Observations of a fence-sitter in Mamata’s Calcutta

29 Nov

From my TOI blog: Freeze Frame


There is nothing political about this post. These are strictly the observations of a fence-sitter, who is exactly one year and eleven months older than the erstwhile Left government of Bengal and is in Calcutta now, among other things, to taste the season’s first mangoes and watch the downfall of an arrogant Communist government that has outlived the Berlin wall by 7 years, but only after leaving a 2 lakh crore debt burden for the state to reel under.

Here are a few entries from her chronicle:

12th May, Thursday: The aeroplane hovered over the northern suburbs of the old city for sometime for the landing corridor and then a slight turbulent ride later landed us on home turf. I was home, with the little daughter in tow, home for the summer. As I walked out of the comfort of the air-conditioning, a sultry, clawing humid blast hugged me like a long lost sister. A sea of gray heads waited for their wards and kinfolk alongside my handsome, graying father. My R observed, ‘Ma, isn’t Calcutta much greener than Bombay?’

She knew what she was talking about. She had pointed out at the sea of palm trees clustering around the neat rows of houses beyond the Calcutta airport boundary wall, a picture very different from the blue and gray sea of slums that meets the eye while descending upon  Maximum City. The election results were far from my mind.

13th May, Friday: “8.30 AM: the Left leads in 3 seats in Bengal. This is when you need a Duckworth-Lewis rule in elections” – an eminent Translator and online professional, on Twitter.

The better part of the morning I kept flitting between Facebook, Twitter and various news channels on television, blaring in the dining room. I was suddenly interested to know whether the end was near or not, for the Leftist regime. I had lived life under this regime for far too long to even believe that a ‘change’ was even possible. Growing up in Marx’s Calcutta, I had been witness to a mass exodus, of fine young people, cousins, friends et al, the young and the restless who had one by one deserted the mother ship in search of better clime, education and jobs. And eventually, I had left, too. But the other occupants in the room, who, unlike me, had participated in the electoral process, begged to differ with my scepticism. I was watching something altogether new in this otherwise old, familiar dining room. I was looking Hope in the eye and that surprised me. They had suddenly started to believe otherwise, they had started to believe that ‘change’ was here and was here to stay.

Friday the 13th, is green” – a much known fire brand TV journalist, live from Calcutta, on NDTV.

By noon, Didi, aka Mamata Banerjee, was leading in the ballot counts. There was unbridled joy even in the Star Ananda young journalist’s voice that he didn’t want to hide any more. Heads had started to roll and now there was no stopping the landslide. The eminent party panelists returned one after the other, initially to boast, later to point fingers and then to put their feet firmly into their mouth.

CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, finance minister Ashim Dasgupta, Industries minister Nirupam Sen, all set to lose. Top knocked off. With Buddha’s resignation, curtains come down on world’s longest serving democratically elected Communist Government.” – An eminent journalist and political analyst, live tweeting from Kolkata.

By late afternoon on Friday, the 13th of May, 2011 green abir had coloured faces, had carpeted the streets, microphones at street corners had suddenly started to crackle into life to add Rabindrasangeet to the chaos.

‘This is the right time to get a feel of the streets,’ observed my father and I had no reason to say no.

‘Kalighat?’ our driver sounded a little sceptical, perhaps a little scared. ‘Aaj odike ektu gondogol hobar chance achhe.’ (There are chances of some disturbance in that part of the city)

Thus we drove through deserted streets of the boi para, on to one of the oldest arteries of the city that leads to the old, trading district of the city, Burrabazar. Shops were mostly closed, only some people reluctantly sold their ware, the summer heat was the easiest excuse for people to huddle under shades and watch strategically placed televisions giving the minute by minute election results. It was 3 in the afternoon. We drove over the Hooghly, took a ‘U’ turn into Brabourn Road, down more deserted roads, past the Lalbazar crossing, Cannng Street. Only the TMC tricolours, tied to the railings running down the middle of every road fluttered as we drove past. The otherwise brave Shantuda had safely brought us home, cutting the adventurous father-daughter’s expedition really short

An impromptu adda in my father’s drawing room this evening ended in a feast. They, my aging uncles and aunts, had all converged to apparently meet me and the daughter. The conversation had very soon turned to Mamata, Bengal, Leftists and Change. There was much hope floating and I wanted to believe.

14th May: “Didi Blasts Front Door” – TOI, Calutta edition

I was out in the morning, walking through my favourite streets. Today the deserted boi para was back to business as usual. The muriwallah was laying out his battered tin cans on his meager plank, the book shops round the bend that specialise in Made Easy books were busy stacking up books on Medicine, music, Geography, Shakespeare, Botany, Russian Revolution – all made easy. I walked through the haze of burning camphor and a sudden burst of agarbati fragrance rising from a publisher’s office. I didn’t notice any visible difference or any effect of the change that had already taken place. But did I catch a smile on an old face? Did the man in a gray bush shirt have a spring in his middle aged cautious steps? The girl under the floral umbrella seemed to have her chin up, didn’t she?

I overheard: “Pranabda aschhe aaj ke” (Pranab da, Pranab Mukherjee, is coming today); “Kaal paraye ja shankh bajlo na!” (So many shankhs were being blown in our neighbourhood, yesterday)

As I walked out of one alley into another, most splattered with the last afternoon’s green abir, microphones still blared Rabindrasangeet.  Dailies announced the “Change”; “Baam Bidaye”; “Bangla Mamata’r”; “Historic Thunder” …

15th May: Almost 3 days have passed since the red fort fell in Calcutta and the dust seems to be settling. I have happily feasted on some Himsagor mangoes and a variety called Gobindo Bhog awaits dinner time.

I have just received one phone call today. From my eldest aunt. She has lost two of her sons to the exodus. One lives in Chandigarh and the other in Osaka, Japan. I had a long conversation with her, about a lot of things. I heard the sound of hope in her voice. She sounded so happy when she shared that my cousin from Japan has finally decided to shift to Delhi from Japan. As if I heard her say, ‘Some day, perhaps …’

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Uncategorized


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