We arrived here in Calcutta on Saturday morning, but not without some adventure or misadventure. We took an overnight train from Bodhgaya, and a group member had her purse stolen as she was sleeping. It’s freaky b/c she was sleeping on her purse, and someone reached in the window (on a moving train!) pushed her head out of the way and grabbed it. She was almost able to get it in time, but couldn’t. She had a lot of personal items in there, including a diary. So that was a bit of a sobering experience. She and I were both on the bottom seats of the sleeper car on the train and I barely slept all night because there were so many people congregating and staring at us and making noise. I kept drifting off to wake up to find people sitting on the edges of our seats. At one point I woke up to see someone walk down our aisle, looking official and with a paper in hand, so I thought it was a train worker, but now I think it was someone scoping out the scene as far as what they could steal.
Then we arrived at our hotel in Calcutta, and it’s been creepville! Some of the hotel workers themselves seem to be creeps, one followed a group member onto an elevator, others have been staring at us, trying to talk touch us, or just being general creepers. One room of two girls in our group had their door/lock rattled in the middle of the night. We are getting out of there as soon as possible – a few group members are scoping out places so we can secure a better place to stay. The whole area we are in is pretty much the same as the hotel, just creep central, and chaotic.
Tomorrow we have our orientation at the Mother Theresa Home for the Destitute, which should be a difficult but rewarding experience. I’m a little nervous about it, I have heard there will be seriously malnourished and dying children, which is going to be hard to witness, but also I think there is something to be said for witnessing that side of human life and suffering. I am sure it will be an emotional experience. We’ll be here in Calcutta and volunteering for a week and a half. We may also take a side trip to Diamond Harbor where the Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal, and to some wild wildlife preserves, where there are tigers and crocodiles and dolphins. I’m psyched for that.
As a city, Calcutta reminds me a lot of Delhi, the same kind of craziness, lots of beggars, lots of people just everywhere, and it feels like a lot are trying to rip us off. Where we are, Sudder Street, is sort of the backpackers district (comparable to Pahar Ganj where we were in Delhi), so full of people trying to get money or other things from us, and lots of staring. Haven’t seen nearly as many animals, or animal poo here, but it’s super crowded and the streets are nuts! And also the streets are really uneven and rocky and that can make navigation a challenge. I’m still in search of new shoes, and haven’t found anything quite yet, though a shoe salesmen kissed me on the cheek and tried to feel me up! The sketch/creep factor is through the roof here!
Last night, walking to dinner was an adventure. Some guy tried to feel the asses of the girls in our group (these people here are always trying to cop a feel, or undress and violate you with their eyes, and there are men EVERYWHERE, it is making us all a bit uncomfortable. Plus it was just sort of treacherous territory, very bumpy roads, mostly broken, with stuff all over the place. I actually held on to two people’s hands b/c it was so nuts and uneven and crazy. Plus we didn’t really know where we were going, and to cross the street we literally walked amidst oncoming traffic, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. There is something thrilling about it too though.
There is a part of me that sort of likes the chaos (not the creepiness, just the masses of people and the general insanity). We will be here in Calcutta for Holi which I have heard is just nuts. Storyteller, is there anything you can tell me about Holi that I should be aware of?
Some things left out from Bodhgaya – that was also a place just full of beggars. Especially near the restaurants. We’d be eating and have people come up and ask us for our food. The first night I had ordered samosas which were just too spicy for me to handle and this little boy kept asking for t hem, and I didn’t give it to him b/c I thought if I did they would just swarm our table. I was going to give it to him when we were done but by the time we finished eating, he was gone, and there was no one else around. I felt so horrible. I mean, I can understand not gibing money, b/c we’ve heard that a lot of it doesn’t even go to the people begging, but to a “master” instead, but food, esp food that I wasn’t going to finish, it seems to me sort of unforgivable not to share it, so I felt really, really horrible about it. Those samosas went to waste, and they could have fed this really skinny young kid. A lot of the kids and babies and women begging are soooo tiny. Anyway the next day, I did give some extra food, mostly fruit, to beggars, and someone in my group gave a whole bag of food.
