Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The fire tender was still parked cluelessly right on Chowrasta today. It has been three days now that they have been looking for that boy who is believed to be under the rubble down at Kazi-gaon. That’s just a 20 min walk away from Chowrasta, the promenade at the heart of the town that residents cherish. At Kazi-gaon there is sorrow and shame for us; it takes only so much.

Sunday noon is when the hillside broke loose beneath the construction of a six storey building. The mud and boulders crashed down 150 ft on to the roofs and lives of the poor. Eight killed right there. Eight in the hospital injured and shocked. And the boy is yet to be found. Around six homes obliterated.

The men hauled on their backs the dead and the broken from the debris through slippery paths and then to the so-called motorable road (fit only for ponies), raced finally to the hospital in maruti-vans. The latter were originally designed by Suzuki to ferry cargo. The fire tenders stayed on at Chowrasta unable to make their way to the accident site due to narrowed down lanes by mindless constructions.

A new construction right on the start of the steep lane to lower Tungsung is perched precariously on concrete stilts. It is a small tin shack but shrouds the view of the mountains even further. When stupidity does not recognize itself it becomes religion. And even the gods have to make way for them.

Darjeeling is the most densely populated mountain region in the world. By last count, and that was six years ago, there were 10,000 people living per sq km in the Darjeeling Municipal area! The only elevating effect of the holy Kanchenjunga that overlooks the town appears to be the multi-storey concrete houses that are proliferating by the day. The ancestors believed that gods and various fairies dwelled in these mountains. Now things are more real…like real estate.

And where are those men and women who have been elected/appointed to uphold the laws so that this town functions like any other normal town? The truth is there are many functionaries but no functioning. There are too many red-light-topped cars in town. They don’t seem to get it: how embarrassing it is to be identified as non-functioning functionaries on these broken roads. They go around self-declaring themselves Kings without any clothes.

After a lot of pussy-footing the Municipality seems to agree that the maximum permissible height for a building is 11.5 m. That is, normally, ground plus two more floors. Simply, a two-storey building. But as the building at Kazi-goan being built proves the law is only in letter; the rest has been spirited away by the authorities. Some of the functionaries must have been paid off to look the other way as the owner of the house – who is supposed to be an employee of the police department (curiously, the media has nothing about this person) – built his castle almost literally in the air. And this fellow is one among hundreds with vaulting property ambitions. These guys evidently move mountains, what to say about our poor functionaries who are herded by them on to the gravy train??!!

On the other side of the ridge, Robertson Road, a major thoroughfare of the town, is shrouded by blue plastic, covered like a patient brought in dead on arrival. A vital part of it has broken off near Society Hotel, blocking access to a large part of town. Fallen down to the lows that human idiocy can take. And this time it is Anjuman Islamia, locals and Municipality to blame. If on a normal day the town’s traffic is a mess, the breach on Robertson has made it mad. There is little cure for madness, but removal and isolation.

It rained this afternoon again after an otherwise sunny, good-to-do-laundry morning. Encountered a few citizens worried about the water-supply pipes bursting in Aloobarie yesterday.

Out-of-tune bhanjan singing is blasting the southern aspect of the hill side. Courtesy Eden Dham(-aka). On Chowrasta a handful of Ghisingh devotees have been saying desultory hallelujah to a rock. The latter has replaced Goddess Durga who is currently engaged in a deadly battle with the monster that was plaguing the gods. She wins finally. Just you wait!