Monday, September 05, 2011

Kolkata, the city of slow and natural death

Hand-pulled rickshaws are part of the Kolkata cityscape. Though banned in 2005, they continue to ply many districts of the city. Convenient for short distances, especially when streets are flooded, they are still in high demand. Since a radical ban would have made too many people jobless, it was decided to stop issuing new licenses. The approach is that of a slow and natural death.

The ubiquitous yellow taxis also seem to live this kind of slow and natural death. The Hindustan (British Leyland) Ambassador dates back from more than sixty years, and it is indeed automotive history you enter when boarding one. No frills, just two bench seats, no exterior mirrors, no locking system, no air con. A few gods for protection, and a meter that tests the mathematic skills of the passengers (the fare is currently two times the reading + 2 rupees).

Powering these vintage cars through the clogged streets of Kolkata is a horn that must have gone through several reincarnations for the outburst of life it delivers. Blowing the horn is ascertaining that fellow drivers see you. Or, rather, not blowing the horn is taking the chance to be unheard/overseen and made responsible for anything that could go wrong.

Unfortunately, the Kolkatan slow and natural death has most heritage buildings firmly in its grip, with few chances of survival. In North Kolkata, the native so-called black town of the Raj era, most palaces and mansions of the rich Bengali landlords are decaying. So the Marble Palace, a huge mansion still belonging to his original owner, the Mullick family and housing uncountable pieces of art, is slowly but surely decaying.
Kolkata, India, August 2011.

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