| (From left): A family reaching Howrah station on Tuesday afternoon trudges past the deserted taxi stand. The Patras from Bishnupur wait for a bus outside SSKM Hospital after bringing their baby for a check-up. A private bus with a CITU flag bears some of the burden of its striking fraternity. Would this have been allowed in Tamil Nadu, where chief minister Jayalalithaa walked the tough-talk by dismissing close to two lakh striking employees' Pictures by Pradip Sanyal
Striking transporters held a city to ransom on Tuesday, making Calcuttans pay for venturing out of home in search of transport and catching visitors unawares by the taxis and buses missing in action.
Everyone — from children forced to attend school because of examinations to the elderly knocking on hospital doors, from Myanmarese tourists touching down in Calcutta to the multinational official in town for an important meeting — was either left stranded or made to struggle as most wheels refused to turn.
Tuesday was particularly tough on schoolchildren. Most institutions were open and a few, like Welland Gouldsmith and St Joseph’s, even had term tests scheduled. Office-goer Debrabata Sen, father of a St Joseph’s student (who had a maths test on Tuesday), had to drop his son off at the central Calcutta school, return to his north Calcutta residence, before heading off to office. “Some mechanism must be in place to teach them (the transport lobby on strike) a lesson,” said Sen, summing up the city’s mood.
St James’, too, was open, though it recorded 60 per cent attendance. “I had to set out from home with my son at 6 am, so he could reach school by 7.45 am,” said Sujata Das, mother of a St James’ student staying in Salt Lake.
But St Augustine’s Day School did not take any chances and declared a three-day holiday. South Point suspended classes for poor attendance and Hindu School said it would postpone the exams slated for Wednesday and Thursday. All this was before the three-day strike was called off after Tuesday’s 24-hour ordeal.
If the scene outside schools was sombre, the mood at hospitals was grim. For patients and their relatives, a trip to the doctor on Tuesday was nothing short of trauma. Shyamali Majumdar, who was advised to go to Medical College and Hospital for a CT scan on her grandson, a patient at an east Calcutta hospital, finally got hold of an auto-driver who agreed to take them along, but at a premium. “I wish someone from a striking bus-owner’s family faced this ordeal,” she cried.
But those who could afford to stay away, did just that. The cardiology outpatients’ department at R.G. Kar Medical College and Hospital, for instance, recorded an “at least 40 per cent less” turnout.
The unsuspecting visitor in town, too, had a terrible time. Heckled by touts and abused by drivers of the ‘private cars’ they refused, Yalga Sinimese and her four friends, who arrived from Yangon on Tuesday, finally settled on sharing a coach to Dalhousie, for Rs 1,250.
At Howrah station, Kamal and Meenakshi Ray tried to take a bus to Lake Town but the few that were there would not let them board with their luggage. They then approached the waiting cabs that refused outright: “Don’t you know we are on strike'” Husband and wife, with kids and luggage, finally made their way to the overcrowded ferry service. “Wonder what we’ll find on the other side of the river,” they commented, mirroring the confusion clouding the Calcutta streets.