I happened to be in Kolkata on 23 March 2010, a day with a lot of happenings. The heritage building of Stephen Court that houses Music World and Flurys confectionary was doused in a fire, an unfortunate incident where 24 people died and 40 are injured. At the time of the incident I happened to be behind closeted in a meeting discussing farmers issues at the regional office of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) at Ryod Street.
The unfortunate incident of the day is that Comrade Kanu Sanyal of the Naxalbari movement ended his life. There is a feeling that this could be because of his disillusionment with the current state of things, his failing health. He might have also delibertely chosen this historical day, as it was on this date in 1931 that the trio of Bhagat Singh, Shivram Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar were put to death.
Now, let me move on to some changes. I have been coming to Kolkata a couple of times in the last two three years. This has a old world charm, but for someone visiting Kolkata after 15-20 years there are a couple of visible changes. I will point out two.
One with regard to the trams. Trams, a a heritage ride in Kolkata, have two boggies - the first class and the second class. In the late 1990s the price difference between the two was five paise. If I recall correctly, it was 40 paise for first class and 35 paise for the second class. Yet, this difference was enough to make the second class much more crowded like the Mumbai sub-urban. Today, the price difference is 50 paise (I think it is Rs.4.50/4.00 and Rs.4.00/3.50 depending on the distance) but one does not see much of a crowd in either of the classes.
In the 1990s, not knowing Bengali was not a problem, but if one spoke Bengali it was helpful. It is even said that to be identified as one among the Bengali then not only would one have to speak Bengali, not only would one have to take part in Adda, not only would one have to enjoy the football, but one has to be a connoisseur of Rabindra Sangeet. Well, this may still be true. But, today you do not have to know Bengali to be in Kolkata. Many of the service providers speak Hindi and one sees that even Bengalis end of speaking with them in in Hindi.
I will end up with the Stephen court tragedy. When I was talking about this with a Bengali 'bhadralok'. The first thing he mentioned was that. It houses the famous Flurys confectionary that is a regular joint of artists like MF Hussain. His tone was sad because of the tragedy but he was taking pride in the cosmopolitan nature of Kolkata where art and intellectual adda still mattered. Who said that Kolkata residents are 'Xenophobic'. Bhalo Basi Kolkata!