Today is Rath Yatra. As an Indian, its tough keeping track of all our festivals. There seems to be one every single day.
A very cute deity picture appeared in the local daily as an advertisement and that is what informed us, the outsiders, of the event.
It is surprising how many such events a single city can have. Marketers opportunity indeed! Apart from a handful (a million?) of the population, there is not much involvement of the middle and above middle classes in these events, unless ofcourse there is some political affiliation.
Bengalis seem to like two things, one is things to eat and the other is intellectual pursuits. It is ironical however that a place which gives the world so much talent, itself hasn’t grown with the rest of the world.
Reading an eighth grade textbook with a neighbor’s kid enlightened me to some historic facts. Amid many yawns that history textbooks bring, it was almost like a modern day thriller.
In short here is what happened:
1500s: Europe wanted cinnamon for their bread. and silks. They form trading companies and set asea. They find Bengal, a treasure trove of natural resources, gold and silks.
1600s: they establish east India trading companies, after bowing a part of the profits to their queen.
1700s: last of mughal rulers died. British companies look at the divided princely states and start their policy of quietly annexing states one by one. They promise to protect one ruler of a princely state from another, however, they annex one state after another.
1800s: Industrialization begins and Europeans want coal for their trains and markets for their “manufactured” goods. They kill the self sufficient cottage industry of Bengal and start sending in imported “manufactured” goods to the natives. An age of plundering and corruption begins. They take the 16 year old son of the last ruler, give him passage to the royal family in Britain along with a British military doctor, as his guardian. Shrewdly they get the young king to pass over the family jewels to the crown. The Kohinoor diamond included.
1900s: world wars happen. Britain transfers debt of war to India and exits.
2000s: Neo colonials, unscrupulous traders and political machinery still carries forward the legacy of loot and corruption.( I need to stop here, otherwise they put people in jail)
People tend to turn a blind eye (?) and carry on work as if nothing happened. Education machinery works overtime and kids are brought up to be prepared to be “educated” and mostly they leave the state.
Then some religious event happens and all unite to celebrate the forgotten prosperity and good times. Of some 400 years before.
The Rath yatra today, celebrates an event of 625 years before.
Kolkata sleeps early. So when by chance I met a certain gentleman (whom the local newspaper later reported was a Mr. Poddar) at around 9.00 pm somewhere on the street, we were intrigued by his car.
“It’s a custom made car….” He said. The vehicle was a twin seater with huge wheels resembling a Go-karting sportster. We were amazed at the unusual vehicle. What we didn’t know that he was probably just returning from an exhibition of these jet setting beauties at a prominent mall.
Fast forward to Chetla market. Nestled at the backside of the outrageously priced Alipore Road is this humble settlement on both sides of the road. Gracious local shopkeepers invited me to view their merchandise.
“No, I’m not interested in the fishing nets, but can I stand here and wait for my cab?” They seemed surprisingly courteous.
The road was lined with buses. Tomorrow is Election Day. Cars are moving at snail’s pace. Its takes us 45 minutes to cross a 2 km stretch. Somewhere in a building nearby, a supervisor seems to be giving instructions to party workers in Bengali. A hand cart vendor tries to negotiate the road. A pedestrian tries his luck as well in an attempt to board his bus. Among this chaos, a premium styled Jaguar is also stuck with the same fate. With traffic, it equalizes the rich and the poor. No one furthers faster.
This is a city you can’t move around without cabs. Is it long unconnected stretches you ask? Too much traffic, you get the answer. One way traffic at different times on different roads. So if you are new and caught on the wrong side of the road, heavens bless you or the miraculous stop to traffic by a friendly traffic policeman.
While the yellow cab is on its way to be phased out, you can’t but help noticing the “No Refusal” printed on its side. Its refreshing, up to the time, you actually reach the cab and are told various reasons why you should not be traveling by the cab to your destination.
Enter Ola cabs and Uber. Taxi hailing turns pleasant and air conditioned. You wait, and wait and wait for your “one minute away” cab. The one minute distance showing in Ola is perhaps by Air. The roads and the cabbies are a different story.
Elections were on in Kolkata. The city branded itself in Blue and White. The railings were blue and white, the LED covering itself on its quaint old world lamps was also the same colour. Some random thoughts follow.
Too much traffic. Its like Bombay , but moving in slow motion.
Too many traffic rules. Too many one way restrictions.
Fresher air than Mumbai. More trees. More birds.
Too hot and humid. Again combine Bombay and Delhi weather at its worst…or maybe its the dry spell.
Beautiful old world buildings. Same issue as Mumbai, neglected and covered with telephone wires.
Parks. Schools. A city that studies.
Stark Rich Poor Divide.
Poverty. Saw a beggar woman licking an empty bowl of curd.
Better lighting than Mumbai/Delhi for historic monuments.
Sleeps at ten.