Sunday, 13 March 2016

Where Has My City Gone

Every now and then the film fraternity of Kolkata throws up a film or two which are fresh, new, and not in the contour of the usual masala films. One such film which took the common urban denizen by pleasant surprise was Anindya Chatterjee's "Open Tee Bioscope", released last year. Everybody who saw it liked the film, but the class of people who were most touched by the histrionics of Phoara and Co. go by these identities: Men, 25 to 45 years, middle class, brought up in central or north Kolkata. I had an acquaintance falling within this category, and I asked him, what was it that touched you most in the film? His reply was not too cogent, but maybe I had got my answer. People are touched when they see on the screen things which they miss sorely, from their hearts. The city that was portrayed in the film is no more; it has suffered an unnoticed, gradual, imperceptible but steady demise.

When children are bereaved of their grandparents at a young age, they miss them badly. Leaving aside the enjoyment, frolic and affection these loving old people can be a source of, the grandparents are among those people a kid sees since birth: they are among the very first memories. So to lose them is to lose a part of one's youth. I have been born and brought up in Kolkata's suburbs, in an environment that is 21st century to boot, so I know very little of the city that that lived before me. But these occasional glimpses we still get of the city that used to be, maybe through directors like Chatterjee or through visits to deep interiors of central Kolkata where the "age" still lives on, leave me wondering if the place we have evolved the City of Joy into has left us missing the woods for the trees.

It is in the habit of old people to mourn about the "good-ole-days-gone-by", but I'm not geriatric. The Kolkata of the 80's and 90's was one big mess of pot-holed roads, an incorrigible transport system, a-strike-a-day kind of work culture and a god-awful electricity supply system. We are all better off than that, thank goodness. But I simply urge you to think beyond the material aspect. Sure, amenities have improved, which are in any case bound to improve over long time spans, but what have we lost? Anyone who has seen Ritesh Batra's 2013 masterpiece "The Lunchbox" surely remembers the ubiquitous character of "Auntie". "Auntie" was a neighbour of the female protagonist Ila, and the two chatted with each other round the clock through the kitchen windows. Their conversation was inconsequential to say the least. Throughout the film we get to know quite a lot about Auntie but her character remains faceless till the end. My city has lost these little characters, and along with them the feeling of kinship with the universe.

And with the universe it was. Calcutta accepted with open arms anyone who came to her shores. Dominique Lapierre felt this kinship, so did Mother Teresa. Usha Uthup and Shah Rukh Khan probably feel it too! From football teams to cuisine, we have no dearth of rivalries in our city, but all are taken in good spirit. Politics divides us in our ideologies but unites us in the common act of politician-bashing at any instance. A city of mind-boggling diversity, yet the same blood in everyone's vein: that was Kolkata.

Where has this city gone? One no longer finds genuine warmth from common people on the streets anymore. A busy life in a competitive world takes its toll for sure, but even when I was young Kolkata was definitely more friendly and cooperative. People now are always angry at something or someone, and are simply craving to let off that pent up frustration at the slightest instance. Moreover, the core of our societies have become decayed due to infiltration by anti-social elements with local political clout. Our streets are safe no longer, so we cannot really blame the concerned parent for thinking twice before letting her son step out into the roads for an evening game of cricket.

We are a "multi" generation living in multi-storieds and visiting multiplexes. Much as I enjoy my Inox experience, I miss the feeling of para nowadays. Opentee had brought it all back: the clamour of cycles rushing through bylanes, the familiar winter mela, the hum of Robindroshongit through a half-open window, and para-football. What with children busy with books and Facebook, parents busy throughout the day, and domestic helps ruling the roost, one can hardly expect genuine social interaction. To conclude, I remember what a kid once told me upon being promoted to the hallowed academic portals of the 6th standard: "I hardly get time to go out to play with my friends in the evenings nowadays, the pressure of academics is too much." I wish the boy, now probably in his 11th, the best of luck.

To those who grew up in a city that was a different place to be in, cherish your memories of an identity that is now changed for ever. To those who never even saw the city of old, here is to hoping for a better future for all of us!

I really miss those days I have never even lived in.