August 04, 2020
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Kolkata Korner

This city was, to a large extent, what it was due to the happy presence of a large number of communities. The transformation from Calcutta to Kolkata is, indeed, a sad one that needs to be chronicled...

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Kolkata Korner

Lost City
This city was, to a large extent, what it was due to the happy presence of a large number of communities. This cosmopolitan mix gave Calcutta (not Kolkata, mind you) its unique character and made this a rich, vibrant and lively city. The Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Anglo-Indians who made this city such a beautiful place to live in and visit till the 1960s have all left. And now, says Calcutta's chronicler P.T.Nair, even other communities like the Malayalis and Oriyas are going back to their home states. The few communities that remain (I won't take any names here), and will continue to do so, are generally insular and ghettoized and have never contributed to this city's cosmopolitanism. Yes, people from various parts of the country are still coming in to work in Kolkata, but they harbour no plans of making this their home and, thus, don't have any stakes in this city. Hence, they have nothing to do with the city's culture or ethos. The swamping of this city by migrants from Bangladesh immediately after partition and in the late 60s and very early 70s sounded the death-knell for Calcutta's cosmopolitan culture and the Kolkata of today is a suffocating Bengali city, a city whose ethos and culture and traditions are overwhelmingly parochial. The transformation from Calcutta to Kolkata is, indeed, a sad one that needs to be chronicled. Or future generations will never know how glorious, vibrant, secular and inclusive the city they live in once was.

Mixed Signals
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee isn't, even at the best of times, a decisive person who knows his mind and speaks it. His outrageous statements and the subsequent apologies and backtracking are too fresh in our minds to necessitate repetition. But his speech at a function where loans were provided to women's self-help groups for micro-enterprises revealed his indecisiveness and lack of clarity. Addressing the poor women, he said since the money they'd earn from their small enterprises would enhance their family incomes, their positions in their families would also improve and they'd be treated with respect. He advised them against getting ordered around by their husbands. "When you return home from a hard day's work and if your husband orders you to get him a glass of water, reply back and ask him to get it himself," Bhattacharjee told the amused women. But the next moment, he backtracked: "Don't take me seriously, I was just joking". So did he, in fact, then say that women ought to continue putting up with being ordered around by their husbands? Did he mean that women shouldn't assert themselves and resist exploitation or harassment by men? And come to think of it, why should a woman need to earn money to gain respect from her husband? Doesn't a women who's not working contribute enough already by way of managing the house, rearing and bringing up the children and cooking all meals and slaving to meet sundry demands of her family? Will the real Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stand up please?

Sabotaging A Seat Of Learning
It's quite clear now why the CPI(M) doesn't want the Bengal Engineering & Science University (BESU) to become a central university. The prospect of losing all control over this institution is not one that appeals to the Marxists. Recent unsavoury events in the varsity have once again exposed the CPI(M)'s sinister tactics to perpetuate its hold over the university. The Vice-Chancellor, a person well-known to be close to the party (heads of all educational institutions and universities in Bengal are handpicked by the CPI-M and, are, thus, party loyalists anyway), has not been allowing students' union elections since 2006, causing resentment to run deep in the student community. The only reason he's reportedly against holding the polls is that the SFI would lose badly since most students there are vehemently anti-SFI. Instead, if students and the university teachers' body are to be believed, the VC has been helping the SFI to surreptitiously establish its presence in the campus by very foul means. The VC is, thus, nothing but an agent of the SFI. The deep-seated anger among the students has led to repeated clashes among them, mainly between those who are anti-SFI and a small minority who are SFI activists. The varsity administration and even the police have been siding with the SFI activists, thus intensifying students' anger and bitterness. Disgusted with this state of affairs, BESU teachers have appealed to the varsity's chancellor, Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, to remove the VC. Students have also gone to Gandhi to complain against the CPI(M)'s lackey. If the VC has any self-respect left, he ought to tender his resignation forthwith. Also, since BESU is almost wholly funded by the union government, New Delhi should make it clear that this varsity will be converted into a central university immediately or else, all funding shall be suspended. This is the only way to stop the Marxists from sabotaging BESU.

Another Hare-Brained Idea
A tram ride from Esplanade to Khidderpore via the lush environs of the Maidan has always been a hit with tourists. For many months now, this six-kilometre route has remained closed for concretization of the tram tracks. The good news is that the tracks will be opened now and passengers will once again be able to feast their eyes on the verdant expanse of the Maidan and, then, the towering Vidyasagar Setu and catch glimpses of the Hooghly as well. The bad news for taxpayers is that their money has gone into purchasing brand new trams with upholstered seats, carpeted floors and expensive curtains that'll be run on this route. These tramcars, and their fares will be the same, will be for everyone and not just tourists. It would have made sense for the Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) to have only a few such tramcars and run them for tourists only at higher fares. But with all and sundry getting into these tramcars, it is only a matter of time before the interiors become shabby. Also, why have curtains when passengers are expected to take in the views that this ride will offer. And since the task of maintenance will rest with the CTC employees—a unionized, lazy and notoriously corrupt and inefficient lot—it doesn't take much imagination to fathom what state these plush tramcars will get reduced to in a few weeks' time. This is a criminal wastage of taxpayers' money and the CTC ought to be stopped from pouring scarce resources down the drain. Providing regular tram passengers with such plush tramcars amount to running Rajdhani Express rakes on the Sealdah-Canning suburban route.

Another Strike
The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport here will be in a mess once again in a fortnight's time. The 1500-odd contractual and casual staff at the airport will go on strike from April 10 for fulfillment of 14 demands that include a steep pay rise and regularization of their services. Thus, once again, toilets will become unusable, luggage trolleys will go missing and garbage will pile up all over the terminals. Kolkata airport will be the only one to witness such a strike. The agitating staff are—no surprise this—affiliated to the CITU which feels that the 1500-odd men are overworked and underpaid and, hence, need a pay hike and ought to be absorbed as regular employees of the AAI. Anyone who's ever passed through the airport will disagree. The toilets at the airport are always dirty, luggage trolleys can barely ever be found, requests to these staff to fetch a trolley are met by rude rebukes and quite often, first-time visitors are misled by these staff and led to touts waiting outside who fleece them. I landed at Kolkata on Thursday evening and was stunned to see, on entering the gent's washroom adjoining the arrival lounge, a few of these contractual staff chatting away and smoking beedis in open defiance of the rules prohibiting smoking anywhere inside the airport. Stepping outside the terminal, I witnessed a heated argument between another passenger and a person (a contractual staff, of course) wheeling in some trolleys; it appeared the trolleys being pushed in blocked the passenger's way and instead of making way for the passenger, the trolley-pusher ordered the passenger to move back. Such impertinence and rude behaviour of staff, unique to only Kolkata airport, is only because these people are all goons and ruffians who've been pushed into employment at the airport by the all-powerful CITU. And why should our money go towards enhancing their ill-deserved salaries of the CITU's (and the CPI-M's) footsoldiers or musclemen?

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