Cal­cutta is a City Not Be­ing Able to Find Its Feet

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

Chaudhuri, who grew up in Mum­bai and Kolkata, runs a cam­paign to pre­serve the eclec­tic neigh­bour­hoods of his home town. Di­nesh Narayanan talks to the writer. Ex­cerpts:

How have you seen Kolkata chang­ing phys­i­cally? The kind of ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ence that came from the late 19th cen­tury in in­dus­tri­alised cities also be­came in some ways or­ganic and sur­pris­ing. In the 19th cen­tury in Paris or Ber­lin or Cal­cutta, you sud­denly saw neigh­bour­hood streets that might have born into de­cay. They never seemed new. Their at­trac­tion was not that they were gleam­ing. The fea­ture of an in­dus­tri­alised city is it is al­ways atavis­tic and old and de­cay­ing and, there­fore, in a strange sense or­ganic. It is al­most as if it is a form of na­ture. And also as sur­pris­ing as na­ture. There are cor­ners and niches that take you to dif­fer­ent worlds. And that’s what I mean by moder­nity. And more than Bom­bay it is Cal­cutta where I en­coun­tered it and ex­pe­ri­enced it. was not go­ing any­where. And the very chaos that once seemed en­er­gis­ing, now seemed as if it was like a symp­tom of the city not be­ing able to find its feet. Peo­ple were leav­ing. The mid­dle class ex­o­dus which had be­gun with in­dus­try leav­ing in the six­ties had turned into ev­ery mid­dle class fam­ily hav­ing some­body go­ing else­where and prim­ing them­selves to go else­where. It led to the Ben­gali mid­dle class’s dis­en­gage­ment with the city and led to the wan­ing of this lan­guage. It led to a vac­uum. It led to an ab­sence. Some­thing that was there was no longer there. And once that some­thing was gone all that was left was the chaos and the shells of habi­ta­tions.

What oc­cu­pied the vac­uum? In the houses there were age­ing peo­ple. And there were these lo­cal gangs which were ap­pro­pri­ated by politics which were grow­ing. And there was a par­tic­u­lar kind of pa­tron­age that was pe­cu­liar to the left; like keep­ing sick com­pa­nies alive. That kind of pa­tron­age has now been ex­tended and en­trenched in an ex­treme way by the Tri­namool Congress which is spell­ing doom for the city.

What is your ar­chi­tec­ture ini­tia­tive about? It is about (pre­serv­ing) these neigh­bour­hoods in Cal­cutta, both in the South and the North; I’ve been fo­cus­ing more on the South for two rea­sons. One is that the South gets less talked about in ar­chi­tec­tural terms. The north is the place with the ra­jbadis, the man­sions, Ben­gal re­nais­sance etc. And then the other that get talked about is the colo­nial heritage build­ings. The South is in­ter­est­ing pre­cisely be­cause it is not heritage within those kind of pa­ram­e­ters.

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