Kolkata Part 2

India 2013

Thursday, Feb 28:

My wish for a good breakfast spot has been granted. Dennis finds a great place right around the corner from the Pushpak on Kyd St. (Dr. M Ishaque Rd.). Two gents there have an open-air sidewalk stove and a recipe for egg sandwiches like you wouldn’t believe.

Fine dining on Kyd. The chef is the man in the red checked shirt.

They do a great business. I have to wait a good fifteen minutes for my sandwich, but it is well worth it.

The bearded man in the white tee sous chefs for the breakfast king, making chai and coffee (instant, I’m afraid), and slicing and dicing.

Step 1: pour most of the magic egg batter in a hot buttered pan.
2: cut some thick bread in half, mop up the bowl with it, then 3: drop it in the pan.

Step 4: after the egg has cooked a couple of minutes, flip the whole thing over.
5: let the coated bread cook up like french toast. When it’s done, fold it all in half and Voila! Egg-cellent sandwich.

Just across the street, up about ten steep, narrow steps is an internet café. The proprietor’s name must be Bengali for Shorty, because the ceilings are maybe 5 feet. The beams are generously wrapped in rubbery foam, thank goodness, because it’s pretty well impossible not to bump your noggin.

That’s Bill squatting on low chair upstairs at the internet cafe.
He’s about 6’3” so ducking is a must.

This lovely man is the owner of the shop. He is seated. Notice the black rubber-padded beam about a foot above his head.

Almost as soon as I sit down to write some emails, I have to pee. I ask him if there’s a bathroom. “No, but go downstairs. You can use the one in my house.” He tells me to turn left at the bottom of the stairs, and his is the 2nd door on the left. “Just go in.” In the video below, you see me walk carefully down the steps, turn left and point the camera briefly into his house. Any more filming would be rude. By the way, notice also the incessant honk of the traffic.

His wife and daughter are inside cooking, and I feel pretty stupid being there, but she motions me with a smile toward the bathroom, and I go ahead on in and close the door. Upon exiting the bathroom, I notice another room where a young man is asleep. The wife, chopping veg, smiles again and I nod my thanks and take my leave. Such a degree of openness and trust is pretty astounding. In the West, we’re very concerned about our privacy and our safety, probably for good reason, but right now it seems a little out of balance. Same with the breakfast place. I’m sure it would never pass Canadian health standards, but again, our concern feels over the top and maybe there are more important things to be so fastidious about. I’m sure India’s fastidious quotient is out of whack too, in its own way, but in this case, if a guy’s gotta pee and you’ve got a bathroom, it seems obvious what’s the right thing to do. So, thank you, Shorti.

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Martin, the Kolkataussian Guide

That's kol-ka-TOSS-ee-yan, in case you're interested. It's an ancient Sanskrit term for an Aussie living in Kolkata. And if you believe that, you're the star in my new reality tv show, Gullible's Travels.

Some of our crew are off to see the (Queen) Victoria Memorial this morning, but I can’t seem to get excited about Victorian England at the moment. So Pam, Heather, Tamara and I arrange a walking tour through the streets of Kolkata with Kali Travel Home, run by Australian expat, Martin. He and a partner also offer Bengali cooking classes. They have been living here (returning to Australia for the absolute minimum time allowable under visa restrictions) for 20-ish years, so they really know the place like natives.

We begin our Martian tour by walking over to the subway and going north a few stops. I’m a little confused as to the exact details of where we went, but basically we get off the subway and enter the Barabazaar (also spelled Burrabazar, it literally means big bazaar) from Tiretta Bazaar. The market has both covered and non-covered sections and it stretches for a kilometer and a half north and west over to the river. It’s just north of BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Sq.) for those who want to look at a map. On our walk over to Tiretta Bazaar St., we get a pretty good sense of what Mother Theresa meant by “the poorest of the poor.” The folks living in these cardboard-walled and tarp-roofed huts are construction workers and their families, according to Martin. The city allows them to live there until the building is finished. They even put in plumbing, i.e. a waist-high spiggot on the sidewalk, for washing dishes, clothes and bodies, and in some cases, public toilets. But when the building is complete, it’s time to move on.

Soon we come to a series of markets within the Barabazaar: the furniture market is first, then the brick market, aluminum market (pots and utensils for commercial kitchens), then the fish market.

Women sorting wood blocks at the furniture market.

Bricks at the brick market, if you're in the market for bricks, so to speak.

On to the aluminum market...

...A fish vendor sits cross-legged atop his work counter.

You'd think this place would smell really bad, but somehow it doesn't.

