Kolkata stories, loss in transit and Huda's proposal
Being in Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is known these days, is for a Bengali always a matter of deep emotion. This holds true of even those who have never been to the city but have been in touch with it vicariously, either through the recollections of senior or deceased members of their larger clans or through their reading of the social and political history of what was once a single, undivided Bengal.
As I write from Kolkata today, it is fundamentally history which comes alive as I go back to recalling the city as it has been through the varied passages of time. My father was part of this huge city for five years, from 1942 to 1947, when as a very young man he was employed in the Geological Survey of India. I know he would have liked to stay on even after Partition, but his roots in East Bengal precluded that possibility. And he was not alone. My maternal uncle, Boro Mama as we remember him, was with him too. At the time, he was not my uncle, but had come over from Narayanganj in search of a job. The first person he met in Kolkata --- it was in 1943 --- was my father. Soon they were both working for the Geological Survey. On Partition, both of them found themselves in Quetta, Baluchistan, as part of the newly created Geological Survey of Pakistan.
There is thus a sense of personal history which comes into my story-telling. My father and my uncle both went through the calamitous times of the riots in August 1946. As my father would later relate to us, on those terrible four days of the carnage, caused by the Muslim League's Direct Action Day programme on 16 August, he would move through the Muslim-dominated areas of the city in lungi, but once he was in a predominantly Hindu area he would quickly change into a dhoti. That was his way of keeping himself alive and going. In later years --- he lived till the age of seventy in 1992 --- he would reminisce about Kolkata, making it clear how much he missed the place. As I prepared for my very first visit to Kolkata in 1987, he told me to visit Ripon Street, where he used to live. I did as asked and also dropped by his old office and duly reported back to him. He was thrilled.
Had Father lived, I would have taken him back to Kolkata on a trip down memory lane. He did not survive beyond seventy, indeed death came to him suddenly as it were. I recall this morning, in Kolkata, that back in February 1968, as our parents accompanied us on holiday from Quetta to Dhaka, the PIA aircraft taking us from Karachi to Dhaka descended pretty low over Kolkata. The flight captain announced on the PA system that the city's landmarks could be seen below. Father was very excited and pointed out to us Victoria Memorial and all the other places that could be spotted, places he had been to all those years ago. Nostalgia was in his eyes. At that point I did not know if someday I could be in that city on my own.
Did I know that someday in the future I would find the woman, in Kolkata, I would marry? Let the rest of the story remain unsaid. Or imagined.
I do not lose things, at least not often. I try to keep my wits about me, especially when I travel, and make sure that at every airport where security is certainly a necessary part of airport arrangements, I am careful about every object I have in hand --- laptop, mobile phones, watch, et cetera. In other words, I try keeping my cool, as the term goes.
But at Abu Dhabi airport on Wednesday I lost my wristwatch. After collecting all my things following a security search, my wife and I stepped into McDonald's for a lunch of burgers and coca cola. It was then that I noticed my watch was missing. And there was no way I could go back to retrieving it, for the distance between McDonald's and the security region was a good many gates. The next best thing? My wife bought me a new watch from one of those glitzy shops at the airport.
So there's the story of a loss. But what is more of a concern is the fact of why transit passengers, who have already gone through thorough security checks at the places of origin of a flight, such as Heathrow, should have to go through checks again while transiting through other airports. A transit passenger has absolutely no opportunity of buying or collecting anything new after he alights from an aircraft and goes on to wait for his connecting flight. Must he then be subjected to a fresh new search, for reasons that simply are not there at all?
Former Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda has come forth with a most amazing and interesting suggestion. Why not have the names of people shortlisted for the positions of CEC and Election Commissioners be publicized in the media in order for a thorough public inquiry to be made into their backgrounds?
The idea, given that we are yet to attain the desired level of parliamentary scrutiny of individuals in public positions or aspiring to public positions, is not a bad one. Indeed, it is rather good. In a country where political partisanship spoils the very noble objectives of politics, what Huda has suggested is most illuminating. Why not give it a try, seriously?
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer.