing some intelligent intelligence work. Subsequent reports however indicated that the arrest resulted from a tip-off from an anti-Deepak camp within the CPI (Maoists). 

Deepak was close to top gun Koteshwar Rao, alias Kishenji, and he held a high post in the party’s state leadership. There were objections from the party rank and file to his being promoted even though it is Deepak, described as an “explosives expert”, who allegedly carried out many of the recent daring attacks by the Maoists including masterminding the Silda massacre. Telugu Deepak, as his name suggests, came to Bengal from Andhra Pradesh. The anti-Deepak group preferred to promote a local Maoist leader to a top post Deepak was eyeing.

Does this give the Bengal police ideas and would it now employ the divide-and-rule strategy as part of its war strategy to squash the Maoists?

Maoist Mediators
Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji has declared that if there is ever a dialogue with the centre then he would like musician and member of parliament, Kabir Suman, to be one of the mediators. (Others named were Arundhati Roy and one B.D. Sharma)

To fathom the reasons for this, let’s rewind to last June when the joint forces of the Bengal police and the central paramilitary marched into Lalgarh to prevent a Maoist takeover of the area.

Almost immediately a group of Calcutta intellectuals rushed there to meet with Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). They perceived the PCAPA as a legitimate democratic movement against police brutalities. The movement had begun after an attack on the chief minister’s convoy in the vicinity resulted in police responding with a crackdown on local tribals. The intellectuals supported Mahato’s protest against the alleged brutalities but demanded that he publicly disclaim any connection with the Maoists and the latter’s violent armed struggle.

Nevertheless, the West Bengal government, which insists that PCAPA is a front for Maoists, did not take kindly to the visit. The visitors were informed that they had violated Section 144 – a law prohibiting any gathering of more than 4 people – which had been imposed in Lalgarh. The visitors protested that the government was notified prior to their visit and had not objected. Ultimately no charges were brought. But the incident was largely taken as a warning by the government against future visits.

It was also around this time that union home minister P. Chidambaram issued warnings that anyone suspected of having any links or even sympathies with the Maoists would have to answer to the nation. This was essentially a thinly veiled gag order. And it seemed to be working. The threat of government retaliation had a significant chilling effect on these intellectuals. Even that group which visited Lalgarh last June seemed to go quiet. So much so, that hardly a pro-democracy voice was raised when Mahato was arrested. I recently asked Aparna Sen, who was among that group, whether people who would otherwise have spoken out are silenced by fear.

She replied, “No, no. It’s just that everyone thought the whole idea of us having Maoist links was so ridiculous that it really didn’t warrant any further discussion.”

The one person who has fearlessly spoken out in favor of Mahato is Kabir Suman, who has recently put out a CD of songs demanding the PCAPA leader’s release from jail. Suman is no Maoist. In a previous interview I had asked him whether he had been part of the Naxal movement of the 1970s and whether he fled the country – as he did in the early 1970s – fearing imminent arrest. He denied ever having joined the Naxalites. He had told me, “I never believed that China’s chairman [Mao] is our chairman.” When Suman sings for Chhatradhar his intent seems to be to stand up for democratic rights as he sees them. But others in his own party TMC, including party leader Mamata Banerjee, have not supported him in this because of the obvious “pro-Maoist” connotations. 

To the Maoists, of course, the distinction between their movement and the PCAPA is a little blurry. As far as they are concerned, they are after the same thing as the PCAPA: dignity and rights for the poverty-stricken tribals. Only their means of achieving this goal is different. Mahato once openly criticized the Maoists for getting him into trouble by implying an association. But the Maoists are taking Kabir Suman’s support of Mahato as reason to count him as a friend.

Climate Change
Another tiger attack has recently been reported in a village in the Sunderban. Tigers straying out of forests and into human settlements is becoming a regular occurrence. I suppose it’s only to be expected. Deforestation is eating into their natural habitat and poachers are depleting their prey. Furthermore, climate change is causing sea levels to rise and saline water to fill up their usual watering holes. Now these cats are venturing out in search of food and water. Wouldn’t you?


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