Tribute to Kolkata

June 27, 2006
Shantanu Dutta

This incident happened to me in April, about two months ago. The reason I am resurrecting it now is all that commotion about Mumbai being the rudest city in the world (wonder what happened to Delhi !)

On the 30th of April, my name appeared in a variety of newspapers published from Kolkata - I saw for myself in three - The Statesman, The Times of India, Kolkata edition and the Bengali language Ananda Bazar Patrika and may be others. I didn't do any thing heroic, did something quite stupid actually.

The previous day around noon, I had come in from Dhaka and after completing the formalities, went up to the pre paid taxi booth and gave my name and destination and with the taxi allotted, went home and went off to nap. In the evening, I went out for a walk as the sun set. When I came back, I was stunned. My mother informed me that some man from the airport had come looking for me, a few local Bengali news channels were displaying my name in the news ticker at the bottom of the screen and there had been a couple of calls from the newspapers.

What was the matter? It seems somewhere in the vicinity of the taxi booth a pouch containing my passport and a lot of documents had slipped out unnoticed and had come to attention after I had left. The booth manager could not find any Kolkata address or phone number to contact, finally traced the taxi that had carried me home by matching my name from the passport with his records, recalled the taxi and had come over home with the driver identifying the house from memory.

Not finding me, he left his mobile number with my mother, so that I could contact him which I did as soon as I could.

Later, while handing over my documents, he mentioned that he deliberately left the police out of this as he had noticed an air ticket to Delhi for the following day and the paper work involved in retrieving my passport from them might mean that I would miss my flight. But he did say that he had contacted the media hoping that I would watch the TV news and be alerted.

I did get some calls but one stands out in particular. It was a young girl from the Ananda Bazar Patrika who came calling at my home. After getting the background, she started probing. What did I have to say on the conduct of the taxi booth official, who having no clue or contact details, traced the taxi through his records, and the driver who recognized the house though he had asked for and been refused a tip.

Was that extraordinary or would I call it routine. Had they gone the second mile to help me out of a quandary? Did their conduct mean that Kolkata still had a soul, a social conscience that people still cared? As we got talking, she told me that that her journalistic mission was to capture in a world full of indifference and sensitivity, examples and instances of those who go the second mile and highlight it so that readers find hope and optimism. In a world of depravity, she was constantly hitting the streets looking for stories that illustrated that there were still good people around and filing them in her newspaper.

Her questions made me uneasy. I remembered the taxi driver in the steaming afternoon heat requesting for a little extra above the listed fare as it was his first fare of the day and my declining saying that I was operating by the rules. The same man, who in a couple of hours, who with no particular motivation or reward at all would point out my house to his boss.

One of the responses that I made to the journalist however makes me cringe further. Asked by her if I thought if I would similarly go the second mile, I said I wasn't sure. I would probably go the first mile and do the right thing up to a point but wasn't sure about the second. How many of us exist today anyway, I thought smugly who asked to part with their coat, will part with their cloak too. There are a few and I know some, but still not that many perhaps. We have the freedom to choose to bear one another's burdens or the freedom not to and many choose not to. But I am grateful that there are a few among us who do choose to go the second mile.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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June 27, 2006
01:49 AM

one of my friends lost two of his valuble cameras in Victoria station.. and guess what.. he got them back!!!!

SOmeone went the extra mile.

I guess these are rare instances, where people care.

What i feel good about right now is that these instances are becoming more and more!!!

Long live India :-)

June 27, 2006
11:45 AM


re: the extra mile

my experience is local folks mostly go out of their way to help a traveller -- and have experienced this all over including the major cities in india

June 27, 2006
05:24 PM


i have had that experience in the villages that I have visited!

I think the urbanized villages (Class C cities and towns), the people are more rude and sadistic.

We indeed have to make a more detailed study of the phenomenon!

June 29, 2006
01:42 PM

I'm a guy from Cal studying in a US university. My friend from Dhaka always tells me how people from Cal are so nice.

Being a Cal bloke, I can attest to that fact. Apart from a few rich classist mothaf*** we are pretty down-to-earth.

Calcutta is the home of secular liberalism in India. C'mon!

June 30, 2006
02:50 AM

Writer uncle good and bad human every where.
Let it be mumbai or delhi or kolkata..
But one think is sure, Kolkata had paid a huge price to earn the so called nice city.

Beegers, murder, playing cards, how to enjoying the life with others hard working money, how force all doctor and engineers out of kolkatta, where as once upon a time people used to go to kolkata for the job from all over the country..
Have any one concern for this in kolkata?
Would like to see your view...why people move out of kolkata after higher study...if the city is so nice!!!

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