Calcutta – City of light, City of magic

We awake in our opulent digs in The Kempton with expectations of the days adventures in the great city of Calcutta. My expectations laced with a bit of anxiety from my dread of and big cities and congestion. Bob seemed sunny and raring to get to the days adventures. So we sauntered down to the breakfast buffet.

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We fortify ourselves for the days adventure and order up a car and driver for our days travels and travails. As I was enjoying my repast I notice a herd of goats being shepherded down the tight alley next to the hotel. Where are these cute little beasties going on hoof in the near center of this giant of a city??? Bob and I talk it over and hope that we’re not near a local abattoir! But we can think of no other reason for a herd of goats in the city. I put our needlessly speculative musings from my mind and try to finish my meal. We gather our goods and off we go to see the city.

Our first stop will be the Queen Victoria Memorial. On the way I am shocked – shocked I tell you at the huge areas of green space! We now find out where the goats were going – they were going to work cutting the grass on the massive fields of grass which host all manner of local sport.

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Fields of goats and some horses. There were Calcutta Cowboys (no cows?) on horse back and many many young men and boys with long bamboo switches that were keeping the goats and other livestock from the roads and the fields that were hosting huge soccer games.

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Threading through the center of the green space was a line of the local trolley system. There isn’t any coincidence  if these trolleys look like they are from the 1930s. They probably are. Bob says that the many hulking ancient masses of metal loosely called buses started life in a British city. The English then rode them hard and when they were deemed completely worn out and without the necessary skeleton for a rebuild platform they were shipped to Africa. In Africa they were taped together and patch welded and put into service for as many years as they will stay on the road without the help of jersey barriers on each side of the road. Do the “buses” then go to the scrap yards of Nairobi??? Nope! They get sold to the public transportation system of Calcutta! The origins of the trolleys are probably similar.

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There are literally hundreds of acres of green space in the center of Calcutta! After this eye opening experience we arrive at the Queen Victoria Memorial and its adjoining acres of gardens adjacent to the city’s green space.

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There it is in all its obvious ostentation of a global empire’s potentate. I am in awe of the grandeur and obvious power of the British Empire. Even as it manifests itself in this attenuated time. I am accustomed to seeing the Queen’s picture in all the gov’t offices of  Canada and I cerebrally know the History of perhaps the worlds greatest global Empire, but seeing the pictures and so on in Canada doesn’t really drive the point home. But this does! (He said understatedly) Huge gardens with ponds and trees surrounding a huge domed structure rivaling the US Capital building! And you know what??? This is still a memorial to Queen Victoria housing a museum to her majesty.

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There she is in all her majesty. Flanked by the British lions.

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We pay our entrance fees and walk the grounds. Absolutely awe inspiring but even more so was my second favorite tree in India (hey this is a big deal for me!). So what could possibly top the majesty of Queen Victoria??? The worlds greatest mimosa tree! It was absolutely fabulous!

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There I am comparing my hefty trunk with a truly magnificent tree! Amazing. As you can see the parks and parklands are nearly deserted! I posit that this is a manifestation of a reverse condition to my aversion to bustle and congestion – people raised in the daily bustle of tight urban environs most surely must feel anxiety when confronted by this very minor dose of wilderness. The people seem to be like bees in a hive – they fly off on errands but always return asap to jostle shoulder to shoulder with their brethren for the comfort of normalcy. There is an obvious demarcation between the congested city and the parkland – cheek by jowl, shoulder to shoulder with beggars pulling at you dodging people here – cross the road **poof** nobody! Empty Parkland.

The next leg of our days adventures are the temples. We go to two temples – one a school as well and the other just a sacred place. Interesting and occupying real estate along the river. So I got to see boats and water plants in the river. I am not much impressed with temples – but here’s a cool picture from one of the temples.

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They apparently weren’t getting enough money from the faithful so they started collecting from the merely full.

We decide that after the morning we would adjourn to the hotel walk the area and locate a power plug for our electronic devices and locate one of the great restaurants of India for lunch and again sample the street life of this giant of a city.

We’re dropped at the hotel and the driver says he’ll hang out until we need him again for the after noon. We take off and “blend into the crowd” LOL yeah right – a fat old curmudgeon in a very stylish panama hat (looking like an overfed Hannibal Lechter) and a distinguished oddly English looking aristocrat. (What’s he doing with the ugly American???) We enjoy our walk and pause at a corner to get my obligatory shot of the amazing wiring here in India.

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Standing on the corner where this shot was taken I turned and there was the small ubiquitous Indian store front and they were specializing in electronics! Moving one step I asked Bob for his phone – pointed to the charging port and asked for a charger plug. The store owner swiveled in his seat and took it off the wall and handed it to me. I handed him the money and got the change. That is so indicative of transactions in India – there isn’t any real browsing seeing things that you didn’t know you needed. You must know what you need go to the little store front carrying that item and ask for it. The little store stalls are only about 10 to 12 feet wide on average and the inventory of the store goes way into the back of the store. We then went in search of the “Barbecue” for lunch. After several missed turns and me being chased down by a toddler street urchin beggar – boy she was fast! And she stuck to me like a burdock on a collie! I might be fat and old but I slid into a group of moslem clerics did a pivot and doubled back to Bob. – we walked up to a large teak door with a small Barbecue sign on it. LOL all the best places don’t have to advertise. Low and behold this was the place. We went up the stairs and were seated by the maitre’d. Sweet! We were hot and famished and the waiter provided the expected world class service. Our menus included King Fisher Premium Lager Beer!!! And Appetizers – prawn dumplings OMG! Yum! Ice cold Indian Kingfisher Premium Lager and prawn dumplings!!!!

