The Tale of a City
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
This B-grade city of ours, we hear, is developing in rapid strides, if by development we understand some high-rise buildings, glamorous and dazzling shopping complexes and sleek cars. But do they really imply development?
In reality Guwahati is a stinking city and that is a fact. If we wish to enumerate the woes of the city, we would need reams and reams of paper and that would be a mile-long list. But what is the use of wasting time and midnight oil in listing all these grievances, which have become a part of our life.
In any developed city worth the me the residents expect some basic amenities, which happen to be the right of the tax-payers. But the concerned authorities seem to be oblivious of this factor and the big wigs are busy looking after their self-interest. The residents are also not less to blame, since they submit to this injustice meekly. Of course I too belong to this category. Only occasiolly we make feeble protest without raising our voices. Though we often talk about our problems with friends in any party, be it a wedding, or a birthday, or anywhere else, there has been no unified attempt to make our voices heard at the right place. And in today’s world meek and mild people never get justice. One has to have a carrying voice to make himself or herself audible at the right time in the right place. That kind of protest does not imply strikes, bandhs, dhars or anything of the kind, which are disastrous for the development of the state. They do not make the least impact on the concerned authority, rather they impede the progress of the state. Hence we have to make use of other ways, which would be non-violent, but strong and effective.
One of the major problems the residents face is the lack of drinking water, whether in the rainy season or in the dry season. Water is a free gift of God, and we have to pay tax for it due to man-made rules. Even after that it remains elusive. When the city almost floats on water during the rainy season, the famous lines of poet Coleridge strongly comes to the mind: “Water, water, everywhere, not a drop to drink”. The situation is going from bad to worse with each passing year.
In some crowded areas there is no water supply at all. Even in the areas covered by the water supply scheme, people complain that their water-carrying pipes remain dry for most of the days. Hence they have to depend on private water suppliers, who charge an exorbitant amount of money for the precious liquid. But the citizens have not option, since life itself would become impossible without water. Most of the residents in the city, who can afford, have installed tube wells in their homes at an enormous expense. But the trouble does not end there. Since every affluent home depends on a tube well, the water under ground recedes farther and farther and one has to spend an extremely large amount of money to experiment with water level below the ground. It may be sheer waste of hard-earned money. The water scarcity and the problems arising out of the shortage of water have turally exasperated the residents. After all, there is a limit to our patience. But water we must have. Everybody cannot afford to have a deep tube well at home. So they have to steal or borrow water from some neighbour’s home, where there is a tube well. This leads to needless skirmish with the neighbour, who may not like others to borrow water from his home. And that is very tural. Nobody likes to see people coming with empty buckets to carry water from his home. That is the situation in a nutshell.
And that is only one of the problems we have to face in this dear city of ours. Turn your attention towards electricity. It goes on playing hide and seek anytime during day or night, and our power department is apparently entirely powerless to correct the erratic power. At the slightest whiff of rain or wind, or even without any reason off go the lights and you have to grope in pitch darkness for a candle and some match, risking your neck in the bargain. Hence generator sets or inverters have become indispensable in each home. You dare not organize any function, be it a wedding or a birthday party or anything else without a generator. That is another expense you have to bear at the top of all other expenses due to the callous and irresponsible attitude of the department of power.
Then what about LPG cylinders? Once cooking was done solely with fire wood, which was easily available. Then with growing development and scientific advancement LPG came to replace firewood and life in the kitchen became more comfortable and easier. Unfortutely LPG also has become scarce and the price of LPG has become excessive for the common people. Even if you are able to pay, you may not get it according to your requirement. But we must have it, even if we have to take recourse to unfair means. You may not be able to adhere to your high principles in case of dire necessity. That is what happens in the case of LPG. Modern kitchens are not suitable for firewood cooking. Imagine the mess you would make if you use firewood for cooking. And if you happen to reside in some hired premises, the landlord may not be pleased to see you blackening his newly painted walls with soot and smoke. After booking the LPG cylinder you may have to wait for some weeks to get the booked cylinder. Well, that is our life in the city and we have to accept adversity as inevitable, since there is no other altertive.
Telephone has become another liability. Once people had to trudge miles to deliver a simple message. Telephone made life much easier and one could communicate with anybody anywhere in the world any time, without any hassle. But then it has created more problems than we foresaw. The telephone stands majestically on its pedestal—but it has become purely ormental, since it lies in a coma for the better part of the year—though you go on paying for the calls you never made. If you complain they would ask you to pay first and complain later on. But you may be sure that you will never get justice. Repeated complaints will not bring the line man or the mechanic to repair the damaged telephone. If eventually he does come and correct the telephonic disorder, you would have to pay handsomely for his service, which happens to be his duty and for which he gets a monthly salary from his department. Anyway, with the emergence of mobile phones people have lost their interest in the landline phones and many of these have been surrendered to the department. But I do have some fascition for my land line phone, since it has been with me for years together. How can you part with something which has been with you for a long time. Of course I have never used if for years together, since I find that it is more convenient to depend on mobile phone. So for the land line connection I have been paying rent for years. My family of course condemns my attachment to the landline telephone as foolish sentimentalism. Perhaps they are right and I will have to give up my land line telephone soon. We have to move with the time and cannot stick to the old ways. Yet landline telephones are necessary in certain offices. They just cannot be discarded.
For any urgent matter you may send scores of letters to some government department and you may find to your dismay that they would elicit no responses. We have no idea regarding the fate of these letters. Perhaps they are thrown away. When the letters are not answered, you will turally think that it is time for persol visit and then starts the tedious process of making rounds of that particular office. You may get your result if you are prepared to pay through your nose to the concerned official.
Another problem is that Guwahati has a dearth of parks, where children can play and adults my breathe some fresh air, free from pollution. Once there was no problem due to absence of parks, because there was abundant open space and every home had huge gardens, which were full of trees, flowers and vegetables. People resided in comfortable spacious houses, which were very convenient to live in. Today the city abounds in high rise multistoreyed buildings and you do not have the luxury of staring at the moon and the stars, as the view has been obstructed by all these multistoreyed buildings. Hence parks in diverse areas have become an absolute necessity for good health and peace.
Side by side with these high rise buildings, you come across hovels and sheds. So in the same area you may see the high and low levels of society and the infrastructure of the city clearly displays the true picture of the city. Some people live in gorgeous multistoreyed buildings with magnificent rooms and air-conditioned facilities, while some people reside in dilapidated hovels. A large section of the people live on pavements. They fix up make shift homes with any old and damaged materials they can find. They cook, wash, sleep and eat in these shacks and perhaps make love too. That is their lifestyle. Some sleep in the railway platform or in any convenient place they can find. All these construction works in a haphazard manner have made life unbearable for the residents. The dust, smoke and noise they emit may bring heart attack for any elderly person. That is our city-Where cottages, hovels and palatial buildings jostle one another.
The city roads are riddled with pot holes and the drivers of diverse vehicles have to take great care in manoeuvering their vehicles through those uneven roads. In the rainy season the situation gets worse, because the roads are submerged and it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish the road from the ditch. Often the vehicles get stuck in those water-logged roads. But help is close at hand. Little urchins wait nearby for any such eventuality. They push the vehicles out of water-logged road to some safer zone—for a price of course.