Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nowhere so many saplings are seen growing on the walls of the buildings of a city

DECLINE OF A CITY - Existence determines consciousness in Calcutta
SURENDRA MUNSHI The Telegraph Front Page > Opinion >Thursday, August 30, 2007
A city may decline in different ways. Dilapidated buildings and roads in bad repair provide visible signs of this decline. Heaps of uncollected garbage and inadequate amenities such as transport do not show a city in a good light. Since the economic condition of a city indicates the viability of the city, deteriorating economy is no sign of a thriving city. A city may decline in terms of educational and health services as well. Institutions created to take care of them may be weakened by external or internal reasons. Falling professional standards may be yet another way in which a city declines. Intellectual and artistic cultivation may also show diminishing vitality.
Calcutta has declined in many ways. Once famous for its palaces, this city shows today crumbling buildings and roads, which lend themselves to the measurement of the depth of their potholes. A nature-lover on a short visit to Calcutta once told me excitedly that he had never seen anywhere so many saplings growing in the walls of the buildings of a city. The battered buses of Calcutta can be a good advertisement for the demerits of a transport system gone wild. The garbage in Calcutta piles up at all places. When it is transported away, it tends to be done in such a reckless manner that one wonders whether the purpose is to dispose of the garbage or to spread it all over the city.
Amartya Sen has talked recently of the de-industrialization of Calcutta and how, in recent times, there has been further decline due to misguided policies. It is quite visible, even to common persons, how industries set up under the British, such as jute, engineering and tea, which were located in or around Calcutta, have gone into decline. In other spheres as well, Calcutta has lost ground. It is sad to see students from Calcutta having to go out of their city in pursuit of higher education. Hospitals in south India are full of patients from Calcutta and other parts of West Bengal. This is happening to a city that was once in the forefront of education, including medical education and healthcare. As in reality, so in the world of images. While Calcutta was, at one time, the leading centre of film industry in India where Kundan Lal Saigal, the first superstar of the film world, came from outside and made his name, it is reduced today to making poor imitations of Bombay films. The Bengali film industry has still not recovered from the absence of Uttam Kumar, who died in 1980.
It is common among some circles in Calcutta to deny the importance of the physical decay of the city. The claim of Calcutta as the cultural capital of India is put up with chauvinistic zeal. It seems to be assumed that the physical condition of the city is inversely related to its cultural activity. It is as if Calcutta had a splendid cultural life because of its physical squalor. I do not buy this argument. As a person who has lived in Calcutta all these years, I have witnessed here a convincing demonstration of the elementary principle of Marx: existence determines consciousness.
The shrinking job market, the helplessness of the youth, the indiscipline of those already employed, the political patronage given to the worst elements in society, the pervasive sense of nothing significant happening — this debris of the dark years under Jyoti Basu with which Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is struggling hard has left its mark in less visible ways as well.
This point was driven home to me once when I went to pay my telephone bill. On my failure to render the exact amount, the man at the counter started shouting at me. “How do you expect me to have the change so early in the day?” — this seemed to be the theme of his outburst. When I pointed out that this was no reason to shout at me, he became even more aggressive. “Shouting? Am I shouting?” he shouted back. It took me some time to understand that he did not realize that he was being rude to me. What was rude behaviour to me was routine behaviour to him. It is this rudeness made routine that has become prevalent in social life. The decline of civility has taken place in a city which did pride itself at one time for its bhadra — civil — behaviour.

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