Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Water, water everywhere

It started with a windy shower on Friday afternoon. My colleague Sanjukta informed that South Bengal had experienced severe stormy weather and the temperature had dropped a lot there (her brother works there). The evening remained overcast as I returned to Hooghly for the weekend. At 2:00 am there was a most violent storm, as my parents told me later. I was, of course, un-wakeable at that hour.

Saturday morning was dark and gloomy, with occasional rain and constant stormy winds. The rain became continuous towards the evening. It rained whole night and non-stop throughout Sunday, so that by the evening, many roads in Hooghly were submerged.

I was looking for an excuse to sleep late on Monday. Normally I have to get up at 4:00 am if I have to come to Kolkata by a relatively empty train. That night, I decided to take a wait-and-watch policy. Often trains get cancelled due to the rain, so there was no point in getting up at an unearthly hour unless I know for sure that the train will run. Also, we had heard no trains passing since Sunday evening.

On Monday, I finally left home at nine. The rain sometimes slowed down and sometimes speeded up, but it never stopped. As I got down at the Bidhan Nagar Road station, I realised what the situation in Kolkata was.

The higher points in the road were under knee deep water. In the Ultodanga underpass the water must have been waist high, but it wasn't possible to judge correctly because nothing was plying there. The autowallahs were taking advantage of the situation and asking four to six times the normal fare. As an aside, I want to add that the auto drivers are some of the filthiest and meanest creatures that pass by the name 'human'. They are constantly on the lookout for ways to harass the passengers and extort money, and the slightest protest leads to altercation and even physical assault in some rare cases. There are certainly exceptions, but they are too few in number to affect the validity of the generalisation.

Click to enlargeAnyway, I had decided not to pay the auto drivers the extra money (when I need to spend some money, I prefer to take a taxi) and so waded out onto the road. I had rolled up my trouser legs and was wearing sandals as I had anticipated this situation. The water was up to my calves on the pavement. However, I soon realised the main problem of walking there was not the depth of the water. The pavement had been dug up for some repairs, and the whole place was a mess of upturned bricks and potholes where the water was up to my knees. One false step could result in falling face first into that water, bag and all. After the excruciatingly slow progress through this treacherous terrain, I reached the overbridge to cross the road. En route I saw that all the roadside shops had ankle deep water inside them.

Once I was on the overbridge, of course, I did the most natural thing: I took out my camera and started taking photos. I wasn't alone in this activity. There was one gentleman with a large Nikon SLR who might have been from some newspaper, and two others with a video camera and a mike who were from the Bengali TV Channel "Ne Bangla". It was raining all this time, of course, and so everyone had a tough time trying to keep their equipment dry.

On the other side of the overbridge I again waded through ankle and calf-deep water to reach the bus stand, from where I luckily got a bus directly to my office. I reached office around a quarter to twelve. It continued raining the whole day, and I had to spend this time in my damp clothes. There were very few people in the office, and the AC felt even colder due to this fact. In the evening, it was raining pretty heavily when I set out for home with my two friends Debanjana and Suman. There were very few buses and taxis, and we found none that could take us home. So once again it was a one kilometre walk through ankle and calf deep water to reach Karunamoyee, the main crossing near our office. Karunamoyee had water just under our knees, and every passing car or bus created mini tsunamis that threatened to reach up above our knees. From there I luckily got a bus that took me near my house, and I although I found ankle deep water on the roads of my block, it was a cakewalk after what I had gone through earlier in the day.

The others were not so lucky. From Karunamoyee Debanjana had to walk around another two kilometers and Suman another twelve kilometers to reach their respective homes. Suman even had to walk through waist deep water for a stretch of the road. It was a terribly scary situation, he says. He was walking all alone through waist deep water, and large branches and all kinds of other things were floating around him. There was not a soul to be seen on the road, as the Twenty20 World Cup final between India and Pakistan was being played at that moment. Even if a snake had come floating up to him (snakes are quite common in Salt Lake) he would not have had any place to run. He reached home three and a half hours after leaving office.

