Calcutta Conundrum

There are many people who are trying to understand Calcutta and unravel the mystery behind the thinking of its people after the Saurav Ganguly episode.

Saurav was kept out of the team after perfectly justifiable reasons. In fact, the performance of the team in the last two series amply demonstrates the validity of the move. The team actually looks much more positive and hungrier. Its fielding is outstanding and it has in large patches looked like the Australians in attitude. Saurav brought an infusion of guts to the team but that does not mean eternal selection.

Most people I speak to are very happy with his exclusion but the Calcuttans would have none of it. They booed Dravid and the Indian team though out the Eden match. Assorted celebrities from the world of cinema and arts come on television and protest against his exclusion. The city, which paints its walls with pictures of Ronaldo and Ronaldino during a world cup, jeers its own team. It justifies the superiority of its emotions over loyalty to country or civility.

Calcutta though has never reconciled the loss of its status as the pre-eminent city of the sub-continent. It still seethes over the perceived injustice of shifting the capital to Delhi. It is sensitive to issues, real and imaginary .It does not accept anything, which does not follow its way of thinking and living. In reality, this precludes this from being a great city. Great cities are known for their tolerance and universality of spirit, their ability to accept diversity of thoughts. Bombay lost its claim to being a great city the day it had the riots.

But it is not so easy to explain Calcutta. It celebrates Christmas and Durga Puja with fervour. Every family in Calcutta tries to buy cakes for Christmas. It has the some of the lowest communal hatred amongst Indian cities. It has a large heart. But the city also is a bundle of contradictions. I remember the issue of the person who was getting hanged after having raped and murdered a thirteen-year-old girl. There were candlelight marches and processions in his support. The newspapers were full of front-page stories with sympathy about this man. And this in a place, where diseased and dying masses confront you at every stop. In my stay in Calcutta, I have not seen the average Calcuttan exhibiting this trait of compassion over the people he sees everyday. But when it comes to deaths supposedly over a principle (death penalty), he is all eager to hit the streets. They fill up concert halls to listen to classical music and book fairs to buy Kafka and Camus showing their proclivity for fine things in life but they do not mind living with filth on the roads outside their doors.

So the Saurav episode is also another page in the book of contradictions that is Calcutta. There is no point in trying to understand it because it can never be understood.


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