The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- All it needs is a broadband connection to show up the real Calcutta

There are times when a story says everything you need to say, where comment or analysis add nothing, and this is one of them.

Recently a gentleman arrived in Calcutta with the intention of setting up house for a few months. He quickly found a good person to come and do the housework. Then the plumber and electrician came and repaired everything. The cooking gas organized itself amazingly quickly and the gent easily located all the shops where he could buy his food supplies. Next, our man went across to one of the local providers and got himself a mobile number without too much fuss. Finally, he found the phone number of the local liquor-shop and quickly established a home-delivery-upon-demand relationship. At the end of the week it took to do all this, the gentleman found himself happily surprised. “Golly, this was not the Calcutta I knew when I last lived here!” he said to all and sundry. “Why, this life-set-up speed matches that of Bombay and Delhi!”

The friends smiled quietly and said nothing. Our protagonist then settled down to his work with the cheerful air only available to those for whom life is working out like a purring German automobile. But, after a few days, the gent found that there was, after all, a minuscule fly in the fragrant ointment of his existence. The gent had inherited an internet connection from the previous occupant of his flat. The connection was achieved through a kind of flat yet rounded object that looked like a device Hollywood actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner might have used to massage away their aches at the end of a hard day’s shooting in the Fifties. When it communed with the net, the quaint-looking instrument glowed happily, its little light changing from a gregarious green to a bustling blue.

While this was quite pleasing, especially when coupled with thoughts of Marilyn and Ava, the thing did take a very long time to carry out simple actions such as send an email attachment or download a homepage. So, after some thought, our main character decided it was time to get a proper broadband connection. “I’ve got a good guy,” said a friend, “he provides all the broadband connections at my office. I’ll send him to you tomorrow.”

The next day, the doorbell rang and a young man presented himself to our Settled Citizen. “Debroop Mitra, sir!” (name changed) said the young man, extending his hand. “From ...!” he added, casually draping the all-India-famous name of his company over the introduction. Everything about the young man was both dapper and can-do, from his neatly tucked-in shirt to his fluent sales patter. Could he provide a decent broadband connection' “Can do, sir!” Could it be done quickly' “Can do, sir! Will have to, in fact, sir, because we have to meet our end-of-month targets! In two, maximum three days you’ll be fully connected.” Was the connection reliable' “Of course sir, after all we have our Name and our reputation sir, bujhtei to parchhen! As you know, this is not the only thing our company does, but everything we do, we do with utmost efficiency sir, all over India!”

Buoyed by New-Kolkata Optimism, our gentleman promptly signed the papers just as you do in Bangalore, promptly provided address proof, just as you do in Bombay, and promptly signed the cheque advancing four months of fees to the reputable company, just as you would in Delhi. “Not to worry sir, no issues, we will only put in the cheque after your connection is fully operational! My engineer will call you day after tomorrow. Here is my number and here is the engineer’s number.” With which the dapper young man took his dapper leave. Pleased with his coup against snail-slow connections and ever more chuffed at how Calcutta was progressing, our New Customer went back to his work with renewed vigour; logging on to the net, he began to look at the massage-machine with the fondness one has for someone just about to die or terminally depart. For the first couple of days he didn’t even think about Debroop the Efficient, assuming that “two-three” days actually meant “three-four”, as it does even in the other metros.

The day after came and went, as did the weekend; the end-of-month duly transited through our protagonist’s life, bringing no target-hitter in the shape of a marketeer or an engineer; the next week began to flow by with the speed of a canal full of effluents and it reached the halfway mark of Wednesday when the gentleman realized it had now been seven-eight days since the Debroop had Can-do’ed him. The gent called Debroop and got no reply. Then he called the engineer’s number. “Han, who is this'” growled a voice obviously short on patience. Our gent explained the case, including Debroop’s promise. “Mitra promised that!'! How could he!'! No chance for the next few days! Aamader kaajer bahut pressure achhe (we have a lot of work pressure)!” The gent pointed out that setting up his connection could also conceivably be seen as part of the engineer’s work pressure. The man remained unmoved. “Dekhchhi (I’ll see)!” he said, and hung up.

The next few days involved a cat-and-mouse game with Dodger Debroop: if he answered the phone he would be effusively apologetic — “You mean they still haven’t done it' Oh my god, sir, so sorry, I’ll just see to it!” Or, more often someone else would answer the phone and say, “Debroop has just ektu-gone-somewhere. I will get him to call you back,” but with no resultant return call. After a week of this our gent began to get quite, quite shirty; his days were being wasted waiting for someone to come put in the cable; his work was now disrupted — the massage-machine had begun a go-slow strike. On day twelve, two truculent youths appeared at our man’s door carrying a spool of cable. They peered over the balcony. One of them shook his head, “Hobey na, kintu dekhchhi (can’t do it, but let’s see),” he said. The two left the spool by the gentleman’s main door and went off, never to be seen again. On day fourteen, our (no longer gentle) man got hold of Dapper Debroop and marinated him in threats of career-destroying complaints to the Captain of Industry whose company had made the criminal mistake of hiring Mitra and his engineer.

That evening our Unconsummated Consumer got a call at 10pm. It was the Dapper Dodger Debroop. “Sir, I believe today you refused to let them put in a cable in your apartment building'” The gentleman hotly denied this, pointing out that the surly youths had come and gone, totally unimpeded, two days ago. “Sir, you just please kindly hold!” said Debroop, “I am just putting through a conference call to the engineer!” Before our gent could say anything, his ear was caught in a crossfire of ringtones. After a moment, the sour-voiced engineer answered. “Hello'” “Han, hello, Sosanko! Tui aamaake bolechhili na jey... customer cable refuse korechhe (Didn’t you say x customer refused the cable installation)'” “Sheta to boli ni (I never said that)!” “Tui amaake dupure jey bolli (You told me this afternoon)'” “Debroop, tui koto mod kheyechhish (Debroop, how much have you had to drink)'” “Aami kono mod khai ni! Tui amaake eita bolechhish (I haven’t had any! You did tell me this)!” “Tui beshi mod khheye phelechhish. Ja giye ghumiye por (You’ve drunk too much, go to sleep).”

At this point, the gentle protagonist of our story found himself laughing and screaming simultaneously like the demented Police Chief in the Pink Panther movies: “Listen both of you! I drink! Bimalbabu drinks! Rotonbabu drinks! Now-where-in-this-godforsaken-hole-of-a-city is my Broadband Connection'” After about five minutes, the gent realized he was bellowing into silence, or, in fact, that his intended addressees had long gone and people in the neighbouring apartment buildings were peering out of their windows, checking to see if they needed to call in some siren-topped vehicle. As he subsided into silence a realization hit our gentleman, a realization leavened by a weird sort of relief: like a proper god or goddess, Calcutta only pretends to change in order to tease; if you hang around long enough, it will always, always revert to its real, immutable aashol roop.

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