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This report is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

Letter from Calcutta Ruth Morse
Calcutta owes its recent notoriety to the success of Mother Teresa's mission; certainly the visitor must be struck by the number of the city's poor. But the visitor is simply struck by number. No statistics can convey what it feels like to be among such crowds. This is the largest city of the Commonwealth. Ten million inhabitants is one guess - but guess it must remain, as every day thousands of people come to make their fortunes, or to escape doom in its man-made and natural forms. Bengalis will tell you that the city has been starved of resources by the central government, which is out to penalize West Bengal for its Marxist government. Internal immigrants and refugees swell the population, and it is hard to see how any government could cope. There are too many people.

The architecture of central Calcutta boasts some of the most beautiful, and best-preserved, stucco work of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 'Calcutta Baroque' recalls Haussmann's Paris rather than any comparable commonwealth city. Five- and six-storey façades are covered with decoration which is now no longer being regularly restored. Before Partition severed the city from its jute-growing hinterland, it was a major centre of trade, as well as the political heart of the subcontinent. The Victoria Memorial now houses the plethora of Imperial statuary which has been removed from plinths throughout the city. An Anglicized Taj, which combines minarets and classical dome, it has become a museum to the departed conquerors. Even ...

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