Discovery of India

On her maiden visit to the city,she found an interesting intellectual appeal among the people of the City of Joy.

Published:January 18, 2009 2:17 am

On her maiden trip to Kolkata,Claire Fox was bowled over by the spirit and smell of old books at the stalls of College Street,says Mohana Dam

On her maiden visit to the city,she found an interesting intellectual appeal among the people of the City of Joy. Her reminiscences of Kolkata extend only till the images and stories she built in her mind while being told about the history of British rule in the state.

On her maiden trip to the country,Claire Fox,the director of the Institute of Ideas (UK) which she established to create where ideas can be contested without constraint,recalls the most exciting experience that she had on this trip.

Fox started the institute while being the co-publisher of the controversial and ground breaking current affairs journal LM magazine in UK. A panelist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze,Fox was heavily involved in politics while being a part of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Ireland.

She was in Kolkata recently to promote Debating Matters,a unique school-level debate competition based on extensive research and grilling. Through her interactions with students of the city schools,Fox claimed that she uncovered an immense enthusiasm that the young minds of the city have.

“There is so much of political and social awareness among the young ones. They have a plenty to speak about and opine which is so marvelous,” said Fox.

Walking down the streets of Kolkata,Fox could visualise the difference between all the other major metro cities that she visited for the first time,especially Delhi,and compare in her mind the inherent distinction that she believes defines Kolkata.

According to the Britisher,every nook and corner of the city represents humanity because of the people around and the coziness that Kolkata beholds. However,Fox was quick to point out that her feeling of satisfaction got affected every time she saw poverty-stricken people and felt their pain.

What caught the visitor’s interest the most was the major architectural heritage that the city has,which is predominantly the ancient British structural designs. According to Fox,the most fascinating experience of all had been the visit to the National Library,where she learnt how a British administrative building could be transformed and used for public purposes for the people of a completely different nationality.

“These buildings that once were created for the British when they were ruling India and which gave priority to the people of one particular nationality,now showcase a library and other important administrative and public buildings for the benefit of the people of Kolkata,” said Fox.

On return to her country,the memory that she will be carrying with her about Kolkata is the journey that she had while walking through College Street. Fox remembers how in UK there are massive bookstores with posh décor but somehow lacking the spirit and smell of old books that stalls and ambience at College Street has.

“When I visited College Street,I saw how Kolkatans are drawn to books and spend hours rummaging through the pages of old and a variety of books. Again,when I visited a pub here,which is another side of young India,I was taken by an Indian and it felt good as I got reminded of the times when the British had written Dogs and Indians Not Allowed,” said

Claire.

With all her experiences that will help her weave her memoirs,this Britisher takes back with her tales of a New India which is much more dynamic and fresh compared to UK,although it has plenty of challenges that it simultaneously has to deal with.

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