Kolkata and Pune – Right and Left Brains of India

Every city in the world is a living organism, I think. The industrial ethos of Jamshedpur, the classical touch of tradition in Madras, the art and culture in Paris, the efficiency and precision of Japanese in Tokyo are all there for one to feel and experience. Even a casual visitor to these cities experiences how the dynamism is pulsating in these cities. Kolkata during the period of first half of twentieth century and Pune during that period are two cities that have always fascinated me.

It is no exaggeration to say that if India as a country were to have a brain and if there is a right lobe and the left lobe of it, the right lobe will be Kolkata and the left lobe will be Pune. It just so happens that geographically Kolkata is on the east side and that happens to be on the right and Pune is on the west side and that happens to be the left. But the coincidence does not stop there.

Consider the case of Kolkata. The influence of Brahmo samaj and Rabindra Nath Tagore made it into the cultural capital of India. Kolkata was home for eminent musicians like Amir Khan, Vilayat Khan, Ravi Shanker, Nandalal Bose and Nikhil Banerjee. It was not simply the Indian music that was filling the air in Kolkata, but even western music and western culture was also vibrant in that city. The poetry of Rabindra Nath Tagore brought glory to the cultural tradition of Kolkata. His genius was recognised not simply at the national level but was also acknowledged at the international level. He went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature!

Pune was sharp, analytical and incisive in logic. In fact, the phrase Puneri came to be recognised as those who are stronger with the left side of their brains. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Agarkar, Gokhale, Ranade produced an awakening of political thought. Even Maharishi Dhondo Keshav Karve created a unique establishment for education and empowerment of women – the first of its kind in India. The first woman who went to the US and got a degree in medicine was sent from Pune.

Indeed, the city of Pune became a seat of learning primarily because of this strong streak of logic and analysis. Many educational institutions with nationalistic fervour were established in Pune at that time. Research activities in history, anthropology, oriental studies and Vedic sciences were carried out at several centres of excellence established by eminent scholars at that time in Pune.

One should not divide the creative and analytical genius of cities like Kolkata and Pune.

Kolkata was equally strong in producing eminent scientists like J C Bose, Meghnad Saha and even C V Raman. Kolkata was equally strong in producing revolutionaries like Khudiram Bose at that time. The philosophical thoughts of Swami Vivekanand and Ramakrishna Paramhans led the renaissance of Hindu thought process.

On the other hand, Pune was equally strong in terms of theatre and music. Many well known musical operas were produced in Pune and the legendry Bal Gandharva led the new genre of Natya Sangeet music. The classical music movement was led by Kirana Gharana stalwarts like Sawai Gandharva and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Saheb. The art scene in Pune became active when Raja Ravi Verma came to a small town near Pune.

When you compare the cities, the discussion has to deal with snack specialities as well. Kolkata is famous for its Rosogolla and Pune is famous for its Misal Pav. One is sweet and the other one is sharp. It also reflects the right side as well as the left side of the brain! The same is true for sports. Even though cricket is the national sports, Kolkata is famous for its love of football and Pune is the birthplace of badminton. Schools and colleges go the same way. Kolkata is famous for its British legacy of education – Presidency College. Pune is famous for its nationalistic spirit of education. S P College and Fergusson College represent the legacy of famous students. Kolkata has the famous monument of Victoria Memorial and Pune has the historic Aga Khan Palace. Kolkata is a home of Eastern Command of Indian army and Pune is a home for a large fleet of air force. Kolkata has the natural beauty of the Hoogly river and Pune has the ring of Sahyadri mountains circling the city on one side.

What is the purpose of this comparison of cities? It is the people who shape the city. The nature of city depends on the nature of people. The nature of people shapes the psyche of the city and hence the character of the city as well. New York is famous for its immigrant’s culture and these immigrants have made the city as it stands today. The indomitable spirit of New Yorkers rose even after the debacle of World Trade Center. Similarly, the indomitable spirit of Punewallas rose afte the devastating floods of Panshet Dam collapse.

This spirit of people is what one cherishes in a society. When Government of India is announcing the “smart cities”, it is not clear as to what is the spirit of people of the cities selected. There are poor people, there are rich people, and there are middle class people in a city. But collectively, they represent a spirit, a culture that symbolises the smartness of a city. The physical infrastructure adds to the attractiveness but is not the whole. The spirit of Mother Teresa symbolises the city of Kolkata. The spirit of Maharshi Karve symbolises the spirit of Pune.

Today, when India is getting rapidly urbanised, it is important to understand that the spirit and ethos of a city needs to cultivate so as to ensure safety and prosperity of urban India. The thinkers and leaders of a city should consider this and keep the glorious traditions of Indian cities high in this era of “smart” craze.

Sanjay Dhande 1Sanjay Dhande is a former director at IIT Kanpur. He can be reached at sango.dhande@gmail.com. The views expressed here are personal. Sanjay Dhande will write every Thursday for Pune365.


Sanjay Dhande

Sanjay Dhande

Sanjay Dhande is a former director at IIT Kanpur. He can be reached at sango.dhande@gmail.com. The views expressed here are personal. Sanjay Dhande will write every Thursday for Pune365.
Sanjay Dhande