Monday witnessed another mindless, futile, frustrating and totally counter-productive shutdown of Bengal, especially Kolkata. It was called by Mamata Banerjee to protest the steep rise in prices of all commodities. Ironically, the poor suffered the most due to this bandh--they lost a day's earning which, to them, meant going to sleep on an empty or half-empty stomach. Given this, it was appalling to see the temerity of Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee telling scribes (who pointed out the sufferings of the poor on a bandh day to him) that it was well-known that the poor suffer the most on such occasions and there was nothing new to it. He might as well have added: so what? It was not only insensitive, but highly immoral and, might I add, criminal on Chatterjee's part to be so casual about the miseries of the poor and the added distress imposed on them by a bandh. I wonder what the rotund, obviously over-fed Chatterjee would feel if he were to be forced to go to bed on a empty tummy. But then, Chatterjee is no exception. The sad fact is that all politicians in our country are like him--they'd rather make people suffer to score a political point. Only this time, the Trinamool failed to make a point and even its cadres in large parts of the state kept away from the streets for fear of alienating the people and losing whatever little support they still retain before the forthcoming panchayat polls. Realising this, Mamata called off the 12-hour bandh two hours before it was scheduled to end. Another hare-brained act that failed its damage-control intent.
Save Us From Victoria
Succulent kebabs would become history from the eateries of Park Street. Thanks to a report by an environment research institute which said that charcoal-fired ovens (used to grill kebabs) at these eateries were damaging the Victoria Memorial! The Calcutta High Court has accepted this report and decreed that no coal-fired oven can exist in a radius of three kilometres from this British monument. So, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the Kolkata Police have decided to launch raids on the eateries to ensure compliance of the court order. What a pity, indeed. A kebab is a kebab because of its distinctive smoked aroma; no amount of grilling over an LPG burner would impart this aroma to it. And it would then be a mere meatball. And all because this Raj relic needs to be saved. But if coal-fired ovens cause such a lot of pollution to imperil the Victoria Memorial, what about the lakhs of vehicles belching noxious fumed that pass so close to this monument round the clock? They, too, pollute, and definitely thousands of times more than the few score ovens of the eateries; and their pollution does more harm to the Victoria than these small ovens. So why not ban vehicular movement within a radius of at least five kilometres, at the very least, of the Victoria Memorial? Some day we may even be told that walking--an activity that kicks up dust from the ground--is harmful for the monument and that too ought to be banned. This being the case, we'd be better off erecting a glass enclosure around the monument to protect it from all polluting activities and even from prying humans. And we could then continue to have our kebabs.
End Of The Road?
Is this the end of the road for Park Street? Would seem so. Not only the ban on coal-fired ovens lining the road's renowned eateries, but also the Kolkata Municipal Corporation's decision to throw open the pavements along Park Street to hawkers. Together, they'd definitely sound the death-knell for Park Street. The civic body has been demarcating one-third of all pavements in the city for hawkers (it is a different matter that hawkers never limit themselves to just one-third of the breadth of the pavement but takeover at least double the allotted space, leaving very little for pedestrians for whom pavements are meant for in the first place) and has decided, in its wisdom, that Park Street can be no exception. Hence, all manner of hawkers, from ones selling cheap second-hand clothes to greasy, contaminated kathi rolls, have started descending on Park Street. This has started telling on the turnout at the restaurants and other business establishments on this once-elegant thoroughfare that's, actually, much more than a mere thoroughfare. Regulars have started avoiding Park Street; after all, who would like to shove past screaming hawkers and their overflowing wares to enter his or her favourite eatery or bar? It is not surprising that the Marxist-ruled civic body is allowing this to happen to Park Street--this is the Marxist way of proletariatisation of anything that's looked upon as elite as Park Street is. But our Mayor should learn a lesson from Bengal's history--such moves have always boomeranged and are the reason why Bengal lags behind so pathetically other states.
The consumer is the king. This is the credo of all enterprises. The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport here is also an enterprise, and one that generates a lot of money for the public exchequer. This happens because air passengers use the airport to fly in and out of the city and the passenger, thus, is the king. Or the most important component in this revenue-generating enterprise. But Kolkata airport is perhaps the only one in the country where the passenger is accorded the lowest priority. Everyone else--and more so the unionized airport staff and the cabbies--gets due (and even undue) importance at the airport, but never the passenger.
In which other airport does a passenger, on leaving the arrival lounge, have to cross a road with cars zipping by to board a taxi or a car? Why is it that taxis don't line up just outside the arrival lounge, as they do in other airports, for the convenience of passengers? I posed this query to a senior officer of the Airports Authority of India posted at Kolkata. He couldn't provide any answer and only muttered that this had never occurred to him. On arrival, passengers--old, young, infirm, physically challenged and even those on wheelchairs--have to sprint or hurry across the road through which vehicles, after disgorging passengers at the departure lounge, pick up speed and zoom off. It is only a matter of time before a mishap occurs. Also, passengers have to brave sweltering heat or heavy showers to cross this road.
How is it that those who planned the airport, or re-designed it very recently, never thought of this? Tell you why--for them, passenger convenience was never a priority. Buses in Kolkata will stop anywhere to pick up passengers, but will push out disembarking passengers in the middle of the road. Ditto with the Kolkata airport--passengers flying off disembark from their vehicles into the safe confines of an arcade outside the departure lounge. But once we get back to the city, we have to face the elements and speeding vehicles to get to our vehicles/taxis. Speaks volumes about our city and its ethos, doesn't it?