KOLKATA: Kathmandu and Kolkata have more in common than their first letter and this beed never tires of finding parallels between the two cities, both of which have been ruled by socialists.
The striking similarity is still how easily strikes can take place in both cities. Although Kathmandu managed to stay banda-free in June and July, Kolkata has already had its share of half a dozen strikes in that time. Residents of both cities have to factor in extra travel time for traffic jams before they leave their houses. Kolkata may not have graduated to the electronic horns our cabs and microbuses use, but the honking of the Ambassador cabs can still boost your heartbeat. One wonders whether there are roads in between potholes or potholes in roads, whether in Kathmandu or Kolkata. The electronic taxi meters have more showpiece value in both cities, as the cab drivers state their prices. Stopping a taxi in Kolkata might get you nostalgic when, like in Kathmandu, the drivers tell you where they want to go, rather than ask you where you want to go.
Another similarity we see is how customer convenience takes a back seat in public spaces. For instance, airports around the world place restaurants in between check-in and immigration or security. But at Kolkata's international airport, one reaches the entrance of the restaurant before even checking in, just like in Kathmandu's domestic airport.
However, people in Kolkata, unlike in Kathmandu, still value small money. While we have almost forgotten what one and two rupee coins actually look like, a single rupee still makes a difference in this Bengali city. If the taxi fare is Rs 22, that's what you'll pay. And here, you're doomed to be boxed inside ubiquitous Maruti taxis while in Kolkata, you can drive around in air-conditioned ones at a premium. Pricing strategies are very important in Kolkata as this is a city that recognises brands and demands value for its money. No wonder Kishore Biyani, the retail magnate, started with a low-priced Big Bazaar in Kolkata.
Kolkata is also positive about its development, as the real estate sector gains new momentum. ITC is not the only company to celebrate its centenary here; there are others who recognise the economic viability of the city. Culturally, the scene is changing as Bengali isn't just about Rabindranath Tagore. Television soaps are getting contemporary as is poetry. Today's poets don't just rail against the rich or romanticise, they are as likely to speak of the challenges of BPO workers and express the turmoil of live-in relationships.
A starting point for Kathmandu, if it is to learn from Kolkata, would be to start removing political graffiti from the streets. At least then people can start visualising a clean slate on which to plan for economic development rather than political rhetoric.