Kolkata: The New Ground Zero?

It seems that the distant hazy world of newspaper tragedies has finally landed on the doorstep of the Kolkatan. He is accustomed to opening the newspapers every morning to read about the latest bomb disasters in far removed parts of the world that too, surrounded by the relative comfort of his own home. Finally he has been served a rude shock. The hazy world of militancy is finally taking shape right on our doorsteps.

A few weeks back, the city was rocked by a threat email which stated that prominent zones like Salt Lake, Park Street and others would probably be blasted all the way to kingdom come, within the following hours. In face of such an unprecedented crisis, the entire populace was thrown into disarray. There were curfew notices issued, programmes cancelled, and shops and offices shut down early. Mobile networks suffered serious congestion. Basically, all the scenes that the naïve Kolkatans will have watched in numerous Hollywood action films were now finally taking place in their very own lives. The difference was that no one was enjoying it or feeling even vaguely self-important.

The city looked like a wartime zone in the evening lights. There were policemen everywhere, wielding metal detectors and other equipment. Special squads were posted in various strategic zones. Perhaps the worst effect was the birth of various rumours which were flying around, as always does in the time of an imminent crisis. Messages were sent claiming that bombs had been found and subsequently detonated. Now whether these were pranksters at work or were subtle propagandist tactics to soothe the frayed nerves of the people is difficult to deduce.

It was finally, well after midnight, that the truth finally came out. This entire shenanigan was a mere puppet show enacted by a cyber café owner within the city. He was consequently put behind bars and he now awaits trial for breaking certain national and state laws. Before dismissing the entire incident with a mere shrug, I think it is possible for the city dwellers to learn something from this. The bomb culture of the modern era is here to stay, like it or not. Recently, Bangalore was rocked by a series of blasts as well and I think it is absurd for Kolkatans to envelop themselves in an aura of complacency and think that nothing is ever going to happen in the “oasis of peace” as our esteemed Chief Minister had phrased it a long time back. In a positive light, it is quite possible to see this entire sham as a social experiment. How prepared are we to deal with a crisis of a magnitude as this? How prepared are our defense forces? And just how much are our minds prepared to deal with the implications of seeing familiar and well loved sights being reduced to rubble? Continuous encounters with militancy have hardened the minds and hearts of the people in countries like, say, the United States or Britain. The culture of getting back onto one’s feet after a tragedy and going on, no matter what, is something that we have to internalize as fast as we can. Because, if we sit back within our houses for too long, there is a big chance of us looking up one day to see that our roof is gone for ever.

Rudrani Das Gupta


[Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drewwilsonphotography/476281227/]