As for me, I reached home and watched the ball-by-ball text commentary of the final (furiously refreshing the page whenever I heard a shout from next door), and fell asleep after having dinner. On Tuesday morning it was still raining, but it stopped after a while, and the water started receding from most of the places (and also increased in some low lying regions). Even last evening buses were less and I had an argument with an auto driver because he demanded more money even though we were travelling on a dry route.

Today has been a sunny day, although in the last half hour or so it has become cloudy again. I really hope the rain does not start once more, because this is now beginning to get on my nerves. Besides, I have to do some Puja shopping as well.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Durga Puja Approaches

It’s that time of the year again, when the sky turns blue, and the fields turn white (at least wherever you can find “kaash phool” – the grass flowers – nowadays). The clouds swell up like pristine white mounds of cotton wool and form strange shapes in the sky. It is that time of the year when the early mornings turn chilly, and the sunshine changes direction. The crowd in the clothes shops and shopping malls increases until it is impossible to buy anything without jostling for half an hour. Everybody runs to the tailors to get new clothes stitched, until the tailors refuse to take any more orders. Structures made of bamboo, cloth and plywood start taking shape in some of the fields. The “Pujabarshiki” (Puja editions) of different magazines pop up on the local newsstands, and everyday the newspapers carry photos of the idols nearing completion in Kumortuli.

And I wish to run away from work and roam around carefree and stay at home because Durga Puja is approaching, and I’m in Kolkata this time, and my parents are in Hooghly. However, 27 days are still left, so I’ll have to pass this time somehow.

Click to go to the Flickr page for this photo

[I took this photo last weekend in an empty plot near my house in Salt Lake]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Where are we headed?

The Times of India reports:

Techie bleeds to death on road, city doesn’t care

Kolkata: A city that prides itself on its warmth let a young techie bleed to death on the road to the IT hub on Wednesday morning. Bijoy Dey (25) lay injured for 30 minutes after being hit by a bus in front of the Nalban complex, but no one stopped to help. Hundreds of office-goers — including many of Dey’s fellow techies rushing to beat the clock at the 24x7 Sector V, government officials and families heading for the fun zones (Nalban, Aquatica and Nicco Park) — merely glanced at the bleeding body and sped on. Even the person who dialled 100 to inform police did not care to stop. “There has been an accident near Nicco Park. The victim is lying on the road,” was all the anonymous caller said. When help finally arrived, it was too late. Dey, a software engineer with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), was on his way to his office in tech town when the accident happened. A mentally deranged woman apparently rushed on to the road, forcing Dey to hit the brakes hard. The rear wheel skidded and the bike careened into the middle of the road. Trapped under the skidding motorcycle, Dey did not have a chance. He was run over by a bus coming from behind. There are reports that he was run over after lying on the road for some time because no one bothered to cordon off the spot and protect him from rush-hour traffic. The accident site is one of the busiest stretches in the city. At the time Dey was run over, a stream of vehicles head for IT and ITeS offices at Sector V, as well as government offices at Karunamoyee. In fact, minutes before the accident, industry minister Nirupam Sen had passed that way to attend a function at the IT hub. At a conservative estimate of 30 vehicles a minute, at least 900 buses, cars, taxis, autorickshaws and two wheelers would have passed Dey. Even if the average commuter count per vehicle is pegged at four, at least 3,600 people would’ve rushed by Dey without stopping or calling the police. “The insensitivity is frightening. Dey’s colleagues must have among those who passed by. Everyone’s in a rat race, rushing to beat the clock and log in on time. It is sad and inhuman,” said Bidhannagar South officer in charge Bimal Kumar Pati.

You can read the full report on the first page here. Be careful, for the efficient reporters have put a photo of the mangled body of the victim lying on the road.

I started writing this as soon as I read the news, but now words fail me. I’m shocked, horrified, disgusted. I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed for being a human being. Ashamed for being a citizen of Kolkata. Ashamed because I work in the same IT industry in Salt Lake Sector V where these despicable specimens of mankind come to earn money everyday. In exchange for money they have sold off all human values, all sympathy for fellow humans, all sense of right and wrong.

What’s the big hurry everyone’s in? I don’t know how the victim’s colleagues can live the rest of their lives knowing that they passed by a co-worker while he lay dying on the street. Will their conscience allow them to live in peace while knowing that they could have saved a life but they didn’t? Do these people expect the same treatment from others if they lie sprawled on the road after an accident?

