The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calcuttans have to be exceptionally good at converting inconvenience and peril into capital fun. The coming of the monsoons is an important test of this ability. The fragility of the most basic civic amenities is suddenly laid bare, and this appears to be as natural and inevitable as the monsoons themselves. But there is really no reason to accept as wonderfully seasonal the recurring annoyance of waterlogged streets, blocked drainage, frozen traffic, cancelled trains, collapsed houses, treacherously water-filled potholes and non-existent manhole-covers — all making life that much more difficult for the already-beleaguered Calcuttan. This is a modern metropolis with a network of municipal services battening on taxpayers’ money. This ancient and unwieldy infrastructure exists precisely so that life in the city does not come to a grinding halt every time it rains.

But the situation cuts both ways. First, there is the unreadiness and apathy of the civic authorities. Antiquated drains and sewer systems do not work or collapse. Pumping facilities are inadequate, with the concerned mayor-in-council throwing up her hands in despair on the very first day it rained. Electricity cables are old and not properly waterproof, plunging large sections of the city into darkness. Old houses are almost never inspected for safety, so that buildings collapse, injuring or killing people. Roads and pavements are in ruins, with manholes uncovered, turning into death-traps which wait under water for hapless pedestrians. Even the railways network gets paralyzed; the yards in Howrah station get waterlogged as the municipality never looks after the drains. But the harassed and imperilled citizen takes all this in his stride and with a sort of good-humoured stoicism that is ever ready to turn into collective merriment. Consequently, the senselessness of such a situation is never brought home to the authorities. That such things are perfectly avoidable, and that there is really no reason why Calcuttans should put up with them, never occur to either the municipality or to those it serves. So it must all be taken in the right spirit of fun.

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