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Observe the half lidded look of ecstasy on his countenance! This man said he is not a beer drinker! I shit you not! Show me a nonbeer drinker and I’ll place an ice cold bottle of Kingfisher in his hand and watch that moniker melt away!

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This was the first of several fine beers that met their demise at our table that day! Bob kept up pretty well too. I was a little surprised and subliminally thought that too many beers may not be good for the impending cold that Bob was sensing. I am not one to get in the way of mirth making so said nothing to put the brakes on it. After our sumptuous repast we wended our way back to the Hotel. This time via a direct route even though we’d had a few beers but I had mentally mapped the area by this time and was at home with this small area of Calcutta.

We boarded our car back at the Kempton and took off for the Mother Teresa clip shop and profit center compound downtown Calcutta. We are dropped at the door as there was a good crop of foreign sheep already there to be shorn. Our driver said he’d be back at the door in about an hour +/-. Bob rushed in after he saw a chalk board with the times for mass and communion inclusive of a tasty wafer thin cracker. We apparently made it just in time for the last shearing. As with all criminal establishments pictures were not allowed so I can’t present any here – Bob may have gotten a couple in his ecumenical zeal. He was so obviously ecstatic I couldn’t bear to tell him about the reports of the wafer’s being laced with low grade generic window pane LSD! I didn’t find it seemly to enter the inner sanctum so observed from out in the foyer. After several perfunctory banal and meaningless memes the priest was dispensing the LSD laced hosts….. omg Bob is in line!!!! Shit! Shit! Shit! LSD doesn’t mix well with beer (not that I have any first hand experience mind you……) He’s approaching the priest now…. next in line… will he be fed the LSD host or take it in his hand?…. he’s infront of the priest!….. Bob is the last in line….. Bob opens his mouth like a baby swallow and the priest dumps all the remains of the small pile of LSD hosts into……. BOB’S GAPING MAW!!!!!!! OMFG!!! I’m in for a long night – I wonder how fast he is with those long legs…. he has a few years on me but I still may not be able to keep up with him if he freaks and takes off….. But he’s tall…. I should be able to track him….. Yee Gads What the hell is going to happen. I get Bob back into our waiting car hoping I can get him locked in the room before the window pane kicks in. But Bob has other ideas – he wants to purchase a Lungi or Indian sarong. Holy shit this could be bad – I envision a nearly nude wild eyed hopped up Bob in a loud multicolored floral print Lungi disappearing into the hot Calcutta night. My only hope was that he might select some colors that were a little more appropriate for a man of his age and dignitas to be wearing on a drug induced tear in the evening! As grandma Marks would have said “For pity sake!” Woe is me what am I to do???? Now you all might be thinking – how selfish of you Jack to be thinking only of your predicament and not what’s happening to Bob. But you’ve obviously not been exposed to the force of nature Bob is when he has a couple beers! Its like getting onto a roller coaster and feeling the automated safety bar come down on your thighs. As Bette Davis said, “Fasten your safety belts we’re in for a bumpy night!”

Our fine a diligent driver takes us to the market and we find our way to the lungi sales booth and the salesmen shows us his wares and realizes that these are all a little short for this freakishly tall anglo and with fear in his eye from the impending storm he senses coming runs to find some longer lungis. We can’t have an LSD crazed anglo running around in a miniskirt – er- minilungi……. The clerk returns with the goods and I see that the window pane hasn’t yet kicked in and Bob makes a very well considered choice. (I won’t spoil it for next summers camp goers by giving much detail so you can all be amazed when he’s debuts in it) I help with the change and hustle Bob back to the car. We get back to the Kempton in quick order and I herd Bob to the room – thinking that the heavy teak doors should be proof against him – and I may be home free yet. I get him to the room with few raised eyebrows and reach into my back pack for the tranc gun – pffffft and he’s hit in the left cheek, the hypo injects before he claws for it, and falls nicely onto the bed – left cheek up! Woooo close one! It was just up to me to get a few extra sheets from the staff and securely tie the somnabulent potential urban myth to the bed and get some much needed shut eye – tomorrow is a travel day after all……

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4 thoughts on “Calcutta – City of light, City of magic

  1. Hysterical, Jack – even when I am the butt of the humor. Read the last half of it with a shit-kicking grin on my face, with a few outbursts of laughter. You wrote of me going off the rails, and then proceeded to do that yourself in your storytelling. I know that you were battling the flu at about the time you wrote this entry, and figured that you wrote it in a fevered state – sort of like Samuel Taylor Coleridge writing the poem Kubla Khan when he was ill and somewhat delirious. I shudder to think what you are going with our somewhat traumatic trip up to Sikkim, which should be next in the line up.

  2. I hasten to add another reply. In my first reply, I referred to myself as “the butt of the humor.” Afterward, I realized that that expression is not very accurate. It is not that I am being made fun of (thought I am certainly capable of filling that role). It is more that you were using me as a contrast, and I realized that the term “foil” would be more appropriate. The classic example that is given for “foil” is Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster, who are foils for each other. I guess since you are creating the blog entries, you must be Dr. Frankenstein and me the Monster. Now that I think more about it, maybe I would prefer just to be the butt of your humor.

  3. Brilliant. Just great storytelling. I have never before, and no doubt will never again, read a single piece of writing that includez the wordz abattoir, potentate, ecumenical, and LSD. The language and the writing quality alone is a joy to read—say nothing of the content itself. My only complaint: Where is the next entry on the impending travel day?. . .

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