calcutta, History

কলকাতা একাল সেকাল — প্রথম পর্ব ১৬৯০-১৭৯৯

স্কুলে পড়ার সময় ক্লাস ফাইভ বা সিক্সে আমাদের পিটি টিচার মেহেবুব আলি স্যার কোন একটা ক্লাস নেবার সময় বলেছিলেন —

“উড়ে মেড়ো আর শালপাতা
এই তিন নিয়ে কলকাতা”
সে প্রায় পঁচিশ বছর আগের কথা, তখন লোকজন অত ঠুনকো সেন্টু নিয়ে ঘুরতনা, আজকের দিনে হলে হয়ত আলি স্যারের এতদিনে শোকজ, ফেসবুকে ছবি শেয়ার, ঘেরাও, হ্যাশট্যাগে আলি নিপাত যাও — আরো কত কিছু ঘটে যেত। সেই সময় এসব কিছুই হয়নি বরং ক্লাসের উড়ে মেড়ো বন্ধুরাও হোহো করে হেসেছিল। পরে যখন নিজেকে সিউডো-আঁতেল মনে করতে শুরু করেছি, তখন কথাগুলো একটু স্থুলরুচির লেগেছিল বটে কিন্তু আজকের দিনে দাঁড়িয়ে তার চেয়ে বেশি সরলভাবে কলকাতাতেই বর্ণনা করা যাবেনা। ইতিহাসের পরিপ্রেক্ষিতে তিরিশ বছর সময় নিতান্তই খাটো কিন্তু এই তিরিশ বছরে সময় বদলেছে অনেকটাই, বিশেষ করে শহরটা। বদলে গেছে চেনা জানা শব্দ, দৃশ্য, বর্ণ, গন্ধগুলো। এখন সেই শহরের থেকে হাজার হাজার মাইল দুরে বৃষ্টির ছাঁট যখন গা-মাথার সাথে মনটাকেও ভিজিয়ে দিয়ে যায়, তখন মনে পড়ে সেই প্রিয় শহরের সাথে জড়িয়ে থাকা স্মৃতিগুলো। তবে যে কলকাতার কথা মনে পড়ে তার সাথে এখনকার কলকাতার কতটা মিল তা বলা কঠিন। কলকাতার একাল আর সেকাল পেরনোর যাত্রায় ঝাঁক মারার ইচ্ছা থেকেই শুরু করলাম এই লেখা। ঐতিহাসিক বা উইকিহাসিক অনুসন্ধান আমার কর্ম নয় বরং চেনা জানা তথ্য আর স্মৃতি মিশিয়ে তৈরী করা বেনিআসহকলা কলকাতার ছবিটাই তুলে ধরার চেষ্টা করলাম। 
 
কলকাতা জানতাম এতদিন জোব চার্নক সাহেবের সৃষ্টি, ২৪শে আগস্ট ১৬৯০ সালে এর ভিত্তি প্রতিষ্ঠা হয়। এখন দেখা যাচ্ছে যে ১৬৯০ সালে চার্নক সাহেব কলকাতাকে হাওয়া থেকে আমদানি করেননি, কলকাতা ছিল কলকাতাতেই তার বহু আগে থেকে। মুর্শিদাবাদের নবাবদের থেকে চার্নক খালি খাজনা আদায়ের চুক্তি পায়। তাই কলকাতার জন্মদিন নিয়ে বহু বাগবিতন্ডা ঘটেছে ইদানীং কালে, সাবর্ণ চৌধুরীদের পরিবারবর্গ আর বিশিষ্ট কিছু ঐতিহাসিকদের তত্ত্বাবধানে। তাঁরা এখন প্রতিবাদ করে ২৩শে আগস্টকে কলকাতার জন্মদিন হিসাবে পালন করার প্রস্তাব রেখেছেন। কাজেই দেখা যাচ্ছে জন্মলগ্ন থেকেই কলকাতা মানে ক্যাচাল। সেই একই ক্যাচাল নামের মাহাত্ম্য নিয়েও। কলকাতা কি কলির কাতা থেকে এসেছে না কাল কাটা? কালীক্ষেত্রও পিছিয়ে নেই সেই লিস্টে। কালো কুত্তা থেকে কলকাতার রূপান্তর নিয়ে কেউ কিছু ভেবেছে কিনা জানা নেই। তবে হ্যাঁ, সুতানুটি গোবিন্দপুর আর কলকাতার মধ্যে সাহেবদের কাছে কলকাতাটাই সুবিধের ঠেকেছিল ভাগ্যিস। শেক্ষপীর মশাই লিখে গেছিলেন বটে নামে কী আসে যায় — তা অনেকটাই আসে যায় বইকি। গোবিন্দপুর নাম হলে সেটাকে সাহেবরা কী বলত ভেবেই বেশ আমোদ লাগছে গবিন্ড্যাপোর বা সিউটানিউটে জাতীয় নামগুলো ভেবে। তার ওপর তখন আর কেউ বলতনা ধ্যাদ্ধেড়ে গোবিন্দপুর, হয়তো ধ্যাদ্ধেড়ে কলকাতা বলত।
 
তবে যতদিন আগে থেকেই থাকুক না কেন, কলকাতার স্থাপন আর বাড়বাড়ন্তের পিছনে যে ব্রিটিশদের অবদান প্রায় একশো ভাগ তা বলার অপেক্ষা রাখেনা। এই শহর ছিল আগাগোড়া ব্রিটিশদের বানিজ্য থেকে সাম্রাজ্য চালানোর ঘাঁটি, আর এখনকার সাবেকী বনেদি জমিদার পরিবার বা তখনকার বাঙালী নব্য চিন্তাধারার ধারক আর বাহকরা যে ব্রিটিশ আমলাতন্ত্রের ফসল। তাই যে কলকাতা ছিল সাহেবদের চোখের মনি, বিংশ শতকের গোড়ার দিকে স্বাধীনতা আন্দোলনের জোয়ারে তারা যখন পাততাড়ি গুটিয়ে দিল্লিতে নিয়ে গেল রাজধানি, কলকাতার পতন সেই তখন থেকেই শুরু। ভেবে দেখলে অনেকটা ইন্টারনেট আসার আগে আর পরের এনসাইক্লোপিডিয়া ব্রিটানিকার মত। তবু যে কলকাতা টিঁকে রয়েছে আর বেড়েও চলেছে, বাকী মহানগরীগুলোর সাথে পাল্লা না দিতে পারলেও কলকাতা যে থেমে যায়নি বরং বদলানো সময়ের এক উজ্জ্বল সাক্ষ্য বয়ে চলেছে গত তিনশ বছর ধরে, সেসব ভাবলে কলকাতাকে ধুস কোনো ফিউচার নেইদের দলে ফেলে দিতে এখনও খানিকটা দ্বিধা হয়। 
 