There were also tons of dogs in Bodhgaya. At the monastary we were staying at, and the Root Institute where we had lectures, dogs would just wander around. The dogs too are very skinny for the most part. It is sad, I think a lot of the people and animals around here are pretty malnourished, and then to think about how much fucking food we waste in America, it’s pretty unconscionable. Oh, at the Root Institute, we also toured their free clinic, which was cool and sad to see. There were soooo many people waiting for medical care. A doctor took us around the clinic (which some of our tuition money for this India program goes to) and showed us everything. They mix allopathic and homeopathic medicine, and it’s almost all by donation if I understood correctly, and they do a lot of community outreach, with HIV/AIDS awareness programs, and they also go out into the surrounding areas and give medical care. I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but it seems they work with just massive amounts of people.
The bugs in Bodhgaya were insane, I am just covered in bites, which actually seem to be getting better here in Calcutta. I was convinced that the mosquitoes were actually attracted to my bug repellant.
It’s at a point in the journey that I do sort of really miss home. Not in the way I did in the very beginning, it’s just sort of a dull ache, I feel like I hit a fresh wave of adjustment, and some crankiness since arriving in Calcutta. It’s also really fucking hot here. But I am used to such cold summers at this point, that it’s probably not really all that hot. Actually I just checked it out and it’s in the upper 80s. I’m hoping it’ll get cooler as we travel to the mountains, and I’m sure my body will also adjust over time. It is hard to imagine what kind of weather is going on on Orcas right now. We have barely seen clouds since we got here.
So I guess that is the run down for now. I feel like there is more I should say, but I can’t think of what to say. Still reading “This Is Your Brain On Music” and loving it.
As for currently listening, there is someone in this cyber cafe playing a bunch of pop songs, like Enrique Iglesias, Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69,” and some boy bandish songs that I recognize but don’t really know. OMG they just started playing “Goodbye My Lover” by James Blunt, which I like, and now just switched it to “Quit Playing Games with my Heart” by the Backstreet Boys! It’s going to get stuck in my head!
If I could hear any album right now, I would pick…Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos, I think. I haven’t heard any Tori since I left, and one of the trip leaders brought up “Crucify,” which made me totally want to hear it.
Happy to hear you have reached Kolkatta. Sorry about the creeps. The mosquitoes often bother me too. We have a belief here that mosquitoes bother people with sweet blood.I recomend wearing Indian clothes like salwar kameez with large dupatta. It is not fool-proof but certainly useful in minimizing attention. I suggest you buy your shoes at a Bata Store. It is quite economical and the salespersons are quite professional.I have been planning to tell you about begging in India. Perhaps you have heard the word for monks in buddhism and hinduism, it is ‘bhikshu’ which means begger. Ancient learned men believed that the greatest form of renunciation comes when a man literally becomes a begger. To this day religious leaders of illustrious institutes beg everyday. We do not attach the taboo with begging or asking. There is no cultural inhibition against begging. Also the callous ecomomic condition and utter poverty adds to the problem. These among many other reasons is the cause of the rampant begging.Holi is an extraordinary festival. You will never see another like it anywhere on the planet. I suggest you wear expendable clothes,because, often the colour does not leave the clothes and you may have to throw them away, unless of course , you want to carry it as a souviner. I do not know if your skin is sensitive to chemicals. Most of the colours used in Holi are chemical dyes, so take care, and prevent any complications. By the way, organic and vegetable colours too are available and used by many.It is not too rare that people get high on Holi. It is customary to serve ‘bhang’ a opium based drink. So watch what you drink and keep an eye out for drunk troublemakers.I am afraid that the summer heat is only going to get worse. The indian summer is just getting started. YOu may have some relief in the North East though. India teaches many lessons to visitors and the summer is one of its cruelest.Bye.
Hey, thanks for all that info, that’s really helpful, all of it!