I saw IT complexes, some already made and others under construction. I also saw swanky malls; nowadays you find them everywhere in Calcutta. But as the cab went past Salt Lake – a place which was developed later and remains unlike the rest of the city – the optimistic mood sank. I met old buildings awaiting repair for years, narrow by-lanes, traffic gridlocks, dust and grime and a sea of people.
This part of Calcutta introduced me to another change. Unlike few years ago, when where ever you went you saw red Left posters, now you mostly see green buntings and hoardings of Trinomool Congress (the opponent of Left in West Bengal).
The driver informed me that a political procession was out clogging all important roads of the city, hence the traffic jam.
After reaching home, I read in the newspaper that the strike was called by the Left parties. I thought in other cities ruling parties rarely call strikes that disrupt the normal city life.
After a few days of my stay in Calcutta, my niece got engaged. On the engagement day, I met many family members and friends I had not met in a long time. There were discussions on various topics but the one that got me involved was politics. State assembly elections are nearing in Bengal and I wanted to guage public mood.
There were various views on the decline of Left government in Bengal and while everyone was disappointed with Left, no one seemed to offer an alternative. They seemed upset with the Left but not happy with the prospect of Trinamool coming to power. “So would a coalition of Congress and Trinamool with a Congress CM work?” I asked. Some agreed with me. (But I read later that Congress has a very weak presence in Bengal and many of its leaders are moving to Trinamool Congress.) Later regreted sounding too political.
One of my cousins, who was once a card-holding member of the Left, said in Karnataka people are happy and prosperous in cities while farmers in villages are committing suicide. “Farmers are committing suicide in Andhra Pradesh and not Karnataka,” I retorted. My cousin was a little surprised to see my sharp reaction.
Winter is a season of book fairs in Calcutta. The one held at Maidan is a grand affair visited by noted Bengali writers. Budhadeb Bhattacherjee, the CM who is known for his literary inclinations, visits the fair every year. This time at the fair he said the end of Left in Bengal could be the end of everything. It sounded like the last flickering of a dying lamp.
Few days after the political debate at my niece’s engagement, I tried to figure out why I reacted so sharply to my cousin’s comment about urban Karnataka being happy while the rural Karnataka suffers – and identified the source of my anger: Traditional Leftists have a way of discrediting others’ success to underplay their own failures. But for this reluctance to learn from others, Calcutta could be a different story today.
On my way back to the airport, I saw those IT complexes again and left the city with optimism.