Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh my darling Kolkata, Where have you disappeared??

Lets get right to the brass-tacks, shall we?

My last three days in Kolkata.

Day 1- I had to take baby to the hospital. Park Street- Neotia Hospital. On the way back I had taken the Anwar Shah road route. Road closed. We thought that this was a routine road block by the locality people, its common in this area. So we drove down some alleys to Ashutosh Mukherjee road, the plan was to go straight down to Tolly Metro, where my house is located. Tollygunj Phari crossing- A band of people, holding hands just closed down the street as we cruised to a stop at the crossing, one of the first cars to be stuck. Traffic bearing down behind us already. I got down and asked the police officers how long it would take. "Only they know, sister" is what he said to me. "THEY"- Trinamool Congress supporters, and their chakka jam. This was a spot where I was not familiar with any detours. But the offier pointed out a narrow alley and said you can take this and see what happens. So before our tail got completely blocked we decided to go for it. At 2 pm with a hungry sleepy baby in the car, to think of standing there for an hour or two hours... unthinkable. The narrow alley became narrower and people who moved fast enough were all in there, but we got through it, after much shouting at errant rickshaw drivers, and more silent prayers, we reached home, and lunch.

Day 2: My in laws place is in Brahmapur, near Bansdroni in Tollygunj. Its about 4 kms from my parents place at Tolly Metro. And easy to reach if you know the inside roads. This day there is a "bandh" in that area, south of the canal, by the 'ruling party' CPM, so that much tougher to get through. I have a baby in the car, travelling from my inlaws to my parents. I was stopped thrice, the third time they wanted to see my id card. And when I said Im taking my child to the hospital they refused to believe me. I said how dare youstop a woman with a toddler in a car. They got a bit hassled. And when I shouted some more, shaking with anger, they let me pass, to freedom. For a moment, I felt trapped, imprisoned in my own city. For a moment, I realised how some men and women, one group of people with nothing to do on a weekday morning, can hold millions of people to ransom, making them walk miles with baggage and children to reach schools, and offices. For a moment I shed some tears to what my beloved haven of freedom had come to, a dear city, fighting for survival between some bands of ruffians, illiterate, semi-literate, who think nothing of stopping ambulances, and people who want to work, and people who just have to work to get their daily bread.

Day 3: My flight to Chennai is at 5 pm. I come out at 2 pm from the house, the plan is to pick my father from his office in Esplanade and reach airport. Park Street flyover at 2.30, we grind to a halt midway up the flyover. It takes us the next hour to reach Esplanade crossing. Trinamool again, they have closed up one side of the road for a rally. And thousands of cars in the busiest crossing of Kolkata waited patiently for hours to let the police get them through one tiny strip left open, one car at a time. The poor Kolkata police force. Kudos to them. When they retire they would have been there done it all... probably not as adept at encounters as the Mumbai police, but world-best in handling bandhs and rasta roko-s and chakka jams of all kinds. I did make it to the flight, reaching the airport at 4.45, the last possible minute. And they allowed us on, the last passengers, because I had called and told them I was stuck in a Trinamool rally with a kid. Everyone knows about it. Everyone in Kolkata.

Everyone in Kolkata now sigh once again when they hear about another bandh. They curse beneath their breath, all those who will not let a city rise from its ashes. They hang their heads when their colleagues from other cities laugh, they try to laugh and joke along with them. But in the end they know that they are the ones to blame. To have stayed at home during bandhs, fearing lathi bearing toughs- the political supporters, who would beat on the cars and deflate tyres. To have been afraid of being threatened on the road.

As a Kolkatan, Im sorry to say, I am ashamed of what my city has allowed to be done to herself. Im ashamed of myself and of all those I know who has not raised their voice. I fought the toughs to get my daughter and me through... What if we all shouted, if we all screamed, if we all cried out- CHOLBE NA CHOLBE NA... No- you cannot keep me from my work, from my play, you cannot force me to be home for fear, you cannot keep my freedom from me, from us, from all us Kolkatans... if only we could...


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