destination india

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

crash courses

The state of Maharastra was once upon a time considered to be a dreamland – being a resident of far off Calcutta (I talk about of those days when Mumbai was Bombay and Kolkata was Calcutta!) I and my classmates would devour the first hand information of our friends who had been to Bombay during the summer vacations to meet their relatives. They would describe the sights, talk of the Marine drive, also known as the Queen’s necklace, the hanging garden, the Taraporavilla aquarium and show us the bus tickets to prove that they really and truly did visit the place.

This once prosperous city is passing through a critical phase – close on the heels of the floods and the controversies surrounding the dance bars, it is now the turn of crumbling old buildings to wrench away the initiative – the devastations and deaths are a combined result of greedy landlords and tenants. Both have to share the blame - it seems that, even today, a luxurious tenement covering thousand odd square feet is enjoyed by some at a nominal rent of less than hundred rupees – that was the rent once considered adequate hundred years back. But, the owner is unable to increase it and the tenant does not want to increase it. Therefore, both the parties wait for the inevitable. And, along with them, the electronic media keeps watch with their OBVs to cash in on yet another crash in the middle of the night.

Any product that was larger than normal would have the adjective of Bombai prefixed – for example Bombai mango or Bombai potato. Having been brought up on local black and white cinema, we would stare wide eyed at the huge colored posters of Bombai films. Bollywood had not yet entered the dictionary. There were selected cinema halls in Calcutta that screened Hindi films – their clientele were mostly non Bengalis. For obvious reasons, these cinema halls were located in predominantly non Bengali speaking areas. I talk about the time when the city of Calcutta had areas earmarked for particular groups of people – the Burra Bazar and its adjoining areas were for the Marwari traders, Bhowanipore was for the Punjabis, and Maharastrians, and South Calcutta had their share of South Indians.

Later, at some point of time, these boundaries started to blur. Some say it was the metro rail that set the trend – the gigantic project brought with it a horde of people from outside the state to support the venture by way of manpower and finance. Roads were dug up, persons got displaced, and people moved from one location to settle in another. Simultaneously, land prices started climbing and a new group of people descended on the scene. They called themselves promoters – they would prevail upon the owner to part with his land and promise to compensate him ten times over. People fell for their sweet talks and property kept chanting hands – the owners stashed the away the money in banks as fixed deposits and occupied coops in exchange.

The total culture has undergone a sea change. Relationships have taken on newer meanings – physical maturity sets in faster today but reluctance to accept responsibility is prominent. Once it was an accepted fact that beauty and brains cannot co-exist, today such concepts have vanished. The time has now come to conduct crash courses on how to maintain your cool in the face of the worst of temptations.

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