The canal bank from atop the Lake Town footbridge. (Sanat Kumar Sinha)
The Kestopur Canal waterfront is hardly inviting. Far from going there for a stroll in the evenings, residents would want to keep safe distance. From mini jungles to overflowing vats, shanties to open toilets — the stretch flaunts “Stay away” signals all over it.
The mouth of the canal in AA Block is chock-a-block with shanties. The dingy huts have tinned walls and tarpaulin roofs, and their laundry is spread out on branches of trees to dry. The stagnant canal water can barely be seen under the mesh of water hyacinths. A stench fills the air.
A placard stuck on a tree in the area perhaps once read “Moyla phelibe na” (Do not litter) but a portion of the placard has got ripped off and now reads “Moyla libe” (Take garbage). With or without the directive, garbage has been generously dumped here and along the length of the canal.
As one walks on, the greenery gets denser and wilder. Central Park may be known as the lungs of Salt Lake but even this strip boasts of a wide variety and volume of greens. There are age-old trees, perhaps growing since Salt Lake’s land-filling days, flowering plants like hibiscus and fruit trees like papaya which residents have planted along the years. Many more shrubs and creepers are growing on their own, unattended. One can see a few colourful birds in the woods and hear constant chirping.
It is a pleasure to see such a lot of greenery, especially with a concrete jungle on the other side of the canal, but the trees badly need to be pruned. In most places one can hear cars zooming by on VIP Road but there is no way of seeing them through the web of leaves. One can see the beautiful blue and white Ultadanga flyover high in the sky but it would be impossible to spot a thief hiding in these bushes.
Dried leaves falling from the trees cover much of the ground and would be a good camouflage for snakes in the monsoons.
Such is the growth in the strip that one is forced to walk on the metalled road outside. There is neither a footpath nor a cleared pathway into the forest-like banks.
Riot of green
The banks from AA Block to Lake Town footbridge in AE Block are mostly a series of jungles, extremely dense jungles and nurseries.
There are several well-maintained strips where nurseries have come up. One such, in AB Block, has a family settled. They have cleared the area of weeds, built a hut for themselves and are growing and selling plants and saplings.
In some stretches, particularly in AA and AB blocks, parts of the jungles are fenced. Sometimes they are cordoned off by flimsy bamboo sticks, at times by sturdy bamboo fences and rarely by metal grilles. There are some rope partitions too but plants grow over, under and even through them. In some instances, branches were found resting on these ropes for support and they have all but snapped. In AA Block, some young trees are protected by tall, metal roundabouts around them.
| Slums mushroom on the Salt Lake side at Ultadanga. (Right) Vases on sale under the Golaghata bridge on the Lake Town side. Pictures by Sanat Kumar Sinha
There are no signboards to indicate who looks after these cordoned-off areas. A few gardens here are decently maintained, with manicured grass and statues, but they were locked from the inside even on Sunday
afternoon with no one to answer calls.
Rarely, such as opposite AB 47, one finds a few yards of cleared land before the greens engulf all again.
The areas between every two blocks have covered vats but residents seem to find the strip more convenient to dump rubbish in. Places like one opposite AA 13 have garbage heaped over. Even the rest of the strip is littered here and there with plastic bags, empty packets of chips, biscuits, gutka, cigarettes, thermocol plates and even a broken toilet cistern in AA Block.
Opposite AC 36, a cow is seen entering the strip and in AA Block was found a colourless, headless idol on a headless animal, garlanded with utmost respect.
Some sections of AD Block have a narrow footpath on the side of the bank but cars are parked on it, rendering it useless for pedestrians.
Bridge across ugliness
The stretch covers two footbridges — the Golaghata bridge, connecting AC Block to Golaghata, and the Lake Town footbridge, connecting AE Block to Lake Town. A bird’s eye view of the canal from atop these bridges could have been scenic but at present it is an eye sore.
In the first place, the very steps going up the Golaghata bridge are enough to ward off visitors. They are badly eroded, leaving little space to land one’s feet. The beams of the bridge are rusted too. From atop the bridge one gets to see the waters clearly for the first time but the view is hardly inviting.
The canal seems to flow on till as
far as the eyes can see but the water is of a brownish-green murky shade, with plastic bags, bottles and thermocol bowls floating. Water hyacinths and jungles have both spread so densely on either side that one cannot distinguish where the water ends and land begins. Residents have always blamed the stagnant water here for the mosquitoes in the area. The only redemption is the flyovers, that look even more attractive from this height.
The Lake Town bridge in AE Block is a crowded spot, unlike the first bridge which pops out without warning from among the trees. There is a
rickshaw stand at the AE Block bridge, policemen sitting on guard and even a phuchka vendor. His clients dump the leaf bowls of the phuchka on the ground and commuters do not hesitate in littering either.
From the top of the bridge on the Lake Town side one can see a jetty, perhaps built for the now-abandoned launch service, along with a clay pot and vase stall nearby.
Climbing down the bridge to the Salt Lake side, one sees a pile of empty green coconuts dumped. Then a man guides his young son to this corner to urinate. Two other men emerge having relieved themselves. One climbs down, looking the other way, to see a dog walking down the stairs casually along with commuters, perhaps after a visit to Lake Town.
How long will it take for this pisspot to turn around? That perhaps can be measured more in the degree of willingness than in the number of years.