Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Democracy of Devastation...

Kolkata is going through an intensely bad time. And that too, not due to any natural calamity, but an artificial one. The monsoons are in full force and heavy rains lashed the city on the night of 2nd July, 2007 and in fits and starts throughout 3rd July. The result - a waterlogged city, exposing all the municipal torpor that has caused routine life to come to a dead halt since yesterday morning. I, for one, could not go to office yesterday. But that was initially cause for celebration and I did take it in the spirit of an unexpected holiday. Or, as we used to term them in school life, it was just another ‘rainy day’ I found occasion to catch up on my reading ,watched one and a half films, listened to Big FM and enjoyed an afternoon nap. In fact, I even went out in the evening yesterday to buy a cashcard, which was actually just an excuse for a leisurely walk through the freshly bathed streets.

But. Yes, but. The enormity of the situation that had engulfed the rest of the city dawned on me when I woke up this morning, peered outside with sleepy eyes and suffered a mini-hallucination. Which was actually reality. Yes, a murky river had sprung up overnight just in front of my house, which disappointed any latent hopes of turning up at office today. And the worst part is that no one believes that my locality could actually be flooded because it is studded with residences of state ministers and MLAs. But I realized that my plight was nothing when compared with the miseries of other Kolkatans. From 9.30-11.30 am, I have been squatting in front of the TV, watching Star Ananda live coverages of the current misery of citizens both of the city proper and the suburbs. Celebrities like Suchitra Bhattacharya and Bani Basu the authors, Tridib Chattopadhyay the publisher and Bibhas Chakraborty the theatre artist spoke animatedly of the fear and suffering they have witnessed or been a part of since yesterday. Numerous people called up to report first-hand their terrible predicament due to lack of drainage facilities, loadshedding, lack of drinking water supplies and even food. At the Sukhia locality of APC Road, people cannot even come to collect the drinking water being provided on an emergency basis due to the waterlogging in their area. The photos being broadcast, still and video, of the spectacle in suffering that is Kolkata at the moment, seems unbelievable.

Amaresh Chatterjee, a senior citizen hailing from Baranagar, deserves special mention. The entire ground floor of his home was under 1 and a half feet of water yesterday. He and his aged wife removed almost 600 bucketfuls of water to make it somewhat more habitable. He even did some thing that should put us young and inert citizens to shame. With his own tired hands, he cleaned out the open drain that spans the area surrounding his place. The local councillor was unabashed by his efforts and his surprised queries regarding the absence of municipal workers on this day of need generated the curious interpretation that he was speaking in a ‘motivated’ tone. So much for democracy and freedom of speech or for that matter, right to information.

The Mayor has been presented with numerous bouquets on this (un) eventful occasion. Don’t be surprised. The opposition councilors have been enterprising enough to capitalize on the success and popularity engendered by the message of Gandhigiri upheld in ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’. They are not really doing anything very original.

The Asian Development Bank is helping Kolkata Municipal Corporation out with a loan of 1800 crore rupees to better its civic necessities. But don’t feel elated about it. The money is to be channelised into pumping stations that will filter the sewerage water from the city and ensure that the river Ganges does not suffer more pollution than it is already facing. Which means that we will remain as worse off as we were formerly with this antedated drainage system or the lack of it.

And yes, it seems that in a city which will soon house more shopping malls than hospitals or blood banks, the ravages wrought by the intermittent rains has driven home a picture of the ‘democracy of devastation’ ( in Bani Basu’s words). The general picture that came across from the phone calls, video stills and live reports on the channel was that - the more we progress, the more things remain the same. An NGO in northern Kolkata has helped the local slum residents to move into a vacant school building in the area and has been providing them with ‘chnire and gud’. Kolkata it seems, is receding into prehistoric primitivity.

And oh, one last thing, for the moment at least. The honourable Mayor has taken the liberty of comparing our beloved city to London. But you will feel more stunned than ecstatic when I inform you that he was talking about the crisis that that celebrated city also has to undergo throughout the year. ‘We should be happy that the monsoons don’t last forever’ is what he seems to be trying to say, albeit in a rather tangential way. Well, then, let us raise some funds and undertake the liberty of exporting him to London. Pronto. I’m sure the Londoners will be less happy to see him there than we are to get rid of him. And his lesson in lethargy.

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