কখনো কখনো পুরনো কলকাতার ছবিগুলো দেখলে মনে প্রশ্ন জাগে সেই সময়কার জীবন ঠিক কেমন ছিল, কলকাতার হরাইজন কেমন দেখতে ছিল। আবার সেই গোড়ার সময়ে ফিরে গেলে সুতানুটি ছিল জাল বোনার জায়গা আর কলকাতা না গোবিন্দপুর গঙ্গার ধারে জেলেদের গ্রাম। নবাবদের পেয়াদা আসত কর নিতে সেখানেই কলকাতার উল্লেখ। জোব চার্নক কলকাতার ইজারা নেবার পর ধরে নেয়া যেতেই পারে যে এই তিন গ্রামের সুযোগসন্ধানি মানুষজন বাড়তি কিছু আয়ের আশায় সাহেবদের দপ্তরে হাজির হয়ে গিয়েছিল, আর চার্নকেরও দরকার ছিল লোকজনের তাই সেখান থেকেই যাত্রা শুরু শহর কলকাতার। ইংরেজরা যত গেঁড়ে বসতে শুরু করল, কলকাতার গুরুত্বও তত বাড়তে লাগল তাদের কাছে, ফলে ব্রিটিশ ধাঁচের ঘরবাড়ি অফিসকাছারি সবই তৈরী হতে লাগল তবে যতদুর জানা আছে সেসব পুরোদমে শুরু হয় পলাশীর যুদ্ধে নবাবদের তথা মুর্শিদাবাদের পতনের সাথে সাথে। ফোর্ট উইলিয়াম যা ইংরেজদের সামরিক শক্তির ঘাঁটি ছিল, তাকে ঘিরেই বেড়ে উঠতে লাগল কলকাতা। কলকাতার অবস্থানগত গুরুত্ব তখন অশেষ একদিকে মুর্শিদাবাদের নবাবতন্ত্র লুপ্ত হওয়ায় ব্রিটিশদের একচেটিয়া রাজত্ব, তার ওপর উত্তরে ফরাসীদের গঙ্গায় নদীপথে যাতায়াতেও লাগাম দেয়া যাবে ফোর্ট উইলিয়াম থেকে। 
 
পলাশীর যুদ্ধ, যাকে আমরা স্কুলে পড়তাম বণিকের মানদন্ড পরিনত হল শাসকের রাজদন্ডে, সেখান থেকেই কলকাতার পরিবর্তনের শুরু। ইংরেজরা যখন অপ্রতিদ্বন্ধী হয়ে ব্যবসা তথা সাম্রাজ্য বাড়ানোর পথে অগ্রসর হচ্ছে, একদিকে যেমন তখন দরকার পড়ল স্থানীয় লোকবল সেই ব্যবসা চালানোর জন্য, তেমন শয়ে শয়ে ব্রিটিশ মানুষ ভাগ্যের খোঁজে এসে জুটল কলকাতায়, কিছু যোগ দিল ইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া কোম্পানিতে ব্যবসা করতে বাকিরা যোগ দিল সৈন্যদলে। তাদের রুটি রুজির সাথে সাথে মাথার ওপর একটা ছাদেরও দরকার ছিল, তাই সেখান থেকে শুরু হল বিপুল পরিমান বাড়িঘর তৈরি, সেই সাথে অফিস গুদাম কাছারি থানা পুলিশ যানবাহন আমোদপ্রমোদ লেখাপড়া পরিবার—সবকিছু মিলে এক বিশাল কর্মকান্ড। 
 
ভারতে ব্যবসা করতে আসার শুরু থেকে বিলিতি সাহেবদের তাঁবেদারের অভাব ছিলনা, সবাই নিজের আখের গোছানোর চক্করে ইংরেজদের বানিজ্য বিস্তারে প্রচুর সাহায্য করেছিল। সেযুগের অবস্থাপন্ন কুলীন বাঙালি লোকজন ছিল সেই লিস্টের একদম প্রথমে। এঁদের সমাজে হয়ত নাম ছিল কিন্তু মান তেমন ছিলনা যার আশায় এঁরা ব্রিটিশদের দপ্তরে হাজিরা দিতেন। এদের মধ্যে শিক্ষিত মানুষ কিছু থাকলেও বেশীরভাগই অজ্ঞ আর দাম্ভিক, হেমন্ত মুখার্জির স্ত্রী ছবির “খিড়কী থেকে সিংহদুয়ার এই তোমাদের পৃথিবী” গানটা এদের জীবনযাত্রার নিখুঁত বিবরণ। সুযোগসন্ধানি জাত ব্যবসায়ী ইংরেজরা এদের ক্ষমতালোলুপ স্বভাব থেকে ফায়দা তোলার জন্য এঁদেরকে বিভিন্ন খেতাবে ভুষিত করতে লাগল রাজা, রায়বাহাদুর, লাট, রায়চৌধুরী ইত্যাদি। বলাই বাহুল্য যে এগুলো ছিল ফাঁপা উপাধিমাত্র, এদের ক্ষমতা ছিল বাড়ির মানুষজন আর চাকরবাকর অবধি। খুবই কার্যকর কনসেপ্ট, অনেকটা অ্যামওয়ে ডায়োটেকের মত ডাইরেক্ট মার্কেটিং, লোকে ভাবল আহা আমি এখন অমুক সার্কেল তমুক সার্কেলের সদস্য, মাথার ওপর যে পঞ্চাশটা ওরকম সার্কেল রয়েছে সেটা মাথায় থাকেনা। এই পাইয়ে দেয়ার আর স্বজনপোষনের যে রীতি চালু হল আঠের শতকে, তার ফলস্বরূপ বাঙালি পেল বাবু সংস্কৃতি যা এখনও আমাদের পিছু ছাড়েনি, বাকী ভারতে আমরা এখনও বাঙ্গালিবাবু বা বাবুমোশায় কেমোন আছে আমি রসোগোল্লা খাবে জাতীয় ব্যঙ্গের খোরাক। 
 
