Monday, March 17, 2014

Morning in Calcutta; Afternoon in Avarice

After an afternoon bathed in colors, and a night wandering the colorful markets of Calcutta, I awkoke at 6am. I had to awaken the night watchman to open the locked door. He was not happy with me, and it is probably a good thing I don't speak Bengali.

I wandered over to the alley of chai stands, and sat on a bench sipping the milky gingery tea as I watched and listened. I always love cities in the morning, when they are naked and vulnerable—before they have had a chance to get their habits on. Stray dogs limped past and big black crows picked at the refure. A rat snuck out from the depths to greedily snag a heel of bread on the floor. I listened to the bouncy echo of Bengali off the dingy walls as men chatted up the morning. Delivery boys on bicycles with dozens of chickens ties upside to the handle bars rolled past, the chickens clucking every time they hit a bump. I chatted with an Italian woman about the joys of cities in the morning.

I broke my fast on an egg sandwich of an omelet with red onions, ginger and tomatoes wrapped around the spongy white bread.

I just sat in silence, taking in the Calcutta morning.

A tout named Baba sat next to me, and told me he spoke Japanese. Baba-san.

Honto? Majedae? (Really? Truly?)

He had never been to Japan but had learned a bit of it selling hash to the local Japanese tourists. We chatted for a bit. I told him of my work, and he asked if Baba-san had a job for him next time I return.

Inshallah, I said.

Wait, you are an American. Americans don't like Muslims.

We are not all the same.

No, truly you are not.

I wandered around the streets slowly waking. I stopped for a streetside coffee next to my guest house. I sipped the black coffee as the yellow MG taxis drove past.


On my way out, I picked up a chai and delivered it to the night-watchman who I had awoken. My penance. He took the chai, and grumbled something in Bengali. I will assume it was an absolution of my sin, and leave it at that.

Around mid-morning, I checked out of my guest hovel and into the lap of luxury.  I rolled my suitcase down past the touts and families sleeping on the streets and up the market-filled road, and entered a different world- one I feel strangely uncomfortable in.  I was greeted at the gates of the Grand Oberoi by namaste-ing guards and staff.  Security held my bag while I checked into the palace.

The crystal chandelier hung heavy in the lobby that was larger than the entire guest house I had been staying in.  I was given a glass of some sweet nectar as the deferential service checked in this big sahib.  The upper crust trapezed through the lobby as I sat trying to take it all in, and trying to check my feelings of being a phony.  Funny that I would feel more comfortable in my hovel with a bucket shower than the lap of luxury.  I shielded the eyes of Gandhi on my t-shirt so he wouldn't judge me.

And I was led past the pools and rich Euro-Sahibs and Upper Castes out sunning, and onto my luxurious room.  I was greeted with a tray of pears and flower petals sitting on water.  All I could do is laugh at the difference my world had taken.  

I drew a hot bath filled with honey and saffron soaps and darjeeling tea, and soaked away my guilt.

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