The colours of sycophancy are blue and white. Or are they the colours of an irresistible, arbitrary, dictatorial, insidious will? Whichever answer is squeezed out of the impossible location between the Bad One and the deep blue sea — blue again, see? — it will not save Calcutta from looking egregiously silly in the eyes of the country. Not because blue and white is a bad combination: it has a hallowed history from Chinese pottery to classic French prints. But that is hardly what the Calcutta Municipal Corporation had in mind when it declared it would waive a year’s property taxes for residential buildings if they were painted in blue and white. Now the chief minister of West Bengal may have a dream of the Pink City in her eyes, and, ignoring the special history of this pinkness and the homogeneous colour of the material used for its public buildings, would probably like to give Calcutta its own piece of dubious history by suddenly turning all its various styled buildings, made of various materials, in their various stages of newness or decay, blue and white — her chosen colours. She may like to, perhaps, but she has not done so yet. But like the true expert in a sovereign’s employ, the CMC seems to have pre-empted the leader’s wishes, conjuring up a vision of aesthetics gone haywire, and leading Calcuttans by the hand right into the theatre of the absurd.
But wishes, in this hard world of bricks, mortar and law books, are not horses, and the CMC has no power to waive taxes. Its proposal will not only have to be ratified by the state government but an amendment will also have to be passed in the assembly before any such stupidity can be carried through. Given the Trinamul Congress’s numbers in the assembly, no one could stop the state government if it were to decide gleefully that painting the town blue and white is the thing to do. Alternatively, the government could turn on the CMC and ask what it is doing about fire safety for old and new houses, for schools, auditoriums, hospitals and other public buildings; whether it is following up on houses marked condemned, or what initiatives it is taking to ensure that new buildings are ‘green’, not blue and white. That might redeem the situation somewhat for dwellers in the city, and may actually help make Calcutta a fraction safer. It is one of those unlooked for mercies that the law is not in the CMC’s hands.