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Where have all the young ones gone?

Till two years ago, Samrat Ghosh’s life revolved around Calcutta. He’d grown up playing cricket in its galis and knew every nook, cranny and adda in the city. But a short stint in Hyderabad changed his emotional connect with Calcutta.

When Ghosh flew into the city for the Pujas last year, he felt suffocated. “The city has not grown in two years. There were the same posters, the same politics and the same traffic,” says Ghosh, 25, who works as an assistant manager at the General Electric (GE) call centre in Hyderabad. Ghosh’s loyalties have now shifted to Hyderabad. “It’s a dynamic city. Something new is happening there all the time. Calcutta can’t compare with it,” he declares.

Ghosh could be speaking for thousands of educated Bengali youth. In the last couple of years, hordes of young Calcuttans have headed for the silicon cities of south India. Bangalore, for example, now boasts of a three-lakh Bengali population.

True, Calcutta’s young have been heading out for years. But until a decade ago, young, ambitious Bengalis would go to Delhi, lured by its top-end universities and diverse job opportunities. But now Bangalore and Hyderabad seem to have replaced Delhi in the mindspace of young Calcuttans.

Siddharth Bhattacharjee, officer of placement and training and head of the University Employment Bureau at Jadavpur University, says that 30 per cent of the university’s graduates opt for jobs in southern cities. Anecdotal evidence too suggests that the number of straight-out-of-college Bengalis in Bangalore’s information technology (IT) industry has shot up steeply in the past five years. Bengalis comprise 14 per cent of the IT Professionals Forum, which has 10,000 members in Bangalore. Most of them are youngsters who work in BPO firms, says M.K. Swaminath, national chairman of the forum. “Five years ago, less than seven per cent of our members were Bengalis,” he adds.

Consider too that 30 per cent of Bangalore’s Bengalee Association’s 2,000 active members are in the age group of 20 to 25 years. “For the first time this year, most volunteers working at our Durga Puja pandal were under 30 years of age,” says A.K. Bhadra, joint secretary, Bengalee Association.

And because of the huge influx of Bengalis into Bangalore, anything Bengali is now sure to be a hit. For instance, when Ayan Banerjee, director of MukhOsh, a Bangalore-based Bengali theatre group, organised a protest in November over Nandigram, about 200 people, all Bengali IT professionals, showed up. “Even five years ago, the attendance would have been zero,” says Banerjee. Again, last month, MukhOsh’s annual production ran to packed houses for two days.

As young Bengalis pour into Bangalore, a slice of Bengal is rapidly emerging in the city. As many as 30 Durga Puja celebrations were held in Bangalore last year — up from 10 three years ago.

In Hyderabad, the 750-plus-member Hyderabad Bengali Samiti too reports an influx of young people from Bengal. “The trend of Bengalis moving southwards has increased by 25 per cent in the last five years,” says the Samiti’s Gautam Dutta. Over two dozen Durga Puja pandals were set up in Hyderabad last year, he reveals. “Every year, we see at least two to three new pandals,” says a member of a city puja committee. To be sure, young Bengalis are lured to the south because they usually get better jobs there than in Calcutta. Says Rimi B. Chatterjee, a lecturer at Jadavpur University’s department of English, “Most of my students are literature graduates and face a major job crunch in the media and communications industry. This is forcing them to venture south.”

But other than job opportunities, Bangalore and Hyderabad’s cosmopolitan culture and modish lifestyles are also a major draw. Notes Calcutta-based sociologist Prasanta Ray, “Life is easy for young migrants in Bangalore and Hyderabad. They live anonymously and are not answerable to any family or neighbours.”

Take, for instance, Somen Guha (name changed at his request). “I wanted to lead an independent life. That was next to impossible in Calcutta with my parents always breathing down my neck. So the best option was to move out. And what better option than Bangalore,” exclaims the 26-year-old, Bangalore-based journalist. Guha quit Calcutta two years ago. “Now I earn well and live on my own terms,” he says.

Sociologist Ramachandra Guha says, “Calcutta is a very Bengali city. Hyderabad and Bangalore, on the other hand, are multi-cultural. There are only 30 per cent Kannadigas in Bangalore.” He adds that while Bangalore is a city of the young, Calcutta is perceived to be a city of the middle aged and the old.

A few also say that Bangalore’s superior work culture attracts youngsters. Software engineer Arijit Chatterjee, for example, feels that Bangalore’s USP is that it is an equal-opportunity city. “You don’t have to be well-connected to make it big in the IT industry. Performance talks,” says the 25-year-old techie.

Money talks too. Says Banerjee, who works at General Electric (GE) Research, “When I joined GE, I got an annual pay package of Rs 15 lakh. A research company in Calcutta offered me half the salary,” he says.

Some, however, insist that the annual migration to the south is drawing to a close. Bharati Mukherjee, pro vice-chancellor, Rabindra Bharti University, for instance, feels that young Calcuttans now prefer to stay on in a city that’s suddenly displaying dynamism and growth. “This (moving to the south) was the trend a decade ago. Now the reverse is happening since a lot of companies are setting up bases in Calcutta.”

Author Sunil Ganguly echoes that view. Apart from many more job opportunities, “thanks to the mall and disco culture, the youth now have access to almost everything they were seeking in other metros,” he points out.

But mall or no mall, for the moment at least, Calcutta’s youth are showing no sign of turning away from the siren call of the south.

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