In this country, it is so easy to idealise the past and our agrarian roots. I grew up with this rhetoric, being a Bengali. Of the greatness of Tagore, of the days of the Bengali freedom struggle, of the days when the bhadralok learned English and became a barrister, but also wore the dhuti, ate on the floor, and touched his mother’s feet before leaving home each morning.
There is much to deride about modern India. We know the words: corrupt, consumerist, inequality, inhuman, rape, exorbitant, overly-rapid, erosion.
I could easily sepia-gold tint these photographs and they would transform into beautiful symbols of a nostalgic idea of Kolkata. Of a Kolkata in touch with its humble roots, where neighbors know each other, where hot food is made for every meal, where everything is sacrificed at the altar of the child’s education, where the simple pleasures of life mean so much…
But in these streets where I help sell hair oil, is there more than this? Is there a similarity to the chawls and slums of Bombay? Are we then, walking around in a city where there is the Bharat, but no sign of India? No sign of a growing corporate meritocracy? No sign of increasing per-capita incomes and widening horizons? Is it a city stuck both with the good and bad of complete middle-class idyll? But what of the BMW’s we see on the streets, and the Fortuners and Range Rovers which just went past. What about Tolly, and Inox? Where are those pictures?
Those who love Kolkata, and understand it, no doubt take beautiful pictures of its people and places which haunt us.
No-one can hope to correctly or accurately capture enough of a city like Kolkata in a poem, post and sometimes even a book. But as a humble observer, in city after Indian city that at least I visit, I find much that disturbs me, and little that brings cheer. Maybe its just me.