Monday, May 4, 2009

An Article on Kolkata in New York Times by Somini Sengupta

This is a New York Times article link a friend sent me.

Here is what my friend Esha, who is herself a regular contributor to websites and journals, had to say about it:

"It looks like the NY Times article is from a different era. None of the new developments have been mentioned. The clubs and restaurants mentioned are from our grandfathers' times. In the list of hotels - ITC Sonar, Hyatt, HHI and Taj Bengal are missing. From the past, Netaji has been misrepresented and Ray not even given a mention. The photographs are misleading to say the least. What else can you expect when she visited brothels and post offices instead of Science City or South City?

There many many more things in the article which irked me but I don't think my comment or the comments of like-minded people made any difference. Maybe you know people in the Indian media who can set this wrong right or something."

I dont know anyone in the media but if anyone who is reading this does, then its up to you to take that step. Here is my take. This article was published on 3rd May of 2009. Reading through it I had to come back and recheck the date, or the year, for it seems to be written ten years back. When did Ms Sengupta last set foot in Kolkata? Probably then. Hand pulled rickshaws, beggars on Kalighat streets, abject and acute poverty, Black-White-Grey areas, people who dont order in restaurants, Coffee House waiters who complain and stay glum, are these not so last century? Not having two square meals in Kolkata?? I agree poverty is still a pressing problem, especially in the outskirts and villages in West Bengal, but really???

The hammer and sickle is also so last generation now Ms Sengupta. Now you will see DIDI's face screaming at you from posters everywhere. This is a city now where the hammer and sickle is somehow trying to keep its handle-hold. If it will succeed is still to be seen, after the 13th May elections. And streets are marked all right. You just need to keep your eyes open. The streets are as marked as any other city in India. We are not comparing to New York again, are we?

Just in the last few years so much change has happened in this city, it is still weird that people are stuck to the college street- kalighat temple- tram ride mode. My friends and colleagues visited in 2007. Yes there were the tram rides and college street, coffee house, my alma mater, Presidency College, these are fixtures. But we also went to the bustling energy of New Market, the tram ride to Gariahat to see one of the cheapest and largest street markets of the world probably. (BTW I had been a regular at Coffee House at one time, and the waiters are not GLUM, they are just OLD and SLOW. They have been used to generations of revolutionaries, thinkers and gossipers spending hour after lazy hour in the establishment. They LIKE that!!! And also, the same building houses Rupa publishers, Chakravarty and Chatterjee publishers, for books at great discounts, and some pretty amazing finds, like the old old man who used to live in a room full of type writers and papers. Oh, and Coffee House has been revamped just last month into a new and improved...)

We went to the Ghats. As a tourist in Kolkata how can you not. You have to take a launch ride or at least convince a boatman for an hours trip on the river. Its the loveliest thing I have done in the city. The mighty Ganges, the two massive (and worlds busiest) bridges on both sides of you... Kolkata and stuck in time??? A future time maybe.

Sengupta claims women were kept in purdah and her grandmother studied till the age of 13. My grandmother is a double MA (Hindi and English), her sister is a PhD in Sanskrit. My grandma is 82. There are two sides to every coin. Doctors, lawyers, even pilots, women in Bengal have been more progressive than her counterparts in the rest of the country. Every girl (and every boy, for that matter) is trained in one form of art at least. You will find singers and dancers and artists in every home here. Education is given a level of importance which is sometimes irritating, in the way parents will goad their children for studying. But even here attitudes are changing. You do not have to be an engineer or a doctor any more. You could be a fashion designer or an actor... Sabyasachi, the Kolkata designer making waves around the world today, is the apple of every Bong mothers eye.

The piece on Netaji by Sengupta, I am reproducing here:

Calcutta has another guerrilla hero: Subhas Chandra Bose, who broke away from Gandhi’s nonviolent movement to raise an army against the British. The central narrative of his erstwhile family mansion on Elgin Road, now a museum of Bose memorabilia, is his “great escape” from house arrest. Red footsteps on the balcony mark how he tiptoed out on a January night in 1941. The gray Wanderer in which he was driven away sits in the driveway. In one gallery is an extraordinary collection of photographs, including Netaji — “respected leader” as he is known — shaking hands with Hitler in 1942; apparently, he took help where he could get it.

Good she wrote this in a New York paper. :))

Where to eat: I have not been to as many eateries in my city as I would like to but limiting the list to 3 is downright insulting. :) Even I could do better than that. One of my posts would be dedicated to eateries in Kolkata, promise. Send me your fav food place list to

SENGUPTA, the author of the discussed article is The New York Times bureau chief in India.

Kolkata is a mixture of Kalighat temple and Sector V. It is a combination of Metro Railway and rickety buses whose tyre-bursts kill people. There is a Science City and there are the tanneries. There is a bye pass road, and there are the narrow gullies of North Kolkata. There is Pizza Hut and Anadir Cabin Mughlai Paratha.

Honey, I could just go on and on. But whats the use. For people like me, it is nostalgia which paints the city in rainbow hues. For an outsider, Netaji and Tagore and sandesh with "truffle-like injection of palm syrup", is all there is to the city maybe. Like all outsiders of yore, they still revel in the pictures of ragpickers and Howrah Bridge, and refuse to see the living breathing city, like any other city and yet so unlike, where millions go to work (as rickshaw pullers as well as software engineers) in the morning and get back to homes and families to join the table at dinner.

1 comment:

  1. that was goood....u shud mail it to Sengupta if u have'nt...i think she needs to get a peice of it...poeple cant just go on writing anything..Sengupta...ur Dead...