When you stay in Santiniketan you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that entertainment opportunities are severely constrained. There is one movie hall which residents of Santiniketan are really proud of (ACs but no rats) but the problem is that it runs on a staple of Bengali Mithun starrers! There are a few restaurants which can fall into the category of offering a dining out experience. But even in these a waiter walking through the restaurant in a gamcha can mar the feel-good of an evening out.
So one learns to make the most of what is available. The whole Singur drama was the daily soap on TV which offered relief through the dreary monsoon days. The multi-star cast of Ratan Tata, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Gopal K Gandhi and of course the one and only female lead had us glued to our TV sets whenever the state electricity board so ordained.
While all other protagonists added their bit to the execution of the drama there was no denying that Mamata would win any nomination to the Oscars. Her speeches, her TV interviews, her singing, her painting, her Muslim-style covering of the head for added drama, all carried out with the dais in front of the factory as the only prop, had us always asking for more. At least in our household, Travel and Living, Zoom, HBO, all took a back seat as we flipped between Bengali news channels for our daily fix of the Mamata histrionics.
When Mamata started her protests I admired her for being able to bring to the political centrestage the issue of injustice to farmers. But of course as the days progressed, I realised how she was completely incapable of exploiting her support base to make any constructive contribution. But while most of my urban middle class friends and family felt that Mamata had ushered in decades of gloom by her single Singur Act, I disagreed.
For me there was gloom all around already. Every time I travel to Kolkata and have to take a taxi from the station, I am amazed at how the system works. You stand in queue and when you come to the head of it, the policeman in charge asks you where you wish to go. What what he would do with the knowledge? One taxi driver pointed out how there were two taxi lines which formed; one line was of those cabbies that were willing to pay a bribe and the other queue of those who did not. Depending on what the passenger says, the policeman allots a taxi. If the passenger has to go a long distance he allots it to a cab which has paid the bribe of Rs 10. Knowing the number of trains which come into Howrah station, the number of passengers who then hail a taxi, one can make some calculations on what the policemen takes home every day.
At the airport too there is enough provision for spoils. Unlike other metro airports where passenger pays for a prepaid coupon and waits in the taxi queue, in Kolkata the system has been put on its head. The passenger buys a prepaid taxi coupon which has a specific taxi number on it. The passenger then has to walk, family, trolley in toe, looking for that particular taxi. Doesn’t take much intelligence to figure how this system can match cabbies that pay bribes to the clerks who man the prepaid taxi counter to passengers who wish to travel long distance. In a state where basic administration and infrastructure is so appalling, is Mamata’s Singur Act really a catastrophe? Having lived outside of West Bengal for so many years has unfortunately made me aware of how it could have been. But staying in Santiniketan insulates you from much of the chaos that is West Bengal. How can I explain all this to friends who fail to appreciate why I seek my pleasures in Santiniketan and refuse to travel unless I absolutely have to.