2020 in review: The year that was

2020: A year that delivered multiple blows to Kolkata, the city of celebrations

On Wednesday morning, when a member of a WhatsApp group of Kolkata-based doctors shared information about the city recording its first case of the U.K. strain of COVID-19, another participant made a joke: “Finally, Kolkata has turned into London!” The reference was to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s old promise of transforming Kolkata into another London.

The exchange summed up the mood in Kolkata as 2020 prepared to bow out after delivering multiple blows to the city. On one hand there was anxiety and on the other acceptance — that life must go on, with the trademark Bengali humour intact.

CAA protests

Kolkata began 2020 under the shadow of countrywide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). On January 7, a group of Muslim women led by homemaker Asmat Jamil began a round-the-clock sit-in at the Park Circus Maidan, turning it into Kolkata’s own Shaheen Bagh. As the number of protesters began to grow by the day, they began to call it Freedom Struggle 2.0. Ms. Banerjee, herself a highly vocal critic of the CAA, also held a march and organised an art exhibition in protest.

Critics of the CAA also made their presence felt at the annual Kolkata Book Fair, which, with some 600 stalls, drew nearly 2.5 million people. By then, COVID-19 cases had begun to be reported in India but the number was too low to cause alarm. It wasn’t until March 17 that the city recorded its first case — the U.K.-returned 18-year-old son of a bureaucrat. By then all educational institutions and cinema halls in the State had been closed.

2020: A year that delivered multiple blows to Kolkata, the city of celebrations

On March 23, West Bengal was placed under lockdown for a week, but then, on the following day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown for a three-week period, which went on to be extended. A city accustomed to round-the-year festivities and evening addas was suddenly forced indoors: fear and silence prevailed in neighbourhoods.

The prolonged lockdown saw the emergence of Good Samaritans who helped the elderly stranded at home. They included those who were themselves suddenly out of work but now had all the time in the world.

Cyclone Amphan

On May 20, a city living under fear and lockdown was struck by Cyclone Amphan. Some 20 people died in Kolkata alone; nearly 10,000 trees were uprooted and 4,000 electric poles felled. Parts of the city never looked the same again: several green patches had transformed into bald patches. In rural pockets surrounding the city, numerous families lost everything they had. The botanical garden lost all its precious trees.

2020: A year that delivered multiple blows to Kolkata, the city of celebrations

By middle of the year, the fear of COVID-19 had subsided to some extent even though the risk had gone up, with the entire State recording nearly 3,000 cases on a daily basis. By Durga Puja, the public disregard for safety protocols had become so pronounced that the Calcutta High Court had to restrict celebrations.

During Durga Puja, one of Bengal’s biggest icons, the actor Soumitra Chatterjee, lay in hospital, fighting post-COVID-19 complications. He died on November 15 — a day after Deepavali — aged 85, after spending 40 days in hospital. Kolkata’s cultural landscape lost one of its biggest banyans.

Today, life in the City of Joy is almost back to normal. If you discount the masks, one would hardly suspect that it is still in the grip of the pandemic. So much so that the Calcutta High Court, once again, has had to ask the administration to keep a check on crowding during New Year celebrations.

So how would 2021 be for the city: would it be a rerun of 2020, considering that the highly-contagious U.K. strain of COVID-19 has already found its way in? While that’s hard to predict, Kolkata will seek its moments of joy, even if it’s derived from cracking a joke.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 10:14:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/2020-a-year-that-delivered-multiple-blows-to-kolkata-the-city-of-celebrations/article33451498.ece

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