The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It’s not funny, Mr Advani

What’s an Indian’s attitude towards America' It’s where the devil lives, but please take me there.

What’s a Calcuttan’s attitude towards Calcutta' It’s a great place, but please get me out of here.

Some politicians and proud Calcuttans erupted in anger at Lal Krishna Advani’s swipe: “I’m impressed by the Metro, but not so much by the city.”

But one man summed up the average Calcuttan’s feeling about the Advani-attacked city — we know a lot of things are wrong, but don’t dare tell us.

Somen Mitra, Congress MLA, said: “The city has lost its lustre, aristocracy and national status, but any adverse comment about it does not fail to hurt me.”

Usually, it’s more than just ‘hurt’ Calcuttans — or, at times, the residents of Bengal.

Rajiv Gandhi’s “It’s a dying city” brought all of Calcutta and most of Bengal so much alive that the then Prime Minister had a mini-mutiny on his hands.

Some people had taken Rajiv’s words very seriously — if unwittingly — though. On Calcutta’s 300th birthday, the chambers of commerce thought of making the city a gift. And what did they hit upon' A crematorium. That idea was buried when it was pointed out that the “dying city” had just had a bypass (EM) and all it now needed was a funeral.

The bypass may or may not have been there when Advani had a taste of the traffic — not that again! — getting stuck in one of the blocked arteries. He had to spend hours while on his way to a party meeting at Chitpur when he was not the red-light-flashing deputy Prime Minister.

If that provoked Tuesday’s comment, some Calcuttans are in agreement with him. Painter Paritosh Sen said: “Let’s face it, the traffic in the city is completely chaotic.”

Transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, at least, wasn’t about to take Advani on about what is up his street: traffic. He was reminding the deputy PM about the city’s “distinct sense of culture”. Chakraborty is known for his association with Mithun Chakraborty.

Paritosh Sen does not expect Advani to soak in the glory of this “culture” while driving through cowdung-filled (consult Nobel-winning writer Gunter Grass) Chitpur. “How can you expect him to look beyond the squalor and see the city’s soul we are all supposedly so proud of'”

Calcutta may not wear its soul on its soiled sleeve, what it does wear, though, is Nehru’s — that, incidentally, was the first calumny — “city of processions”. Don’t be surprised if a procession is out on the roads on Thursday — and you are stuck, where else but, in the traffic — burning Advani’s effigy.

To his political opponents, the deputy PM has offered an opportunity. Anil Biswas, CPM state secretary, said: “If Advani does not like Calcutta, people here have every right to reject him.”

True. When actress Gwyneth Paltrow recently threw British men in the rejects box as bad dates, British men rejected her as “unattractive”.

Neither was looking at the humorous side. Here, too, it’s all very serious. As it has always been: when writer Khushwant Singh called the city a “heap” of something or the other, Grass a “pile” of something very specific and Singh again made some not very flattering remarks about Tagore — that one actually had the entire Bengali diaspora baying for his blood.

It was not funny. And it’s still not funny, insists actor Victor Banerjee. “Calcuttans can never have a sense of humour as long as Advani professes to be a follower of Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, while he sports a terrible version of an Ashutosh Mukherjee moustache.”

In short, if you are like that, we are like this only.

Ask chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. He said: “I like Calcutta.”

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