The Calcutta Summer and Calcutta

The first summer of Calcutta for a Non-Resdient like me has been a great lession in understanding suffering. The humid and hunting heat of Bengal troubled Babar who despised its rains and dampness, English Colonists who made lime their primary consumption and some as we know from some wordsmiths of Bengal – loved something very Non-English and very desi - panta bhat as we all know. English Ladies had a tougher time and suffered from a veritable irritation. In their moments of folly and despairing heat, they might have thought that the Natives are responsible for the climate and the wrath that was to be directed against Apollo was directed against the Natives. The employees of Company and later, the noble and less-noble functionaries of the Empire – all suffered the heat, long before the place became a Revolutionary hot-bed. My bed, here seems like a mild furnace. The night, an oscillation in the self-generated fluid of perspiration. The sleep – half, plenty, heavy and high but without gratification. Like the very city which excites but gratifies not.

Very few cities in the world can claim to be such lucky in earning International fame in so quick a time. Within three hundred years, this place in Eastern India rose to great fame, it has seen the vissictudes of its Fortune and in the last Episode, a study on Fortune itself. In the city of vanishing wealth, the political leaders experimented with great zeal on crushing any unequal distribution of wealth. The city was ruled by Babus just after its inception. Babus, in todays terminology can be said to be Sparkling Consumerists . They consumed with a wonderful apetite things intellectual, sensual, political, moral, erotic and vulgar. The fertile and rich outskirts of Bengal were squeezed to enrich the Capital at Calcutta – came foodgrains, flowers and beauties. Babus reclined in their mansions, drank whisky and desi, flew kites, had cockfight, sang and danced and finally when the Great Sweepstick of history threw them to some Recycle Bin, they vanished. Their legacy remained. When the new ideas swept Bengal, this land was bereft of economic wealth, its craft and art almost destroyed and the default opportunity of becoming the Capital of a growing Empire was fast vanishing in real sense. The Economy was changing. India, itself was becoming a political power, instead of an Economic Colony of British on which Calcutta owes its birth, its rise and prominence and International Fame. While Political India was entangled in the local three body problem of China-Pakistan-Bangladesh, Bengal, always fascinated by novelty rather than of inner value embraced Communism. For last two hundred years, Bengal was a tropical conduit through which European Thoughts travelled, with necessary and inevitable distortion and dispersion. It was a kind of a logical conslusion of the Mind of a Bengali Bhadralok who finds greater pain in not being a Bhadra than Daridra. The lack of shrewdness of a Bengali Bhadralok’s mind was evident when it went against its entire historical whole and embraced something very incongruous to its cultural destiny. Communism in Bengal as a political idea highlighted that becaon light in understanding the cultural essence of Bengal – a passionate urge of not to be left behind in the realm of culture, to embrace the dominant culture of the time, to be always searching for New Culture, New Ideas. The noble manisfestation of this essence came in the personages whom Bengalis love to decorate with the epithet of Viswapathik and the worst ones, as Tagore has once remarked – ".. From their speech, it was evident that they were smearing ink onto the face of English Culture and whitelime onto the face of Bengali Community." This Cultural aspect finds its echo in a character of Ms. Arundhati Roy, Mr. Chacko - an Oxford Scholar, a Marxist, presently a pickle manufacturer. The Author has captured by a single line the entire essence of Mr. Chacko, quite known to a Bengali – "He had a Marxist Mind and a Feudal Libido."

Bengal had a tryst with its True Destiny and it chose Life instead of a Mummified Immortality when it came to Babu Rammohan Roy writing that historical letter for English Education. Bengal was always a Cultural Wanderer, always in the lookout for a dominant Culture of the day. This had a high survival value as we know. But in embracing the Mummified Communism with the "feudal intellectual Libido", three far reaching effects happened in the Cultural Life of Bengal – a) The true aristocracy was either crushed, suppressed or left for imaginary homelands b) The remnants of the decadent Babus became apologetic and shifted to the compass of power. c) A great chance of coming in contact with the dominant TransAtlantic Culture of United Sates was either hated, or neglected or forgotten. Post Cold-war made the world order very different. Historically, Bengal was a rare piece of land in the entire Orient to cross-examine its European part with that Transatlantic metamorphosis but the Leadership did not have the potency of seeing that Vision. Bengal missed this great historical opportunity, a great Cultural Cross Examination of hitherto unknown scope in global order was missed. Why ? Because, only true aristicrats of a society could envision, rest operate. Bengal had struck a historical short-cut in Cultural Space and the lack of shrewdness of Benagli Bhadralok do not see a quick recapitualtion. And as a logical conclusion, in the Geopolitics of India, Bengal remained as a land of Strategic Imporatnce only. It could not lead because its Leaders were asked to forget what was Leadership. Because, historically, Leadership is always Aristocratic, not by birth but that essence of which Edmund Burke says – "..This is true and noble Aristocracy. Without this there is nothing great and there is no Nation."

But I am not qualified to say anything on this great city to which my residency period is only two months.. But I find that what is Paris for Frenchman, so is Calcutta for a Bengali. It is the nervecenter of Bengali Cultural Space and hence, its decadence affects the Greater Bengal that is a Global Community. This city, whose hospitality and International Concessions have become Urban Legends but alas, the city is fast undergoing a de-urbanaisation phase. Its Politics have no cultural flesh and blood, its citizens have forgotten things aristocratic, it is the city of Cost-Cutting. In its commerial vein does not throb the swell of wealth, its streets do not offer that maddening air of urban excitement but boring and shabby processions. But I cannot lose hope. Calcutta cannot sleep in this dirt for long. In spite of all political mummies which are lying heavily on its shoulder, a flash of true and noble aristocracy will make it see its real situation. The city which has seen giants walking on its streets, on whose tradeposts have come Greeks, Aryans, Persians, Arabs, Mogols, English, Frecnh, Dutch, Portugese cannot lie permanently in a cocoon of self-made isolation.

The magic of Calcutta lies elsewhere. I wish what my young son will find a Calcutta very different from what his father had found and he will thank his father for working for the Change.


Contributor wordsmith has been a resident of Calcutta and is a Network Manager by profession.