Oh Calcutta!

On April 1, our 25-day heart-stirring in parts and disappointing in places Bengal trip came to an end. During the voyage:

I learned what it is like to travel by air. When those machine birds fly overhead, I don’t look up in awe and wonder any more. Now I look to them with a knowing smile.

I learned even though Delhi, my city of birth, holds the notorious distinction as the city of thugs, deception of gullible tourists by smart city agents is a universal phenomenon. Dear Kolkata is no exception to the rule. (The taxi driver who took us from the airport to my uncle’s house in south Calcutta drove us long enough to charge us nearly double the actual fare.)

I learned rude station officials make me lose patience faster than the quickest running train on the network.

I learnedthe exhilaration of train trips across Bengal’s countryside hasn’t worn down for me through all these years.

I learned even though the ethos created and nurtured by Rabindranath Tagore at the inception of Shantiniketan has eroded beyond measure, the place still reverberates with Tagore’s “echoing green” spirit. The chord that keeps pulling me back to it.

I learned that affable rickshaw-wallahs in Shantiniketan more than make up for the rude station officials of Kolkata. Anwar, our rickshaw-puller-cum-guide became a friend in three days.

I learned part of me hurts to be enjoying a journey through lush green fields tilled with the farmer’s labour and love when police firing kills villagers trying to hold on to their land. (The Nandigram firing incident happened on the day we reached Shantiniketan.)

I learned that looking wide-eyed at endless stretches of paddy fields across Bengal is an activity I will never tire of. While traveling through these landscapes I for once wished the journey would never end. I was in no hurry to arrive at the destination.

I learned that some of the tourist lodges run by the West Bengal government need major overhauling—both in infrastructure as well as in the management’s outlook.

I learned popular Indian pilgrimages can make for the worst of travel destinations. I am not pious enough to overlook lack of hygiene, obnoxious pandas (touts swarming religious places), and the histrionics of overzealous devotees.

While visiting the terracotta temples of Bishunupur, I learned in awe how sound architectural wonders were built in 17th century within the constraints of that time. It’s no surprise as to why these temples have held their ground not just architecturally, but also as exquisite works of art.

I learned the weaver creates a piece of fine Baluchari silk sari after painstaking days on the loom, but in the end earns just a small piece of the fat income his employer gets.

I learned Kolkata is truly a foodie’s paradise. If you love eating, make money in a place that has a higher per capita income. Then go spend your savings on food in Kolkata.

I learned Kolkata is in general a safe place for women, and I admired that. Sadly, I cannot say the same about the city in which I live.

I learned there’s not a single soul in Kolkata that’s not passionate about cricket. From vegetable vendors to book sellers in College Street and coffee drinkers at Coffee House, everyone was seen discussing detailed ramifications of the World Cup points table.

I learned no matter which city we live in or how different it is from other places, we are still the same everywhere. We are one in the final tally. And that’s all that counts.

I learned.


15 thoughts on “Oh Calcutta!

  1. One day I will get to your country. I had the chance in 2003, but thought I’d go later. This year seemed like an option … but it’s up in the air. I know I will love it!:)

  2. Frank, as a lifelong learner, I couldn’t agree with you more. :)Shameless, I know you will love my country. I can just tell. :)Cesar, thanks for constantly cheering me on the trip. It was a wonderful journey and will sustain the spirit for a long time to come. :)Jeff, you are right. The trip was indeed wonderful. I look forward to your coming to India. 🙂

  3. Dearest Bhas,Thanks for stopping by my way the other day.I know that Kolkata was famous for its cafe cultures a few decades ago. It’s the birthplace of artists and writers.Did you come across bookshops with rich literature & if so, did bookshops command a heritage of their own? 🙂

  4. Hey Sury.It sounds like you get more out of your travels than most people do, and I’m glad you shared it with us.Thanks for stopping by my blog. Things have been busy, but I try to keep it somewhat up to date. I am declaring this summer my novel writing vacation.

  5. Susan, you are welcome. It’s always a joy to visit you. :)You’ve aptly captured some of the book shops in Calcutta’s famous book neighbourhood, College Street. Indeed, some of these cramped book stores have a heritage of their own, along with a treasure of hard-to-find old books. Bernita, glad to be back and to hear from you. I have to visit your blog soon. :-)Abhay, I am happy to share what little I am capable of. I have learned a lot from your insightful posts, too. :)Hey Oni, novel writing vacation sounds neat! I am sure you will get a lot done. Go for it, and keep us posted. 🙂

  6. That’s an awful lot of learning you did on your travels!!I learned one thing from all my travels — as a general rule kids make for terrible travel mates. Ages 4-7 being the worst of the lot.:-)

  7. Your post brought back memories from a similar trip I took in 2004. It included WB train rides, Santiniketan, terracotta temples, Kolkata. But also a tea estate and Darjeeling further north. It was a learning experience in many great ways, just like yours.

  8. By God these taxi wallas of cal are big Chors..and not only that when i went there last time…suddenly the dumb supposed “policewala” wants a free ride in the cab and ..”a key baith gaya” with a sheepish smile..”Zara thoda agey tak”U did not goto KC DASS???

  9. Leonard, some day, I would love to learn of your travels!AA, that sounds both funny and scary! Didn't go to K C Dass, not a big sweet fan. 😛

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