Thursday, November 15, 2007

Calcutta :Lost and Found

For last three years I was searching for the Calcutta I had read about . The city with a heart- the city with a soul and the cultural capital of India. Unfortunately it was nowhere to be seen . Not that there was any dearth of the 'bhadralok' look-alikes with that quintessential Jhola, unshaven look and the typical interest in anything political. And of course you will find so many activities around you like drama , dance, exhibitions and protests to keep this city busy and buzzing ... but something was missing…..these were just dummies of the real things and people. There was very little soul in these hapenings . At the individual level you may meet several known and unknown faces who can inspire you with their simplicity, their knowledge , their childlike believe in the world and their idealism…but as a group or a community these feelings, those ideals were missing. It was only a show off , an excuse to make 'connections', a mask to ‘appear’ intellectual /idealistic …an attempt to improve their CV to get a recommendation for an US university .
Even the much hyped adda was not all that comforting for my foreign ears . Most of it was just talk with some preconceived ideas/images of greatness of the city and its people which was just not there anymore . . E.g. I found nothing great in the protest that one or the group/party was staging against issues as vague as “globalization”, 'capitalism' etc. They talk like parrots about Marxism, about class struggle , about how CPM is the greatest thing happened to them and also how other states are far backward than their own . I found nothing impressive in broken roads and ugly tea shops which I was told are the hub of activities . In reality one finds that even these big mouths are as selfish as their much abused enemies “the bourgeois”...their party is as opportunistic as the fanatic rightist political parties and their work culture far worse than many other states condemned by them . I was almost prepared with an elegy for the lost world of Calcutta –the city of intellectuals . I expressed my anguish at the forced strikes and the culture of Bandhs few days back in a previous post and as I was telling in the beginning of that post….. life chose that precise moment to outsmarted me once again. So when I was lamenting the lost idea of “city with a soul” ….Nandigram happened…and to my surprise, the city changed its colour almost overnight .
It started in the usual way – the bandh…the protest….burning of effigies and I thought it will die its natural death and everybody will sit in the neighborhood tea shop in front of party office claiming victory .But no….the game had just begun this time. Many known film personalities boycotted the Calcutta Film Festival and so did many ordinary film buffs, students and workers – something which was unthinkable in this city. They were going against the government and more importantly THE PARTY . In a place where everything related to your existence depends at the mercy of the party and its pet goons – it was just unimaginable. The people taking out silent march and being beaten by the police were not of any political party…they were very common very ordinary people like us. Celebrities were there of course-risking their career and prospects but more touching was the participation of students and teachers, shopkeepers and artists . In this city so far I had only seen the George bush philosophy being applied by the left parties- either you are with us or against us . But yesterday the old Calcutta rose from its ashes and gave a tight slap on the face of its masters of three decades. The monopoly of political parties over the masses was broken yesterday when thousands poured into the heart of Calcutta to condemn the manner in which CPM cadres recaptured Nandigram. Everyone I know from this city was there in the march - my friends from research Institutes, lecturers from colleges and even housewives. Read about this people’s protest here - Clarion call of conscience heard in silent march through city heart
I have no idea if it was just a short-lived wave of sympathy or a new era ushering in this god forsaken land of Bengal …but it was very touching to see the good old face of Kolkata I had visualised from the history books – the city of thinking individuals.

1 comment:

alice said...

ummm, I will use your comment space liberally today.
And of course you will find so many activities around you like drama , dance, exhibitions and protests to keep this city busy and buzzing ... but something was missing…..these were just dummies of the real things and people. There was very little soul in these hapenings.
Tell me, what is this 'soul-missing' from dance, music etc. I have heard it from many. I mean, you either appreciate it or don't, either like it or don't like it. It either has all the attributes essential for that particular performing art or doesn't. But what has 'soul' got to do with it. It beats me. Beyond my comprehension. To me, its too abstract a term to be associated with as real as music, drama or a city.
About not being able to find calcutta you read in child hood: I can understand your disappointment with Calcutta. But to tell you something, if you read a book about calcutta written some 30 years back by a person who has resided all his life there, you will find similar kind of sentiments,annoyance, disillusionment. I wonder whether longing for the bygone era is the hallmark of all ages.
In a lighter vein, aren't the notions developed during childhood meant to be dropped at the threshold of adulthood!
I got some kind of thrill when I read about The Party in the post. It was as though you were trying to pull the reader into a Kafkaesque kind of world! I feel,in a federal, democratic country like ours its not collectives vs individual but collective vs collective wherein the players are allowed to play double or multiple roles. There are too many collectives equally powerful and important,but sometimes unfortunately working at cross purposes.
About Nandigram and protests:
A Consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually- Abba Eban
I would apply the above to both the sides yelling at each other in the name of nandigram. As much I like to believe in just Black and White, what I see more often is only grey shade. I haven't watched news about the issue but did catch a glimpse of Aparna sen doing her Citizen Journo bit on CNN IBN. Funny, isn't it. Its as if a rank outsider speaking from the shores of America was hollering against the engineers who built Titanic. Has Nandigram really become a self-sufficient region requiring nothing from outside world? To my mind, the old guard is trying to don a new look. And somebody is not too pleased with it.