Unlike the past many years, Kolkata seems to be experiencing a prolonged winter this time. It just rained the other day, pulling the mercury down. And the met office says it'll continue to be pleasant for a few more days at least. All these years, February has reminded us that summers are just round the corner. I remember switching on the ceiling fan from early February these past seven years I have been living in Kolkata. But this year, we're doing without the fan even during daytime. Given this pleasant run, maybe, just maybe, we'll experience a bit of spring this year. It's too early to predict, say met officials; but the weather gods may just oblige us for once. Would there be this gentle wind with flowers in full bloom for us to experience and savour next month?
This doesn't pertain to Kolkata, but could well have happened here. At Durgapur, Bengal's premier industrial town, a mob set fire to a truck driver who had lost control of his vehicle and run over a young boy on Wednesday. After the accident, the driver tried to speed away, but was caught and thrashed. The mob reasoned that if he was handed over to the police, as is expected of law-abiding citizens, the cops would take a bribe and let go of the errant driver, as is quite often the case. Hence, it would be better to teach him a lesson. A few suggested that the driver be set afire so as to serve as a brutal example to rash drivers who care little for people's lives. And so he was tied to a post, kerosene oil was poured on him, a matchstick was lit and he was set ablaze. Cops from the nearest police station, less than half a kilometre away, arrived after well over an hour, by which time a local politician reached the scene, rescued the man and took him to a hospital. But it was too late.
It's easy and convenient to condemn this incident as the handiwork of brutes
which it was. But it raises some very pertinent questions. Why is it that
drivers, especially of buses and trucks, are so rash and care so little about
knocking down people and running them over? Why are our laws so lax that even
serial offenders never get to spend time behind bars? Why don't rash drivers
lose their driving licences? Why do we condone cops taking bribes and setting
errant drivers free? And, most important of all, hasn't the thought of teaching
a harsh lesson to a rogue driver who hurtles down the road, scrapes and dents
our cars or nearly runs over a pedestrian, ever crossed our minds? Have we
become intolerant, revengeful and prone to inflicting (or at least condoners of)
vigilante justice because the legal justice system isn't working at all to keep
rogue driver off our roads? Time these questions were answered squarely and
This city is anarchic and Kolkatans are, by nature, anarchists. Bengalis, especially, seem to derive some perverted pleasure by cocking a snook at the law. A large section of Bengalis feel there's something innately 'revolutionary' in every law-defying act of theirs. But the laws Kolkatans generally love to violate are, and thankfully so, minor ones, especially ones relating to environment. Thus, filling up ponds and waterbodies is rampant; buildings are erected in violation of regulations and sanctioned plans; traffic rules are observed in violation; most vehicles belch noxious fumes; loudspeakers blare away till the wee hours and even in hospital compounds; and encroachments on public land are too common to merit mention anymore.
Take the case of loudspeakers. There's a standing order from the state
pollution control board—all loudspeakers should be fitted with sound limiters
and the noise cannot be over 65 decibels, loudspeakers should be switched off by
10 pm even during the Durga Pujas, loudspeakers cannot be played at 'silence
zones' like areas around healthcare and educational institutions and no
loudspeakers are allowed anywhere in the state during the Class 10 and 12 board
exams. But every single day we hear or read about blatant violations of these
orders by not only private individuals or local clubs, but also respectable
organizations and bodies. Even the Chief Minister, ministers and senior
politicians think nothing of attending programmes near hospitals with
loudspeakers blaring away. On being told about such breaches, they don't even
appear apologetic. The examples Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his compatriots set
are followed zealously by the citizenry. Is it then any wonder that Kolkata is
such a lawless city?
