Here I am in Kolkata. In the month of May. Sizzling heat, 90-100F, wrapping me up in its belly. The beast is merciless in its radiating 'hotness' but kind in its lack of discrimination. The sky is clear after a massive cyclone that hit the state of West Bengal a couple of days ago, one of its kind to occur in the last 3o years apparently. The aftermath is soothing in terms of life resuming in all spheres -- vendors, officegoers, students, daily workers, businesspeople back out in their bikes, rickshaws, cars, buses, et al -- but very unnerving when I look around to see there are swathes of neighborhoods without electricity, water and other essential services.
Last night as we came down by the efficient Kolkata Metro from Park Street to Tollygunge, the air seemed rife with discontent on the road outside . Taxis, autorickshaws and cycle rickshaws were disgruntled about the fact that roads ahead were jammed by angry residents, shopkeepers and random well wishers. How long could one live without essential services? And why won't then different modes of public transport charge triple the amount from route passengers? In this melee, the buses looked like ripped open sardine cans, human hands, legs and heads hanging rather graphically from the bare wooden windows and footboards. But the faces were alive.
I was not witnessing any uprising of any kind. No revolution or battle rally. A simple flare-up based around inconveniences that occur on and off around public life here. Some times it is the unique cyclone. At other times it is real political barricades, power line tripping, summer blind rage, monsoon's expected torrents or rare miscreants upsetting the public system. But no one raised their voices beyond a tolerable decibel. No one touched anyone around the collar or pushed and jostled. The aggrieved addressed the perceived privileged as sirs and madams. Only eye brows twitched and lips got pursed. Sweat streamed under shirts and saris but no one uttered one foul word. Women and kids were quickly allowed to cross all protest protocol and moved to calmer zones.
My ties with Kolkata are old, very old. Right from the days of my families' ancestors. Some of them studied here, practised as lawyers, did politics, were even born here, etc. I am not too fond of the title City of Joy for Kolkata. There is too much pain, sweat and daily struggle here that I don't want to eulogize and much less endure myself if I have to live here. In the word of poet Nirendranath Chakravarti (b. 1924, http://india.poetryinternationalweb.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=11156)
however, Kolkata has evoked rhythms in my heart every time I visited it, some times jarring and cacophonous and quite often, a raga melody hankering after the sweet sadness of losing something:
There’s moss a little below
the surface of the water,
you can see it if you lean just a
but she doesn’t care to, she’s sent
her gaze off
in search of the red rose.
I watch, from dawn to dusk I watch
how like estranged love and
longing it keeps moving endlessly,
the water moss. (read the rest from the link above...)
Having lived in the US for seven years now, was I surprised at the above incidents? Why do I then blog about this? No answer really, but something compelled me to record this. Red Communist flags of the ruling state administration and tricolor grass motifs of the recently victorious Trinamool (grassroots) Congress fluttered around shop tops made of sooty tarp or tin. But no one seemed interested in a party-based blame game really. All that was registered was protest. Peaceful and persuasive. Despite the summer heat and remnants of the furious cyclone strewn about.
What we, those alien to the system or a visitor after a long time, would categorize as madness had a method of human quotient that I would probably not witness in ordinary circumstances gone awry even in most countries I have visited in Europe or America.