Dipak Ranjan Sarbadhikari
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  17-Aug-2015

My wife Sukla and I became grandparents today.
Our elder son Suman's wife Mousumi delivered a pretty girl.
We are filled with joy

05 Apr 3012
The Kolkata Knight Riders started their Indian Premier League by losing their first match versus the Delhi Dare Devils. The Eden Gardens Stadium was packed even at 12 midnight.
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MAIDAN MARAUDERS

SOUMITRA DAS

TAKES A LOOK AT THE CITY'S LAST GREAT OPEN SPACE

What are the chances of being knocked down by a motorcycle or
even a car in the middle of the Brigade Parade Ground? And what
are the chances of your blood rushing to your head as you hear
Tunir maa, a Sylheti chartbuster, blaring from the shiny mobile phone
of a youth killing time in what was once dubbed the "lungs of the city"?

Alarmingly high, I would say, and those who regularly visit the
city's last great open space for long walks or for a game of football
or impromptu cricket would promptly agree with me.

Hordes of young men on motorcycles leaving dust devils in their
wake invade the Maidan every morning, and so do fleets of cars at
all hours, ignoring "No parking" and "Towing zone" signs along
Red Road.

The treacherous and undulating pavements of central Calcutta
dotted with pitfalls have turned into freeways for motorcycle,
extensions of shops, parking lots and open-air toilets.
Lawlessness prevails on the narrow streets, where cycle vans
and diesel-fume belching three-wheelers demand right of passage.
One should not be surprised if the same fate befalls the Maidan.

Mounted police officers may cry themselves hoarse claiming that
20 to 25 of them are on duty for two hours from 6am, but they
are never to be seen in the Brigade Parade Ground on any given day,
save during football and cricket matches. Headlights can be seen
crisscrossing across the bare ground even quite late at night.
The only equine creatures that trot across the ground are
skeletal ponies tied next to the Fountain of Joy (anything but
joyous) opposite Victoria Memorial Hall.

BURNING NOSTRILS
Long before the heat of the sun chases it away, a mist hangs over
the grounds anchored by the clumps of trees and the Angel of Victory
on top of the Victoria Memorial Hall dome.

Many of its fine trees were blown down in the cyclone of 1864. In
the following century, many were felled during the Metro Rail
construction, and the Aila, too, left behind a trail of destruction.
The skyline of jagged highrise buildings and the trees look as if both
the British artists Turner and Gainsborough had collaborated on
painting this phantom vista.

But if you take a deep breath your burning nostrils will tell you that
this is no mist but a miasma laden with exhaust fumes and dust
trapped by moisture.

Hundreds of roadside eateries in the Esplanade area, dotting
Chowringhee and the Sahid Minar bus terminus are still dependent
on chulhas that are lit early in the morning and this does not help
matters. Sweepers burn piles of dry leaves and garbage all around
Curzon Park, over and above the tyres and electric wires that turn
into home fires for vagrants. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation
(CMC) had once declared coal-fired ovens and burning of garbage
illegal, but like most rules laid down by the administration, this one
too is more observed in its breach.

Yet in spring, the palash trees burst into flames and even the odour
of human and animal waste cannot overpower the vernal perfume
of mango blossoms.

In the first decade of the 20th century, H.E.A. Cotton wrote:
"...the Maidan still constitute the chief glory of Calcutta."
The Maidan and Fort William are located on the spot where once
stood Gobindapur, one of the three villages the two others being
Kalikata and Sutanuti that formed the nucleus of the modern
city of Calcutta.

The area was cleared of its "tiger-haunted" jungles after 1757 to
build this new fort. The Maidan is in the custody of the army
(the ministry of defence). Calcutta's "barefoot historian" P.T. Nair
says perhaps the army is unaware that the Fort William Act, 1881,
was never repealed. "Legally there is no Maidan and whatever the
army says is final," he says. In accordance with Section 2, Act XIII
of 1881 (The Fort William Act, 1881), "the governor-general in
council hereby notifies that, for the purpose of the said Act, the
limit of Fort William in Bengal is the line of the 'crest of the glacis'."

This empowers every police officer, non-commissioned officer or
military policeman to arrest without warrant any person who within
his view commits any of the following offences: making excavation
in unauthorised places, rash or negligent driving, destroying trees,
creating a disturbance.

