January 24, 2006
I took leave for a few days in the new year to visit my home town, Kolkata, after a gap of two years. Friends back home had been telling me that this time I would see a ‘changed’ Kolkata. They informed me that the Bengal Communists under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have been doing a great job in Kolkata. These Communists are different from their fellow travellers at the Centre, I was informed.
I boarded the flight with lots of expectations. The trip from the airport to my house in Salt Lake was unpleasant and the ambassador cab ride uncomfortable. I could not help wondering what the reaction of a tourist visiting Kolkata for the first time would be. No wonder, tourism as an industry is almost dead in Kolkata.
I was impatient to see the ‘changes’ which my friends had so talked about. The very first evening, we set out to witness the ‘changed’ Kolkata. The first destination was close to home — the hip Salt Lake City Centre consisting of both residential and commercial spaces, shopping arcades, multiplexes, multi-cuisine restaurants, offices, parking facilities.
It was a pleasant sight indeed. Kolkata was finally coming of age. Indeed Communists in Kolkata are different, I thought. These guys like markets!
The stretch of road right in front of City Centre was immaculate but turn the corner and it’s the same old story — potholes everywhere. What’s the point of building a beautiful shopping complex without first providing for adequate infrastructure such as roads which will make the market accessible to people who live far from the city?
A 15-minute drive brought us to the software savvy Sector V of Salt Lake where companies such as Wipro, IBM, CTS and TCS have opened shop. It was really heartening to see investors putting money in a state like West Bengal, infamous for its hostile trade unions.
Keeping Sector V to the right, a left turn brought us to the highway where the Rajarhat New Town is coming up. I was told that this was the state government’s showpiece project. Translated into English, ‘Rajarhat’ means ‘King’s Market’. What? I gasped. The Communist government in West Bengal has chosen to name their most important new township project ‘King’s Market’!
During the next few days in Kolkata, I observed that many new eating joints, shopping arcades, multiplexes and five-star hotels have opened since I was last in the city. These will ultimately result in the creation of a number of direct and indirect jobs.
I left Kolkata with an optimistic heart. Agreed, the developments are lop sided in nature, but something is happening. The City of Joy is waking up from its long slumber. The days of hard communism are coming to an end.
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