Thursday, February 09, 2006

Oh! for a life of softness

I close my eyes and see...
By the gurgling brook we lie...
Hands holding, fingers entwined..
Two bodies as one enshrined...
White buterflies hover over us..
Rabbits playing in the grass.
Birds singing in the spring..
The whole world seems to sing..
I smell the lavender in you..
The world attains a colourful hue..
Then suddenly I wake..
To find that it all was a dream..
A dream, I wish it was true.. and
this life is just a fake.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Calcutta through the eyes of Vir Sanghvi

Now do not ask me who Mr Vir Sanghvi is! So naturally his writing style will be superb. I am not posting this because I am a Bengali, which I am, but because he is right about the ethos that flows in the city during Durga puja. Even a Bengali would not have been able to put this better like he did. So I hope he does not mind my putting his article on my blog. In any case this has been circulating in emails all over. And mind it I am a Bengalig who knows all the faults of Calcutta now called Kolkata. And I do know the faults of Delhi and Mumbai too as these are the cities I frequent or stay. I have another article by some other writer which will be next blog today. I post this article only because of its literary excellence and the way it has brought out the true picture of Calcutta.

I once sent this to my colleagues at office by email to test the reaction and the reaction I got is an eye opener of sorts. It told me why we are still a country full of regionalism and casteism and why our minds are still shallow and full of narrow regional mindedness. One Bengali Friend of mine who has never stayed in Bengal thought he had to say something against this article to prove his alleigance to his adopted state and said this :-"Shantanu,
Vir Sanghvi might say anything but it is a matter of debate - has lot of pros and cons - whatever may be the size of a journalist, pl. don't go by his statements about such things.
"- Alas!! Who is going by what Vir Sanghvi saus? Do I not know myself what he is saying is true!! Or do I not know that of all the states in India barring Bihar, Bengal has got left behind because of its ways and faults? But one cannot deny the strengths of a city can one? Just like one cannot deny the strengths of Delhi just because it is full of rude people! (More on this later in another Blog).

Another chap who is not a Bengali reacted even more strongly "I agreed with Mr. ...And if Pandal competition echos emotion, relegion,togeatherness than visit Mumbai during Dahi handi or Ganeshotsav, Visit Jaipur during Diwali week, Visit Mysore during Vijyadashmi. I think each region of India echos similar sentiments during different festival..."

Now who denies this? Not even Vir Sanghvi, I think! But all these shows that we as Indians are not ready to work as a Team or Feel as one YET. YES. Whoever says whatever we Indians are much Behind most countries when when it needs to team up as a nation. We do team up when we play cricket against Pakistan or we team up when we fight wars. No doubt about that. But when it comes to living in India we are groups and so we have trouble. Instead of just reading a good article from Mr Vir Sanghvi, who has probably written equally moving articles about Delhi or Mumbai or Bangalore or other cities, people feel they have to object. Why?

Since everybody has opinions I do too since I am one of the everybody. Here were my thoughts when I sent the article to my colleagues at office.

"I got this from a Bengali. I asked myself - Why send this to Bengalis only? BENGAL is not for Bengalis nor is Calcutta. So why not send this to others who have never stayed there? Or have stayed there? Or have the impression that Calcutta has only dirty roads or that it has a second class car in the tram which means it is so poor that people cannot even afford to pay for first class fare in the trams[exact words of someone to me] or that Calcutta is the only city where still you see 25 paisa coins??

When I went to Calcutta on leave recently, I said to my friend at our office at Calcutta / Kolkata that in Delhi there is something that drives people to do better for themselves, and that is what is probably needed by this country. That all people should WANT to better for themselves. For if they want to do that, they do it and in the process of achieving a better living automatically the country's economy grows. One should not wait for the govt to do something for them but rather do it themselves. But in Calcutta nobody seems to want to do better for themselves and are somehow content as they are and so has got left behind. And look at Delhi how people are better off and how they have progressed through hard work and grit. And today the highest country per capita income is in Delhi. The quality of life is so better here in Delhi. [I am not an economist but I have a feeling that I may have probably made an observation which forms the basis of Economic Growth of a Country]

When I said the above to my friend at Calutta, he said Shantanu Calcutta has a different quality of life ........ I, being a Bengali, understood what he meant. But at the same time having stayed outside of Bengal for more than 14 years, I can compare and find good in other cities and other people too.. ... when I go home I love it, the ways of Calcutta.. and when I come back here I love this too..... each city is different... and so are the people.

If you want to know about Calcutta then here is what Vir Sanghvi, a much more widely travelled man says about it.

** Begin Vir Saghvi's Article***

Subject: Pujo By Vir Sanghvi

What 'Pujo' means to a Bengali
Most modern Indian cities strive to rise above ethnicity.

