Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

Kolkata Korner

This city is anarchic and Kolkatans are, by nature, anarchists. A large section of Bengalis feel there's something innately 'revolutionary' in every law-defying act of theirs

Pleasant Surprise
Unlike the past many years, Kolkata seems to be experiencing a prolonged winter this time. It just rained the other day, pulling the mercury down. And the met office says it'll continue to be pleasant for a few more days at least. All these years, February has reminded us that summers are just round the corner. I remember switching on the ceiling fan from early February these past seven years I have been living in Kolkata. But this year, we're doing without the fan even during daytime. Given this pleasant run, maybe, just maybe, we'll experience a bit of spring this year. It's too early to predict, say met officials; but the weather gods may just oblige us for once. Would there be this gentle wind with flowers in full bloom for us to experience and savour next month?

Ghastly Act
This doesn't pertain to Kolkata, but could well have happened here. At Durgapur, Bengal's premier industrial town, a mob set fire to a truck driver who had lost control of his vehicle and run over a young boy on Wednesday. After the accident, the driver tried to speed away, but was caught and thrashed. The mob reasoned that if he was handed over to the police, as is expected of law-abiding citizens, the cops would take a bribe and let go of the errant driver, as is quite often the case. Hence, it would be better to teach him a lesson. A few suggested that the driver be set afire so as to serve as a brutal example to rash drivers who care little for people's lives. And so he was tied to a post, kerosene oil was poured on him, a matchstick was lit and he was set ablaze. Cops from the nearest police station, less than half a kilometre away, arrived after well over an hour, by which time a local politician reached the scene, rescued the man and took him to a hospital. But it was too late. 

It's easy and convenient to condemn this incident as the handiwork of brutes which it was. But it raises some very pertinent questions. Why is it that drivers, especially of buses and trucks, are so rash and care so little about knocking down people and running them over? Why are our laws so lax that even serial offenders never get to spend time behind bars? Why don't rash drivers lose their driving licences? Why do we condone cops taking bribes and setting errant drivers free? And, most important of all, hasn't the thought of teaching a harsh lesson to a rogue driver who hurtles down the road, scrapes and dents our cars or nearly runs over a pedestrian, ever crossed our minds? Have we become intolerant, revengeful and prone to inflicting (or at least condoners of) vigilante justice because the legal justice system isn't working at all to keep rogue driver off our roads? Time these questions were answered squarely and honestly.

This city is anarchic and Kolkatans are, by nature, anarchists. Bengalis, especially, seem to derive some perverted pleasure by cocking a snook at the law. A large section of Bengalis feel there's something innately 'revolutionary' in every law-defying act of theirs. But the laws Kolkatans generally love to violate are, and thankfully so, minor ones, especially ones relating to environment. Thus, filling up ponds and waterbodies is rampant; buildings are erected in violation of regulations and sanctioned plans; traffic rules are observed in violation; most vehicles belch noxious fumes; loudspeakers blare away till the wee hours and even in hospital compounds; and encroachments on public land are too common to merit mention anymore. 

Take the case of loudspeakers. There's a standing order from the state pollution control board—all loudspeakers should be fitted with sound limiters and the noise cannot be over 65 decibels, loudspeakers should be switched off by 10 pm even during the Durga Pujas, loudspeakers cannot be played at 'silence zones' like areas around healthcare and educational institutions and no loudspeakers are allowed anywhere in the state during the Class 10 and 12 board exams. But every single day we hear or read about blatant violations of these orders by not only private individuals or local clubs, but also respectable organizations and bodies. Even the Chief Minister, ministers and senior politicians think nothing of attending programmes near hospitals with loudspeakers blaring away. On being told about such breaches, they don't even appear apologetic. The examples Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his compatriots set are followed zealously by the citizenry. Is it then any wonder that Kolkata is such a lawless city?

