The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, July 15, 2001
Speaking generally

What do technology & history offer?
Chanchal Sarkar

CHANDIGARHIANS would be interested in a programme I heard on Le Corbusier not long ago. It was, I think, on his birth anniversary. The panelists gave a splendid account of his work right down from the famous complex in Marseilles where the human world and nature were brought together.

Then suddenly one of the three panelists, obviously a very knowledgeable person who said he had visited Chandigarh several times, said something strange. First, he said something true ó that if Nehru hadnít intervened many times, Chandigarh would have come up only by inches.

Following this he said that Le Corbusier saw that India would be the watershed where history and modern technology would mesh. And then he added, "But that, alas, didnít happen." He was right, but where has that happened as the result of one planned city? Anyway, what does technology and history have to offer when, as in the USA, there is the largest number of people in prison in the world or in Britain where, according to UNICEF, 30 per cent of the children live in poverty?


Street names

Changing street names is the cheapest and least trouble-free way of honouring people and even cities (Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai). And, of course, it doesnít matter anyway because people, taxi drivers and others continue to use the old names. Even the new generations of inhabitants.

Calcutta is no exception and not only does it go for the cheap but, playing on its cultural and international pretensions, it goes in for Shakespeare, Picasso, Martin Luther King, Ho Chi Minh and Sun Yat Sen. What a joke, people still use Amherst, Harrison, Camac and so on. Even the streets named after great Bengalis and Indians are ignored: Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, and Sarat Chandra Bose are known as Upper Circular, Lower Circular and Lansdowne. Beadon Street, named after Cecil Beadon, is supposed to be Bidhan Sarani, only supposed.

Calcutta seems not to have given much credit to Indians other than Bengalis. Yes, of course, the compulsory Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, even Motilal Nehru, but little else besides. And yet there were opportunities which were once used to show the cosmopolitanism that was Calcutta. In South Kolkata, there is a Rustomji Parsi Street. I am ashamed to say I donít know who Rustomji Parsi was, but I suppose there must be a book, certainly there have been articles on Kolkata street names. Of course, every one in Calcutta knows and uses Netaji Subhas for Clive Street.

Allahabad, Lucknow and Varanasi, once the home of many distinguished Bengalis, are more catholic. Lucknow has many streets named after Bengalis and so does Allahabad. In Varanasi, I used to stay once with a friend who lived on a street named after his father who had been a well known Bengali doctor. But Kolkata and other Indian cities should honour great Indians from other states ó Gokhale, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra are there in Kolkata but there should be streets named after Radhakrishnan, C.V. Raman, Dadabhai Naraoji and so on. Of course there are fewer great candidates now for street names!

School for deaf

Ms Feroz Adenwala was a senior executive in Dunlop. She had a deaf child and set up a school for deaf children in Kolkata. First it was in a room in Dunlop, now its 40 children are scattered over some three flats in a building in Short Street. The Vice-Principal, Mrs A. Banerjee, seemed a very competent woman, so too the other teachers and a gentleman, Mr Gomes, who taught, made moulds for hearing aids and went to visit children in their homes. The head of the institution was a Ms Jalan, who obviously gave it a lot of time and attention. The children (there are still 10 vacant seats) are taught the normal school curriculum of the normal non-handicapped schools through lip reading, musical rhythm and so on. They were all dressed in white uniforms and looked happy.

Depending on how backward they are in hearing (and so how much attention they need) the fees ranges from quite low to reasonable and, as far as possible, the needy are not turned away. Some of the alumni from the schools are holding good jobs and are the pride of the institution.

What I cannot understand is why such a school and three other general schools for slum children choose such posh and expensive localities of Kolkata to set themselves up in. Why not take the school a little out of the city where there can be a playground, a place to breathe in, and get them there and back by a minibus from their present location. Some of the schools, apparently, have a lot of money and even expressed the desire to buy land in areas where land cost Rs 20 lakh a cottah (20 cottahs in Bengal make a bigha). Hearing aids assembled in India cost around Rs 7000-Rs 8000. The superior hi-tech imported variety can cost between Rs 60,000 and a lakh.

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