Editorial/Price of being idols
In the lakes’ cracked mirror
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/PRICE OF BEING IDOLS 
 
 
 
 
Innocent till proved guilty is a principle of British jurisprudence which has been made part of the Indian legal system. Accordingly, all those Indian cricketers who are suspected of being involved in matchfixing, bribery and amassing undeclared wealth are innocent till proved otherwise. Thus the income tax raids carried out in the houses and offices of some prominent players and the former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India mean and prove nothing. But the issue, so far the players are concerned, transcends legal niceties. The very fact that important cricketers are suspected of having undeclared assets and that their activities have drawn the attention of the Central Bureau of Investigation are suggestive of the way cricketers live, the lifestyles they adopt and the money they can earn. In short, they indicate the extent to which cricket has changed in the last two decades or so. No cricketer of the Sixties or the Seventies, in his worst nightmare, would have thought of a visit by the income tax officials to his residence. He just did not earn enough. Tiger Pataudi has the marvellous story of how he and his team in the late Sixties were offered Rs 100 as a special bonus from the BCCI. The greatest cricketer ever, Garfield Sobers, in his entire playing career probably did not earn a fraction of what a player with less than 25 per cent of his talents earns in a season today. Sponsorships, huge amounts as prize money, match fees and other attendant sources of income have made millionaires out of cricketers. So much so that there are grounds to believe that for some cricketers making money has become more important than playing cricket.

The real source of this kind of money-making is the public support that the cricketers receive. Behind sponsorships and the advertisements lie the mass following that the players command. This following, in its turn, is based on the performances of the players on the field. So the earnings of the cricketers are related to the images cricket lovers have of them. These images are of men who are dedicated to playing cricket and to giving their best for the team. Such an idea has taken a severe beating in the last few months, since Hansie Cronje confessed to taking money from bookies and named Mohammad Azharuddin as the person who had introduced him to a bookie. Cricket fans are no longer certain that players always try to give their best, that players are committed to playing cricket and that matches that they have seen were genuine and their results not fixed. Such is the fall in public credibility that no one will be surprised if it is discovered that cricketers have undeclared wealth and have sources of income which are best described as dubious. In the public eye, most of the cricketers have been tried and found wanting. The income tax raids constitute a coup de grâce to a languishing credibility.

Public perception may well be of paramount importance in this case. There is nothing in Indian law which makes matchfixing — a term unknown when the laws of the land and the laws of cricket were drawn up — a criminal offence. And bribery is very difficult to prove. Betting under the Indian penal code is a minor offence. It remains to be seen if some cricketers are tax evaders. It is possible that cricketers may be able to avoid the arm of the law. But this may not be enough for a retrieval of their public image and for a redemption of their credibility. Cricketers will have to live with the fact that by allowing the shadow of suspicion to fall on them, they have brought disgrace to the noblest of games. This is not something that cricket lovers will forget and forgive easily. On this count, they are guilty even if they are legally proved to be innocent. This may seem unfair but it is inevitable for those who thrive in the limelight of fan frenzy.    


 
 
IN THE LAKES’ CRACKED MIRROR 
 
 
SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
The word “development” has the same maddening effect on me that talk of “culture” famously had on Hermann Goering. An organization like the United Nations development programme might render worthy service, but as commonly used in India, development is the enemy of all that is aesthetically pleasing. It was with profound misgiving, therefore, that I read recently that a new and caring mayor might feel obliged to turn the searing blowlamp of development on the Dhakuria lakes. Someone should advise Subrata Mukherjee that the lakes might be a wasteland but what they need, what all Calcutta, indeed all of West Bengal, needs desperately, is maintenance, not modernization.

Development is a desirable evolutionary process, like a photographic negative gradually taking shape in the solution. It indicates improvement and enlargement, a reaching out to higher goals. Verbal violation occurred first in England’s depression years when a place that suffered from acute unemployment was euphemistically called a development area. Instead of an unfolding, therefore, development conjured up deprivation — closed factories, relief jobs, soup kitchens, undernourishment and squalid homes in a blasted landscape of moribund industry.

That concept and imagery cling to the word in India. Development is never space and graciousness. Never harmonizing life to nature’s abundance. The word is not associated with wealth or elegance. It implies the mean urban straitjacket into which the industrial revolution forced a form of humanity that had been reduced and regimented.

