Recently, Kolkata (or Calcutta, as it is still referred to by some) woke up one morning and its heart skipped a beat as it read the headlines of the day – Terror alert in Kolkata. Apparently, terror attacks can be carried out in the city, anytime between November 15-30th. Oh no! the city groaned and then went about the rest of the day wondering how it would cope, if terror indeed came calling at its doors.
Not everyone had lost their sense of humor though. Blogger Sayantani writes:
I thought it's remarkable that the authorities can now pinpoint a terrorist attack projection to that acute a point. Fifteen days!! That almost gives you time to pack your bags, picnic hampers and your bedding, put in your toothbrush and air your monkey caps and muffler, so that you can make it warmly out of the city.
Terror alerts are not new news to Kolkata. Ever since the bomb blasts in other Indian cities, authorities in Kolkata had attempted to step up the security. This has been a herculean task, given that the month of October-November is the festive season in West Bengal and therefore Kolkata.
First there was the week long celebration of Durga Puja, the biggest festival in West Bengal. This is the time when thousands of people, from far and near, throng the streets of Kolkata to take part in the celebrations and festivities.
“All pujas, particularly the major ones have been requested to install close circuit television cameras to monitor movement of the people,” Home Secretary Asok Mohan Chakraborty said. Hand held metal detectors, emergency exits and electronic information boards have been made mandatory and the organisers have also been asked to erect watch towers to monitor movements, he said.
Watch towers, hidden cameras and commandos trained in combating militant strikes are the novel features as the city was wrapped in a thick security blanket for the Durga Puja – the main festival of West Bengal…
And yet, as Kolkata celebrated with a gusto (after all, it had waited one whole year to celebrate this week) under the watchful eyes of police personnel, trained volunteers, QRTs (automatic gun weilding Quick Response Teams), CCTVs et al, there was that little sprinkle of anxiety in some dark recess of the mind that was voiced by Upasana Mallick in The Viewspaper:
Fortunately, my city Kolkata has not witnessed any serial bombings recently, though I am certain that our serene days are counted. I might get blown out at this very moment while I am writing this to you all… It is an unnerving feeling that wakes me up every morning and puts me to sleep each night…
October and November in Kolkata also brought along three other major festivals of 3 others forms of the mother Goddess – Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), Kali (the destroyer of evil) and Jadaddhatri (the protector of the world).
As Bengalis continued in their revelry, the authorities attempted to keep up the vigil. However, it must be admitted that all of this was taking a heavy toll on the leisure-loving, laid back Bengali mindset. How long could we continue being on “high alert”? The solution? Kolkatans decided to come up with their own arguments as to why Kolkata was a safe haven, where one could continue to live a complacent life amidst all sorts of warnings and dire predictions (after all, we had almost perfected the art of blithely ignoring weather predictions from the Met office, hadn't we?). Sayantani elaborates on her blog:
The general consensus on the impending terrorist insurgency in kolkata, is that it will not happen. because the terror mongers live in Kolkata and they happen to make regular trips to the capital and all over India to do there jobs, like say a normal factory worker would on a regular basis, travel to far out places by local trains, to earn his daily bread. Hence who gives a damn about what the local nostradamus's say? As it is the Met office can't predict the weather.
This view of the average Kolkatan is summed up in the words of Sayantani's father who confidently says, “They're not going to attack. No one attacks there own house.”
But who are these “they”? Do we know? And is our house really safe, or is it being eaten away by borers from within? Perhaps only time will tell.
Photos: by Aparna Ray