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Next, our walk takes us to Old Chinatown. I never would have thought there'd be such a thing in Kolkata, but when you look at a map, China's really just a Nepal away. But an even bigger surprise is that they are Christian and came here over 200 years ago. Here is an interesting article which states they first came here in 1780 to work in sugar factories.

A door at Nam Soon church.

Students at recess at the school which is part of Nam Soon. They certainly don't look Chinese.

This woman (teacher? supervisor?) wasn't too interested in being photographed.

And now, continuing on through the Big Bazaar (which could be a pseudonym for India itself, I suppose), down Phears Lane.

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Clothing Market

Pam, Tamara, Heather and, bringing up the rear in a white baseball cap is our fabulous tour guide, Martin, of Kali Travel Home.

Tailors of Modern Taste.

This handsome clothing retailer was happy to smile for the camera.

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Fruit & Veg Market

This gentleman's face personifies the pride exuded by these wholesalers. Sitting cross-legged on your countertop seems to be a bit of a thing here.

Date, anyone?

A Fifth Avenue window dresser would be hard pressed to create something as beautiful as these pommegranets on straw and wooden crates.

This video starts in the outdoor wholesale fruit market. Then we go indoors to a more retail operation.

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Legumes & Spices

Following in the cross-legged countertop sitting footsteps of his forefathers, this young retailer is learning the legume ropes.

Here is some of Martin's dialog running under a series of stills of sack after bursting sack of chill peppers, nuts, beans, spices and lentils of every colour. You will hear him telling us about the economic development of this area. How, as the colony grew, people from many places came here - Jains, Jews from Mumbai, Chinese, some Sikhs, but mainly the Marwari, a Hindu trading caste from Rajastan.

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Comic Relief

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Mullik Ghat Flower Market

There seems to be a progression in the Big Bazaar. From cool to warm; from hard to soft and from barren to drippingly lush. Aluminum to wood to cloth to fruits and veggies to spices, and now the grand finale, flowers. We're all the way over by the Hoogly now, and after the flower market, we'll cross the Howrah Bridge and take a ferry home.

From Howrah Bridge, looking down into the flower market.

These buds are for you.

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Howrah Bridge

Carrying a bag of greens up to the bridge.

There is a movie shoot going on. Security is everywhere.

Dipping in the Hoogly/Ganga under the Howrah Bridge.

View of the bathers from the other side.

A riverside building.

Our ferry is on its way. We started out on the east side of the Hoogly, walked across the bridge to the west, and will now head southeast back the the Hotel Pushpak. Martin tells us that this river is a tidal river, meaning that at certain times of the day, it flows upstream. Bazaar. I mean, bizarre.

After our ferry ride, we are treated to a drive to the subway in an auto rickshaw that features built in stereo music. Couldn't have scored this scene better myself.

We're back in the hood by around 3:00, so I grab a little bite. MacDonald's is my favourite place to ban, next to Starbucks, but I just gotta try the Indian version. Here's the McAloo Tikka Burger, complete with plastic toy and all the swell packaging. Just like home.

Man with a can. Been a long day.

Kolkata scene: Parking can't get any tighter than this. A tailor works late in the background.

Relaxing back at the hotel:
Please put some headphones on and join me.

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Friday, March 1

Last day in Kolkata. Still feeling on the run-down side, so time for another low-key day. Just a couple blocks behind the hotel is the Indian Museum, on Chowringhee Road. It’s a little run down too, so it feels like a good match.

There are several rooms full of amazing sculptures here, from the 2nd Century B.C.E. to the 14th Century A.D. I love this one of Avalokiteshvara from the 11th Century.

And this three-foot Lotus Medallion with a border of birds from 2,200 years ago.

This fine looking couple is from the 1,100s. Permit me to introduce Uma and Mahesvara.

This almost translucent Buddha comes from Sarnath in the 5th Century.

The colonnaded courtyard area with its octagonal fountain is really quite beautiful from the second floor balcony.

An infinite gaggle of school kids have come to the Indian Museum.

Out for a walk on my last evening before heading north to Kalimpong, I pass the vinyl store "Vibrations" on Free School Street. This one catches my eye.

Sitar Goes Latin, 1969, features hits of the day like Desafinado, Perfidia and Besame Mucho. The sitar is played by Jayran Acharya, with arrangements by Enoch Daniels. When you look up the album, Daniels is listed as the artist. I guess Paul Simon isn’t the first Western musician to hire “ethnic” musicians and take the credit.

Next stop, Kalimpong, in northern West Bengal, in the Himalaya Mountains. And there's a very special family there we're all dying to meet. Who's excited?

Happy Reading!

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