BLACK SUNDAY
Unnumbered feet tread the Brigade Parade Ground every day, and
when political parties choose to hold meetings there, a sea of
humanity swamps it. The aftermath is there for everybody to see.
This spot remains scarred and pitted throughout the year, as
holes are dug to erect daises and quick meals are cooked for
the masses.

The Maidan has a long history of public meetings and exhibitions.
The grand Calcutta International Exhibition had opened opposite
the Indian Museum in 1883. The annual Book Fair came years
later. In 1911, King George V was entertained here. On April 6,1919,
called Black Sunday, a protest meeting was held against the Rowlatt
Act before what is known as the Sahid Minar today. Chittaranjan Das
was among the eminent speakers.

That was perhaps one of the first political meetings to be held here.
The biggest crowd-puller was the meeting where Khrushchev and
Bulganin shared the dais with Nehru, Bidhan Chandra Roy and
Ajay Ghosh, the leader of the undivided Communist Party, on
November 29,1955. But times have changed since and environmental
concerns must be addressed, even if the government is unwilling
to take any positive action to arrest the Maidan's degradation.

The 1,400-acre Maidan is bounded in the north by Esplanade and
Raj Bhavan, on the south by AJC Bose Road and Hastings, on the
east by Jawaharlal Nehru Road and on the west by the Hooghly
and most of the ground is mangy. Vast areas opposite the Eden
Gardens and behind the famous sports clubs are bald and serve
as garbage dumps. But the field within the walled extension of
Fort William along Casuarina Avenue visible from outside is
manicured.

Large swathes of the Chowringhee side, like the sections adjacent
to the fort, have turned into wildernesses of weed and scrub. The
tank behind the Jawaharlal Nehru statue is a hamam for the
homeless. Curzon Park (renamed Bhasha Udyan), where the state
government had once planned to construct a mall and car parking
space, is a jungle of filth, briars and weeds. Encircled by iron
fencing, its gate is embellished with the likeness of performing
bauls. This look is in keeping with the monstrous pink "lotus"
fountains, one each at the Chowringhee-Dharamtala corner and the
Red Road crossing to keep Lenin and Netaji company, respectively

STATUE SHOCKER
Patriotism made us blind to ugliness when unsightly statues of
nationalist leaders were foisted on the Maidan area in the 1960s.
The pedestal with a huge bathtub-like flower pot in front of
Prinsep Ghat originally had the magnificent statue of Napier of
Magdalla on it. After it was shifted to Barrackpore the pedestal
lay bare for many years. Then the PWD took upon itself the task
of "beautifying" the area around 1997 and the "bathtub" was
installed.

The tram ride alongside the Brigade Parade Ground and the race
course leading up to Kidderpore is one of the most exciting
anywhere, particularly during the monsoon when it turns into an
emerald carpet with scattered pools of water mirroring the sky and
the Victoria Memorial Hall dome.

At other times the Maidan is bone dry. A dirt track beginning from
the spot where the Maidan tent of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club
stands and terminating at the point where the Fountain of Joy is
laid out wends its way through the heart of this plain. Its last half
is tarred. Earlier, political meetings were held at the foot of what
was once called the Ochterlony Monument. Now the dais is erected
cheek-by-jowl with the fountain.

It is easy to avoid stepping on the equine and canine droppings and
the pellets left behind by the grazing goats, but almost the entire
area is skinned over with small plastic packets of pan masala.
The PWD is partially responsible for the Maidan's upkeep, but
given our callousness, it is impossible for any human agency to
keep the place clean on its own.

Law alone cannot save the Maidan. Shivaji Park in Mum-bai is
primarily used by local residents as a recreational space and for
sports activities. But political parties do not spare this one either.
Mumbaikars hope that political rallies will stop once the new heritage
listing (where a Grade 1 status is recommended as with the Oval
maidan in Mumbai) is legislated.

Without some such drastic measure, the Maidan, too, cannot be
saved from the marauders.

- Metro on Sunday, The Telegraph Calcutta, 21FEB2010, p21
 

 
 
 
 
  2010 Feb 12 Fri
The Metro Railway (Kolkata's wonderful Underground Transport) has introduced reserved seats for 'Senior Citizens". Got pleasantly surprised when one of the younger passengers spontaneously stood up and vacated his seat for me.