ইংরেজরা ভারতে শাসন করে কী পরিমান অর্থ উপার্জন করেছিল তার উদাহরন ইংল্যান্ডে বিভিন্ন প্রাসাদ কেল্লাগুলোয় জমিয়ে রাখা বিত্ত আর সেইসব আঞ্চলিক আর্ল ডিউকদের জীবনযাপন দেখে। অন্যদিক থেকে দেখলে হয়তো আর এক উদাহরন পাওয়া যাবে এই বাবুদের জীবনযাপন দেখে। ব্রিটিশরা বাংলা থেকে যা উপার্জন করত, এই তাঁবেদার বাবুরা তার ছিঁটেফোঁটাও পেতনা তবু যা পেত তা থেকেই এই বাবুদের যেরকম দৃষ্টিকটু বৈভবের পরিচয় পাওয়া যায় — তা সে দুর্গাপুজার ধুম হোক বা পায়রা পোষা, বেড়ালের বিয়ে দেয়া, ব্রুহাম/ফিটন গাড়ি চড়া যাই হোক না কেন — তাতে সন্দেহের অবকাশ থাকেনা ইংরেজরা কি পরিমান সম্পদ আত্মসাৎ করেছিল যাতে তার বিন্দুমাত্র দিয়েও কলকাতার বাবু সম্প্রদায় ঐজাতীয় বিলাসিত করতে পারে। এই বাবুদের প্রাসাদসম বাড়িঘর তৈরীর জন্য কলকাতার সীমানা বাড়ানোর প্রয়োজন হয়ে পড়ল যাতে বিভিন্ন বাবুদের এলাকা আলাদা থাকে। এই সময়ই কলকাতা দুই ভাগ হয়ে গেল, দক্ষিণে খিদিরপুর ফোর্ট উইলিয়াম আর কলকাতা বন্দর অবধি ব্রিটিশদের এলাকা অফিস বাড়িঘর গীর্জা কবরস্থান ভিক্টোরিয়ান স্থাপত্য সব এই এলাকায় যোগ হতে লাগল, আর উত্তরে কলকাতা বাড়তে লাগল বনেদি বাঙালি বাবুদের পয়সা ছড়ানোর জায়গা হিসেবে। এভাবেই কলকাতার মানচিত্রে জায়গা করে নিতে লাগল বৌবাজার শোভাবাজার শ্যামবাজার বড়বাজার জোড়াসাঁকো কাশীপুর।  তবু সাহেবরা খুব সুক্ষ্ণভাবে বাঙালী আর ইউরোপীয় সমাজকে আলাদাই রেখেছিল, দহরম মহরম থাকলেও এই বাবুদের সাথে সাহেবদের সম্পর্ক প্রভুভৃত্যের চেয়ে বেশী কিছু ছিলনা, শুধু ঠুলি পরা বাবুরা ভাবত তারা সাহেবদের কাছের লোক। 
 
আঠের শতকে কলকাতার এই বিপুল সম্প্রসারণ ছাড়া আরো দুটো ব্যাপার ঘটছিল এই সময়ে। এই সময়ে ইংরেজরা তাদের সাম্রাজ্য বাড়াচ্ছিল বটে কিন্তু তাদের বিরুদ্ধে প্রতিবাদ তখনো সোচ্চার হয়নি। ইস্ট ইন্ডিয়া কোম্পানির শাসকরা যতই অন্যভাবে মানুকনা কেন, নবাগত কাজের সন্ধানে আসা সাধারন ইংরেজদের কোম্পানি তখন স্থানীয় মানুষদের সাথে মেলামেশা, হিন্দু ও মুসলিম মহিলাদের বিয়ে করে কলকাতায় পরিবার স্থাপন করা এসবে উৎসাহিত করত। ফলস্বরূপ কলকাতা পেয়েছিল অ্যাংলো-ইন্ডিয়ান সমাজ যা এখনো কলকাতার এক অবিচ্ছেদ্য অঙ্গ। তৈরী হল মধ্য কলকাতা যা আসলে কলকাতার পূর্বদিকে বৃদ্ধি, পশ্চিমে এসপ্ল্যানেড থেকে পূর্বে যার বিস্তার ছড়িয়ে গেল এন্টালি মৌলালী অবধি। দ্বিতীয় ঘটনাটা অবশ্যই আরো গুরুত্বপূর্ণ কলকাতার ভবিষ্যতের জন্য। পলাশীর যুদ্ধজয়ের পর থেকে ব্রিটিশরা কলকাতাকে তাদের সাম্রাজ্যের রাজধানী বানানোর জন্য প্রস্তুত করতে লাগল, ফলে শিল্প বানিজ্য স্থাপত্য এসবের সাথে দরকার হয়ে পড়ল সমাজব্যবস্থার উন্নয়ন শিক্ষা স্বাস্থ্য আইন সব দিকেই। প্রশাসনিক কাজকর্মের জন্য দরকার হয়ে পড়ল ইংরেজী শিক্ষিত কেরাণীদের কিন্তু নতুন বৃটিশ মানুষেরা ছিল স্বল্পশিক্ষিত খেটে খাওয়া মজুর তাই সেই দায় বর্তাল কলকাতাবাসী বাঙালি জনগনের ওপর, যেখান থেকে কলকাতার ইংরেজী শিক্ষাব্যবস্থা সুত্রপাত। কলকাতার সাংস্কৃতিক বিকাশের সেটাই প্রথম পদক্ষেপ যা এতদিন সামাজিক বৈষম্যের জালে জড়িয়ে থাকা বাঙালী মানুষদের চিন্তাধারার বিকাশ আর সেই সুত্রে শুধু শিক্ষা নয়, চরিত্র নির্মানেও উল্লেখযোগ্য ভুমিকা নেবে পরবর্তী দুই শতাব্দী জুড়ে। 
 
কলকাতার এই প্রথম শতকে তৎকালীন ইংরেজ শাসিত ভারতের রাজধানি হিসেবে কলকাতার বিত্তবৈভব একমাত্র এক শহরের সাথেই তুল্য ছিল, তা হল ব্রিটিশদের মুল রাজধানী লন্ডন যার সাথে জুড়ে আছে হাজার বছরের ইতিহাস, কলকাতা যার কাছে অভিজ্ঞতায় নিতান্তই এঁড়েগরু। সেই সুনামের জেরেই আঠার শতকের শেষের দিকে কলকাতায় পা রাখল চিনে, আর্মেনিয়, ইহুদী সম্প্রদায়ের মানুষরা। আজকের যুগে আমরা যাকে বলি মাল্টিকালচারাল কসমোপলিটান দুশ বছর আগে কলকাতায় সেই যুগান্তরটাই ঘটছিল, যা আজকের কলকাতার জাতিগত ভাষাগত ধার্মিক বৈচিত্রপূর্ণতার পথে প্রথম পদক্ষেপ। পরবর্তী দুই শতকে কলকাতার ও সেই সাথে নাগরিকদের বিবর্তন বিবেচনা করলে শুরুর সেই একশ বছর যা ঘটনাবহুল ছিল সেই তুলনায় আজকের পরিবর্তনগুলো নিতান্তই মামুলি। জন্মলগ্ন আর শৈশব থেকে তারপর চোখ রাখা যেতে পারে উনিশ শতকে যা বাংলার রেনেসাঁস যুগ হিসাবে চিহ্নিত হয়ে আছে। তবে সেটা পরবর্তী কিস্তিতে। 
 (চলবে)
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Politics, UK

A ‘Bolshie’ review of UK general election 2015

On the eve of the UK general elections 2015, I hoped a much awaited Labour led coalition government after five years’ dismal rule by the Conservatives. Eight hours later, that hope was shattered by a Tory majority. All the myths, predictions, analyses were proved wrong, including a number of hypotheses I had drawn in the past on British politics and its future. Being a dress down day at work, I wore a t-shirt with a bold statement, which showed the flag of the UK with a skull at the background. In my opinion, nothing better summarised the outcomes of the general election than that t-shirt, the coming five years will be tarnished with disaster, despair, poverty, death. This is an attempt to analyse the build-up to the election and its aftermath with a historical and social context.

