Calcutta - A Reminiscence

Why does it need a tragedy or a calamity to trigger our awareness about our wider potentialities, our compassion and kindness, our modesty and gratitude? Why do we forget during our normal everyday existence that we are linked up in a wider reality that does not differentiate on the basis of our social status, our knowledge, or the other passions for which we selfishly crave and accumulate during our lifetime? That reality, if it does differentiate, may do so only on the basis of our degree of humanity. It will be the degree of human compassion, modesty, kindness, gentleness and gratitude, principles that seems to have been erased from our 'progressive modern' life that shall account for our existence as mortals. In our zest to accumulate more of material prosperity, more of physical luxuries we have abandoned our true essential nature which differentiates us from the physical life around. 

Onerously sitting in a dusty bus caught in the midst of a traffic jam, I pondered over these thoughts triggered by expressions in the newspaper about the outpour of human generosity for Gujarat. Suddenly I became conscious of the city around, already late in its appointment with destiny. Gazing through the pane-less window of the bus I saw a city rush towards a destination that probably is unknown, apparently lost in the labyrinthine meaninglessness of chaos and cacophony. The lives that evolved into the prodigious and relentless flow, though enduring struggles with a physical zest was bereft of the radical spirit with which the city was once associated during an era effaced from living memory. Like the tattered upholstery of the expectorating bus, the city reflected a fatigued and forlorn look with lacerated patches of history listlessly dotting the expansive natural canvas. On occasions, however, the weakening strings of history seemed to beckon the maddening crowds to make an extra effort in reviving that radicalism on trivial pretexts. The institutions weighed by the ponderous dusty dossiers of ideology, almost comatose, were tortuous and elusive for the common man. Therein, the decrepit buildings sat babus in leisure, regaling themselves with the antics of someone called Mamata or secretly discussing the lumpen state of the communists. 

Sometime later I saw the glitzy façade of the park arcade embrace a McDonalised generation oblivious to the hard realities of metropolitan existence. Lost in the glittering brightness of the neon-illuminated AC markets, attired in clothes that prominently displayed their designer hierarchy and flaunting a photogenic cordiality, traversed this voluptuary class nonchalant about the real world around.

In the nearby narrow alleyways I saw people trying to gather the scattered largesse vouchsafed by a parvenu class, burdened with sweat and swears. Comforted by the hard concrete lies a newly born child, dressed by the warmth of the sunlight in a winter morning, kicking the air in desperation as if learning the methods of survival. Struggling to keep afloat they try all means available to solicit the largesse, which ironically is interpreted as unethical and even immoral by the feudal deities who patronized them. In all I perceived a city not only forked between a dying history and a hopelessly uncertain future but also a society forked between an ultra-liberal, well-heeled, stilted but powerful class and a penurious, radical but powerless class.

For me this life was a contrastive other to the one I am used to, and cherish too. Living on the fringes of this vast country, where a network of reciprocity bonds human beings that does not always translate into material covalent, I was wistful of the compassion and kindness that humans are supposedly made of. However, the naïve collusion I had with this relentlessly flowing Human Ocean effaced my individual pride springing from the realization about my diminutive presence in an ocean of equals. However, I was wary of the lack of symmetry that sustains human equivalence and reciprocity. In its place I saw a synthetic, almost pavlovian response between the human kin, operational by near- commercial transactions. 

Nevertheless despite the accelerated rate at which the city is expanding with burst at its seams imminent, the city continues to welcome and shelter more and more. The persevering human ocean that never tires of flowing even when the world seems at rest continues to expand its banks wider and wider. Along with the ever-widening banks, also widens the gulf between the classes distinguished by their capacity to flow or drown in this deep ocean, never to reach a confluence. Unknown to most, many lie embedded in the darkest depths of this ocean gasping for survival, some jettisoned to the banks to dry and die. 

The city despite invoking an effusive spirit fails to evoke a conscious realization about our diminutive temporality thus failing to relieve us from the vicissitudes of our own narrow realities bounded by our selfishness, greed and individualist cravings. The city lumbers along a road that it calls progress, stifling its wider linkages and human sensitivity, cashiering to the dark alley of terra incognita, human kin not able to catch up with the pace or lacking in material worthiness. There is almost a sense of amnesia about these people living at the margins of this new progressive world, except by philanthropists trying to massage their guilty feudal egos. 

Living in this marginalized and forgotten world were a group of people who were once called parents. Like the yellowed pages of the history books that are being sold to the vendor called liberalization, these priceless books to whom we owe our mortal selves are paying a costly price for our progress and development. These people haplessly watch as we insert new meaning to our social world under the impact of the ravenous animal called 'structural adjustments'. They silently watch as we consign our social and economic Elysium to a wasteland called modernity that devours their world and all their relationships.

Along a feeder road that connects to the resplendent park street lies a repository that houses these antique treasures, in a world networked by an electronic web, with none possessing the patience to make an effort to read and understand them. Silenced by their condition they set plaintive looks sometimes at the catholic blue sky that unquestioningly embraces the worthy and, the so-called, unworthy under its expansive canopy and sometimes at the people, who looked small from the distance of the euphemistically named old-age 'homes'. Far away, in the nameless depths of the great ocean, are their real homes, now occupied by their kith. Lonely, some of the grand parents may be nostalgic about their grandchildren some parents woefully recollecting the iniquitous misdemeanors of their children. They probably also laugh at our ludicrous and progressive efforts to build homes at the expense of our parents and grandparents, without the love, care and affection of those who benignly shade and brighten our world. They probably understand our painful efforts to continue the journey towards a world governed by only a selfish and individualist network of relationships that is also virtual. They probably also lament with regret their incapacity to make us able to relinquish our baggage of base absurdities justified in the name of religion and social necessity rather than our immediate linkages with human sensitivity, cordiality and dignity. 

The city-absurdly renamed Kolkata-however, continues to grow and expand and rush to meet its destiny with more fervor, unrepentant or even aware of its ever-widening margins and the trauma of the marginal inhabitants.     


More by :  Rajesh Dev

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