Calcutta was red when I left in 1981.

Alimuddin Street, head of the CPI(M) headquarters was alive and well and jumping. And red.

State government buildings were red. And salaams were unabashedly red.

I might be wrong but there was a bandage on Mamata Bannerji’s head for a long time that was also red. Or maybe that happened later. She had been injured in a lathi charge and that red bandage around her head had become a symbol of resistance.

Thirty-two years later I have come back to the only real home I have ever known.

Everything is blue and white. Bridges are blue and white. Government establishments and buildings are blue and white. Railings along the road are blue and white. Lamp posts have blue and white strands of lights wrapped around them. Nabanna is blue and white.

And as the numbers of the injured and the dead increase by the minute, the colour of the Vivekananda flyover in North Kolkata turns red.

And I am blue. Ever so blue.

But I can’t flaunt a blue bandage as a symbol of my resistance to the rot that has set in. (Though I must confess, after meeting a few politicians, I have often felt that blue is the colour of my blood!).

The Vivekananda Flyover is just a symptom. I do not blame the TMC government or the CPM government that ruled for 30+years before.

I blame us. And our “ye toh hota hai” attitude.

And I blame Facebook. Where we create a small constituency of like-minded “friends” who are as outraged, as shocked as we are at the atrocities that happen around us. At the end of the day we have a deep sense of satisfaction that we have actually done something about the injustices that happen every second in the country.

And at the end of the day our bunch of corrupt, crass politicians have a quiet chuckle at our antics on social media, secure in the knowledge that that is all we will do.

The flyover collapse is a case in point.

Within seconds of the catastrophe, photos were posted, anger was expressed. If the number of posts and pictures are anything to go by, it is obvious that a lot of the Facebook family as it were rushed there just to get their share of ghoulish pictures.

Within minutes of the accident this appeared on Facebook.

The Flyover Collapse in Kolkata, India


Quickly find and connect with friends in the area. Mark them safe if you know that they’re OK.

Are you in the affected area?

Within a half hour there were hundreds who were marked, or had marked themselves “safe”. I cannot articulate why, but the whole thing made me feel icky. Is this what social media has descended to? And a whole lot of people sit in their respective homes feeling they’ve done their bit?

I spoke to a few of them on the telephone to find out if they were alright. “Yeah sure,” most of them said. “Are you coming over tonight to watch the semi-final between India and West Indies?”

When did Calcutta, this city where 15 sets of hands would reach out to pull you on to a moving, over crowded bus, stop caring?

When did Calcutta, a city where a woman felt safe, become a haven for molesters and rapists?

When did a catastrophe of such huge proportions become just another “incident”?

When did compassion give way to callousness?

Thirty two years is just a blip in history. Yet a whole new mindset has taken over. I am not blaming any particular government for this. I blame us. For too long we have forgotten all that we stood for.

Years ago, I read an article in a newspaper in which the writer asked a child what he wanted to become when he grew up. The writer was just making polite conversation, thinking he’d get the usual response – astronaut or fireman or engine driver or even forest ranger.

The five-year-old boy thought for a moment, looked at his father, wiped the daal off his lips and said, very smugly, “I want to be rich.”

“That’s my boy,” said the father.

“Isn’t he smart?” said the mother.

We have forgotten our values. We have forgotten morality. We have forgotten common decency. We have forgotten righteous anger.

Above all we have forgotten family.

Not just the immediate one that we are born into. But our family of choice – our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues, our fellow men.

And until we build strong, new bridges to them, the ones around us will keep falling.