Meer Kamaluddin was having a ball on a deserted Red Road on Thursday afternoon. A ball balanced on his head, the professional juggler from Howrah’s Sankrail pedalled merrily along. “Thanks to the bandh, I could practise the entire day,” said the 37-year-old who covered “around 75km” on Thursday. The former Mohammedan Sporting footballer, who had to hang up his boots early because
of an ankle injury, can carry a football on his head for 25 hours at a stretch.
Picture by Tamaghna Banerjee
Dona Gupta decided to make a comeback to gully cricket on Thursday. “It’s a bandh and we completely support the cause, so I decided to play gully cricket with my college friends after a long, long time,” smiled the student of mass communication
at RBU. Dona, spotted wielding the willow on Surya Sen Street in north Calcutta, has practically given up watching cricket after Sourav Ganguly’s retirement. “Dada is
my all-time hero and I also happen to share his wife’s name!” she giggled.
Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday afternoon the people had rejected the bandh and hit the streets defying the disruptive politics of the CPM and the BJP, in an attempt to showcase what she claimed was an improvement in work culture during her reign. She touted “88 to 89 per cent attendance” at Writers’ to rest her case.
Metro travelled 150km across the city to check the veracity of the claim of Mamata Banerjee, who hasn’t called a bandh since 2009 after championing disruptive politics for years. The pictures were not exactly what the chief minister had sought to portray. Empty roads, long wait for government buses, absence of police or taxis controlled by Trinamul unions... the scenes suggested Bengal was happy slipping back into an oh-so familiar bandh mode.
The streets may have been empty but it was different under chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nose.
Writers’ was a hubbub of activity in the morning. “The overall attendance in state government offices is 88 to 89 per cent. People of Bengal have come out of the bandh culture. Now, a work culture has been established in the state. I congratulate the employees and their families for defying the strike,” Mamata said.
A walk through the portals of power told a slightly different story. Employees were allowed to sign their attendance register till noon — 10.30am is the usual deadline — and leave by 3pm. When the CM was making the work-culture claim — around 4pm — the attendance registers were full but the offices nearly empty. “We were allowed to leave early so that we could reach home on time,” said an employee of the labour department, heading home at 3.30pm.
Vehicles there weren’t many but the grumbles too were few. Most people did not step out. Shops were shut and the hawkers were missing.
“Normally, it takes less than five minutes for my auto to fill up. Today, I have been waiting for over 20 minutes and no one has turned up yet,” said Tapas Das, the lone auto driver near the Ruby hospital roundabout around noon.
Gariahat was no better, nor was Ballygunge, Behala, Shyambazar or Sinthee. At Ultadanga, VIP Road was deserted with private cars and the occasional auto whizzing by. The ever-busy Central Avenue looked forlorn.
Hunt for a bus
The strike by private buses, called mostly by Trinamul-backed unions, was withdrawn on Wednesday but its impact was hardly felt the day after. Transport minister Madan Mitra must have been aware of it when he boasted: “Buses on roads were all state-run buses.”
Only around 500 of the 5,500 private buses in the city hit the road, said a union leader. The government claimed to have run an additional 400 buses but commuters across the city spotted few. Things worsened after 11am.
Metro on time, taxis none
The Metro ran on schedule. Till 6pm, officials said, 1.39 lakh people had taken the tube. The normal weekday count is around four lakh.
“It’s a welcome break from the usual squeeze. I could even choose my seat,” said Sanjib Mukherjee, an executive with a private firm travelling to Park Street from Kalighat.
The rush was missing on suburban trains, too, while many booked on Thursday’s long-distance trains cancelled their tickets.
Tracks were blocked at some places, like Baidyabati, Ranaghat, Habra and Kalyani, but the bandh-enforcers dispersed as the mercury rose.
Those who arrived at the city’s terminal stations suffered because of lack of transport. The prepaid stand at Sealdah, run by the Progressive Taximen’s Union led by transport minister Mitra, was empty. Mitra arrived around 11.30am, when the Rajdhani Express chugged in, and hailed taxis for some passengers. But the relief lasted only as long as the minister was there.
Some flights had to be cancelled and some clubbed because there weren’t enough passengers.
Airport sources said around 3,500 passengers had flown out of the domestic terminal till 5pm, about 2,500 less than on a normal day. Instead of the 70-odd flights that take off from Calcutta till 5pm, 51 flew on Thursday.
Airline officials said the flights were doing well in the morning but the passenger count dropped drastically as the day progressed.
Taxis were few at the airport. Anand Rathi, a doctor from Mumbai who came on a Jet Airways flight, was stranded for over half an hour. “The few taxis that are here are demanding Rs 500 to take me to Southern Avenue,” Rathi said.
Volvo busses were aplenty but there weren’t too many takers.
Work was as usual for most at Sector V. Many companies brought in their workers early around 6am. Wipro was an exception as it decided to stay open on Saturday instead.
What triumphed on Thursday — work culture or bandh culture? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org
from swelter to smile
The blazing sun and the lure of a midweek holiday kept many home on Thursday as the city seemed to slip into its old habit of an all-play-no-work bandh
The afternoon temperature? 34.2 degrees, one degree above normal.
The humidity? 95 per cent.
Reason enough for many not to brave the blazing sun on Thursday. Like Surojit Gupta, who works for an insurance company. “The sun was so harsh that I decided not to go to office. For the last three days, reaching work has been an ordeal because of the bus strike,” said Gupta.
Others like businessman Manish Agarwal ventured out and then rushed back home. Literally. “It was too hot and humid to be working when everyone was taking it easy. I left office by noon and it took me just 10 minutes to drive back from Park Street to Southern Avenue,” he said.
Many decided to wait for the sun to set and the
12-hour bandh to end for the action to begin. “My two kids and I went to City Centre for some shopping in the evening,” said a schoolteacher in Salt Lake.
Surgical oncologist Gautam Mukhopadhyay spent a rare off-day reading a book and watching TV at his South City apartment. “Relatives of patients had requested me to defer surgeries because of the bandh. So, I took the day off,” he said.
Home by day and mall-multiplex by evening was the bandh formula for many. Like the Guptas from Garia. “We reached South City Mall by 6pm, watched Barfi! and then grabbed a bite,” said the family of four. Burp! That’s a bandh well spent.