• Campaign and fallacies in 2010 elections 

Although the Conservative agenda always circles around championing the individual excellence, which is the cornerstone of the capitalist world-view, in practice, this meant further inequality in an already fragmented Britain. In 2010, the coalition came in power due to the follies of Blair government in Iraq war, as well as widespread mass hysteria regarding migrant workers from EEA taking over jobs from British working class. During 2010 elections, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats also blamed the previous Labour government of excessive spending, resulting to an increased national debt, as well as of a slow recovery from the recession of 2008. Also, the fiscal policy adopted by the then labour government to recover from the recession was in direct contrast with the capitalist ethos of monetary corrections, and it was apparent to common British voters that Labour spent a lot of money, and in the way, lost its credibility to run the country to the road of recovery. 
 
It was only after the election was won that the devious and untrue nature of the Tory campaign, backed by the Rupert Murdoch funded British media were becoming clear. The economic recovery in the entire western world has been sluggish, and Britain was no exception. The recuperation of the German economy was cited many times during the election campaigns, but the recovery came through the fiscal reforms, by making people spend their way out of the recession, not by introducing cuts. Labour tried the same method as well, but was only let down by the British public due to risk-averseness and not taking the incentives offered by the government. Also, the national debt that was proved to be another downfall for Labour, it was proved that the national debt inherited by Labour government at the end of John Major government was already high, but the media represented the figures as though the debt was incurred only during the Labour regime.

• Synopsis on Tory rule 2010-2015

Although the Lib-Dems were part of the government, and they attempted to implement a number of policies they have pledged for prior to the 2010 election, it was clear from the outset that the Conservatives will start the austerity and cuts to social services straight away. It was evident when within a year in the government, the highest earners’ income tax was lowered to 45% from 50% that previous Labour government introduced. If this was not a clear indication of which sector of the population the government is protecting, nothing ever would. Not only benefiting the higher earners — be it through tax reductions or offering tax havens to non-domiciles, it did not stop there. The working class has been squeezed through reduction of the child relief thresholds or proposing to increase the working age. NHS saw further privatisation whilst the practices were to be controlled by a trust, redundancies for nurses and stretching the already stressed system to its breaking point. During previous Labour regime, a maximum time limit was set for the consultants to offer treatment to their patients within three months from the first appointment. Under the Tory rule, these time limits were disbanded, hence achieving a saving in the  running cost, but at the expense of patients’ health and recovery. Then came the damned bedroom tax rule. Admittedly benefits were there, but no exceptions were allowed, hence leaving people with disability needing carers paying for the extra rooms or move to a house where there would be no room for carers to stay. In educational sector, struggling schools were bullied into becoming Academies, managing their own budget or be threatened to stop all funding. Between 2010 and 2015, the employment sector has improved, but this was more attributable to the recovery of the global economy rather than positive contribution from the government. Thus time will be remembered for the much maligned Back to work scheme where people without work have been encouraged to go and work for employers without any form of payment, hence, effectively working for free. 
 
The ultimate evidence of Tory connivance and their cronies and the extent of corruption in media, governance and juridical system during the Conservative regime was brought into daylight in the News of the world controversy. Andy Coulson, who worked closely with David Cameron was the prime suspect of the phone hacking scandal and was jailed, but News of the World being a Tory mouthpiece, the involvement of the phone hacking during the previous general election was exposed. The same goes for the acquittal of Rebekah Brooks, who was a close friend of David Cameron as well. News of the world went out of publication, but the full extent of Tory involvement in the phone hacking is yet to be known. 
 
From these and numerous other similar examples, a general observation was evident; the Tory regime had paved the path for big businesses and staunch Tory benefactors to increase their wealth, whilst punishing the rest of the 99% of the population. The number of food banks opened have been quadrupled, poor people got poorer, heading towards a precipice. 
 
The only unambiguously praiseworthy action taken by the previous Conservative government was legalisation of gay marriage amidst scathing criticism from Tory backbenchers through insistence from David Cameron. 

• Nationalism and Britain 

With the financial interest of the 1% top earners ring-fenced, the Tories have then managed, not only to distract the downtrodden 99% from their woes, but they did it so discretely that it left the nation divided into many fragments. On one side, there was the vilification of the poor working class, often referred as “feckless”, and on the other side they have created a red herring in the form of EEA migrant workers and the concept of all minimum wage roles going to the foreign workers. This second ploy led to thriving a number of right wing nationalist parties, mainly UKIP. In 2014, Britain was swept by a spate of nationalism, first, during the Scottish referendum, and then later in the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Scottish referendum not only affected Scotland, the dichotomy also resulted in strong nationalist sentiments at the south side of Hadrian’s wall as well. The Scots were divided in opinion almost equally between Yes and No for an independent Scotland, and finally managed to stay within the UK by a whisker, as the uncertainty of being outside the aegis of UK and EU outweighed the hopes to break free of the shackles from the controls of Westminster. However, this instigated a strong feeling of Scottish nationalism as a large number of people, who voted No only did so to think of their immediate financial situation, despite the urge of breaking were felt strongly. On the other hand, the big brother England felt a different sense of nationalism, the English nationalism, whereby the public saw Scotland as an appendage to the English state, a partisan and not contributing to the government by an equal proportion. The view of the intelligentsia may have weighed up or down the benefits of gaining independence from the situation, the public opinion hovered around seceding from the Scottish union, and “let then grovel back to us for funds in six months”. This was a situation reasonably reaped by the nationalist right wing parties and the popularity soared for then and UKIP became a major threat in realising Labour’s aspiration of forming a government. Although the UKIP policies  would have sent the nation teetering back, the white working class that saw Labour as their saviour from Tory atrocities so far, saw a change of heart as UKIP offered them more tangible benefits — no foreigners taking jobs, cheap beer, no EU. 

• The Labour opposition 

The Lib-dems were almost out of the fray the day they joined the coalition government as the long standing supporters felt compromised from their anti-Conservative position. Hence, it was only down to the Labour to oust the coalition led government, unlike in 2010, when Lib-dems proved to be a potent adversary to the incumbent. Labour’s ascent since the failure in 2010 was not smooth, within months from the election, the leadership vote became a fierce encounter between Miliband brothers, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and others. Then a Labour member, I voted Ed over David expecting his trade union background would prove more belligerence in character than the suave Blairite David. On Ed’s election saw the Miliband brotherhood broken, and it took a long time for Ed to gain credibility amongst Labour’s most loyal supporters, let alone winning over the Conservative voters. Personally, with my left wing visions, I saw Labour gradually becoming a quasi-Tory entity, especially during London mayoral elections — the policy offerings were not different enough to sway the voters, and I gradually became disillusioned during the mid-term of the Tory government. Then came 2013, as Ed Miliband delivered his most fiery speech since the ascension to leadership, and the Labour proposed the most ground-breaking proposals  — the bring back taxing the highest earners at higher rate, increase inheritance tax, or the free rein of energy companies and create a new bank from British Investments — offering the most radical changes to the British economy and governance. A clear lurch towards left, and the everybody was anxious — the capitalist market, the investors, Tory British media, and the government. Some argue that that’s what the Conservatives always wanted, a left wing Labour so they can oppose it with the old communist line of attack. Ed Miliband was immediately branded Red Ed, and it was not a contest between Conservatives versus Labour any more; all other stakeholders to be affected from the Labour government weighed in. Labour’s popularity soared as they won council elections by a large margin, but the English nationalism element in the British psyche saw a number of votes poached by the UKIP. People were swayed, but the stigma of immigration and Eastern European workers still haunted Labour, as did their propensity to support minorities, with the horrid details of Lee Rigby’s murder or the recent rise of ISIS still alive in people’s memories, they didn’t trust Islam, nor Labour as the mouthpiece for minorities and equality. With UK fragmented from various counts, it was absolutely important to launch an election campaign that offers some dividends to all such segments, for a re-unified country and government. Treading on eggshells, Labour had to offer a proposal alluring all segment of voters, and what interest one faction would drive another away from them, keeping a knife-edge balance on its election campaign. 

