Perhaps it is a distinction of Calcutta that the conjunction formed between the British and the bhadralok in the 19th century is still active in many ways. Amit Chaudhuri's intellectual and aesthetic journey, it seems to me, is to reinvent, repack and relive this conjunction for the 21st century. This is both the charm and the political location of his writings — far beyond, and much more important than, the question of who stays where and for how long. I do think he displays a diasporic sensibility — and that too of a rather naïve kind — in suggesting that certain old living quarters of Kolkata, if properly done up, can be put on sale to attract haute bourgeois European buyers.

It's time we start accepting postcolonial cities as postcolonial cities and work on their futures in their own specific terms and within their own limits of possibilities. Granting that Chaudhuri is aware of the depths and significance of Kolkata's poverty, it did not feature in his deliberations on possible ways to transform the city. He might not accept it, but this omission is centrally undoing for his enterprise, for it keeps out of his purview the realities of ground level networks through which the city reproduces itself.

Chaudhuri's gaze, as he himself admits, is on Calcutta, not Kolkata or the articulation of the two. If Calcutta turns London, what happens to the other city, Kolkata? It surely cannot be banished, for then there would no Calcutta. This whole business of selectively displaying and hiding, decking up and tucking in is a matter of grotesque obsession and must be hugely inviting for a writer. Perhaps a writer's job is not so much to point out this or that way of achieving the London dream — translated in general terms as strategies of beautification and making the city space ‘civil' — but to indulge in this obsession. The ongoing ‘blue-ification' of the city — the Calcutta blues! — could be a good beginning.

(Manas Ray is a Fellow at Kolkata's Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.)


This London dream has parts missingFebruary 18, 2012

Calcutta's ambivalent inheritanceFebruary 25, 2012

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