Reading about Kolkata and by extension, West Bengal nowadays, numbs my senses with bewildering incomprehension. This was not the Calcutta I was born in, the Calcutta where I spent the formative years of my life, including the vulnerable, impetuous, turbulent teens.
Calcutta was crowded certainly, and crowded with migrants even then. But the centre - for the most part - held. The crowd could always be counted upon to unfurl its octopus arms and rally against injustice – be it coming to the rescue of a girl, a hapless passerby caught in a gang face-off, innocent bystanders in an incipient riot ..., the ‘parar chelera’ (the area’s boys) would ‘manifest’ themselves in a flash and chase away/beat up the ‘goondas’ (bad guys). The crowd commiserated vocally and with such definitive action that the intruder/marauder/goonda was brought to book and would probably not attempt a similar misadventure any time soon.
To read and hear that in today’s Kolkata, the crowd cheers a molester on, in full view of the victim’s aged father and friends, that a crowd comes together and cries “Uthalo, uthalo (pick her up), dekhte hai kya hoga (will see what will happen) instead of deterring the molester - how can I react, except with complete, uncomprehending numbness? Once considered among the safest for women, now at the nadir of the most number of crimes against women?
This was the city (state) that spawned India’s cultural and social renaissance that empowered women to reclaim their rightful status in society more than a century ago, where the author of the National Anthem wrote, “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”, of which it was said by a non-Bengali “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. It is to our collective shame that Bengal cannot anymore hold its head high and is certainly not a role model for other states to emulate.
It IS time, like the harassed TV anchor noted, to reclaim our city, to wrench it from the dehumanised denizens that have made it devilish, that are corroding the centre – of compassion, of care. And for this, we need the help of a considerate political class who genuinely care, who can and WILL talk and walk the change that Calcutta is crying out for, who can inspire, ignite the citizens to restore the moral fabric of the state and its capital. The do-gooders, intellectuals, activists, general public alone cannot.
The time for a Renaissance is Now.