• Election campaigns 2015

The election campaign started with the usual hype in the media and the Middle-class and the casual indifference from the working class. 2015 was going to be the year of the women, with Nicola Sturgeon of SNP, Nicola Bennett of Green Party and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru took the centre stage. There was only one clear winner emerging from the first debate, and it was Nicola Sturgeon. With a clear Scotland-centric agenda and a number of policies veered away from the safe grounds of central left or central right, SNP already offered something for the Scottish people that would have been a part of Labour’s agenda. This should have raised alarms on Labour policy makers, as it wood have, when Nick Clegg stole the show during 2010 debates; and last minute alterations were needed to offer equally bold policies to steer the Scottish nationalist votes back towards Labour. Instead, seeing the election results of the previous year, Labour leadership trod on the side of caution and published a manifesto that, without the Labour logo, is hard to guess which party they were from due to its lack of USP. All the hard work over two years, all the hopes it kindled in the minds of the followers were all undone in a moment of hesitation and panic. The legitimacy of the Labour election campaign was hard to make credit due to the leadership issues, but the poor manifesto possibly alienated the voters willing to change their view. Labour’s stand on immigration, austerity, debt, spends on defence especially trident, sustainability, employment and social security failed to convince the British working class that they can offer a star government capable of resolving all the hardships the families face by the Tory regime. In issues like environment, SNP in Scotland and Green Party across UK took much more firm position than Labour and it perhaps disillusioned the environmentalist lobby, which makes a large proportion when the election results will show that Green emerges as the fourth largest party in the UK. Similarly in governance, SNP proposed reforms that was expected fro Labour, and even they were identical in areas, a Labour vote meant devolving power to Westminster whilst an SNP vote would see the poets and policies staying at Holyrood and being implemented in Scotland. In fact if it were not for the female trio, ration debate would have been a lacklustre event as none of the other parties manages to set themselves apart, excluding the conflagrating opinions by Nigel Farage. From that respect, David Cameron has been the most consistent and credible contender, backed by the continuous vilification of Ed Miliband in the Tory biased media and the Conservative election campaign, arguably funded by the wealthy Tory donors, with a possible return of favours following the election triumph. The Conservatives have even featured themselves as working people’s party, but the basis for such incredulous claims were not established, as was the fact with no details on funding cuts but showing additional investments based on these funding cuts.

• Poll result Analyses

At 10 PM on the election day, the exit poll figures on BBC were surprising, and with the benefit of hindsight, analysts with political astuteness should have guessed such an outcome if the trends were followed in recent months and their reason were not clouded by feelings. The exit poll results were pretty devastating for all parties except Tories but people kept their heads high. By the following morning, it was all over, the Conservatives even improved the exit poll predictions, even though not by large amount, but significant enough to provide absolute majority to form a government without coalition. Geographical division of seats were even more interesting and thought provoking. Whilst in 2010, all Scotland was painted red, Labour lost almost all the seats in Scotland. Wales was still a Labour majority but looking at England, the picture was catastrophic. Barring some spots of red in North of England, and London and Birmingham, Labour was obliterated everywhere. The reds have lost their appeal to Scottish people as they did to English population. Lib-dems were decimated, the much hype about UKIP was proven to be non-existent, but a trend was clear — the sweep of nationalism on both sides of the Scottish Border. The SNP emerged as strongest party to lead and defend Scottish interest whereas for England, fear and greed has swung the election in the favour of Conservatives.
 
In my opinion, there are no better weapons for winning the election than hunger and fear. With the number is homeless destitute persons on the rise, and all the austerity measures in place, it was a simple deduction that the people would want to see the tides change, they want this desperate time to be over. But there were two factors that prevented the full effect of hunger factor to be reflected in the results. Due to Lib-dem interjections, the Tory austerity measures were not as severe as if would have been had they won the absolute majority in 2010. Also, the average voters hovering around 70% mark, perhaps the worst affected part of the population was not interested in taking part of the election when the food for the next day has to be thought of — change in government wouldn’t change that fact overnight. And then there was the fear factor. Evolution of mythology is a proof that we want to know what we are afraid of; and this gave rise to millions of various depiction of monsters, ghosts, demons. In this election, a fear was instilled in the voters’ psyche, a fear without a shape or form, presented with the back up of data. From the fateful day in 2013 at Labour Party conference, the capitalist biased media has been trying to infuse fear in the minds of English population — be it direct demonising on the tabloids or subtle connotations in The Telegraph — media made it a private vendetta against Labour and its leadership. They feared. They feared of a liberal centre-left government would spell doom for the Conservatives, give voice to the Tory backbenchers already questioning the leadership of Cameron, a regrouped Conservative party will have long roads of reform. Amongst the people feared were the big businesses and Tory donors, whose tax evasion and preferential treatment would have come to a halt as well. The media turned this fear into a fear that the working class could relate to, hence the reasons were changed to immigration, jobs, economic reform, whereby keeping the facts clouded under vague predictions did help Tories turning the public against Labour’s ethos. Britain’s ageing population also meant that there is a huge Conservative royalist support base, who would see the large changes as a threat to the state, an anarchy in the development. Looking at election result, this fear of unknown and unseen regime that is purported to stop all businesses working, open doors to all EU workers, harbour radical Islamists under the name of ethical treatment, let EU interfere in all interim governance matters — threats of a communist state, has driven the voters especially in England, where people chose to opt for the incumbent. Looking at the possible results with a proportional representation system makes the situation grimmer with UKIP winning 82 seats based on its number of votes polled. This is a failure of the mainstream political parties when popularity of right wing parties like UKIP soars up, which is a real threat to unbalance the British society, its rich multiculturalism and liberal values. Too much was and will be said about Labour policy ignoring English voters as well as the middle class, but if Conservative approach to tackle challenges faced by the middle class is more acceptable by the society than Labour’s, this must be a major concern on society’s view on politics, ethics and governance. It’s not that Labour failed to rise up to the expectations of the British public, it was rather the public became risk-averse on the prospect of a radical reform to the political system, which is essential to avoid the society heading towards a state of static inertia. At the beginning I mentioned that the results proved some of my views on the electorate wrong. I assumed that since 2010, a trend was created that all future governments will be coalition and no party will be able to meet demands of every different combination of factions. The results showed I was wrong. However, the Conservatives seem to take no risk in terms of targeting its agenda biased towards its biggest support base — English middle class. And this is where Labour failed, as they put more focus on UK as a collective identity than to be populist. This is where my second hypothesis went wrong. I expected the British electorate to be progressive, embracing the new values and changes, but it turned out that the public were anything but that entity. This is a protectionist, risk-averse, myopic state that people would rather want to be a part of. 
 
