The Bustling 'Megalopolis' - Oh Kolkata

Having known this metropolis intimately since the early days of my childhood, the mostly annual visits these days reveal possibly new facets or the ever changing ethos of the place every time. Increasingly there is little that delights and much to despair over.

In keeping with recommended trends, lets touch on the positives first. The biggest of them all is surely infrastructure. Barring that common failing of faltering at the last mile, the infrastructural improvements are clearly discernible and a significant improvement on the state of affairs earlier. Traffic flows relatively more smoothly, hopeless snarls and standstill situations are less frequent and despite the exploding population and number of vehicles on the road, getting from point A to B is relatively easier.

What mars the experience is utter indiscipline and failure to run the last mile well. The approach roads to flyovers at both ends are often hopelessly inadequate and cause major bottlenecks resulting in interminably slow crawls or standstill situations. The complete disregard for road rules, norms and courtesy to fellow human beings sharing the same road is something to behold. People keep weaving in & out of lanes and lean on their horns even when it is impossible to overtake the vehicle in front and get ahead. Road rage is all too common and might is right as is evident from the lumbering private buses and mini-buses which will force the average motorist to take evasive action as they go past, horns blaring. It's a forest out there and everything from cheetahs to hedgehogs, hyenas and skunks abound.

The same indiscipline and utter contempt for fellow inhabitants is evident when you walk down any of the more busy thoroughfares. Encroachments on the pavement are all too common and will force you to step on to the road at very frequent intervals. Passers-by will jostle & elbow you and step on your toes literally without so much as a by-your-leave. Apologies for such inconsiderate behaviour are virtually unheard of. Nothing illustrates this better than the conventional practice by many shopkeepers to sprinkle water on the pavement in front of their shops. A friend of mine, walking down the pavement while one shopkeeper was indulging himself thus asked him to desist awhile till he had finished traversing that particular stretch of the sidewalk. He was curtly told to 'go around' & step onto the adjoining stretch of road humming with traffic of all kinds.

The pavements and even the adjoining roads are treated like a gigantic stretch of garbage bin. You see everything from food leftovers to broken & discarded furniture lying around there, not to mention items with unpleasant aromas and appearances. People spit right in front of them while walking and at times you need to have good reflexes to jump out of the way of gobs of spittle speeding your way like little projectiles.

One wonders at what has brought this state of affairs about. Is it an exploding population including a pretty large percentage of migrants from the rather impoverished neighbouring states & countries? Is it the complete lack of enforcement of any kind over the years? Is it a culture of every johnny for himself and jenny for herself? Is it the overpowering need to get ahead of others even if it means trampling them for good measure? Is it the inevitable fallout of a near-inert Government which has been in power for over thirty years and finds itself incapable or simply unable to stem this rot in maintaining discipline or observing basic courtesies, having encouraged flagrant violations in these same areas during their earlier heady days in power.

Perhaps the underlying reasons for this rude, chaotic state of affairs are a potpourri of the various possible causes mentioned earlier. Whatever it may be, gentle persuasions and admonitions will certainly never be effective in correcting this slide. This city once prided itself on the behavioural trends demonstrated by its innumerable bhadraloks & bhadramahilas. Either these bhadraloks & bhadramahilas have convinced themselves that aggressive one-upmanship is quite the norm these days rather than the genteel ways that they practiced earlier or they have been simply overwhelmed and made largely invisible by the johnnies-come-lately who have made this city their own over the last several decades. Fence sitting bhadraloks have possibly abandoned their non-committal stance and decided that since there is little hope of beating them, the obvious alternative is to join them.

It would require a stern bhadralok leader, aided and abetted by a bhadralok administration and machinery to swing this trend around and bring about a certain sense of discipline and consideration towards fellow inhabitants among the burgeoning denizens of the city. Sadly, the present Chief Minister and his administration are not in any way endowed with such characteristics. What is more alarming perhaps is that there are no signs of any viable alternatives biding their time in the wings, waiting for the flawed democratic process to sweep them into power soon so that they can get to work treating this malaise. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin (Rudro Lobongolatika) where art thou?

** bhadralok & bhadramahila - well-mannered, culturally proper gentleman & lady, typically from the middle class.