Despite the chaos and lack of sanitation, Kolkata is a fascinating place with its own special energy. The old buildings, the laid back pace, the British Raj tram (and even the chaos) are actually quite appealing.
When I first visited here in 2003, the city was largely unaware of the changes taking place in other metros, oblivious to the post-modernist economic and structural reforms taking place in other parts of India. But the City of Joy is gradually coming out of its shell to embrace the change ushered in by the country’s economic reforms. Big Malls, international brands, call centres, new apartments—all symbols of what the Left refers to as neo-liberal economic policies—are cropping up, despite the city’s red flag.
But change in Kolkata is most visible on the political front, and there’s clear evidence of the crumbling of the old order. Thirty four years of Left rule is on its way out if the new political flags and views of the people I’ve spoken with are anything to go by.
My visit to Kolkata came just after the Trinamool Congress' landslide victory over the Left in the Kolkata municipal elections. The once ubiquitous red flags were barely anywhere to be seen, with green ones instead adorning the streets I saw as I travelled around the city.
Even the mood of the people was different. During my earlier visit, it was difficult to talk about any party except those from the Left. This time my driver, Dipu Das, lapped up my questions about the election, saying ‘We want change now. Enough of the communist rules.’
The same feeling was echoed by my rickshaw puller. He was blunter, and questioned what the Left had done in 34 years. None of the industries that were thriving three decades ago were still doing so, he said, adding that while once people travelled to Kolkata for employment, they were now migrating to other cities in search of better prospects.
My day-long trip to Kolkata was an eye opener—a new glasnost and perestroika are sweeping the last red bastion of India.