On the other side, Labour’s failure and rise of SNP in Scotland was shocking but imminent, the leadership must have felt the change in the tide. Referendum on Scotland left the Scots divided on opinion but unified them under the same Scottish flag, realise the potential of a political party fighting for the priorities for Scotland and its people. A very regional approach, contrary to a one UK concept, but limiting the target audience helped SNP secure the record number of seats, leaving all other mainstream parties almost obliterated in Scotland. 

• Aftermath of the election results

As an immediate aftermath of dismal performance by all major parties but Conservatives, there was a public outrage amongst party backbenchers to remove the leadership. First to step down was Nick Clegg, who, with the decision to join coalition in 2010 had already done a political hara-kiri to the reputation and trust for Liberal Democrats, yet managed five years of reflected glory being in the shadows of David Cameron. Ed Miliband followed suite during the midday when he took the full responsibility for Labour’s calamitous results. It was a gracious speech, delivered in his typical automaton fashion, eyes hardly lifting off his notes. But his eyes said it all — looking beyond the vacant stare, there stood ask struggling to control his emotions, perhaps hundreds of questions were going through his mind but without any answers. And finally, in a very dramatical manner Nigel Farage cast his resignation as promised, but gave a hint that until August when he might even be re-elected because without him, UKIP had no identity. With all three leaders of main opposition parties resigned, UK is a dangerous situation, as nothing is stopping Tories spearheading with their harsh cuts and other measures of austerity before even the oppositions have regrouped and chosen their leaders. It’s not only the leadership that pushed the parties on the back foot, but also the party stalwarts, who would have led the opposition during parliament question hours, have fallen as well in their bid to win a seat at the House of Commons. A first Tory majority government in 18 years, brings bitter memories from Thatcher era. The government is hardly going to be working people’s party as it preached to be, and the austerities will be brought about straight away. This will be an advantage being incumbent, as Cameron once claimed business as usual from first day. The Conservatives have also got Boris  Johnson elected as an MP from a safe seat; doldrums in the other parties will give Boris to settle down fast and pave his way to possibly become the next Tory party leader after 2020. The 2010-15 reign might not be classed as the worst the Conservatives could be, that period has definitely paved the way for a more stricter, hardline Tory rule, breaking up the British society into further class divisions. This will also give them time to achieve an agreement with Bruxelles on the issue of EU referendum. The situation on the other side of the fence is getting worse. Labour leadership elections have always been fraught with fierce rivalry amongst candidates, exposing the internal fissures in the party. The MPs already declaring their willingness to stand up for the leadership position is similar to, as someone aptly put, taking jewellery off the dying relatives. The ex leaders have been too prompt to criticise Miliband as leader, but failed to acknowledge the fact that Labour lost the election due to their Thatcherist compromises in the party command. Adding further woes, Allan Sugar resigned from Labour membership. I am not personally as much concerned with this at one level, because in the end he is a businessman, trying to make a profit, which Labour policy curbed. His defection however is crucial for the party as the election is now won outside the leaders’ debate and speech, or the candidates knocking on the doors of the voters, it is a battleground for business houses, media, and to fight fire with fire Labour do need funding, and they have lost a valuable donor. I still hope they don’t grovel back to him once the new leader is elected, trying to compromise policies for funding. However, all in not bleak and gloomy in this crucial juncture of British politics. Green Party has evolved substantially and nearly annexed Lib-dems in proportional representation analyses, showing a growing trend for the future general voters to choose more radical liberal and social reforms orientated parties. This is also a period with highest number of female MPs. And the most unifying news in the end, BNP which has been in the surge during last general election is obliterated from the arena of British politics, proving a point that people don’t tolerate the right wing politics, and the fate of UKIP will follow the same trend, it’s just a matter of when. 

• Future of British Politics 

The next five years of Tory rule will be earmarked for its atrocities on the lowest strata of the population. The food banks will be on overdrive, more people will be homeless, further cuts will drive struggling families to fall apart or into desperation, cuts will continue to happen in all public services — stretching them further to the breaking point. The NHS, although promised to be ring fenced, will see longer working hours in the name of providing better service, yet without any extra resource. Zero hour contracts will be the only way one can secure s job, thus making it impossible to have a stable income when companies can exploit the system. The Labour will still have another bloody leadership battle, and the leader will either face the challenge of going back to neo-Labour coined by Tony Blair or continue the work Ed Miliband has started. A politically pragmatic move would be a more centrist Labour to win trust fro working class across UK, before going into more radical socialist reform, although that long-term goal should be set from the day the leader is elected, so the party works towards the same goal as they have in 2015, but with more caution keeping in mind that British population is still not mature enough to embrace the reforms Labour was proposing to bring about.
 
This brings to the conclusion, a look on the future of British politics. More crucial questions to be raised, that parties like Greens and SNP already started to ask, such as the future if the trident programme — why is this still being funded, which goes back to the question of fear again. A nuclear Armageddon is an American ploy used since cold-war era which they need as the biggest arms dealer in the world. Questions need to be raised on the relevance of House of Lords, with their pompous red ornate seats, and the hereditary peerage. Also the relevance of the Royal family and the monarchy. Free the Queen, rest of them will probably still live their life as celebrities, but what relevance is there of their role on British politics than just the term constitutional monarchy? What does the royal goodwill tours achieve that the businesses and politicians can’t? It is reassuring to find that the Buckingham Palace has to run on its own budget, nevertheless this is a huge outlay when the government is trying to claw back every penny being wasted, what is more important 500 NHS nurses/policemen/public service operatives or a bunch of people leading a lavish lifestyle on public money without any contribution to the economy. We are too quick to use terms like feckless scroungers on poor people, but the family supposedly at the helm of this “constitutional monarchy” (sounds as mouthy and vain as balderdash and hobgoblin) are no different either. There is so a public outcry for stopping foreign aid and immigration. Contrary to popular belief, foreign aid merely constitutes a minimal percentage of the nation spending, and a country with a long and dark history of colonialism should rather start by looking at the past before blaming all developing/ undeveloped nations for the misery of the Britons. Apart from all these contentious questions, a close look is needed on the electoral system as well, firstly to encourage and as the next stage penalise people for not voting. The role of media in making the nation is also questionable. At present, there are the tabloids, crude and distasteful cheap tack, yet the working class have not rejected this type of populist reporting. On the other hand, the broadsheet newspapers retained their snobbish reporting only targeted at the business leaders, academicians, bureaucrats and similar higher echelons on the social strata. The extreme bias between the Labour and Tory orientated newspapers are nauseating, where one news would be reported in completely different tones. Media will have to be liberal, arguably it is the fourth estate, but rather than snide and vitriolic attacks on anyone with a different perspective, the space for constructive criticism needs to be created, and media’s role during the election should be of a unbiased adjudicator, challenging ideas of all political parties and praising for changes for a better future. Also, the election mechanism starting from using electronic voting machines to dissolution of first past the post system — a lot needs changing and this will be a pithy challenge on any party running the government. Liberal parties will have to find the solution and convince the British public that the changes are essential to live in a synergistic compassionate world of tomorrow — expecting this from Tories would only result in frustration and desperation as they are only interested in culling foxes and the poorest of the poor into extinction. 
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London