No one talks of outer Delhi’s sprawling “farm houses” set in landscaped gardens and luxuriant orchards as development. It is development when a stately mansion in Chitpore or an elegant villa on the Barrackpore Trunk Road is pulled down to make way for vertical bustees. It is development, too, when some mercantile family that bankrolls the ruling party is allowed to build over a public park or cemetery of historical interest.

There are more disinterested but equally unappealing forms of development. Long before the Gorkhaland upsurge, I remember overhearing someone exclaim in Mirik that there was tremendous scope for development on the hillside beyond the forested valley. No doubt houses now cluster thickly on those once verdant slopes. More recently, I heard of a sheet of water near Santragachhi where migratory birds rested. Wellmeaning souls inspired by the demon, development, created an artificial island, planted trees, and cleared the water of natural vegetation. The trees did not survive and the birds did not return.

Development usually denotes a lack of sensitivity. Waterfalls are frequent in the bends of our twisting Himalayan roads, jets from high above that break on the boulders before spraying into vapour. They are a pretty sight, natural as ferns and orchids. Prettiness disappears when beautification begins. Bricks are set diagonally in the stony ground, one end up so that each projects in a little triangle, in a neat semi-circle encompassing the angle of the mountains where the water gushes down, and then, in a final puny insult to the majesty of the Himalayas, they are painted white. Once near a road-building encampment I even saw a waterfall hemmed in by a semi-circle of whitewashed flower pots, their blooms dwarfed mockingly by the mountains towering all round.

Similar vulgarity destroyed the Park Circus maidan before it was abandoned altogether. No one bothered to repair the central pavilion or replace the broken benches or direct a cleansing flow of water under the bridge. But a burst of beautifying energy created a number of crude cement objects, frogs and mushrooms, and set them up to gather filth and scum amidst the uncut grass or mud and slush. Like that old mysterious slogan “Killroy was here”, you can tell where the unfeeling hand of the public works department or Border Roads Organization or some other government office has trampled over the taste that is inherent in nature.

Undeniably, Calcutta’s public areas have witnessed some touches of improvement in recent years. Some patches of garden — on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, on Chowringhee or outside Fort William — are attractive and well cared for. But I squirm every time I see boastful “Maintained by…” signs in tiny traffic islands, especially when the maintenance amounts to no more than a wilting plant or two struggling to survive in rubbish-strewn dust.

The large capitals that spell out Bholanath Sen compete for attention with the Latin name of what I presume is a weeping willow that he planted by the Hooghly. The commemorative tablet is huge and the children’s park in which it is supposed to be set is nowhere to be seen. It is all too reminiscent of Ozymandias’s “Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!” to signify genuine concern for the environment.

It is possible again to walk along the Strand. But the flash of blue lavatorial tiles near the Gwalior Monument again emphasizes the hazards of PWD aesthetics while a stretch of collapsed balustrade is a reminder of public callousness. Worse than either is the spectral shape that looms grimly at the end of the road near Chandpal Ghat. If an indifferent youth idling by the rusty gangway with holes in it is to be believed, this waterborne wreck is “India’s first floating hotel” whose launch was the subject of proud excitement in Singapore five years ago.

The Indian high commissioner told me that Calcutta had to be looking up since a Singapore shipyard had fabricated the luxury “floatel” ordered by a private company but “sponsored” by the West Bengal government. It evoked a surge of childhood memories of being taken to tea by my grandmother to the circular restaurant that used to be moored opposite the Eden Gardens with khansamas — no waiters in those days — in white gloves.

The floatel, if such it is, is a decrepit tub strewn with rubbish beyond an ancient jetty. Filthy shreds of carpet speak of forgotten splendour, and Singapore lingers in the Sinic art of a marine mural and a couple of battered wooden statues. Desolation and decay. To kill a dream, send it to Calcutta.

Let the mayor disprove that gloomy thought by using Asian Development Bank funds to clean the lake’s waters, repair the diagonal brick paving, and restore the old wrought iron and wood benches. Even the ugly and uncomfortable cement seats — flaunting donors’ names — are disintegrating. Let Mukherjee have the grass trimmed regularly, the roads swept and ensure that the staff earns its wages. Beyond that, there is absolutely no need to tamper further with what the British left behind.

