By Tao Tao Holmes:
A year ago in Darjeeling, the local adventure hub’s paragliding license was taken away. You’d guess that a misfortunate flyer had become entangled in one of the town’s abundant webs of electrical wires, or perhaps landed amok among hunched-over harvesters on a tea estate. Yet, curiously enough, the revoked license was due to security, rather than safety reasons.
With the right updraft, a paraglider hopping off a ridge at the top of the quaint, if rather run-down tourist town of Darjeeling, perched up in the northernmost of northern India’s West Bengal, could find herself swirling up, up, and into neighboring Nepal. Just as easily, she could steer herself over the invisible air boundary between India and China –– a risky move that would have a gauntlet of frazzled security officials impatiently awaiting her descent to earth.
While the little town of Darjeeling may no longer boast some of the best paragliding views in the world, it still offers unsurpassed panoramas of the Himalayas. At least ten hotels crowd each of the town’s dilapidated and disheveled streets for those who’d like to set eyes upon Everest’s cronies, and if lucky, the Crown Jewel itself. However, beyond drinking endless cups of Darjeeling tea, visitors should expect little by way of evening excitement –– most restaurants close by eight or nine, while one or two establishments stay open until a fanatical ten o’clock.
A similar phenomenon exists across all of West Bengal, held under the strict and rather maternal reign of its first female Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. While not all restaurants, bars, and nightclubs go by Darjeeling’s early bird bedtime, the rest of West Bengal’s nighttime hotspots are completely barren of life by midnight. If they aren’t, they will be soon be hosting a different kind of party on their doorsteps: policemen.
Banerjee, named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2012, descended an iron fist on the region’s previously vibrant and pulsing nightlife this April. The late night curfew has hit particularly hard in her hometown of Kolkata, once the proud capital of India by way of both politics (1911) and parties (2011). Prior to the new ruling, establishments could remain open until two in the morning on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (until March 2010, the cut-off was four a.m. –– a bar brawl changed that). As it stands currently, last orders must be placed by 11:30 p.m. and the lobby cleared by the stroke of midnight.
The move was spurred by a rape incident back in February in Kolkata, occurring at gunpoint in a moving car at two a.m. Formed under the postulation that crime and late night clubbing go hand in hand, the government’s nightclub curfew has slashed business for bars, bands, and city cabs, which once flourished in the wee morning hours.
Kolkata, under these new directives, offers what I find a rather curious juxtaposition. Previously known for hosting the nation’s best nightlife, Kolkata is also infamous for being home to the largest red light district in all of Asia. Every evening beginning around six o’clock, Sonagachi, a beehive of narrow streets and alleyways in an unremarkable and seemingly residential quarter of Kolkata, buzzes to life, choked with male customers browsing the available human wares. Every evening, Kolkata witnesses hundreds, if not thousands of transactions that are hardly differentiable from rape –– particularly when many of Sonagachi’s prostitutes are victims of trafficking and intimidation, and every one of them a victim of circumstance.
And all this well before the clock strikes midnight.
Perhaps Mama(ta) Banerjee’s well-intentioned curfew is an effective clamp down on any wayward behavior from what she seems to consider her susceptible adolescent. I strongly abide by the adage that Mamas know best, but in this case, I must draw an exception. After all, the region’s capital city is 265 years older than its Mamata (or two millennia, depending how you look at it).
At the end of the day, it seems quite clear that Kolkata is no kid.
Tao Tao Holmes ’14 is in Branford College. Contact her at email@example.com.