Friday, July 24, 2009

Intriguing Calcutta!

I have been sharing a very intense but imaginative sort of relationships with the city of joy (Calcutta); my charm for this bewildering city basically emerged from the Bangla literature, Music and great Cinematic movement which simultaneously spells bounded me for greater ties. Indeed I bestowed too much intellectually from the legacy of this city which imparts me fresh vision to see the things in greater context. Looking through the snapshots of modern Indian History, its become explicit that the city Calcutta possessed utmost importance in comprehending the actual intricacies of British colonialism in India.
The city founded by a British Job Charnok with motives to strengthen the base of East India Company in Indian subcontinent which later established the Calcutta as focal point of colonial expansion and largest commercial hub for at least two centuries.

As the acts of colonizers were not even handed for the interest of Indian Territory; it started getting ground among the local intelligentsia that enabled British Raj to shaping the circumstances in their selfish favors which was lasted only with the loss of Indian sovereignty; so, that immediately caused for a large chunk of dissociation from British standpoint which they enjoyed retrospectively.
Obviously Calcutta was the first Indian city which came so forwardly under the exposure of modern English education likewise major socio- cultural reforms also have been taken place in this city. So,very soon a new radical class was formed with candid expressions of modern enlightenment which was somehow very reverse from the British conception about these newly English literates. In this manner Calcutta and even entire Bengal earned the distinction of avantgarde in cultural awakening and formation of anti colonial sentiments across the country.

Establishment of Presidency College and further the Calcutta University radically changed the outlook of its academic associates which eventually left dual effects on the fortune of British Empire although British educationist became able to create a pool of intelligence in their favour; Michael Madhusudan Dutt, a bright alumni of Hindu College could be a formidable example in this regard but the wave of nationalism was much stronger against the hegemonic tendencies of Colonizers.
In later period disillusionment from such cultural fabrication very pragmatically enhanced the plight of freedom seekers; even the intellectual sycophants like Michael Madhusudan Dutt had entirely got away from colonial impressions and returned back to his home land in completely new incarnation where he penned numerous adorable sonnets in Bengali.

But in later course Calcutta got two major setbacks by first the division of Bengal in 1905 and transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 which further jeopardized the previously held prominence of Calcutta, even though the city kept playing the active role in freedom movement. In post independent phase Calcutta struck with the slump development oriented framework from both the major ruling governments of Congress and Left parties; its eventuality appears very lucid by passing through this city which completely lost its edge in growth momentum.
In meantime West Bengal also gone through many socio-economically generated disruptions like, Naxalbari movement and later Maoism which grasped untimely the thousands of best educated lives. Advent of Left parties in 1970’s was an implication of such chaotic state of affairs, initially great hopes persisted in their promises but very few things could actually materialized in positive way.
It’s true those in initial years, CPI (M) led government did some commendable work for land reform and law and order situation but such more work couldn’t be sustained in further time. Politically situation in West Bengal is really very grim since both the ruling and opposition sides reflects their intention only for authoritarian lust instead the betterment of greater common goods. By the effect Calcutta and even entire West Bengal today gravely lagging behind in development indexes.
A very political atmosphere is urgently imperative to short out these chronic maladies of governance and in boosting the morale of city dwellers towards their great past. Today Calcutta needs a radical improvement in its infrastructural capacity which is hardly suffice presently to carry on the extended load of modern economy; city’s architectural marvels are today waiting for same considerations.

Despite such all odds Calcutta is still worth of attention for various reason; even today city stood with its great culture of intellectual tradition and respect for learning. The city Calcutta immensely contributed in the shaping of modern India and up gradation of Nationhood, of course Calcutta could proudly honoured by the history of hosting intellectuals like Rabindranath Tagore who not only infused vibrancy in West Bengal albeit his charisma spread universally across the globe.
Twentieth century also witnessed the numbers of scion emerged in different fields from this city; work of Mahasweta Devi, Sunil Gangopadhaya, Badal Sirkar , Amitav Ghosh,Amit Chaudhuri etc presents very alluring introspection of Calcutta’s city life.

But it’s most remarkable portrayal being evident from the great Bengal movement of Cinema with hard efforts from Cinema makers like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Vimal Roy, Rishikesh Mukherjee etc. They infused their best constructive energy to raise the causes of Calcutta; Cinemas like “Do Bigha Zameen” (Bimal Roy), “Meghe Dhaka Tara” and “Bari Theke Paliye” (Ritwik Ghatak),”Mahanagar” and “Charulata” (Satyajit Ray), and many magnum opus work of Mrinal Sen are vehemently exposing the diverse facades of Calcutta’s urban life. It could be a matter of solace that city still having some very great names in different domains.
In my lone visit to this city in September 2007, I frequently came across the déjà vu situations besides eureka moments as well, such things happened in strong imaginative relationships to any particular subject; in my three days in Calcutta, I directly corresponded to this city and done so many productive acts.

Like, moving on the street of Esplanade and Park Street, Sit for long hours in Victoria Memorial, spent some time on the bank of Ganga, and Involved in a shopping spree for Panjabi Kurtas and Bangla taiint sarees in Tantuja shop at Esplanade, commuted in metros, tram and buses (From Mullick Bazar to BT Road) and most notably I scanned the Asiatic Societies very precious Library to see some of treasures from histor.Here I abled to see the manuscripts of most precious work in Maithili literature ( “Varna Ratnakar” by Jyotireshwar Thakur , 13th ce4ntury AD) ; alas!, I couldn’t see the National Museum and Victoria Memorials Museum due to weekly holidays; this remain a regret for me during this trip.
Indeed I feel very closer with this city because of its persistence with great intellectual and cultural tradition which makes it especially unique. A song of a differently abled beggar (In a bus) is still vivid in my mind ...”Amar Juger Nai Thicker Re Bandhu” (This is Not Our Age, Brother); for a while it resembled me some relationship with this city, but I had emphatic wish for a changed fortune of city and its residents. I would wish to see Calcutta in my next visit as genuine City of Joy with free from ironies.

Atul Kumar Thakur
24th July 24, 2009, New Delhi


  1. Enjoyed your post on Calcutta-do read Geoffrey Moorhouse's book on the city-Ramchandra Guha

  2. Good one-Amitabh Thakur