Kolkata – the same wine in the same bottle

By: Sourav

Dressed in a slim fit black trouser and a long black coat paired with a pair of black shoes, I came out of the domestic terminal of the Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport in Kolkata, with a black trolley briefcase and a laptop bag. The moment I stepped up on the outer premise, I experienced what Vidya’s character did in the movie Kahaani. Four prepaid taxi drivers surrounded me and asked me where I wanted to go. Even one of them requested me to hand over the trolley bag to him. It has been more than 18 months since the release of Kahaani in March 2012.

I faced what Vidya did not because of her drive on VIP Road when my taxi left the airport and hit the Jessore Road towards Lake Town. It was the heavy vehicular traffic at the intersection of VIP Road and Jessore Road. In order to avoid the traffic, the driver took the way in parallel under the flyover which the local train to the airport runs along. The way was muddy, dirty and full of holes. I was greeted by a heap of stinking garbage there.

Jessore Raod running through Nager Bazaar connects the airport with Shyam Bazaar, the heart of north Kolkata. I found the road from the airport to Lake Town in a very poor condition. It is unfit for the vehicles rushing to the airport during the peak hours of the day. The area from Diamond Plaza near Shyam Nagar to Lake Town More has developed a lot in recent times. Many residential complexes have filled the space in between. Beautification of the area is a far far talk. The lack of cleanliness was too evident to go unnoticed. I was shocked to see the rubbish scattered here and there, on one side of Avani Group’s housing complex “Avani Oxford” on Jessore Road.

Those who have never been to Kolkata might have seen the city’s lanes and alleys with crumbling buildings, in a sequence of the movie Kahaani when the contract killer Bob Biswas is chased by the police inspector. Such dilapidated buildings are a common sight to behold in the city’s prime heritage zones, too. While going to catch up with a friend at K. C. Das, I noticed a building in ruins next to Big Bazaar outlet near Esplanade Metro Station at Dharam Talla, a heritage zone in the heart of Kolkata. One day, the building will either collapse or catch fire to make the city the subject of headlines. The predictable incident will lead to an impasse and disrupt the flow of daily life at Dharam Talla, the busiest zone. The city witnessed several hellish fire incidents including the Stephen Court fire tragedy and the Nandaram Market fire in last few years.

Then, I took the Metro from Esplanade to Kalighat to meet an ex-colleague of mine at Rashbehari Avenue in South Kolkata. I found to my utter surprise the same congestion, the same crowd, and the same ambience there as it was before I left the city in March this year. Rashbehari Avenue is a busy arterial road connecting Garia Hat to S. P. Mukherjee Road and crawling with a huge number of private and public vehicles. Triangular Park where the climax of Kahaani movie was shot falls on the way to Garia Hat from Rashbehari More.

The pavement on both sides of the road near Rashbehari More is occupied by hawkers and street food stalls. I saw the vegetable sellers sitting and the people buying vegetables on the road just in touch with the pavement line, and the vehicles passing by them. If a vehicle goes out of the direction or loses control, a major mishap may befall to the vegetable sellers and pedestrians at any time.

The next day, I visited Karunamoyee, the gateway to Salk Lake Sector V (the IT hub in Kolkata), to catch up with a new contact of mine in the city. The meeting was over by 6 o’ clock in the evening. I came to the Karunamoyee bus stop to catch a bus or auto for Ultadanga. As usual, there was a long queue of people waiting to board auto-rickshaws for their homes after a full day’s work. And, the buses from Sector V were overloaded with passengers till the outermost edge of the gate. It reminded me of the horrible days when I was part of that crowd of passengers traveling in public buses to and from workplace.

It takes hardly 10 minutes to go to DumDum from Ultadanga (Bidhan Nagar railway station) by local trains from Sealdah. So, I thought of boarding a train to DumDum Junction. I bought a ticket and went to the platform. Unsurprisingly, there was no space to step on to the platform because of the milling crowds of passengers waiting for the up trains from Sealdah. Though the sight was not new to me, I got scared, stepped back from the platform and came out of the station at once. I boarded a bus from Ultadanga for Nager Bazaar, and then an auto rickshaw for DumDum.

I visited some of my ex students at DumDum, and then left for DumDum Metro Station. DumDum Road is one of the prime connections to the airport from B.T. Road. While heading towards DumDum Metro, I saw that two Kali puja pandals were set up narrowing the road in breadth and pushing the traffic to the other side. It created a mess in the evening when vehicular rush is heavy. I was not surprised as I had experienced the same scenario while staying at DumDum for four years.

The area around the DumDum Metro and DumDum Junction is full of traffic congestion, blowing horns, and screaming noise by bus conductors. The ambience was so polluted and unhealthy that I felt sick while going through the under passage to the Metro. There is no traffic noise control at the mouth of DumDum Metro. The way to the Metro from under passage to the main entrance was occupied by beggars and hawkers, making it difficult for pedestrians to move on, as it was during my stay in Kolkata.

The next day, I left for Howrah Station by 5’ clock in the morning, to catch Black Diamond that departs at 6:17 am. As usual, the bus that I boarded halted here and there to take passengers. The bus was moving so slowly despite no traffic on the way till Central Crossing that I was afraid of missing the train. The snail-paced traffic movement on M.G. Road from Central Crossing to Howrah Bridge intensified my fear. M.G. Road is one of the main and busiest ways to commute to Howrah Station, but vehicular movement is never smooth due to parking of private cars and goods carriages, and hawkers on both sides of the road.

I was part of the milieu that consists of the noise, congestion and crowds in Kolkata before I left the city 8 months back. Either I have lost the ability to keep pace with the city of my love or the city stands ground against change. Many housing complexes are in making, shopping malls are raising their heads, and Metro lifeline is on expansion in the city. But the basic infrastructure for day-to-day life comfort of common people in Kolkata is still poor. I request the CM of Bengal to implement traffic noise control, introduce strict traffic management policies, prevent unjust blockage of main roads by local committees, and free pavements from hawkers for pedestrians.

This article is not intended to distort the image of Kolkata or hurt the sentiments of Kolkatans. If it does, I apologize.

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