Tell anybody who lives in Bombay that he lives in a Maharashtrian city and (unless of course, you are speaking to Bal Thackeray) he will take immediate offence. We are cosmopolitan, he will say indigenously. Tell a Delhiwalla that his is a Punjabi city (which, in many ways, it is) and he will respond with much self-righteous nonsense about being the nation's capital, about the international composition of the city's elite etc. And tell a Bangalorean that he lives in a Kannadiga city and you'll get lots of techno-gaff about the internet revolution and about how Bangalore is even more cosmopolitan than Bombay.

But, the only way to understand what Calcutta is about is recognize that the city is essentially Bengali. What's more, no Bengali minds you saying that. Rather, he is proud of the fact. Calcutta's strengths and weaknesses mirror those of the Bengali character. It has the drawbacks: the sudden passions, the cheerful chaos, the utter contempt for mere commerce, the fiery response to the smallest provocation.

And it has the strengths (actually, I think of the drawbacks as strengths in their own way). Calcutta embodies the Bengali love of culture; the triumph of intellectualism over greed; the complete transparency of all emotions, the disdain with which hypocrisy and insincerity are treated; the warmth of genuine humanity; and the supremacy of emotion over all other aspects of human existence.

That's why Calcutta is not for everyone. You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore's your place. But if you want a city with a soul: come to Calcutta.

When I look back on the years I've spent in Calcutta - and I come back so many times each year that I often feel I've never been away - I don't remember the things that people remember about cities. When I think of London, I think of the vast open spaces of Hyde Park. When I think of New York, I think of the frenzy of Times Square. When I think of Tokyo, I think of the bright lights of Shinjiku. And when I think of Paris, I think of the Champs Elysee. But when I think of Calcutta, I never think of any one place. I don't focus on the greenery of the maidan, the beauty of the Victoria Memorial, the bustle of Burra Bazar or the splendour of the new Howrah 'Bridge'. I think of people.

Because, finally, a city is more than bricks and mortars, street lights and tarred roads. A city is the sum of its people. And who can ever forget - or replicate - the people of Calcutta?

When I first came to live here, I was told that the city would grow on me. What nobody told me was that the city would change my life. It was in Calcutta that I learnt about true warmth; about simple human decency; about love and friendship; about emotions and caring; about truth and honesty. I learnt other things too. Coming from Bombay as I did, it was a revelation to live in a city where people judged each other on the things that really mattered; where they recognized that being rich did not make you a better person - in fact, it might have the opposite effect. I learnt also that if life is about more than just money, it is about the things that other cities ignore; about culture, about ideas, about art, and about passion. In Bombay, a man with a relatively low income will salt some of it away for the day when he gets a stock market tip. In Calcutta, a man with exactly the same income will not know the difference between a debenture and a dividend. But he will spend his money on the things that matter. Each morning, he will read at least two newspapers and develop sharply etched views on the state of the world.

Each evening, there will be fresh (ideally, fresh-water or river) fish on his table. His children will be encouraged to learn to dance or sing. His family will appreciate the power of poetry. And for him, religion and culture will be in inextricably bound together.

Ah religion! Tell outsiders about the importance of Puja in Calcutta and they'll scoff. Don't be silly, they'll say. Puja is a religious festival. And Bengal has voted for the CPM since 1977. How can godless Bengal be so hung up on a religions festival? I never know how to explain them that to a Bengali, religion consists of much more than shouting Jai Shri Ram or pulling down somebody's mosque. It has little to do with meaningless ritual or sinister political activity.

The essence of Puja is that all the passions of Bengal converge: emotion, culture, the love of life, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression and yes, the cult of the goddess.

It may be about religion. But is about much more than just worship. In which other part of India would small, not particularly well-off localities, vie with each other to produce the best pandals? Where else could puja pandals go beyond religion to draw inspiration from everything else? In the years I lived in Calcutta, the pandals featured Amitabh Bachchan, Princes Diana and even Saddam Hussain! Where else would children cry with the sheer emotional power of Dashami, upset that the Goddess had left their homes? Where else would the whole city gooseflesh when the dhakis first begin to beat their drums? Which other Indian festival - in any part of the country - is so much about food, about going from one roadside stall to another, following your nose as it trails the smells of cooking?

To understand Puja, you must understand Calcutta. And to understand Calcutta, you must understand the Bengali. It's not easy.

Certainly, you can't do it till you come and live here, till you let Calcutta suffuse your being, invade your bloodstream and steal your soul. But once you have, you'll love Calcutta forever. Wherever you go, a bit of Calcutta will go with you. I know, because it's happened to me. And every Puja, I am overcome by the magic of Bengal. It's a feeling that'll never go away.

**** End Of Vir Sanghvi's Article ***