Will Calcutta ever be relevant again?

Shivaji Dasgupta
New Update
Representative image

New Delhi: In 1985 the aviator Rajiv Gandhi had decreed Calcutta to be a dying city and the legions of cynics persisted over the decades. The emerging truth is happily to the contrary as the superstar of the colonial economy is transforming swiftly to new-age competitiveness.

But before sharing the defensible good news, a miniature assessment of Calcutta’s business reputation is surely in order. In my not-so-limited opinion, the biggest enemy of the city has not been the ill-informed outsider but instead, the prolific immigrants.

They are usually locals who have built fame and fortune in outstation climes, whether domestic or overseas and find inexplicable pleasure in bashing the home city. It is possibly an alibi for their unwilling exile or simply a populist subscription to the prevailing urban legend that fish is the only substance cooking in these climes.

This pitch was further queered by an overwhelming notion that resurrection required a significant outsider, a messiah who would in a flash transform the disabled work culture. Thus, we were utterly devastated when the Tata Nano moved to Gujarat and equally shattered when a South East Asian two-wheeler entrepreneur simply vanished as if advised by magician P.C. Sorcar.

Then, in tune with the IT evolution, we waited greedily for largesse from Infosys or Wipro, the elusive magic moment when the tech oligarchs would look up kindly from their native moorings.

But the trick being alarmingly missed was the potency of the empowered locals, a bunch of highly educated, intellectually oriented youth itching to come to the party, right here and right now.

Quite rightfully, rather fed up with this nagging narrative of professional impotency, fuelled disturbingly by undernourished insiders and naturally lapped up by those, not in the know. In terms of infrastructure, education, skills, ambitions and indeed integrity, Calcutta is top of the pack and the F&B infrastructure (café culture) is actually, illustrative proof of the same. You need to be here to know it and it will certainly be worth your while to discover it.

But then just as every revolution needs a Che Guevera, every transformation also needs an iconic beacon, which in this case is the Make Calcutta Relevant Again movement, a bunch of super-charged forum-hungry youth ( led by the inspirational Meghdut Roychowdhury) incubating The CCU Fest (mcra.in/ccu) on October 29.

Truly an incredible experiment in building a genuine hybrid property incorporating a business, sustainability, entrepreneurship and so much more, with the compelling adhesive of uplifting music.

I have seen many such endeavours across the globe and will honestly insist that this is potentially right up there, the blending of the city’s benchmark culture with a high-voltage commercial agenda, inviting the universe to participate in our story profitably and meaningfully.

Clearly, there are two parts to Calcutta’s sustainable recovery, one reality and the other perception. Sufficient economic data points insist that it is the third city in the country, after Mumbai and Delhi, and the eager beaver South Indian pretenders, armed with IT bravado and concealing waterlogged homes, are playing the perception game better.

While in terms of accountable reality, the influx of business in Calcutta is increasing significantly, albeit still a minor portion of its established potential, not notional but actual. An alternate interpretation of ‘Ma, Mati Manush’ is ably represented by the cohabitation of human capital, natural abundance and emotional bandwidth.

On the 29th of October, at the sparkling Taal Kutir convention centre incubated by none other than the Tatas, the future of this heritage city will be on abundant display. On show will be the prolificity of local talent, the patronage of global and national majors and the scintillating layers of music, culture, fitness and sustainability.

Calcutta is all set for a transition from thought leadership to action leadership and if this bunch of Young Turks have their rightful way, it’s time for business to rock.