Calcutta, now described along with Beijing as among the last two rock fortresses of communism, is more a Bengali city than a communist city. Just as Beijing, I preseme, is more a Chinese than communist city. And the Begali is a communist only to the extent that the thinks being a communist, and a leftist, is being intelliectual.
He is a reverse (inverse) snob. Hence he wears his floating Bengali dhoti, with embrodered borders, at social occasions where others are suited and booted as per the instructions in the invitation. And he elegantly holds this dhoti between thumb and index finger, the small finger pointing outsards in a delicate crook, like a society lady holding a cup of tea.
And hence also his carrying the cloth bag, know as zhola, over his shoulder, badly-printed and dog-eared leftist literature (what literature!) in the bag, the generally scruffy look, the smoking of cheap cigarettes and beedis through a cupped fist.
In India, we have come to associate all these Bengali characteristics with communism and Marxism. Also the Bengali's emotical outbursts with this. The Bengali is an emotional person, argumentative, angry, though never physically violent. These are his traits, not a communist's.
I have visited Calcutta thrice...over a period of 40 years. This is a poor record, though about par for Calcutta. It is Delhi that company executives and Congress chief ministers visit four times a week. However, each visit has given me a new insight into the city.
The first was by train, Calcutta Mail via Allahabad, arriving at Howrah on a smoggy morning, the bridge over the Hoogly framed in the compartment's window. I was an inexperienced traveller then, carrying a large tin trunk with me, for which I had to hire a porter for a sizeable amount, then paying the taxi three times the fare, because the driver explained to me it was a station taxi, then paying all sorts of extras at a hotel for the privilege of sharing a bathroom with the other guests.
But Calcutta itself was lovely: Barges going down the Hoogly to Diamond Harbour, the empty Eden Gardens with clothes hanging to dry, trams with first and second classes, pujas at the lake situated at the end of the tram line, streets and squares with viceregal names like Dalhousie and Cornwallis, the Victoria Memorial sitting like a house of pearl in the green Esplanade, a cinema called Light-house with drinks at the bar during the intermission.
By the time of my other two visits, I had unfortunately grown up, lost my youthful enthusiasm for the empire's first city, and my mind had been conditioned to looking at Calcutta as a communists city. Everything I saw, from statues of slogans on the walls statues to slogans on the walls to an intellectual debate conducted by The Telegraph at the Netaji Subhas Bose Indoor Stadium, reminded me of communism. Perhaps, a perestroika is due in that city, but not through Mr. Siddharth Shankar Ray.