London, as seen by a quasi-Londoner outsider

London, Paris, New York, Mumbai, Beijing, Tokyo, Rio — the biggest cities in this world: not only are these cities the economic powerhouses of the world, but they also represent a rich cultural heritage, a diverse demographic, a confluence of humanity from all corners of this earth. Above all, these cities have a character — a strong demonstration of resilience to forge ahead in times of despair and never giving up. Having lived most of my life in Calcutta, I was tempted to put Calcutta on this list as well, but then refrained from it, avoiding a faux-pas. Despite being a big city with a rich cultural legacy, it would not be just to assume Calcutta belonged to the same echelon with the rest for two vital reasons. It does not have the same effect on world economy and hence the demographic, although diverse, is not by any means comparable to the other cities. Secondly, it has never been challenged to test its steadfastness and even with the lack of it, the city is in the way of fading into dilapidation and a decadent oblivion. This test of character marks the biggest anomaly why Calcutta cannot be put within the same bracket with the other big cities. These musings are not either on the city of my dreams, the cultural capital of the world — Paris, as I have never experienced Paris, and going by Le gens non-Parisiens, Paris isn’t that spectacular! Rather, this is a collection of thoughts on the city, which has in fact toppled Paris in recent years as the cultural capital of the world, London.
 
Before arriving in the UK, London, like any other big city, was a collage of landmarks and famous people, more than anything else. My uncle, who was a sailor, used to tell tales on London, especially the rain. In my mind’s eye I had a picture of London, covered with a dusky blanket of smog and drizzling rain, the faint light from the gas lamps shining on the wet cobbled streets. Perhaps this was an imagery created from Sherlock Holmes books more than anything else. With time, more images were added to that vision, especially the landmarks I became accustomed with — Tower bridge to Buckingham palace to Big Ben, and of course Lord’s cricket ground. And holding all these pieces together like a thread was Thames, running from west to east supplying lifeblood to the city. Another image permeates to the mind, of a dark river swarming with merchant ships importing and exporting merchandise from all corners of the world, a very busy docklands strewn with some sacks here, leaking barrels there and an overall sense of urgency all round. 
 
As the adage goes “putting a face to the name”, I had all these visions in my mind but they were distant dreams, of seeing London with my own eyes, which possibly never meant to be materialised. The opportunity came when in 2007, I got the score I expected in GMAT, and knew everything else going as per plan, I’ll be either in the UK or “the other side of the pond” studying. I was due a holiday after all the hard work and decided to visit UK for a week in December. Although I have not seen much of London and mostly stayed in Oxford, London was en route between Heathrow and Oxford and back, as I went to central London on arrival to see a friend who’d accompany me to the coach station afterwards. 
 
On that very first encounter I felt London was enormous and congested, yet full of life and urgency all around me — people running past in the escalators, bikes whizzing past the crowded streets, people reading books or newspapers in the packed tube where they could barely stand. The vastness was apparent, when I realised it took much longer than anticipated to arrive at Central London. As the slow Piccadilly Line tube trundled through the suburbs, I was in a way disheartened to see stumpy little houses all the way, not the skyscrapers I thought would block my view. Little did I know then that on that aspect, Europe is so different compared to the rest of the world, where the burgeoning population has already driven people to expand upwards. In a way I felt reassured as the train approached the inner part of the city and few tall buildings with bright coloured panels would catch the view, that we are getting closer to the main city. The images have completely transformed, when I arrived at Holborn, the heart of central London, with the amount of people almost overwhelming. Despite Calcutta with about 15 million people was much denser than London, the streets there are never so crowded, yet function without any chaotic disorder — a regular sight in Calcutta. A sense of order was immediately visible, whether it’s commuters standing on the right hand side of the escalator to let the ones through on the left side, pedestrians stopping the moment the signal turned red or queuing up keeping a decorum, it seemed to be working like a clockwork. A plethora of memories will stay etched in my mind — visiting LSE, London’s answer to Oxbridge, a vague recollection of going to Elephant and Castle, spicy chicken wings from a local shop, an eerie walk to Victoria bus terminal…But if there is one that highlighted my first glimpse of London, it will be the escalator out of Holborn tube station, the nigh vertical ascent with a sea of people around, the daylight filtering through at the end of the escalator which seemed far away, and there was I, waiting for the ascent to the end and witness the city I have been longing to see for two weeks! That ride up was surreal and every time I nwent up that escalator since then, I always remembered that very first moment I was there. 
 
I was back there in less than a year, heading to a new destination, Cranfield. Getting my room keys I headed off to London the same night to meet a friend, with a plan to do all necessary shopping the day after. I went to the Southeast London, and that was the beginning of an acquaintance, seeing London from various shades of light. That part of the city in the southeast was not the most desirable of the places, and there were news of knife crimes, murders, burglary; in the vicinity of the tower bridge road area. Every time I went to that area, I was always alert, anxious of something to happen, but nothing ever did. During the year I was in Cranfield, I came to London many times for many different reasons, be it spending new year break with friends from Calcutta, attending MBA job fairs, job interviews, Crystal Palace to watch Usain Bolt in British Athletics Meet, many landmarks with day trips arranged from Cranfield. The more I visited London, more I discovered and each visit painted a different picture and London to me was an endless process of superimposing these pictures one by one to be able to fathom the true character of the city. 
 
A new chapter started in 2010, when I started my new job that took me to all corners of London; and it was amazing to discover how old infrastructures are fitted with cutting edge technology to keep abreast of the 21st century. This is the true beauty of London, it keeps evolving, as if in a constant flux or plasma. More places were added to the areas I frequented, with work or after work hours on the way back, in search of comic book shops. Places on both banks of Thames around Houses of Parliament, china town, Shaftesbury avenue or Holborn — the map of inner circle of London was becoming quite clear, just like after long hours of toil, a jigsaw finally starts to show signs of the pattern one looks for, the picture one is trying to find. There were little discoveries made along the way, like the comic book shops on the great Russell street opposite British museum, an exquisite Indian restaurant in Shaftesbury avenue named Malabar, sudden realisation of a concert by my favourite Spanish group Amaral at a Scala theatre near St. Pancras, a Bengali bookshop near the BT Tower. All these findings marked experiencing something personal, that I discovered in the process of knowing the city. 
 
