To bask in a truly surreal ambience, people should come to Calcutta. It is where the incredible happens. A huge chunk of a spanking new flyover can simply peel off early in the morning with the single, unsuspecting truck on it thrown abruptly into the canal beneath. And, after this mind-boggling event, politicians can slip into their usual, lazy finger-pointing game accusing one another for, in Calcutta, nobody is ever responsible. Life goes on just as usual, waiting for the next flyover to buckle, the next market or overcrowded building to go up in flames, the next road to cave in. Calcutta had been growing quite proud of its flyovers — a mark of a trendy ‘modern’ space? — just as the state government had been rather smugly bestowing ‘development’ on a city used to nerve-racking harassment on the streets. As flyovers kept springing up, no one told the Calcuttan that sharp curves are not desirable for such constructions and, if they are unavoidable, there can be no compromise in design, material, construction and maintenance. Why should the government, the urban development department, the metropolitan development authority, public works or any such institution imagine itself to be accountable to the people? Or even feel that every public construction needs regular maintenance and constant inspection because the citizens’ lives depend on it?
There may be no return from the surreal, but it is yet useful to delve into the depths of corrupt callousness that can create such an ambience. The flyover collapse is illuminating from that point of view. Whether or not it was hurriedly completed because of political pressure from the nervous Left Front government, it is clear that there has been some sort of error or compromise, either in the calculations or in the materials or design or in the actual building. How could such a thing have been passed, and since it obviously was, who gained, politically or economically? The cause can be analysed and the people responsible can be identified if there is determination. If politicians duck the responsibility again by putting up a smokescreen of warring words, it is for the people to exert their will. Their safety has to be their own responsibility and it is up to them to hold those in authority accountable. A surreal city is not a safe or comfortable place to live in.