Monday, January 10, 2005

Fortress Kolkata

Well I finally made it to Kolkata. Jet lag hasn't been much of a problem since I think I just ended up losing a day as I traveled. I am staying with my father for the moment in a small apartment he shares with a family of three. The apartment is only about 500 sq Ft and with two servants and a couple of guests it gets pretty crowded during the day. I have to say so far the lack of space and privacy have been the most difficult things to deal with on the trip and I am looking forward to traveling on my own.

I haven't seen very much of the city yet as everyone is being hyper protective of me. I am suffering from a big case of the " can't do that..." or " can't get there from here..." syndrome. Apparently India is way too dirty and dangerous for me!

I am actually staying in Howrah which is across the Hoogley river from Kolkata. I need to get to the Howrah Station to book my ticket on to Goa and take the train. So far all my attempts to get there have failed - apparently you can't take a rickshaw, taxi or bus there. You can take a local train, but no one will clue me in on how to get there since it is far too dangerous for me to use. I was thinking it is kind of like being in jail when I realized it was a jail! I wanted to go for a walk this morning while everyone was asleep and found out the doorway had a set of bars that was locked with a huge pad lock - too funny!

Anyway I solved the whole problem by letting my Dad know that I was packing a backpack and leaving on my own the next day one way or the other. So he agreed to take me to the station to get a ticket on Wed and I will leave on Thurs. Not exactly super speedy service, but apparently that's the way it goes in India and I am trying to compromise a bit. I can't wait to hit the beach and get some sun! I brought my travel hula hoop and I will take it to Goa. From watching the girls at moontribe and NYE - I have a lot to learn.

I am writing this from my Dad's friend's office. His name is Sundar Gopal Roy and he took me on a scooter ride across town to get here. I think it was the most dangerous thing I have done ever! I got some video of the ride which I hope conveys the total madness of Kolkata traffic.

The one good thing about house arrest is that I am getting time each day to do yoga. I have learnt to do it while a 3yr old kid is screaming in my ear and while a servant is mopping the floor around me. I was going to wait till I had some private time and open space, but then I realized that was never going to happen! I am reading BKS Iyengar's Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is a great book, but I feel a bit insufficient to the task. I will have to do yoga for a few life times to get anywhere. One good thing that has come from reading the book is that I have made the commitment to do some yoga everyday - come hell or high water. Even if it is only one posture or some breathing exercises.

I was asked what I wanted to eat the first day I was here and of course said chicken curry and aloo gobi. I was taken to the market that is literally next to the building I am staying and was allowed to pick out my chicken - which was killed and skinned in front of me. I thought it would be pretty gross, but they managed to make the whole thing fairly clean and elegant - well as elegant as snapping the neck of a chicken can be! Talk about fresh food.

I did have one bad experience so far. I was wandering around the market and two small girls came up to me begging for something - I assume money - I couldn't understand them. I had just been to the ATM and had a pocket full of $500RS notes - worth about $10US each. I kind of freaked out they looked pretty rough and I wanted to give them some money, but I didn't want to pull out a wad of $500RS' and I didn't have anything else on me. They kept saying the same thing over and over - which I didn't understand. I tried telling them in English I didn't have anything for them, but they just kept begging. It was heart breaking and I did the only thing I could think of - starting walking fast away from them. They tailed me for a block and then gave up. I feel like an asshole. What is $10USD to me really? On the other hand if I hand out $10USD to everyone who asks I will blow my budget in the first week. There is a quote I like that goes..." are, what you do, when it counts..." I am not sure what this incident says about me, but I don't think it is good. I am going to try and make sure I have some small bills and coins on me in the future.

On the way to Howrah from the airport I saw many people sleeping on the side of the road - some under a thin blanket and some with no coverings at all. It was about 12 deg C my first night here and I was cold as I only had a sheet and a super thin blanket. I was getting pretty cranky until I remembered the people sleeping on the road and I stopped my whining! Last night we had torrential rains for hours and hours. I couldn't help thinking of those people.

Trying to understand all this is very difficult. I have decided that accepting one's karma is much easier than understanding it. I am going to accept my life as best I can and not try to figure out India in one go.

One funny thing I noticed is that the local paper does not have a weather forecast for that day or the next day. Instead they tell you what the weather was the day bet they are correct 100% of the time.

Another funny thing is I was given a tour of my Dad's printing company by one of the few English speaking employees. He asked me at one point if I liked Canada - I said yes. He said he heard it was nice there, but that life was way too fast for him. This is super funny because although you can't get anything done in India quickly - life is crazy fast like a video game on speed - well at least when you leave your house.

I have had some peaceful Zen moments here though. While at the printing company I was in an office with my dad and his brother Sukumar. Nobody was talking or moving for like 30mins - we were all just spaced out. I was starting to suspect they had fallen asleep or this was some kind of CIA mind game. Finally I asked if we were going to be leaving soon and my father seemed surprised I was in such a rush.

Speaking of spaced out I have seen lot's of people taking naps at work. This one guy would put his head down on the desk and pass out every time no one spoke to him for 5mins. Apparently I am not the only one who needs a nap at work...=-)

Well I better jet as I am tying up the only computer in this small office. I am off to New Market to look around and do a bit of shopping. I am pretty stoked for my scooter ride back to the apartment tonight - I bet it will be more ridiculous than any acid trip.


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