I have written about Kolkata at regular intervals (see here). I can't claim to be objective and analytical about the city, but from the experience of Kolkata, as well as of elsewhere, I know Kolkata has a future. One factor is its teeming multitude, the source of much of its woes, which can transform into a great source of strength. The other factor is the transformation of the global economy, which will open up new opportunities by breaking down the old economic structures, and Kolkata may be the right place at this right time. While Dubai or Singapore may seek to import a labour force to maintain its creative economies, Kolkata may have an indigenous source, and therefore, can complete to be Asia's Creative Capital. That would need imagination, and courage, but Kolkata has it all.
However, to discuss this, one must start with the obvious negative. The common claim is that Kolkata is a dying city - a label first slapped on the city by late Rajiv Gandhi - and the Indian media, which can not agree on almost anything, has accepted this rather gladly. When talking about Kolkata, one just thinks about decline, a poor, sad, gloomy place. And, this is a global impression. The recent BBC documentary, Kolkata With Sue Perkins (see review here), capture this stereotype rather well. The City's dire, unyielding poverty was portrayed in rich detail, with a sort of mocking kindness that is both infuriating and melancholic at same time. Where the stereotype creeps in, though, is the projection of the City's future in a few rich men trying out their racing cars and building their real estate empires. Mother Teresa, as always, becomes Kolkatas most famous citizen, solidifying the image of Kolkata as a city of slums, and just that. What remains unsaid is that this city took on millions of refugees fleeing the civil war in East Pakistan in 1971, particularly relevant when the extraordinary scenes of migrants walking through Europe is all over the news. What is missed is that Kolkata remains pivotal to India's commodity economy, producing, as commodity economies do, a few rich men and widespread deprivation for everyone else.
But, then, things are changing. Though the BBC documentary may claim that Kolkata is one of the fastest growing metropolis in the world, it is also perhaps the only one large city in the world which has seen a marginal population decline over the last decade. In this day and age, that would be a sure sign of a city dying, but Kolkata is far too large and diverse to die in such a straightforward way. The decline, statistically speaking, is more about what we define as a City rather than absolute flight of population, Kolkata is perhaps fast transforming into a Megapolis with large hinterlands as the road and rail transport improves, and perhaps a stable and gradually prospering neighbourhood is stemming the flow of migrants to the city.
This is a good thing, I shall claim. Kolkata's strengths, its good schools and culture of education, lower prices, supply of drinkable water, young population, public transport, culture and culture industries, not to mention its strategic geographical location connecting India to Far East, are almost always undersold. Despite a populist government being at the helm, the state remains, in relative terms, less corrupt compared to its more economically dynamic peers. Its key problem, political dominance and retrograde decision making by an entrenched class of commodity traders and real estate owners, may become less vicious as the global commodity prices go through a correction and Indian real estate markets face a cyclical shake-up. In fact, this may create that crucial opening for the transformation from a city of commodities to a city of creativity, the one Kolkata desperately needs to leap forward into the league of cities.
One may say this is utopian, and Kolkata does not have an ecosystem of creativity. But, Kolkata has people, both well-educated young ones coming out of school and a large, successful, nostalgic diaspora to draw from. It offers a lifestyle, relatively safer, cheaper and culturally fulfilling than many other Indian cities. And, finally, it has money - we may have seen flight of capital in the recent past, but that may be more due to the perception issues that I highlighted above.
It is time, perhaps, to have a 'Coalition for Kolkata', a platform of a kind that brings entrepreneurs, educators, diaspora members from India and abroad, together, in conversation to renew the creative city that lies at Kolkatas heart. Its entrepreneurial ecosystem is already getting some attention, though the tone so far is one that of exception rather than a way of life. In a way, it is for those in Kolkata and attached to it to start believing in their city - that it is perfectly in alignment with what a global city in the 21st Century should be - and then project that confidence elsewhere.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
A week into lockdown and things are beginning to change. Mornings are late, afternoons are lazier and evenings never end; meditations are filling out the time for Yoga routines and Netflix profiles are strewn with half-finished movies. This state-mandated, state-funded period of idleness is being likened to being called up to serve, but is nothing like that: Such a comparison is really an affront to the idea of service. Instead, this is just one long streak of panic; of the centre not holding and life not going on as usual. With the usual patterns and rules in suspended animation and business talk - and business - being rendered meaningless, space is opening up for unusual questions: Is Capitalism about to end? Is this the death of globalisation? Does it get uglier from here? My grandfather's generation would have scoffed at us. They saw through wars and pandemics. But, in fairness, we haven't had a life-ending crisis of our own. Notwithstanding the experiences of th
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The Creativity Imperative Businesses today consider creativity of their staff as a critical, possibly the most critical, factor for their ongoing survival. This is because the environment, political, social and commercial, has become so fluid; as Yogi Berra put it, “the future isn’t what it used to be”. Constant change, demanding and more aware customers and citizens, rapid information dissemination through new technologies of information and communication, and intense competitive and regulatory pressures, are pushing companies and people who work for them to innovate and adapt continuously. Set in this context, employee creativity has a whole new meaning. It is traditionally understood as people thinking about products and services, which did not exist before, or tweaking and improving the existing ones. Competitive pressures add to this creativity imperative. Information is fast and cheap, and communication technology is driving the costs of production and distribution
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.