CALCUTTA DIARY, 2016. Page 4. — In thirty years since we left this city for America, certain things have changed. One, the population has doubled, or tripled. Two, malls and flyovers have replaced factories and a snail-paced life with consumerism, buying spree, and yearning to speed, the Calcutta way. Three, communists destroyed the city with their decadent theories and rigid ideologies, and finally gave way to a no-ideology, illiterate power base that has destroyed the traditional economy and socialistic safety net. Both the departed leftists and the new, local-neighborhood-club-based rulers have failed to resist the onslaught of real estate mafia, privatized health care and education, and sky-high prices of food, oil and essential items.
Yet, if you cut through the toxic economic smog, deep inside, there is a juggernaut status quo in ordinary people’s lifestyle, where hardly anything changed in how they think, act, and go around on a daily basis. On the metro, men and women are frantically bumping a slow man or woman to capture a rather impossible seat, as if not being able to sit after paying the fare is below dignity. I left my seat to one such man who felt embarrassed and offered me to sit back, and when I refused to do it, put his head almost between his legs, self believing he was sick and thus deserved to bump me off my seat. Now, I am sure, and I know it that these are all simple, innocent individuals. Or, the man who showed me the way to the auto stand, with a gesture that I really should have noticed it was right around the corner.
I do not want to put my city down in front of the entire world, because I love this city where I lived my childhood through university, and a place where I wrote my first poetry to my first girlfriend. Right? Generations together, these people have found no break from a cruel, inhumane economic and political repression: all they have received is exploitation and false promises from the people in power who took advantage of their innocence and fear.
END NOTE: I ended up in a shop today, and asked the Bengali owner if he could find me something to soothe my sore throat. The man grinned and said, “Well, I could find you something that would give you a shock therapy.” Turned out instead of a drug store, it was an electrical shop.
CALCUTTA DIARY, 2016. Page 5. — Teaching By NO Example. Just before leaving for India, I had a chance to talk to an old man from Colombia, who was sharing his life’s experience in his country when it comes to society and neighbors. Astonishingly striking similarity: neighbors are friends, and neighbors are family. Kids grow up believing the next door neighbors are actually a part of their family, and get devastated if and when they move out. But here in Calcutta, it has taken an extreme form.
A mother routinely sends her two young sons, 5 and 7, to the affectionate lady next door around lunch time, knowing she would routinely feed them. Then, the kids would sleep in the host’s only couch, forcing the family members to remain in the bedroom for the next couple of hours. Of course, we are affectionate, but is this affection, or setting a bad example for your own children when it comes to hospitality? Next thing you know, your own grown-up son would bring in his friends who would not mind such generous treatment at all, and stick around for days, if not weeks, happily enjoying free lunch and dinner.
Middle-class Bengalis have put sentiment way before discipline, and one family at a time, a vast society is falling apart from within. But who would listen to such “cruel” and “heartless” observation? Telling them is often hard, because again, these are absolutely innocent and kind people. If only they could have some lessons in modern, scientific living…