Bengal is perhaps the most non-violent yet violent state of India and perhaps the only state where the letter V stands for Bhaayolence! When an accident happens they will fold up their sleeves, shout and scream and curse and abuse, "Chherey De Bolchhi", but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1947.
This was forwarded to me last month by a colleague and I was quick to forward it to people who I thought would be able to relate to it. The above paragraph is just a part of the bigger picture: ‘पिक्चर तो अभी बाकी है मेरे दोस्त’. Having stayed in Bengal for almost four years, some harsh realities came to my realisation. Initially I though it was just another very poor state of India, but much to my surprise I found that it was perhaps a place with unlimited potential to improve itself.
Calcutta was the first city in India to have metro railway way back in 1984. It was commissioned even earlier, around 1975. Howrah Bridge, the trademark of Kolkata, constructed way back in 1943 was the 3rd longest cantilever bridge in the world then (it ranks 6 now) and Vidyasagar Setu was the 5th longest cable stayed bridge when it was constructed in 1992. These bridges were and still are symbolic in India and must-see tourist spots. If you happen to visit Kolkata, you will find some brilliant roads and cloverleaf flyovers constructed long back. Bengal has also given the world some brilliant people like Tagore, Mother Teressa, JC Bose and many more… Bengal also got India’s first autonomous Higher Technical Institute for post-war industrial development of India. The first Indian Institute of Technology was setup at the Hijli Detention Camp (1930-37, 1940-42). Kharagpur boasts of one of the biggest railway workshops in India, the longest railway platform in the world (1072.5 m) and India’s first underground Air Force Base (Kalaikunda). Bengal had a vision. Bengal had brains and resources to envision a great future.
But then, something happened. I really do not know what happened. If you ever happen to visit Kolkata, or any other city in Bengal, you would be shocked to find yourself at least a decade in the past. Unlike most states in India, Bengal unfortunately has struggled to find itself walk hand in hand with the advances of the new India. The chai-walah on the street side is still the same xyz-da you knew when you were a kid. Sauvik-da is still selling jhal moodhi at his old shack. Most of the things you knew might not have changed there. People are as poor as they ever were. Those old lanky sweating guys are still ferrying people on their cycle rickshaws they can barely pull. Even the cost of life has remained almost the same. Did you hear people grumbling about the same issues they used to a few years back? Nothing has changed in Bengal. Oh man… even the government is the same since last few decades!!
This happened a few days back at IIT Kharagpur: a third-year student Rohit Kumar had been visiting the campus hospital ‘BC Roy Technology Hospital’ complaining of headache for some days. One fine day on his way to the hospital, he fainted and fell from the cycle rickshaw. Injured badly, he was rushed to the hospital. Being a Sunday there was no doctor readily available. Later when the doctor came to the scene, he recommended the boy to be taken to Apollo Hospital in Kolkata (120 km). Subsequent delays in arranging an ambulance added to the woes. On the way to Kolkata, it was realised that though the oxygen mask was placed over his mouth, the supply had not been switched on’. He started coughing up blood and conditions worsened. The ambulance was diverted to a hospital in Midnapore. No arrangements were made to receive the patient and when doctor’s finally reached, he was declared dead on arrival.
This was not the first such incident. A few more students and maybe even some professors have lost their lives because proper medical facilities or doctors were not available at the campus hospital. Strange rules of the campus hospital meant that consulting hours of the doctors be limited to 3-4 hours in the morning a a few hours in the evening, only on weekdays. The pharmacy would have barely any medicines other than paracetamol. To see a doctor, one needed to stand in a serpentine queue, twice! Once to get an appointment and then outside the doctor’s cabin waiting for your turn! Conditions were pathetic. Doctors there have been known to diagnose patients’ conditions wrong. Malaria and Typhoid would almost always be diagnosed as stomach ache! Calpol seemed to be their most loved tablet!
