Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mamata's Kolkata---viewfinder of an outsider

Mamata’s Kolkata---
The viewfinder of an outsider

The city to be dressed up in blue…the newspaper headline screamed. The fact was cemented with the new look of Writers’ Building. That’s Didi’s favourite colour, we’re told. Did we really need this change?

But ‘change’ is the word everybody is looking forward to.

For me the question of change came from an absolutely unexpected quarter. Dibyendu Mukherji came to my place as one of the two contractors who were to repair our newly allotted flat.
---Madam, as an outsider, what do you think about this change? Was it necessary?
---Yes, absolutely!! I think you all should have done it five years back. At least!
His face lit up. I knew instantly. Dibyendu is the new face of young Kolkata. Mamata’s Kolkata. That was about seven months back. A day after Shaheed Diwas and I’d already seen the pictures of the massive crowd in all my newspapers. In-spite of the torrential rain that day, people came in lakhs to listen to their new Chief Minister. Aamake Bhuter moto khatte hochche, she declared. But it was written everywhere. In all the faces. Specially the young brigade. The message was crystal clear. Mamata Banerjee now has to become a superwoman. Wherever I see, whoever I talk to, I see so much of expectations, I get scared. Can these people endure another dheela-dhaala rule in Bengal? Probably I shouldn’t use that word, but this is an absolutely individual outlook; as they say—“As an outsider”.
But I’m not an outsider in that absolute sense. I grew up on a staple diet of Ashutosh Mukherjee, Samaresh Basu, Shankar and many more their contemporaries during my teenage and later age. Being an Assamese helped because we share the same script. I still am a great fan of Bengali literature. So, even though Bengal is not my “Maa”, I can safely say She is my “Maasi” and equally endearing. However, I must confess my knowledge only restricts to Kolkata and that too not very far. Not yet.

When we got this transfer order last year, we were a little apprehensive. Talk about 34 years of pichiye jauya (going backtrack) was everywhere. A friend of my husband’s, who was posted here earlier joked—“ So you are going to the land of ‘ Jaani naa (I don’t know), Hobe naa (Can’t be done) and Ekhon hobe naa (Can’t be done now)!!” We got really scared. ‘It must have changed’…we tried to reason. My experiences say different stories. Whenever I visit a city after three to four years, normally I see pretty much changes. Delhi was pleasantly unrecognizable with many new flyovers and different metro rail routes. Thanks to the Commonwealth Games. In-spite of all those hue and cry Delhi did a commendable job. During our long stint in Mumbai we saw many changes too. And they all made us so proud. I would show off the worli sea link to all my visitors as if I made it myself !

But Kolkata was differently different. We were welcomed by very friendly and helpful people in a stagnant Kolkata. The same old Kolkata I last saw about eight years back. Nothing much has been changed. The tramline in front of our home carried old, colorless trams when I expected them to be bright and colorful with glass doors and windows. They do have a few new and colorful ones, but not the ones I expected. Kolkata is incomplete without this mode of communication. Yes, there are changes in Kolkata. We could see the unending line of private buses racing madly against each other. Do we really need so many buses? Isn’t tram a better mode of communication? Why have they stopped tram lines in many areas? No answer. Why newcomers like me have to ask for directions every time I step out? Why are there no indication boards to help people decide? Why are there no city bus stops with the name of the stoppage written on it so that the new people know where they have landed up? So many ‘whys’. I got my replies only today when Kolkata South MP Subrata Bakshi announced his plans for his city. Only because of the superb functioning of Metro rails, could I survive in Kolkata. I would give the whole credit for this to the old brigade. But it could still be better. May be in a few years.

When I was talking about helpful and friendly people, I was also talking about the changing attitude of Kolkata people. There still are Jaani naas, Hobe naas and Ekhon hobe naas but they are now coming out of those old phrases. Instead, I could see a new and bright side of them; Eager to please and that too with a smile. I am so happy that Mamata Banerjee has the support of a bright new generation to rebuild her Kolkata. A more beautiful and organized Kolkata. A safe Kolkata. We all are waiting for it. Take your time Lady…we know only you can do it and you can do it without changing the old beautiful aesthetic colour of Kolkata buildings!

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