The Ever Hearing One and The Unfortunate One (2013)
Two different cities. Yet alike on so many levels.
Kolkata – my home, the city of my birth, where still a feeling of humanity supposedly resonates with the people. The colonial capital of India before 1911, a slice of colonial and precolonial history at every street corner, every building of North Kolkata, every shop in Tangra (China Town), every grave in Lower Park Street Cemetery. A taste of modern capitalism in the luxurious malls, a passing feeling of communism on hearing the name of Alimuddin Street or seeing a bandh being called.
Kanpur- a strange new place for me, which I visited for the first time last year, a city which also boasts of a colonial and industrial history, with the imposing Lal Imli tower and the memories of forgotten atrocities by and against the people. But it has the feeling of decaying and putrefaction, perhaps not at the high level of Calcutta, which in proportion to its high level of heritage, suffers from higher depravities.
In Kanpur, I found a feeling of loss of hope – a feeling of helplessness, though I have not interacted with too many from this bustling UP city. In Kolkata, a much bigger and faster city, I found the restlessness of someone who has lost hope after bequeathing it in the wrong hands.
Yet both live and continue with their blatant Indianized Westernization, their nonchalant administrations, their lack of foresight ,their complete disregard for rules and living on the brink of environmental disaster.
I guess very few people even try to pretend that the country or the state revolves around these cities. At least that was the case for Kolkata with respect to India and Kanpur with respect to Uttar Pradesh. Some want to hold on to the fact desperately that their cities were the prime spot in their regions, kind of still is for Kolkata. But for Kanpur, the shift moved across the Ganga to the state capital at Lucknow, and refocused towards the historic confluence downstream at Allahabad.
But both live on…