Each recent innovation has been worse than the last. An assortment of clubs at the Gol Park end have eaten into land that the stadium spared; the toy train is another controversial encroachment. Pointlessly separate little parks are each a monument to neglect; a steamroller in faded psychedelic colours is a home for vagrants; the flyover threatens further chaos. There is no need for the lakes to pay for “national status”, whatever that means, with another destructive eruption of buildings, enclosures, statues, parks, music, restaurants, sporting facilities and other infringements. Just maintenance will suffice.

The Metro Railway once sought my views on the décor for underground stations. Satyajit Ray had suggested Tagore’s scripts for Rabindra Sadan, they said, and asked me for artistic ideas. Mine were simple. Avoid ornamentation, I advised. Avoid designs and materials that gather dust and dirt. Avoid light colours that can stain. Use plain vivid materials that are bright in the artificial light, do not collect dirt and can easily be washed, even from a distance. The gentlemen were not pleased. They wanted me to recommend “intellectual” craftsmanship. The stations might have been less dreary today if they had taken my advice.

I would urge that same message on Subrata Mukherjee. He is young, energetic and enthusiastic. He will earn our gratitude if he ensures that the lakes are again usable. Modernization is intrusive; maintenance matters more.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

No match for this

Sir — So Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are to forge ties yet again — in the ATP world doubles championship, or so we should believe (“Paes, Bhupathi and a dash of Bjorn Borg”, July 20). Bhupathi’s much hyped tie with Martina Navrati- lova at the Wimbledon championships was no good. Also, Paes’s partnership with Jan Siemerink and Bhupathi’s with David Prinosil in the French Open and the eventual losses further dimmed India’s hopes in international tennis. As long as the tiff between the two continues over the issue of Bhupathi’s coach, Enrico Piperno, will things get any better? So what good is this new hope being shown to Indian tennis fans as long as the root of the problem remains?

Yours faithfully,
Sourav Sengupta, Calcutta

World beyond the wall

Sir — It would not be right to interpret Partition merely as a human or emotional tragedy as Amit Chaudhuri says in “Partition as exile” (July 9). This is because every nation or race has at least one event in its history that permanently separates the old from the new. If it was the industrial revolution for England, or the Bolshevik revolution for Russia and the civil war for the United States, it was the Partition for India.

The event did tear away a mass of the Indian population, including families like my own and Chaudhuri’s, from their roots. But it also resulted in the creation of a large group of landless, educated people who could survive only by migrating to the cities. Thus evolved the vast urban middle class. It also led to the rapid transformation of Indians from a sedentary, feudalistic lot to a relatively mobile, job oriented modern people.

Like Partition, which Chaudhuri once read as a moment in history at his school in Mumbai, the industrial revolution, the Bolshevik revolution and the civil war have all become pages in the history book. And these too had their share of human tragedy.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — One can’t be too sure why Amit Chaudhuri feels such a sudden surge of emotion on the subject of Partition. One senses this is because the event, a major upheaval in recent memory, was a bitter experience for his parents and certainly for a number of people of the same generation. As the children of this lost and found generation, Chaudhuri and several others are bound to view Partition in a special way.

Chaudhuri should realize there are many more such destabilizing events which will also make it to textbooks as distant and cold moments in history. Yet the human sufferings in these events were no less than that of Partition. Take the riots in independent India, the Mumbai carnage or the Sikh pogrom or the quiet banishment of Kashmiri Pandits. They might lack the mass scale of Partition, but for the victims they would conjure up the same feelings of “movement, exile and displacement” with the same “sudden and violent intensity and coercion”.

Yours faithfully,
Ranajit Sen, Calcutta

Sir — For Amit Chaudhuri’s generation, Partition is bound to remain a moment in history. Yet, as he points out, the emotions it dredges up in the generation that underwent the trauma are powerful enough to create unforgettable images in art and literature. Ritwik Ghatak’s work is only one such example. Another instance is the work of Sadat Hasan Manto. But despite the art and literature, one wonders if the present generation really understands the event.

Yours faithfully,
Debabrata Chatterjee, Calcutta

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