My Calcutta Visit – Part I

Being placed in a large corporation comes with its benefits, but it also comes with some work on your own part; it’s not a free lunch you see. I had to undertake a Pre-Employment Health Checkup before I reached for my induction, and I had to enroll for the National Skills Registry as prerequisites for joining the firm. This was one of the few times that I actually felt that Jamshedpur, where I live, is a small town because it does not have any medical center that could administer me the checkup, or a NSR center where I could get my biometric reading done.

Hence, I headed out to Calcutta, or Kolkata, to get these formalities done. I prefer to call it Calcutta because Cal sounds, to my ear, much better than Kol. To each his own, I suppose. I stepped off the Steel Express, which unusually punctually, reached at 10:40am on the dot, and got in line for the prepaid taxi service, fifteen minutes later I got into a cab. The driver, turned out to be a chatty kind of a fellow, and he went about showing me the famous Cal landmarks. “This is the famous Howrah Bridge”, he said, and about ten minutes of silence went by and then he pointed to a dilapidated building and said, “This is Writers’ Building.”

“Isn’t this supposed to be where Mamata di sits?”, I asked. The question was out of surprise rather than out of a misplaced sense of being rhetorical, because there were absolutely no cops outside the building. Absolutely Zero. Compare that to our MLAs who travel in ten car entourages, surrounded by armed security guards, and have their offices surrounded by barbed wires. What came next from my driver surprised me even more.

“Anyone can walk in on Friday and talk to Mamata di and talk to her about their problems and she has promised that nobody will ever go unheard.” He said with some admiration.

“Yeah, right!” I said disbelievingly until he gave a few more examples of the changes Mamata has brought to the functioning of the government. She still travels in her beat up old Maruti car, stops at traffic signals at a red light, and has been known to admonish traffic cops who have held up traffic to let her car pass.

Things sure seem to be different around here, I thought, and compared it with the other metros I have stayed in, where politicians consider it their God given right to be driven through red lights, to hold up flights, and have only their cronies surround them all the time, leaving the common man, who voted the fellow into office in the first place, at the lurch. At least it was the first time that I had heard of a politician, a Chief Minister, no less, encouraging  people to come forth and talk to her.

From where I see it, this is a very practical experiment in democracy, where people who put their representatives in offices of power can actually go and give their two cents. I don’t know if this experiment will succeed or not, or whether Mamata di will be another has-been, or whether she will go down in history as one of the most revolutionary Chief Ministers ever, but I do know this, that if such principles of politics can be implemented everywhere, the world would definitely be a better place.

It is so easy for us to condemn all politicians as useless, lazy, greedy, and what not. I believe that every once in a while it takes a Mamata Banerjee to come along and change all that.

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My Calcutta Visit – Part I

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