Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A View From a Bengali Rooftop

A pensive mood descends as I gaze from a Kolkata rooftop into the distance. Clutched in my hand rests a comforting heat of a soothing cup of brew. Despite the non-Kenyan origins of the tea, it still has a homely, welcomed, aspect I find extremely relaxing. My other hand rests on the knee of my left knee. The foot is pressed, bare, against the rough concrete wall circuiting the rooftop, which rises to my seated shoulder. It leaves my perspective clear to the distance with a plentiful view of Kolkatan urban sprawl.Sprawl is thoroughly the most appropriate word for the disarrayed, mismatched collage of living spaces, so far removed from the uniformity of suburban neighborhood in Ireland. "A City of Contrasts", as it was dubbed by a good man I recently had a few conversations with, is title which expresses many of the elements of life in this particular concrete jungle, and the architecture is simply one area where this is quote is proven. In fact, it is simply the tip of the iceberg, below which looms the continued, and far more expansive trend of diversity for which India is renowned.

At this height, it is note-able that no two buildings resemble their neighbors, outside of their need to expand upwards, rather than outwards, atypical of such condensed city living environments. The need for greater living space in a smaller area stimulates the growth of three, four and five storey accommodations. Our own building looms four floors up, not including the rooftop, however I do believe that our landlord is close to unique in owning the entirety of the building. Architecturally, there is very little outward similarity in the edifices, not even the location of the windows or relief designs. While certain designs may resemble each other, or be similarly located, it is rare and even rarer that they would be both similar and similarly located, nor do the balconies and frontal structural designs share and commonalities. The size and shape of the buildings themselves lend the idea of mismatched jig saw pieces, not fitting in in size or shape.

The differences lay open the truth to the Indian inequality, which permeates all areas of life here. The condition of the building, a perfectly kept, yet gaudy purple, building stands proudly opposite of me, its neighbor is in disrepair, flaking yellow paint and streaked with mould. This may be indicative, but on its own would not lay indication of the true depth of the inequality in urban India. To understand that, you need to walk the streets and experience the sights and smells, observe the living quarters of those who own little more than a few garments and a shack of wood, from which they sell fruit or sweets. These shacks operate as stalls, and at night the erection of a mosquito net makes them a bed. Even these are wealthier than those with no livelihood but salvaging, whose children rum in the streets, delightedly, in the nip, from their shouting mothers, or the children who carry their younger siblings in their arms to tempt guilty feeling into a few rupees.

Contrasting this knowledge against the view in my horizon, rising over a dusty barrier which seems to separate any level of Kolkatan life from its economic superior, loom the flashing lights of a trio of skyscrapers, perhaps close in spectacle and display amongst similar glass structures in New York. The dusty horizon, to me, represents the stark divide of the lives of the rich from the lives of the many in Kolkata. The skyward bound monuments and their less, but still substantial, powerful brethren, flanking either side, climb to heights in a city where basic human rights are denied to the common people. The divide, physical and metaphorical, is conjured up as a chasm, insurpassable by the mundane tools allotted to the average citizen, and forbids the overlapping of societies dependent on each other or, more truly, on itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment