Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Sky

I own a slice of the sky. I sit and look at it whole day, and sometimes whole night.

Correction: my company owns this slice of the sky, and they make me sit at a place where I can look at it.

My slice of the sky lies on the western corner. I can watch it through one half of a glass window that is about twenty feet across. There are thirty such windows on this face of our building, and my half on the fourth floor is the only portion that has the curtains moved back. Others prefer the fluorescent lighting.

When I reach office in the morning every day, the curtains are closed. The housekeeping staff likes to have it that way. Usually my day starts with moving the curtains aside and gazing out towards the sunlit buildings and lawns of my office and the sunlit buildings of Salt Lake City. As long as I’m standing, I can see the Anandalok Nursing Home, the State Government offices, the City Centre beyond that, and some tall blocks of flats in Ultodanga right at the horizon. As soon as I sit down at my cubicle, all these buildings vanish from sight and all I’m left with is my slice of the sky. I too, like the palm tree, feel as if I’m flying.

As the day progresses, the sun moves across the sky. I see crows pester kites in flight. And around 11:00 am, a red bellied aeroplane flies into my view from the right and follows a curved path towards the North West; it is so bright that I look up from my work everyday when it passes. In summer, I sometimes draw the curtains around this time to escape the heat. But not all seasons are equally hot.

During the monsoons, I have seen dark clouds forming on the western sky and spectacular lightning displays in my sky plot. I have seen Ultodanga getting drenched in rain while there’s sunshine around me. I have also seen the sun touch the top of the City Centre buildings and then slowly spread to the other parts of the city as a gloomy day turned bright. During the autumn, the sky turned a pristine blue, and pure white clouds floated about like huge mounds of cotton wool forming fantastic and often vaguely familiar shapes.

As the sun inches towards the western horizon in the afternoon, the first rays hit my table and my face. If it’s a hot day, I close the curtains for some time. I always remember to open them in time for the sunset. If the day is cloudless, the sun sinks down as a huge orange ball. If the sky is cloudy, I get to see the most spectacular sunsets. Birds fly home around this time, or a little later. Crows, kites, mynahs, maybe flocks of parrots and pigeons. Often a pair of mynahs will land on my windowsill and decide to settle some argument then and there by chirping loudly. Sometime a flock of wild geese will fly overhead, flying in a V formation. Swallows will dart in all directions. Some jet planes will fly very high over Kolkata, glittering like diamonds as the low sun’s rays catches them, leaving white contrails behind them if the weather is cooler. Sometimes people fly kites, but that is rare in this part of Salt Lake.

Soon after sunset, the light decreases rapidly. If I stand up and peer down, I will see that the lights on our lawn have been switched on. The city lights up even before the sky turns dark. And as the sky turns dark, do I see stars through my window? No! As the outside world darkens, my sky turns into a mirror, the window pane reflecting the room where I’m sitting. Unless there is a lightning storm or a fireworks display going on outside, the only way to see the sky now is to press my eye against the window.

Actually no. There is something else which is visible. On a night like tonight, when I have to spend the whole night in the office, the moon shows itself towards the end of the night, as it retraces the sun’s path across the sky. When I look towards the window, I see the moon hanging from the ceiling of my cubicle there. And if like tonight, the night is a full moon night, the moon will stay late enough to fade into the morning light before it sets. Then as the early birds start looking for their worms, the sky shows a hint of light. If I walk across the building and look out through one of the eastern windows, I’ll see that it’s already bright that side. In a matter of seconds, the west catches up with the east, and a pink glow spreads across the horizon. As the moon seems to turn transparent and vanish behind this glow, the tops of the tallest buildings of our office block catch the first rays of dawn. The golden sunlight spreads downwards pretty fast until it floods the lawns and everything around them.

So that’s what I get paid for. Sitting in my seat and looking at the sky. When I get bored with it, I turn towards my PC and write blog posts. That’s a nice job, isn’t it?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What A Sunday!

The original purpose of starting this blog (as suggested by my friend Rohit) has to be fulfilled sometimes, and I guess today was one of those days. I got up at 5:00 am and started from home at 5:50. After exactly 44 minutes of brisk walking I walked through the gate of my office. And I walked out at 8:00 pm. It was one of those days that makes me wonder why I'm doing what I'm doing. Over the past one month, the average number of hours that I have spent at office has constantly been over 10.5 per day. But over thirteen hours of work on a Sunday, surviving on junk food and that too starting before seven in the morning! This takes the cake for sure.

I hope I can visit my home next weekend, or I'll go mad at this rate.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Bandh Season Arrives

October has come and gone, as it does every year. It brought with it the festive season. The City of Joy prepared itself for the celebrations, for with the onset of the cooler season comes the major festivals like Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja/ Diwali, Bhaifonta, Jagaddhatri Puja, Kartik Puja, Christmas and... Bandh.

Bandhs, or strikes, are as integral a part of the Kolkata culture as hand-pulled rickshaws, Durga Puja or Rasogollas. The political party calling the bandh may be insignificant, but half the city will come to a standstill. And if the party is influential, then it's a grand affair complete with stone-pelting, bus-burning and on-the-road cricket matches. When my family shifted to Allahabad twenty years ago, we were surprised to find that strikes had no effect in Allahabad. Be the strike be citywide, statewide or countrywide, be it called by the ruling party or the opposition, it never affected our daily life. In the last twenty years, there have been hardly a couple of effective bandhs in Allahabad. Not so with Kolkata. A bandh in Kolkata is always successful.

Years ago, it was the CPI(M) who had started the tradition of calling bandhs. Today, 'bandh' is the favourite word of Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. SUCI, Congress and BJP also join the bandh-wagon whenever they can. In reality, the party ideology does not matter anymore. If the party is working in West Bengal, it will call bandhs. And then there are the bus drivers' union, auto drivers' union, transporters' union and taxi drivers: whoever has any influence in the day to day functioning of the city calls bandhs from time to time. Effects of these bandhs are often terrible. Railway traffic, both suburban and long distance, grinds to a halt. Flights get grounded, and all this means harassment for the poor commuters. The party workers, however, are least bothered. What better way to spend a cold winter day than picnicking on the sunny railway tracks outside the city? This is the primary reason why the bandh season coincides with winter, for holding up trains in the summer heat is not fun (pity they can't do the same with the air conditioned metro railway during the summer days due to that stupid third rail). Another very interesting coincidence is that most bandhs are called on either Fridays or Mondays or adjacent to some other holiday.

With the IT companies flocking into Kolkata since the onset of the new millennium, the state government finally realised how harmful bandhs were to the city's image as an IT destination. Many of the IT companies in the city lose hundreds of thousands of dollars if they have to shut down for a day. The opposition parties did not want to let go of this weapon to embarrass the government, and yet, they did not want to appear anti-progress to the people. So the current trend is calling a bandh such that the IT industry is exempt from it. However, that is just a stupid lie meant to fool the people. How are the IT professionals supposed to come to work if the buses, trains, taxis and autos are not exempt from the bandh? Ideally, the party workers are supposed to let cars pass if they are carrying IT professionals. In reality, they often attack IT company vehicles, and if they are very non violent, they at least deflate all the tires. So much for the 'exemption'.

The winter of 2007 looks quite promising as the issues of Singur and Nandigram don't seem to be settling down any time soon. Last week we had two bandhs, and this week one which was supposed to be 'indefinite' (Ms. Banerjee always bites off more than she can chew). The indefinite one lasted 24 hours and had to be hurriedly withdrawn sensing the irritation of the people. But during those 24 hours Kolkata was paralysed. Some IT companies had declared a holiday and some had temporarily shifted their operations out of the city. Point to be noted: this bandh was called on the Monday after the three-day Diwali weekend.

I am not saying what happened in Nandigram was right. But there are other ways of protesting than immobilising the city. People can protest by creating awareness through writings and peaceful demonstrations. The opposition parties, if they are looking for a solution to the problem (which they are not, by the way) should try to solve it through discussions with the government. Everybody should remember, preventing people from working cannot be an acceptable practice in any civilised society and especially in West Bengal since the state is already infamous. If this practice is not stopped soon, the working people will leave for places where they are allowed to work in a better unhindered way.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Sunday that was almost ruined

How to ruin a Sunday?

For me, yesterday, that is November 4th 2007, was already ruined around ten days ago when my boss told me that I would have to come to the office on that day. It was all the more painful because there was a "Bijoya Sammilani" feast organised by our para pujo committee and attending office meant missing the feast in Hooghly. Also, the fact that my mother called up and told me that there was a lovely exhibition of photography going on in Hooghly and that my aunt had come to visit with all kinds of goodies available in the market didn't help matters much. "So let me make the most of this ruined Sunday", I thought, and proceeded to make grand plans for the day.

By the time I was finished making the plans, it included going to Chandni Chowk to buy a new RAM for my PC, then going to New Market to buy a few gifts for my sisters, then visiting the Oxford Book Store at Park Street to buy a book for myself, and finally, reaching Victoria Memorial at 3:00 pm to attend the 3rd meet of the Flickr Bangla Community members. Just when I had convinced myself that all of these activities were more important than visiting Hooghly after my office was over this Sunday, Murphy's Law kicked in, and my office was cancelled. However, I had made plans, I had already promised people, and now I would have to stay here.