Four years ago, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) gifted ten cottahs (about 680 square metres) of land in south Kolkata to cricketer Sourav Ganguly, "for promotion of sports activities". But far from using the valuable piece of land for the stated purpose, Bengal's living icon went on to surreptitiously construct a multi-storied commercial complex on it. With the help of some KMC high-ups, he secured permission for constructing the complex—the permission was void because no multi-storied structures are allowed on the road named after Raja Ram Mohun Roy, on which the gifted land is located. A news item on this appeared prominently in the Kolkata edition of a national newspaper some time ago. But 'Dada' (as Sourav is known) was unfazed; construction went on in full swing. Perhaps he thought he was above the law and nobody could or would touch him.
The famed southpaw has earned a huge pile of money, tens of crores of rupees
by conservative estimates, but saw no harm in adding to his huge pile by
violating norms and rules. That people look up to him and he's supposed to set
examples didn't really bother him. After all, Bengal's most powerful man--Chief
Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee--is a self-confessed Sourav fan. But now, it
seems the law is set to catch up with Sourav. Those in the KMC who winked at the
shameless violations of the deed/lease conditions by Sourav have been asked some
tough questions. A probe has been ordered. It's only a matter of time before
someone files a suit against Sourav. High time this happened anyway. In a lame
defence, Sourav's apologists say that one floor of the complex will house a
gymnasium, another will have shops that sell only sports goods and another one a
cafeteria. That's Sourav's idea of a facility for promotion of sports! And we're
all dumb fools.
While on Sourav, he would surely get the prize for being one of the worst-dressed 'celebrities' in the country. He sports a terrible hair-style, doesn't come across as an intelligent or warm person (thanks to his stiff posture and visage), and has the knack for donning ugly clothes that don't match or are unattractive. Sourav desperately needs a grooming consultant for a image makeover and needs to inculcate some dress sense. He was last seen in public wearing a horizontally striped black shirt with a pair of pin-striped trousers!
Ashutosh College in Kolkata has notched a first—it is a pioneer among educational institutions in India, and perhaps in South Asia at least, for sourcing a part of its energy requirements from renewable sources. The college has erected a 73-watt solar panel and solar energy now powers instruments, lights and fans at its physics, electronics and computer laboratories. Use of solar power will not only increase the life of the instruments, but would also cut the college's power bill by 30 percent. Ashutosh College is planning to install more panels and, perhaps, switch over completely to solar power. Other colleges who're planning to follow suit have been promised heavy discounts on purchase of solar panels by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency that has done a lot of pioneering work in the field of non-conventional energy and won many plaudits from around the world. Kolkata ought to be proud of Ashutosh College.
By the way, this news kicked off a discussion at a gathering of eminent
personas the other day. Some wondered if solar energy was a commercially viable
proposition, given the fact that solar panels are very expensive and have to be
subsidized by the state. But then, if the cost of burning fossil fuels to
generate electricity—not just the cost of coal, but the damage to the
environment and public health—is taken into consideration and factored into
the cost of conventional power, solar power would apparently a much cheaper
proposition. Given this, the state ought to increase the subsidy on solar panels
to encourage more people to switch over to solar power for at least a
substantial part of their energy requirements.
February 21 is celebrated as Bhasha Divas (Mother Tongue Day) every year and provides yet another opportunity for Bengalis to yearn for their 'brethren' on the other side of the international border. Speeches are delivered by sundry litterateurs who get wistful and recall the 'glory days' of undivided Bengal, how the British and then other conspired against Bengalis to divide them, what a great, glorious and powerful force an undivided Bengal would have been in today's world and they all conclude with the fond hope that some day, perhaps, Bengal will be one again. This whining and crying and reminiscing has assumed ridiculous proportions. Such displays of worthless emotions don't serve any purpose at all, are a waste of time and energy and only show Bengalis in a very poor light—as a community stuck in the past and unable to move on. Punjab, too, was divided; so why is it that Punjabis (save for a fast diminishing, miniscule number) don't indulge in such nostalgia at regular intervals like the Bengalis? Tell you why—Punjabis couldn't be bothered, busy as they are with wealth generation.