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Calcutta Diary


AS the rains come, the elements take over the city; once more, the abundance of its squalor is made explicit True, Calcutta is dying all the time, through all the seasons. Hut if you bappen to be a part of it, yourself represent a part of the process of decay, you do not, mercifully, feel it every day of the year: you develop your own defence mechanism, the mechanism of pas.singitover. The rains, however, are a great tormentor: they do not leave you alone, they do not let you forget your heritage. Once the rains start beating down, you are no longer in a position to turn away from the assault of reality. The roads, even the major arteries, are flooded within the space of a brief 15 minutes' smart shower; traffic stalls at all points; drenched and desolate humanity stare from everywhere, marooned in their misery; they wait without hope, sullen and resigned to their fate; the drainage, whatever little there is of it, gets choked; the slums become indistinguishable from the sewerage; prices soar; pestilence stalks large parts of the city.

The Corporation, the Improvement Trust, the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority, all are of course at work, as are several ancillary and auxiliary agencies. Funds, the citizens have been assured, ace no problem: Calcutta will revive, it will not be permitted to die, it will — you take it from the dogooders — once more begin to bustle with the excitement of a good life. But it is a race against time. It is also a race against corruption. And by corruption one should not always think in terms of the conventional image of resources being diverted illegally in unfair directions. It may connote a certain corrosion of the mind too, a corrosion of moods and attitudes. Calcutta, nobody need doubt, has more than its share of the runofthemill variety of corruption, The funds flowing to the various development agencies, there can be no question, are being liberally lifted by ffybythenight operators Large groups of people are on a thieving binge; urban renewal has turned into dolledup contemporary version of the South Sea Scandal. If one were to apply a rigid test of managerial accounting to what is happening to the funds, one is bound to come up with horrendous discoveries.

But there is much more to it than roundtheclock stealing of public funds You read Calcutta's newspapers, they are full of grievances about the inefficiencies of the CMDA, the slow pace at which its projects are progressing, and the shoddy nature of the works that have been completed. Not all of this can be causally linked, however, to the mundane variety of corruption. There is the question of attitudes. The sloth one notices is as much the sloppiness of the spirit. It is as if, at a certain point of notsodistant history, the message got transmitted into the system: Why bother, nothing matters; it is in your destiny that you will decay, you will wither away; every now and then, both visiting royalty and visiting firemen wil l try to revive you; plans and blueprints will be drawn up, dreams will be spelled out, funds will be allctted, engineers will look busy, administrators wil l increase the velocity of circulation of files; but you cannot circumvent the historical process: in this part of the country, the morphology of growth, maturity, stagnation, and decay, is preordained. What, after all, is the point of applying some pale cosmetics to Calcutta? It will merely help to suck in more of the wretched of the earth from the outlying districts, and the city will revert to the status quo ante, What is the point of even trying to set up a number of alternative poles of industrial enterprise, say, at Kharagpur or Durgapur? The moment you do so, you will begin to attract the even more wretched of the earth from the outlying states. Haven't you witnessed, beginning with 1947, the 25 years of lack of scruples on the part of politicians, capitalist entrepreneurs, pompous civil servants, and inept planners? Then do abandon hope: Calcutta is beyond redemption; it is destined to die.

We, all of us, are going to decay along with the city — so, by implication, you will be told by the municipal employee, by the superintending engineer of the public works department, by the inspector of drugs, by the tollcollector at the bridge, by the planning and development officer of the commercial bank, the college teacher, the housewife, the building inspector, the railway goods clerk, the poet. We shall be drowned and nobody wil l save us. This being the case, how does it matter if the files do not move? How does it matter if the roads are not repaired in time, the sewers are not laid, the water taps are not fixed in the slums, the Corporation does not bother to collect its revenues, the garbage is not cleared, the trains do not arrive, the goods do not reach the market? What is the particular hurry? I will die, you wil l die, each one of us will die.

The bitterness, the tension, the total absence of even the most ordinary of the civic courtesies one notices in this city and around are because this crowd, which knows only fatalism, refuses to be imposed upon. It thinks that it knows all that needs to be known: knowledge is immutable, if not, any further knowledge is nontransferable There is no escape — it feels in its bones — from the slowly encroaching death, the death which will posses not one lustre of dignity. This being the case, let nobody dare Interrupt the mood of desolate sloth: there is a certain intensity of experience in it, in this stretching out of the squalor. What, after all, is the point of hustling? If you hustle, if you begin to run, you will succeed in arriving back where you already were, or, what is equally possible, at a much worse neither point. Teach yourself to be still. Stillness is the only relevant category; the rest you can forget about.

The problem, therefore, is not merely one of the pilferage, or overall shortage, of funds. If nothing is maintained properly in Calcutta, not the houses, not the fleet of public transport, not the public buildings, not the roads, not the water and sewerage system, not the port or the railway platforms, it is an involved mystique. Certainly it would not be difficult to prove that, over the years, even minimum funds essential for replacement, or for coping with normal wear and tear, were not provided for It is, however, much more than that: the pervasive cynicism too must have equally contributed to bring down everything to a dreary halt. It may not be particularly fruitful either if one were to discover that the roots of the cynicism lay in the earlier indifference of the powersthatwere to provide the funds. The spectre of death is no respecter of analysis. If, in any ease, you are going to meet your death — in the afternoon, tomorrow, or the day after —, how does it matter if your walls are not clean, if your schools and colleges have dirty classrooms, your roads are full of potholes, your buses cough deathly carbon dioxide, or refuse to run?.

In this milieu, even were they to be honest, the professional dogooders wil l just grope and grope. Specific ventures, such as laying a new sewerage or clearing a dozen slums, wil l be nibbling at  the corpus of the problem. Without a winding down of the fatalism, each of the individual, compartmentalised efforts, one feels, wil l turn upon itself, and aggravate the fatalism. This reversal can perhaps come only as a byproduct of a certain turn of the political process itself .

At sonic indeterminate stage, through a series of accidents nobody now can be terribly precise about, the Bengali ego received a lew hard knocks The disinherited ego began to derive an impish pleasure from farout Leftism; a long period of deprivation of resources and spoils which sustained devotion to Leftist causes pushed the ego over the precipice, to the region of unreconstructed cynicism. By trying to crush the main springs of Bengali Leftism through strongarm methods, one does not necessarily help the process of a renewal of the ego. On the contrary; an additional proof is furnished that it does not belong, and will not be; allowed to belong to the mainstream. From then on, fatalism rides again. It is a melancholy ride: you and I art; included in it.


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