Or maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe they think it’s all part of the rat race. Maybe their conscience will rest in peace once they get a raise for coming early to office. Maybe they had to attend some meeting yesterday morning at office, and it was important enough to justify abandoning a dying colleague on the road. After all he was just a colleague, not a friend. The same applies to the people working in other companies as well. Maybe I would react the same way in a similar situation! This really foretells a bright future for our country, for what can be more important than punctuality and dedication to work?

A few days ago I was reading the book “Hope for the Flowers” by Trina Paulus. There the main protagonist is a caterpillar named Stripe who ruthlessly steps on his fellow climbers to climb to the top of a “caterpillar pillar”, until he realizes there’s nothing at the top, and his pillar is only one among thousands. I feel this IT industry is in a similar condition. Everybody is climbing to the top, without caring for others. I am also one among many caterpillars moving towards the top. Nobody has time to see who falls off the pillar, or who dies on the way.

I just wish I could get off this pillar soon. I’m feeling sick of all this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Aesthetic Nonsense

Click to enlargeBeauty, they say, lies in the eyes of the beholder. So does ugliness, I suppose, for some people must have felt that this matchbox-like structure (photo on the left) was the best design for the new building for The University of Calcutta. Why else would this incongruous new wing be constructed in the beautiful garden of the beautiful old university building (photo on lower right)? Click to enlargeThe new building obscures a large portion of the lovely old building as well. I know some people will mutter something about effective usage of space and resources on reading this. I ask them: is the effective usage of space enough? Then probably Shah Jahan should have built a 6'x3' grave for his wife instead of the Taj Mahal. And as anybody can see, even the old building makes effective use of space, only adding a little bit of aesthetic value.

This visual onslaught is not limited to constructing ugly buildings next to beautiful ones. It includes making the beautiful ones ugly as well. Take the St. John's Church beside the Sealdah Station for instance (picture below).
Click to enlargeWhile the large paintings covering the windows are not ugly, they do not do justice to the beautiful facade of the building. There should have been stained glass windows in their place. Although I do not know the details about this building, I think it is safe to assume that the windows were stained glass earlier, but due to some reason were covered up like this. Even if they were covered with blinds, like the topmost windows, they would have looked much nicer. And apart from the paintings, the hoarding advertising a shopping mall is an eyesore. I wonder why nobody says anything about such advertising.

Click to enlargeSpeaking of advertising, we hit a new low with this Mother Dairy advertisement near Manicktala(picture on the right). Large red and blue letters on what must have been a lovely domed building once proclaim that the time you see in the clock is "Mother Dairy Time". I agree, that Mother Dairy must be paying for the maintenance of that clock, but does that give them the right to deface the building with their advertisement? Next they'll paint the Victoria Memorial red. Sponsorship does not mean you cover everything with your advertisements. Advertisements must be put responsibly, and the government must ensure, if needed, that the beauty of the surroundings is not affected. And this trend of ugly advertising is not limited to buildings alone. Take a look at this tram I photographed in College Street.
Click to enlargeWhat do you think of that? As it is, Kolkata's tram fleet looks ungainly enough. Do we need to turn them into moving clowns just to keep them running? This time it's Dabur doing the deed. Also notice the building in the background. Once it must have been a palace in "The City of Palaces". Today it lies in shambles. There are many such buildings all over Kolkata, some even more beautiful. Trees have grown out of their cracks and the paint has peeled off. Nobody looks after them, or even if they do, they only make sure that they do not fall down.

Click to enlargeTo end this post on a lighter note, I will now present a building which is not a famous landmark, though it ought to be! I can't remember when I have last seen a building with such a revolting facade. Although I should not be judgmental about personal choice, as this building must be beautiful to its owner, I really can't help it. The fact that it is a stone's throw distance away from the beautiful Science College building doesn't help either. I heard that in some European countries, the government has to approve the paint on your house so that looks good among the other houses on the street. I wonder whether we should take a lesson from that, because our goal should be to build beautiful cities for the future generations, not just cities.

(I posted briefly about the ugliness of modern architecture here before.)