Dada's Misdeeds
Four years ago, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) gifted ten cottahs (about 680 square metres) of land in south Kolkata to cricketer Sourav Ganguly, "for promotion of sports activities". But far from using the valuable piece of land for the stated purpose, Bengal's living icon went on to surreptitiously construct a multi-storied commercial complex on it. With the help of some KMC high-ups, he secured permission for constructing the complex—the permission was void because no multi-storied structures are allowed on the road named after Raja Ram Mohun Roy, on which the gifted land is located. A news item on this appeared prominently in the Kolkata edition of a national newspaper some time ago. But 'Dada' (as Sourav is known) was unfazed; construction went on in full swing. Perhaps he thought he was above the law and nobody could or would touch him. 

The famed southpaw has earned a huge pile of money, tens of crores of rupees by conservative estimates, but saw no harm in adding to his huge pile by violating norms and rules. That people look up to him and he's supposed to set examples didn't really bother him. After all, Bengal's most powerful man--Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee--is a self-confessed Sourav fan. But now, it seems the law is set to catch up with Sourav. Those in the KMC who winked at the shameless violations of the deed/lease conditions by Sourav have been asked some tough questions. A probe has been ordered. It's only a matter of time before someone files a suit against Sourav. High time this happened anyway. In a lame defence, Sourav's apologists say that one floor of the complex will house a gymnasium, another will have shops that sell only sports goods and another one a cafeteria. That's Sourav's idea of a facility for promotion of sports! And we're all dumb fools.

Sartorial Disaster
While on Sourav, he would surely get the prize for being one of the worst-dressed 'celebrities' in the country. He sports a terrible hair-style, doesn't come across as an intelligent or warm person (thanks to his stiff posture and visage), and has the knack for donning ugly clothes that don't match or are unattractive. Sourav desperately needs a grooming consultant for a image makeover and needs to inculcate some dress sense. He was last seen in public wearing a horizontally striped black shirt with a pair of pin-striped trousers!

Exemplary Feat
Ashutosh College in Kolkata has notched a first—it is a pioneer among educational institutions in India, and perhaps in South Asia at least, for sourcing a part of its energy requirements from renewable sources. The college has erected a 73-watt solar panel and solar energy now powers instruments, lights and fans at its physics, electronics and computer laboratories. Use of solar power will not only increase the life of the instruments, but would also cut the college's power bill by 30 percent. Ashutosh College is planning to install more panels and, perhaps, switch over completely to solar power. Other colleges who're planning to follow suit have been promised heavy discounts on purchase of solar panels by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency that has done a lot of pioneering work in the field of non-conventional energy and won many plaudits from around the world. Kolkata ought to be proud of Ashutosh College. 

By the way, this news kicked off a discussion at a gathering of eminent personas the other day. Some wondered if solar energy was a commercially viable proposition, given the fact that solar panels are very expensive and have to be subsidized by the state. But then, if the cost of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity—not just the cost of coal, but the damage to the environment and public health—is taken into consideration and factored into the cost of conventional power, solar power would apparently a much cheaper proposition. Given this, the state ought to increase the subsidy on solar panels to encourage more people to switch over to solar power for at least a substantial part of their energy requirements.

Worthless Nostalgia
February 21 is celebrated as Bhasha Divas (Mother Tongue Day) every year and provides yet another opportunity for Bengalis to yearn for their 'brethren' on the other side of the international border. Speeches are delivered by sundry litterateurs who get wistful and recall the 'glory days' of undivided Bengal, how the British and then other conspired against Bengalis to divide them, what a great, glorious and powerful force an undivided Bengal would have been in today's world and they all conclude with the fond hope that some day, perhaps, Bengal will be one again. This whining and crying and reminiscing has assumed ridiculous proportions. Such displays of worthless emotions don't serve any purpose at all, are a waste of time and energy and only show Bengalis in a very poor light—as a community stuck in the past and unable to move on. Punjab, too, was divided; so why is it that Punjabis (save for a fast diminishing, miniscule number) don't indulge in such nostalgia at regular intervals like the Bengalis? Tell you why—Punjabis couldn't be bothered, busy as they are with wealth generation.