Friday, 8 October 2010
Valerie Goes to India: Surviving the Streets of Kolkata
Whew. I've made it back to the States, and I'm now entering a prolonged period of decompression. I now have to adjust to yet another foreign environment (more like uncanny) while digesting the whirl of events that happened in the last four weeks. Therefore, the following entries, on India and on my last week in Thailand will be attempts to make sense of these crazy times.
(from the top left)
1. vs. 3: Respite from chaos vs. the Angry Taxi Cabs of Kolkata
As soon as we stepped out of the airport, we immediately encountered India's unapologetic in-your-face culture as taxi cab drivers fought over who would get our ticket. But we knew this place would hold so many unexpected things, so with a mai pen rai attitude that would make Thailand proud, we soldiered on to the city's noisy greetings. Kolkata is by far the noisiest (and noisome) city I've ever been to: the car horns of varying pitches, the bells of rickshaws, the screech of motorcycles, the zoom of auto rickshaws, the yelling of drivers, were among a sample of discordant noises of the city, reflecting the collective heartbeats of its dwellers aloud. Whenever Steph and I needed to retreat from the unruliness of the city, we would stay at our rustic guesthouse and ponder at the noises, sights and smells of the outside.
2. Visiting Mother Theresa's Mission House
Seeing Mother Theresa's tomb and humble quarters was a powerful experience. Walking through an exhibit highlighting her work really showed the intense suffering India's impoverished population. She spent her days in Kolkata working everyday in Kalighat, tending to the sick and dying. The images of the homeless, to the brink of starvation tugged an emotional ache within me that left an acrid taste in my long after I left the place. Her life was an incredible revelation of devotion to faith, prayer and boundless emotional stamina, even to the point of derangement.
4. Spicy India
My traveling buddy Steph and I will forever worship India's food. With the immense culinary vocabulary, it was hard to try and taste everything we could get a hold of, but what we did eat was just knock-your-socks off awesome. The diversity of spices was awakening, apart from the usual alarm of the chili pepper. From the streets rolls to kebabs, to dosas to kormas to thalis to naans and koftas, eating in India is a surefire highlight of our travels.
5. Colonial-era buildings
One cannot miss the once majestic structures of the colonial buildings peppering the street blocks of Kolkata. Inspiring thought and prose, the towering architectures left by the British are now decaying beneath the crushing weight of modernity and nature's ability to uproot the artifice of man. They are now plastered with soot and grime, and at times, whole trees will sprout out of destroyed cement blocks, seemingly clawing for the light of the sun.
6. The Kalighat Temple
This sole photo of the temple is courtesy of Steph, before we had to leave because a loony old man who started muttering incomprehensible gibberish would not leave us alone.
Never before have I been bullied into good fortune, blessing my family, and a lifetime of fertility until I visited this temple. Heeding the advice of a kind woman Steph and I met at the Victoria Memorial Park, we decided to satisfy our curiosities and visit this popular Hindu temple. We must have just caught it at a bad time, because from the moment Steph and I stepped in, we were ushered in by a fake brahmin priest that would not leave us alone and showed us the the important sites of the temple, without our willing consent. Overall, it was an intense experience seeing our independence run away, forced to make extravagant donations and forced to make homage to goddess Kali in a really vulgar manner (THROW THE PETAL INSIDE MADAM DOOR IS CLOSING!! THROW!). It didn't help that the temple was itself in a pretty shady area and you can only see the top dome because it was surrounded with a maze of bazaars and shops, where persistent touts dwell. It only occurred to me to think of the place in more compassionate terms upon discovering that this was the area where Mother Theresa did most of her work to help the poor.
Overall, spending a little bit of time in Kolkata was probably a good introduction to traveling in India. I am incredibly grateful for having a traveling buddy with an unflinching sense of optimism and the kind of humor that dispels anxieties aside. However unruly and wild, the city itself was also sympathetic to us novice travelers, bright eyed and silenced in awe of its wonderful anarchic chaos.
Posted by Valerie at 12:56