| HOW UNCLEAN IS THE GREEN: (Left) Mounds of refuse behind the enclosure of a religious convention on the Maidan. (Right) H.L. Dhir discusses the fate of his favourite evening-walk zone with Hardial Singh Dakha and granddaughter. Pictures by Pabitra Das
The breeze has a bite on the Maidan these few weeks. But the winds of change that bear promise of a new lease of life for the city’s lungs seem only to be blowing through some distant corridors of power.
The plethora of plastic, the overgrown grass and the mounds of horse droppings are all in place on the green supposedly going clean. The court has finally prodded the state government into action, to take steps towards the long-term health of the city elders’ favourite lawns. But today, it’s the same ol’ Maidan, it’s the same old mess.
“This, I think, is better than any other place in India.” The words of Keshaw Pandey, a regular evening-walker, who Metro had met in July. Six months on, he still has no complaints, except that his haunt should be kept clean. He doesn’t even mind the melas, but he does mind what the common man considers acceptable behaviour. “Yes, the government does have a responsibility to clean up, but how much can it do alone' The people should change their ways, too,” stresses the 70-year-old.
One does not have to look too far to find proof of Pandey’s point. Toss a coin anywhere on the Maidan, and it is likely to find a resting place on a mound of muck. Two religious conventions and a trade fair caused quite a crowd on the greens last weekend.
It’s all fine and well, with the ban to set in next Poila Boisakh, but none of the hue and cry has made it to the ears of the Maidan mess-makers. In front of one enclosure is a huge heap of refuse left by lunching devotees. Though most of the leaves and earthen glasses are cleared away by trucks, the clean-up is not prompt enough to stop scores of plastic bags from blowing away, and inevitably, scattering all over the greens.
Eighty-three-year-old H.L. Dhir has noticed “no improvement at all” during his daily evening walks. “It’s the government’s attitude. They will just never do any work. No one cares,” he says.
Dhir is not alone in his frustration. It was Ashtami evening, October 14, 1945, when Hardial Singh Dakha came to Calcutta. The jovial man of 75 has seen Calcutta change more than he would like. It is no longer safe for girls, he says, his 20-year-old granddaughter standing firmly by his side.
A while ago, the two were stranded on the Maidan, after an evening walk, due to car trouble. A concerned policeman came to find out what was wrong, and told Dakha it was not safe to be out there, especially for his granddaughter. “Not everyone is bad,” smiles the burly man.
But Dakha was disheartened to come back from a holiday recently to find that a beautiful old wrought-iron park bench had been removed (“it was the perfect place for us to rest”). And why are there no urinals, he asks, in a place where people spend hours'
In the big picture, it is the small things that matter. Cleanliness, security and sensitivity — that’s the simple prayer the old men on the Maidan would like the powers that be to heed.