January 25, 2005

Reasons to Come Back

The Telegraph, 25.01.2005

Rudrangshu Mukherjee correctly identifies his nostalgia for Calcutta belonging to a “vanished era” (“Return of the native”, Jan 9). There are many in the Indian diaspora who originate in Calcutta, and would very much like to be associated with it. But today they shy away from doing so. Because Calcutta today stands not for its beauty, or hospitality, or bourgeois luxuries, or even technological marvels, but for quite the opposite things. From the moment one lands at the Dum Dum airport begins the torment that spoils the joy of coming back to one’s native city. Airport officials are hopelessly unhelpful and impolite, public transport is shoddy and the quality of physical infrastructure is rotten. On top of that, the people on the streets are rude. Calcutta is perhaps the only city where taxi-drivers decide whether they will take on a passenger or not. Garbage heaps line most streets and little is done to remove them.

But we were not alone in our misfortunes. The author mentions blitzed London of 1948, torn apart by German bombing in World War II. Let us take a moment and recall the rape of Nanjing, or the bombing of Hiroshima. Many other cities met with an equally tragic fate as Calcutta did when the 1943 famine hit it, or when migration from East Pakistan began. Today, the glittering skyline of Pudong, Shanghai reminds us of our degradation as a city. Calcutta is no longer the City of Joy, but our age-old arrogance has blinded us to this fact. If only Calcuttans realized this, the city could be saved. On its rubble, the people must take an oath to rebuild and restore their city to its old glory.

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  1. tathagata

    Its of course very good to come back home when the clime is conducive. But when the situation is not welcoming if not unwelcome, who will take the mantle of restoration. It is of course the people of the soil. Wars cannot be fought from outside, democracies cant be imposed by external entities and no amount of theorizing in a shielded world will change things for the better. If people want to be associated with Calcutta they should make their contributions in-situ, otherwise their association is none different from that of a typical tourist. The people of the city have the power, whether they utilize it or not. If they succeed, the 'natives' who dread the clogged drains and dreadful traffic, are welcome to return as tourists, but nothing else.

    03 Feb 2005, 07:00

  2. The people inside Kolkata, and India in general live in a cocoon, which is hard to penetrate. They do not realise the sense of loss that we NRIs do, because we have actually seen the wider world. It is very unlikely that India will be changed by people inside the country. At any rate, the awareness needs to come from the Indian diaspora overseas.

    04 Feb 2005, 10:57

  3. tathagata

    1. To have the idea that a problem will be solved by people from outside, changes will always come helped by others, propagates the same kind of theory taken to heart by the neo-conservative americans, Bush et al. While i concede that an outside view is often needed to find out what the problems are, its unlikely that the actual changes will come from outside. And if that actually happens then i guess the result would be as disastrous as is the case with iraq or afganistan at present.
    2. Cocoons can always be hard to penetrate. indian residents live in one kind of cocoon. NRIs live in another kind, which is expressed in the thoughts that they think better, know better and live better than their indian counterparts.
    3. Diaspora need not always be needed for a sense of awareness. A well travelled resident might do just as well. And i guess there are many of these kind in these days.
    3. An uncharitable thought, not much of an agreement – NRI's sense of loss are of their own doing.

    Tathagata Chakraborty

    25 Feb 2005, 07:42

  4. If you look at modern Indian history, most if not all of India's great leaders have been at some point in their lives, foreign residents. To say the least, all of them have been educated abroad. Starting from Gandhi all the way to Manmohan Singh, not one of India's great leaders is home educated, perhaps with the exception of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I am not lauding this scenario, quite to the contrary actually. But this is a fact of life. To change this scenario, we need to change India itself.

    Why is Iraq or Afghanisation 'disastrous'? The American public is benefitting with respite from terrorism and cheap oil supplies. The US has satisfied all its objectives there. Indeed, the war on terror is good for India too- as it diverts terrorism away from us. Moreover, it gives our companies a lot more contracts in these war torn areas and transfers a lot of investment into our stock markets because of panic elsewhere. We have thought about other people long enough, now is the time to think about those 260 million Indians who live below the poverty line.

    Some of our top politicians (like Sharad Pawar for instance) are 'well travelled residents'. What have they done for the country? Nil.

    It is only when someone lives in another country for a substantial period of time that he/she realises what India is not achieving and what other countries are. You feel a lot more patriotic when you are abroad. The NRI community does a lot of commendable work through out India. Their full utility is suppressed because of idiotic government policies such as the recent announcement of increasing tax rates on NRI savings accounts in India.

    25 Feb 2005, 10:35

  5. Raja

    As someone living in UK for the last ten years,and with deep attachment with Kolkata, I see current Kolkata not on its way down but rising like the phoenix from the ashes. The 80's & 90's were bad for the city but changes for the better is happening over the last few years. ,On my yearly visit to Kolkata the new flyovers, new residential buildings or the new hospitals are signs of better days ahead. Yes, there is still a lot to be done before the city manages to catch up with the other happening cities but Kolkata is no longer the "dying city" it was thought to be a few years ago.

    09 Apr 2005, 05:53

  6. The 2000 departure of Jyoti Basu was crucial. Under the new leadership of Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Kolkata is indeed making some marked improvements. Sectors like IT/ITes are particularly impressive, as is the Rajarhat township plan. However, the fundamental problems for Bengal's decline remain. Trade union militancy in the industrial sector is still rife and this is something which repeals investors. Infrastructure is appaling. Urban planning is non-existant. These need to be addressed far quicker, but I have to admit that improvements are noticeable.

    09 Apr 2005, 13:24

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