However, it took a lot longer to have an appreciation of the size of London, the suburbs and their location with respect to centre of the city, apart from the extremities of south-east where I lived. The size of London, in a way, can be easily defined by the M25 motorway. Even if I’ve driven all around it on endless number of occasions, it’s the radial roads that joined M25 at various junctions that held the key to knowing all precincts. It’s only lately, when my confidence in driving in a busy city like London overcame the worries, that I started going to places using the car rather than take the same train to London bridge. It’s during those precise moments, around the end of last year, when the collage of pictures, structures, sounds and faces started to come all together to a complete landscape of London. Through my projects, I have better appreciation than ever, of the geography of the city and the localities. 
 
I often had a feeling about Calcutta that the city had many layers, with a degree of separation in between, just like particles inside an atom — each with its own path but hardly any are changing their orbit. In one layer you have the celebrities, politicians, business leaders, people who are face and ambassadors for the city, and are often in the news. Then there are millionaires who we hardly know but can still marvel at their houses and posh cars. There are academicians and artisans, in their smaller spheres of specialisations. Then there are common people — ranging from high earner executives and directors to penniless beggars — with a plethora of strata in between. The curious fact is, to some extent we all come across these people every day, either directly or via media, but we have no appreciation of what the life is like for the people in the other strata, we can’t even imagine. The metaphor of an atom seems quite apt, with proton and neutrons forming the nucleus whilst the electrons keep running in their own orbits completely unaware of the other orbits. After coming to London, that feeling was much bolstered. It’s a city where we can’t even think of identifying the number of layers — commuters from suburbia in their mundane attires day after day, construction workers from Eastern Bloc countries, Tamil eatery owner in Newham — these are all unique and one’s daily routine is diametrically opposite to the other’s, but the great city of London is the only commonality amongst all these strata. 
 
So what makes London a great city? Will it be the marvels of british engineering that built all infrastructure that are essential even now for the daily life? Or would that be the large conglomerates in modern day London, especially at the plush reincarnated docklands at Canary Wharf, that made the city the financial capital of the world — the financial empire that was built with the wealth amassed from its dark colonial past? What about the numerous picturesque landmarks, a hallmark of fine Victorian architecture strewn across the city, which makes London one of the biggest city destinations for tourists all round the world? Undeniably all these are contributing factors that made this city evolve over decades and centuries to become one of the biggest metropolises in the world. However, above all, what I started this writing with, it’s the character that defines the city and what else can best depict the character of the city than its people themselves? From plagues in the Middle Ages to the terrorist attacks of 2005, the city rose to threats posed on its existence, regrouped and reinforced and mutated even stronger, like a Phoenix rising from the pyres. I did not witness or read a lot on any of the events I mentioned, but I was there during the riots of 2011, the Olympics in 2012, the student protests of 2009 and occupy movement in 2011 — and in all these occasions, London has risen up to the challenge and shown its mettle, the strength of character, and its people, irrespective of their background, nationality, colour or religion were at the forefront at this.
 
London is multicultural, it is a confluence of perhaps the most number of cultures across the world into a harmonious coexistence. Starting from restaurants serving all possible cuisines across the globe, to a feeling of arcane at the public places with a mix of languages — recognisable and unknown — strikes the eardrums even without trying to listen — the symbiosis of altitude of cultures, languages, custom, attires is easily palpable. From the carnivals like Holi, Chinese New Year and Notting Hill to an artist playing along flutes and selling Bolivian folk tunes to a man walking in Haringey with an antelope horn — the contrast of sights and sounds only reinforces the fact that this city has welcomed all communities of the world with open arms, as it understood the value of widening its horizon, learning and flourishing from different cultures and communities — much to the dismay of the ‘Little Englanders’, who wants their little kingdom nation back, where the sun never set (it still doesn’t, worth checking an interesting article in XKCD). Irrespective of whether people came to work, study, travel, party, make a future or seeking asylum after all the roads to live in the country are ceased — London has something to offer to all, shelter, career, education, entertainment. All these cultures, ethos, values all add to the complex identity that defines today’s London where it’s not only a window to the UK, but also to a harmonious world of tomorrow. With exceptions that all cities have, London is a shining beacon of the individual excellence and humanity. 
 
I also wonder at the awe-inspiring speed the city is evolving. London is a vibrant city, with a multitude of activities happening every hour that reshape and reform the city beyond recognition, be it new skyscrapers or new look buses and trains, to new ways of commuting in bike highways and skyline or a new art form. All these changes, however insignificant, paves the future of the city of tomorrow, where it can offer something to the whole gamut of people who visit, work or live in the city. The changing face of London is also uplifting the areas or suburbs that it conveniently ignored or even exploited before. This brings in question of the leadership. The man at the helm of spearheading success of London is its charismatic mayor Boris Johnson. I do not support his political allegiance, but no better person could have led London in the twenty first century. He is flippant, and at some point obnoxious because of his insensitivity, but he is avant-garde, a maverick who runs his own show what London needed, away from a quintessential politician, it needed a crossover between a heretic and a businessman, and Boris wears both these hats with equal aplomb. 
 
Despite all positive energy that London exudes, it has never ceased to be criticised, mainly by the rest of the people of UK rather than people from other countries living in London. Rest of the UK feels the image of the UK is too London-centric and all the infrastructure investments are around London whereas other places would need more funding. And then there are NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) who would rather cherish all benefits of all such changes but is extremely reluctant to assist authorities in getting the change implemented. Then there are moaners who would pick fault without any reason, be it immigration, too many people, increasing crimes, too little personal interaction. Usually none of them are any valid reasons — the benefits of multiculturalism has truly been reflected as the youth have more understanding and mental agility than anywhere in the country. Crime rate is high but that is unavoidable in any major city, for London, the figures were going down, promising a better future. London is a thriving, burgeoning city and it can’t be devoid of any problems, it’s just the question of how they deal with it, which reflects the strength of fibres of its character. Also, being constantly under focus blow minor things out of proportion that go unnoticed elsewhere in the country. In fact during my early years in the UK, I disliked coming to work near London, I wasn’t very keen on going to central London at peak times. However, after a few years of living away from London and then going back there quite often made me in a way miss the hustle and bustle of a big city, see so many people at the same time, have a sense of haste and feel a part of this juggernaut that’s hurtling itself to the future with an amazing élan. 
 
To summarise, London is not just its parks and Victorian architecture, nor is it the multimillion pound houses at Mayfair/ Regent’s Park or the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, nor either the stark contrast of central London in the outskirts Acton, Haringey, Tottenham. It’s like a kid’s fantasy out of sweet shops, a pick and mix of the widest variety of sweets, but most likely to have at least one of each type. However, with all its grandeur London is still just another city, what makes it unique is its people — the visible and invisible ones, who make the city lovable, lovable and above all, add the personal touch to the feeling of people who are coming in London, making a fond place in their memories. London, to me, will remain as the sterling example of a place championing the differences in humanity and thriving from it, which, sans its exploitative capitalist background, will be a perfect unified world of tomorrow…
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