I woke up at 5:30 in the morning. Yes! On a Sunday! I had some cleaning work to do, and I wanted to finish them off before the maid came at seven. So after completing everything, I waited for the maid who did not turn up. Then I had breakfast and set out on my day long excursion at 10:30.

At the bus stand, fifteen minutes passed but the bus to Esplanade was not coming. Suddenly, a brilliant idea struck me. I took the next bus to Shovabazaar so that I could catch the Metro to Chandni Chowk from there. All the way on the bus, I patted myself on the back for this idea, and also cursed myself for not having thought of this before. Then I alighted at Shovabazaar, looking very pleased with myself and stepped up to the closed shutter of the Metro station. I had forgotten that on Sundays, the Kolkata Metro operates from 2:00 pm.

Cursing the Metro Rail Authority, I took a bus to Chandni Chowk and got down at a point very close to the shop I wanted to go to. The pleased-with-myself feeling had almost come back when I discovered that the shop was closed on Sundays.

I have often noticed that I have a strange and inexplicable power to influence the weather. I just have to take out my camera to take some outdoor shots, and a fine day will turn cloudy in a matter of seconds. Yesterday was no exception. Still, I continued taking photos, so it started drizzling. The only thing that prevented it from pouring was the presence of a large umbrella in my bag. I did not find the gift items I was looking for at New Market, so went and had lunch at Aminia. So far, nothing had worked for me in the day.

Next stop was Oxford’s at Park Street. By now, I was sure of the outcome, and it was no different from what was expected. They did not have the book I was looking for, but if I would be kind enough to write down the name of the book for them, they would be pleased to try to order it for me.
Click to Enlarge
Finally I was walking towards Victoria Memorial, for the most exciting programme of the day. It was about quarter to three when I reached the base of the Queen’s statue and found Mandar pacing around. I knew him from his profile photo on Flickr. After the initial niceties were over, we proceeded to do something that probably even Mamata Banerjee wouldn’t dare: we put up two bold orange posters (courtesy Mandar) within the Victoria Memorial premises. People started dropping in, by ones and twos and soon there was a fairly large group of people chattering away. First there was Chirag and Shamim, then Anirban, Keka, Abhijit and the others joined. An interested German gentleman peeped in, and soon found himself facing an enthusiastic Loken Sir teaching him how to read Bengali from a ten rupee note. I’m sure he knows the words “Dash Taka” by heart now!

Mandar had brought his binoculars for bird watching. Soon they were doing the rounds of everybody’s hands. It seemed everyone had suddenly developed a sudden fascination for ‘birds’. Then the heavyweight cameras emerged, and I and Keka discussed whether we should hide our point-and shoots. Anirban’s Nikon D200 was of course the champion camera, but the others were also nearly as sophisticated. Everyone had large telephoto lenses that were promptly fitted onto the bodies and again, a large number of tele shots were taken. I wonder what’s there in those cameras.

Click to EnlargeMr. & Mrs. Shyamal Chatterjee arrived at last. Our feet were aching due to walking on the pebbles, so we sat down on the steps of the Memorial building. Mandar’s camera went all queer in the head and started concentrating on post processing rather than taking the photos. With much difficulty, Mandar persuaded everyone to stand for a group photo, and I had the audacity to place my tiny Sony CyberShot DSC W5 next to Anirban’s giant Nikon D200 for taking the group photo in the self-timed mode. By that time, the guards at Victoria Memorial had started blowing whistles and shoo’ing people away as the cleaners started sweeping the steps. We walked to the back garden, and from there we went to the Citizens’ Park. Through there, we went to the academy of fine arts across the road. An exhibition of photographs was going on there and Raghu Rai was supposed to come.

Raghu Rai didn’t turn up, or maybe he had left. In any case, we saw the photos, had a cup of tea each and bade farewell to some of the members who had other engagements elsewhere. Then we re entered Citizens’ Park for photographing the musical fountain show. I had forgotten to bring my tripod from Hooghly, and had to be satisfied with whatever photos I could get from the camera handheld or propped up on my bag.

Then it was a short walk through Nandan to the Haldiram’s outlet opposite Exide where we had heavy snacks (it was dinner for me) and headed home by metro. When I reached home at quarter past nine, my legs were aching badly (they are still sore), but thanks to all of my Flickr friends, my ruined Sunday had turned into a very enjoyable and memorable day for me.