Friday, January 14, 2005

The God Father of Kolkata

I went over to the central reservations office in Kolkata to buy my train tickets and when I arrived I was greeted with about 60 Indians jockeying for 3 tellers with no discernable line-ups being formed. It looked crazy, but I figured I have to learn to do stuff the Indian way and get used to it. Just as I was about to enter the fray Hindol grabs my arm and takes me one room over where there are 3 tellers serving 3 foreign tourists. As a result it only took 5 mins to get my tickets, but I had to pay in foreign currency and show my CDN passport. Strange system - if you tried to implement that in Canada the locals would freak out.

My ticket from Kolkata to Mumbai (about 2000kms) cost $12USD 2nd class no AC. Since they were fully booked in that class from Mumbai to Goa (900kms) I took 2nd class with AC and the fare jumped to $30USD. To put the awesome value of the Kolkata - Mumbai ticket in perspective a day bed (shared room with 2 other people) in the Mumbai CST station costs $7USD.

After getting the ticket Hindol and I ran around town doing errands for his work for a couple hours. Once we were done we grabbed some lunch - delicious chicken curry w/ nann and some chicken kebabs. Lunch was a whopping $1.50USD each.

We has some time to kill before we had to be back at the office so I asked if we could go and have a beer - thinking it would be a nice way to spend an hour. Little did I know I was setting in motion a complex series of events! Hindol said okay, but I could tell something was amiss - he called Sundar on his cell and afterwards tells me Sundar will pick up some beer tonight and I will be able to drink it at his apt. I am not sure why the big deal, but I said okay and I tried to convey that I didn't really need a beer, but I don't think he got my message. When we get back to the office there is some major discussion about the beer and I again try and let them know I don't really need one and I would prefer to forget about it - no dice. Suddenly Sundar's boss Mr. Basu tells me he will take me to his gentleman's club for a beer. My protests are dismissed and we head over to the club. The club building is about a 5min walk and 10min bus ride away. It is 110 years old and looks to have been quite impressive in its day. It could probably hold 600-800 people for a dance or 500 for dinner. In the middle of the massive room is one table and four chairs with one overhead light on. The room and furniture are clean, but in a dingy way that can only be appreciated in person. The club is called the Rangers Club and is for male member only - except for special events when wives are allowed. Mr. Basu orders me a Kingfisher and has a whiskey and water. The beer is good and no one talks for the first 20 mins.

Mr. Basu then starts talking to me about Canada and my life. One of his business partners joins us and Mr. Basu translates everything I say into Bengali for him. They get excited when I them I am not married and I confirm I am not promised to any girl in Canada (they check this last point three times to be sure). He asks me if I would marry am Indian girl - what a loaded question. I say yes IF it was someone I was in love with and was interested in the same kind of lifestyle I was. I am pretty sure all he heard was yes as he had a very animated conversation with his business partner outlining my financial situation and who they could set me up with. Thankfully they dropped the subject for the moment.

He than asked me about where I would travel in India and gave me many tips and cautions. I pointed out that I have traveled a lot without incident and that I was an army officer so I would be fine. Mr. Basu looks at me very seriously and says "...your father is known to me and so I have a moral duty to him to look after you...what you do elsewhere is not my concern, but when you are in India I have you on my conscience..." He went on to say that I should call him at home if I have any troubles at all and no matter where I was in India he would..."...send a man..." to correct the situation and bring me back to Kolkata if necessary. With the dark room, single light, smoky air and 5 staff waiting on his every wish - the whole moment seemed like the Indian version of the God Father.

I have to say that although I have found the over protectiveness of everyone here stifling at times, I cannot fault their kindness. In fact I don't think I have ever been looked after so well any where.

Sundar showed up an hour later and we went home on the scooter - after a couple beers the ride was super fun.


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