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I first visited Kolkata, better known as Calcutta, in 1982 as a backpacking law student. I stayed at a hostel in the Howrah slums and regretted that my camera could record only images, not the equally memorable stench.In my visits over the next 25 years, Kolkata — and much of India — seemed little changed. China, where the national bird was jokingly said to be the crane, would be transformed every year or two, while Kolkata was always the same: a decrepit city where barefoot men pulled rickshaws beside fetid canals.
That’s why India has been a bit of an embarrassment for those of us who believe in democracy, especially when compared with China. The Communist Party in China did a much better job fighting poverty than democratically elected Indian governments. India tolerated dissent, but it also tolerated inefficiency, disease and illiteracy.