Monday, May 25, 2009

Oh! Calcutta...

What did Calcutta do to deserve this?

I mean, yes, the city sucks, no doubt. It must be the dirtiest, most polluted city ever. Everybody who goes to Calcutta should see the marvel of Free School Street (just ahead of Kathleen) where Pigs and Humans co-exist peacefully on a wonderful garbage dump which would, one day, be used as a model for sustainable housing.

And, of course, the water logging. Other Indians hate the Brits, but the Calcuttans love them for building the first and last sewage system the city’s seen. The white man actually cared for us! But then again, I’m being a bit melodramatic as usual. The water logging’s not all bad. Most taxiwalas pray to Indra for it. Because, when it rains, the Ambassador is king and the cabbie will casually say, after you flag him down standing beside your firangi car which has conked of due to water in the engine: “Sir, today no meter, sir. But you give me 200 rupees for Theatre Road, sir. Arre yes, I know it costs 50 by meter, sir, but today paani jaam, no Sir?”.

Even when it’s not raining, though, the buses don’t give you too much joy either. They do, it must be admitted, look ugly and a more than a bit unsafe. And I swear I’ve been on quite a few buses whose floor boards have cracks big enough to see the street passing by below. But then you do appreciate them, at some level. I mean it’s not every day that you would have 300 people packed into a mini-bus meant for 50. It brings us Calcuttans closer—a tightly knit family some would say.

Of course, all this is small fry compared to Calcutta’s real problem—Bengalis. The city’s filled with them.

But even then, did Calcutta deserve this? I mean, the city’s not all bad, is it?

Where else would you get a Biryani with that lovely aloo included along with meat? The legend goes that when Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to the city by the Sewage-System Builders, the poor man had a tough time keeping up his old lifestyle. It’s not easy when you’re busy using Muta to marry girls for a few days and casting them off, is it? It’s hard on an exiled nawab’s finances. So the poor man cut back on his food by replacing some of the meat in his Biryanis with aloo. It’s true—some people would do anything for love.

And since were're on the subject of food, the kati kawab rolls which Nizam’s claimed it invented must be brought up. Succulent and tender pieces of roasted meat wrapped in a crispy, flaky yet not very oily paratha served to you by some chap who obviously has some sort of groin infection. I ask you, does a city that invented the kati roll, deserve this sort of treatment? Does it?

And what about Park Street? And Peter Cat, the chicken sizzlers and the prawn cocktails (Mrs. G., it was said, ordered her prawn cocktails from Sky Room. They used to go out on the evening Calcutta-Delhi flight. Sky Room’s shut down now, though. Why? Labour problems, of course. This is a write-up on Calcutta you fool!). And New Market during the Christmas holidays with marzipan from Nahoum’s. And those horrible tacky Santa Claus dolls, who, went the tale, cried because the city did not deserve what had been done to it.

Of course, all this is small fry compared to Calcutta’s real asset—Bengalis. The city’s filled with them.

So, I ask you, ladies, gentleman and Karan Johar, did Calcutta deserve this?

Kolkata Knight Riders:

Played: 14; lost: 10, won: 3, tie/NR: 1

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sarkar - Part II

Yes, it’s time to jive to Jai Ho. The big story of the day, apart from what I had for lunch, is that the Congress has swept the country, Singh is King and Sonia is our soniya.

As usual, the press messed it up, predicting a hung house which never happened. The BJP, while it did not exactly get drubbed, ended up “strongly and decisively” on the losing side. The party, of course, remained quiet for much of the day other than Jaitly’s press conference, where he accepted the “people’s verdict”. It would be interesting to see where this party goes from here—back to virulent identity politics or making a new start as a respectable right-wing party. I suspect it would be the former in spite of Chandan Mitra’s opinion that projecting Modi during the campaign as a future PM was a mistake.

Of course, we all know who did get the drubbing of their lives—the Left, who, it’s obvious, did not get it right this time. A. B. Bardhan cut a sorry figure during his press-conference, even more so when he snapped at a journo who was asking him about the Nuclear Deal. Ironically, it is being said that one of the main reasons for the Congresses performance was, to some extent, the NREGA—a scheme that the Left could claim some credit for.

However, the real story lay not with the three main parties, it lay with three states—Bengal, Bihar and UP.

Bengal, after more than 30 years, did not vote for the Left. Which, to some extent, is just about as shocking as someone telling me that the KKR will win the IPL. While the verdict is no doubt something Bengal was badly in need of, two things need to be considered.

The first is Mamata herself—let’s make this clear, she’s not a person I would want in charge of a traffic intersection much less my home-state. She has already expressed a willingness for the Left Front government in the state to be dismissed by the Centre. Sigh!

Second, is the fact is that while the Left may have been defeated has its ideology been? Mamata, it must be remembered, only won after she took a stand that most would interpret as anti-industrialisation. Having said that, this reading of the verdict might not be entirely correct—the CPI (M), in usual fashion I might add, behaved rather autocratically when gathering the land for industry. It’s all very fine to go on about being pro-industry sitting in Calcutta but it’s quite another to actually suffer for it by having your land taken away from you forcefully. Maybe all the people did was to voice their anger at being taken for granted.

The result in Bihar, on the other hand, was unequivocally positive. Why anyone, other than the Yadav family, would not support Nitish sweeping in Bihar is beyond me. The Bihar verdict, it might be said, represents a vote for politics based on development rather than ossified identities of caste and religion.

Bihar’s neighbouring state of UP, to some extent, mirrors the former’s verdict. Incredibly, the Congress is the second largest party in the state. The verdict also does cut Mayawati down to size a bit, although till further details emerge about the voting patterns, it would be premature to comment on what this represents. Of course, the UP verdict does hugely boost Rahul’s image within the party and vindicates his stand of going it alone. And while Mr. Singh graciously said that he wanted Rahul to be a part of his cabinet, it’s not like Rahul would need his permission.

All in all, it’s been quite day and quite a verdict.

And while from Monday onwards we’ll all get back to cribbing about our state—how the roads just aren’t there; the hungry and the destitute littering our great cities and the monsters who are killing their own daughters—at least for today, I think, we can all feel just a bit proud of something that quite a few countries would give an arm and a leg to achieve—our democracy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Sanjana, Surbhi aur unke kayi naye dost aayein hai chat room pe. Bus dial karein 55313@Rs9/min aur kare unse dher saary baatein.

I’m a Vodafone subscriber and every spam SMS they send me, like the one above, is prefixed with VD, for, I assume, Vodafone. So, for example, an SMS containing offers would be called ‘VD Offers’.

Anyways, I would certainly have called “Sanjana, Surbhi aur unke kayi naye dost” if it wasn’t for the message title: VD Dost.

P.S: For those not conversant with Hindi, the SMS literally translates to:

Sanjana, Surbhi and their new friends have come to the chat room. All you have to do is to dial 55313@Rs9/min and talk to them all you want.
'Dost', of course, translates to 'friend'.