I still remember that afternoon in second year when I crashed my cycle into my friend’s and hurt my lower abdomen badly. I rushed to the hospital only to find it closed as it was afternoon. I could only get superficial bandages. My lower abdomen started paining badly and it was suggested by my family doctor in Mumbai to get a USG done. The USG in the hospital was booked for the next few weeks I wonder for whom! USG specialist would only come once a week all the way from Kolkata. There was no facility for emergency cases like mine. Eventually I had to go out of the campus to a local hospital and get an emergency sonography done. Fortunately, all my internal organs were fine. I now know that there is no functional operation theatre in the campus hospital due to lack of a surgeon and possibly also due to the lack of instruments. Even at this moment there is one of my very good friends from first year, suffering from malaria and was in late stages a few days back. He is now recovering in Delhi. Had he not rushed home in time, God knows what would have been the outcome.
Students are an active lot. They will play, they will fall, they will hurt themselves. They will venture out, they will eat and fall sick! It is very human to fall sick or get hurt! Professors stay for years together with their spouses and children. Situations of critical health are inevitable. A campus hospital catering to an Indian Institute of Technology that boasts of a population of almost 10,000 students and thousands of faculty and support staff cannot be complacent. Even IIT Bombay has a hospital that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It has doctors present all the time on duty and has really good pathology and other facilities. All that in spite of the fact that IIT Bombay is located in a metro city and any help outside the campus is just minutes away!
The problem here is not of funds. The problem here is of initiative. The problem is of lack of a will to bring about a change. It is not a problem of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur or the Government of India, or the Government of West Bengal, it is a problem of the state of Bengal and the mindset of its people. People in Bengal need to wake up and look ahead. Open their eyes and see the shit they are lying in. It has been long that they have taken pride of their culture and their state, of their language and their ancestors. Today is the time when they should look forward to getting out of the shackles they have got themselves into.
It is very difficult to bring about a change in Bengal. People refused to let industrialisation come to their state. That would have generated a lot of jobs and would have got a steady income flowing into hundreds of families. Workers unions have ensured that Bengal does not progress. They would make sure that cycle-rickshaws would always remain on the streets. They would make sure that old-rattled busses ply for a thousand years on the streets of Kolkata. They would make sure everything that would ensure the poorest keep doing what they have been doing for the last few decades. They would even ensure Saurav Ganguly keeps playing cricket till the day cricket exists! May be they are too lazy! May be they are so lazy that their mind has stopped generating innovations and new ideas. May be they are just too lazy to even vote for a different government! May be the situation is so bad that they just cant think anything beyond the current scenario. They have lost the ability to look forward and would vehemently and very non-violently oppose any change. Every few days, wherever you are in Bengal you would come across a group of men carrying a few red flags and shouting ‘Cholbe na, Cholbe na’ at the top of their voice. They will never harm anyone. But little do they realise that in doing all this, they are only harming themselves. Bengal needs a change. A sudden and drastic change. A change in the lifestyle of people. A change in the way they look not only at the world but also at themselves.
Bengal has potential and resources. Kolkata is the only metro city in India after Delhi, that I think has immense capacity to grow and become a world class city. It has land, it has water, it has manpower and it has its share of capital. When I say Bengal has potential, I mean manpower. It is highly necessary for Bengal to utilize its manpower to 100% and channelize it into all sectors and industries. Instead of joining the march of resentment, jamming the wheels of change, Bengalis must come together and rise to the occasion, fuel the growth their state has been wanting from them. I hope that happens before it is too late. I hope that happens before me.
Having said all this, let me tell you I have some wonderful memories attached to Kharagpur, Kolkata and Bengal on the whole. I made some wonderful friends and met some really sweet Bengalis. To date, Bengalis remain the most admired sect of Indians for me. I even prefer calling myself ‘Aditto’ instead of Aditya, the way a Bengali person would call me. I have nothing against the state, the institute or anybody in particular. I just hope things change, for their own good, and may be in some way for the good of the rest.
Inputs taken from The Scholars’ Avenue, the campus newspaper of IIT Kharagpur. If you wish to read more about Rohit’s death, what happened at the campus after that, and other stories glorifying the campus hospital, you may visit www.scholarsavenue.org
The views expressed in this article are entirely mine and nobody else should be questioned in this regard. You may feel free to post your comments (subject to my approval) or mail me at aditya [dot] ee [at] gmail [dot] com