destination india

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

rape of a beauty

Calcutta, rechristened Kolkata, was founded by Job Charnok and celebrated its tercentenary a few years back. Having been a red bastion for nearly quarter of a century, it is gradually wakening up to the reality that the city needs a lot of more attention to compete with other Indian cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai or foreign cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. The Metro rail infused some blood into its dying arteries as did the circular rail, the second Hoogly bridge and a number of flyovers. But the fact remains that people who matter shy away from investing in the city.

Bengalis are basically intellectuals – a thinking not necessarily shared by others. Bengalis are fond of white collar jobs and abhor any activity where intelligence is not required. Most Bengalis consider themselves to be poets and novelists par excellence. They adore good foods which very seldom match with their constitution. Proof is in the number of medicines available in the market to cater to various types of illness associated with such disorders. Bengalis also love fairs and exhibitions – book fair, textile fair, and leather exhibition. You think of a subject and lo-and-behold, a fair or an exhibition is there to satisfy your needs.

But, this is not about the likes and dislikes of Calcuttans (Kolkattans sounds ridiculous don’t you agree?)

If you have visited Calcutta, you could not have missed the Maidan – a really large expanse of open land housing any number of sports clubs. It used to house any number of sports clubs and was considered to be the breeding ground of footballers and cricketers. The Chuni Goswamis and Pankaj Roys surrendered to the Baichung Bhutias and Sourav Gangulis – who, in turn, followed the dictates of the likes of the Dalmias. Way back in the fifties and the sixties, a tram ride through the pollution free environments of the Maidan was a really satisfying experience. Greenery and open space on one side and the landscape of a bustling city on the other side!

Then, one fine day, the Ochterlony monument – a landmark of Calcutta – lost its color! So did the Maidan – the maiden of Calcutta. It was abused no end. Invaders ravaged its innocence and choked its breath. Unauthorized stalls cropped up everywhere overnight which subsequently attracted enough official patronage to become authorized. The silence of its surroundings was broken by the din and clamour of rickety State Transport buses. Burnt diesel created mayhem to its natural beauty. Trees and bushes that were once planted by the city fathers to maintain the equilibrium of Nature just rotted away. Then, further calamity struck – of course, for a noble cause. The construction of the underground railway system fondly known as the Metro rail began. In the bargain, the Maidan became smaller and smaller. To compensate this loss, parks were set up on the banks of the Ganga.

Calcuttans have lost the Victoria Memorial and the horse drawn carriages that used to be in attendance there until quite recently have vanished. The Victoria Memorial used to be a place where young and old alike could jog along and inhale fresh air in the mornings. Alas, nowadays, one has to pay an entrance fee to enter its grounds.

In spite of innumerable adversities, the Maidan even today retains its uniqueness and is proud of an identity of its own.

Plans are now afoot to gift to the Calcuttans an alternate transportation system akin to that in vogue in Venice. It will require a tremendous amount of cleaning up. Not just the basins of the near extinct canals like the Keshtopur khal or the Tolly’s nullah but also the culture of those who will be involved.



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