Wednesday, September 09, 2009

O Calcutta

I write this in Calcutta, my hurried second trip to this magical city. And yes I am intrigued. It is a city that I could not ignore, was not one of those cities that you land in, finish your work in the allocated time and zip out of. The city forces you to notice it, not that it is vying for your attention, the grandeur (yes I use that word) and the irony forces you to stop and stare.
The city whizzed past me in techni-color frames as I sat in an Ambassador and traveled from the airport to the factory. I have abandoned many a post started for this blog because I could not complete them, but this one I shall. I shall talk about the city and what I saw and eventually fell in love with. So here goes, a quick list:

1. The city is layered much like many other old living cities. The layers co- exist, next to each other, often merging and blurring the boundaries. The most apparent one being the old and the new. There are old old buildings, some grand complete with facades often resembling half of a hexagon sometimes freshly painted sometimes old and peeling. Layers of poverty and comfort. Layers of rustic and urbane. Layers of literary and materialistic.
2. The many renditions of Durga familiar yet different but always beautiful with the kohl lined dancing eyes.
3. The Pandals being set up for Pujo, you can feel the festivity in the air.
4. The Bangla script, it is lyrical, poetic and artistic. I love how it adds to the many bill boards rather than just being a sub script for legal reasons as is happening with many regional languages.
5. I loved driving over the “Alipore Bridge 1932”, it was old and regal but the neglect saddened me.
6. The chaos, and how the women in their crisp cotton border sarees and big bindis seem to be dealing with it better.
7. How painting as an art form is integrated in the pop culture, how Vodafone does buntings with intricately painted Pujo scenes printed on them. How bill boards use paintings rather than photographs.
8. The color red splattered around the city in the old style big bindis, in the single bangle signifying matrimonial bliss, on the buildings and the bridges,in the CPM flags. It makes me wish I could paint.
9. All the buildings old and new had the beautiful and colorful cotton Bengali sarees hanging down from their terraces waiting to dry in the moist air, the Dhakai, the Kantha they added to the tapestry of the city in a wonderful way.
10. The city is green!!! Could not miss the mini swamps as I drove from the airport. The rain washed green foliage was refreshing.
11. I saw a building named “Artmosphere”; it does encapsulate the city in a way. The many music and dance schools I saw are a testimony to that.
12. How everyone is Dada, it is not just a word but the fact that the chaiwallah, to the taxi driver to your jolly old colleague is Dada in a way signifies dignity of labor. Somehow because I call the Taxi driver Dada, he is not compelled to dumb himself down or be cautious in my presence. He can be as intelligent as he really is and that is amazing.
13. As I drove past Calcutta I could not help but compare it with London, where I reveled in the old that London had to offer, but the old in London was grand, the old was heritage, the old was a lot of hard work and maintenance and preservation, the old was a matter of pride. Sadly old in Calcutta can also mean derelict. A lot of the old buildings are dying, peeling off and breaking down bit by bit door by door. These buildings are not abandoned; they are lived in but often because there seems to be no choice. In Calcutta I could see why it is easier to tear down the old, build the new and maintain it till the new becomes old and cumbersome. The difficult choice is to keep the old well old but mint new. The old in Calcutta sometimes doesn’t look like a choice but a compulsion, sometimes it doesn’t look heritage but more like hardship. But still the old in Calcutta is a matter of pride. Thanks for not tearing down everything like everyone else.
I wait for my next trip to Calcutta where I shall discover more of the city (and its food) not through a taxi. Because I am intrigued, I really want to know more about you Calcutta.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Independence Day

“The government has invited you to London to discuss your little idea of freedom” thus spoke the then Viceroy to the Mahatma, the disdain and ridicule in his voice barely concealed by the stiff British upper lip. As I watched Gandhi for the nth time I was overwhelmed as I recalled my conversation with the clerk at the VFS office who asked for irrelevant documents “in original” ranging from the marriage certificate to letter of leave and even NSCs in “original”. Also it is important to note that none of these documents were mentioned on the official website as a prerequisite to granting a visa to the UK. But before we could even get to the point of presenting our “incomplete documents” at “our own risk” we were kept waiting for 2 hours twice even after an appointment and were told that we had to wait if we wanted the much revered stamp on our Indian passports. I snapped at that point and gave an earful to the clerk as I reminded him I was not interested in driving a cab illegally in his country but wanted to go there as a tourist, spend money and probably even contribute to propping up their declining economy. I realize now that I have taken that freedom of speech for granted. I took the right to point out the small injustices for granted. But yesterday as I saw Gandhi, I was reminded who I need to thank for my fundamental right, the freedom I have. It was a goose bump moment, I know it sounds inane but I have always thought what I make out of my life, how I live it is the series of choices I make from the point I started out from, but I think I have taken the starting point as a given, never gave the starting point much thought. But yesterday I stepped back and thanked the men who fought for me to have that right, who knew I could make something of my life if I was given that starting point, the men who hoped we would make something of this country after reaching that starting point. Thank You. I am more aware of my responsibilities too.
As the film progressed, I was reminded of a conversation I was having the other day about prejudices and we observed that it was difficult for people who have survived the partition to let go off their hatred and prejudices that have had its roots in the madness of those barbaric days. As I saw Gandhi I realized that I have never heard any person who lived in the pre independence era declare that letting go off the pain and humiliation that was meted out by the Britishers is difficult to do. I have never heard any one discriminate against or just plainly hate the Britishers for what happened for more than 200 years. In fact come to think of it the world does not discriminate, incriminate, stereotype people who belong to the colonizing nations who well in a nutshell enslaved people, plundered nations and sometimes even wiped out civilizations. No, as mature, sane and rational cultures and nations we accept that these are different times, different people and most importantly not everyone who belonged to the imperialistic nations even in the times bygone, endorsed or participated in the atrocities. Isn’t it shocking that all of us without exception have been mature, adult and decent about dealing with the past? The pain is remembered but the hatred has been confined to the perpetrators of that violence. The hatred has not been extended to the entire community, the nation and its future generations. Peace did get a chance.
I said it is shocking because today the world that we live in does stereotype, discriminate and envelope an entire culture/community with the hatred and prejudice that at best should be directed to the misguided members and their heinous terrorist acts. We should not beat around the bush; it is a fact that the Islamic community today is living in a world that has declared them guilty till proven otherwise. I cannot bring myself to imagine living my life where everyday people make me feel unworthy of simple things like renting an apartment, applying for a job, boarding a plane and sometimes even making a friend because a moron with a similar last name decided to go berserk. If that does not alienate people further what else will? Why hold a community at ransom for what a few delinquents do? Maybe on this Independence day we should pray for freedom from these stereotypes and these prejudices, maybe on this independence day we should hope that our minds and hearts open up just a little more.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Blog on Books

Well writing is my hobby but books are my passion, so to further my passion and give it it's due I have also started posting on my new blog appropriately named "Book Bound". The few visitors, some of whom I gag to visit this blog, before I hound you personally into dropping by the new one, please drop in of our own accord. Enough said, let the posts speak louder than my threats. I hope to be regular there, I promise.