Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Sin in Singur

By Manuwant Choudhary

Kolkata: I am in New Delhi right now but just a few days ago I was travelling in crumbling Kolkata - the red bastion.

And in New Delhi my friend Barun Mitra of Liberty Institute is organising a seminar `The Sin in Singur' this evening, which unfortunately I will not be able to attend.

So I write about my Kolkata visit and Singur instead from what my driver Sanjay told me as he drove a Toyoto Qualis in smoke-filled Kolkata as wooden buses and creaking trams blocked traffic.

Just like the Sanjay in The Mahabharata.

He said, "Sir do you know why people are protesting against the Singur Nano project?"

I said, "You tell me."

He said how one protestor, a woman, was asked why she is protesting by a TV reporter and this is what she said, "Woh Momta didi ka zameen sarkar le raha hai naa...isliye humlog idhaar aaya hai." (Mamata Didi's land is being taken away by the government so we have come here to protest.)

Said Sanjay smilingly. "Don't you think car project should happen and it will be good for Bengal?"

I said "yes, of course."

But then I showed him all the yellow ambassadors on crowded Kolkata streets and asked him whether 60 years of manufacturing an ambassador as a monopoly had brought about prosperity to Bengal or India?

I asked him, "Does Kolkata have those multiplex parking buildings yet?"

He replied, "No."

Then he said, "Sir, its true that the communists shut down some 6000 factories in the past 30 years of their rule just around Kolkata. I know some employees who went on strike and shut down their own factories. They used to earn Rs.5,000 and now they earn Rs.2000 per month as security guards."

Sanjay is from Bihar but living in Kolkata for 12 years.
We drove past an old red building standing almost like an encroachment and Sanjay told me its the Writers Building.

"I do not have voting rights here but people from Bangladesh can vote. Many Muslims from Bangladesh now pray to Lord Ram and celebrate Durga puja as well. They even collect money for the pandals. Sometimes in our bastee when we oppose the extortion there is violence. But Bengali goondas never go to prison. Even before the police get them to the police station, a telephone call has already come to let them go free."

I have been to Kolkata several times when it was still called Calcutta and driving around Victoria Memorial I often thought the city had a future but this time I decided to go visit the Victoria Memorial.

Just old photographs of British generals and Bengali aristocracy are housed there. One remark said how Bengal's aristocracy burnt ten rupee notes to light a cigarette and one zamindaar ripped off the sides of his dhoti as they would hurt his soft skin.

Todays Bengal is of course different. The Babus have taken over from the bhadraloks.

Sanjay describes a scene outside a transport office in Kolkata.

We had been waiting for an hour in hot sun and the officer comes in at 11 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. He then opens his shirt's top buttons and rolls his shirt collars back, pushes a chair, sits down, looks up at a creaking fan and says, "Ektu Jawl lao" (get me a glass of water)

A waiting driver from behind comments. "Dekho zamindaar ka beta aa gaya." (see a zamindaar's son has arrived."

The Babu, "Kya bola, kya bola...kaun bola..kaun bola."

Another driver from behind, "Tumraa baap bola..." (Your father said...)

The Babu drinking his glass of water gets up from his chair..."Aaaj kam hobe naaa.." (Today I will not work).


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