Calcutta, Kalkota?

Nicholas Quirke was reeling from the attack upon his senses Calcutta had battered him with on 7th March. The whole city seemed to be one glorious anarchic mess of colour, sound and smells and he was surprised by how energised the chaos made him feel. The day started slowly after their late night with Amrit going out to get a traditional breakfast of Dahl and kachuri bread giving him the opportunity to explore the environment he was in. It was a home he recognised from films like Salam Bombay, Slumdog Millionaire and he was looking forward to getting out into the city to see what other references he would identify. With DG accompanying them they set of for the Victoria memorial, a beautiful, extravagant evocation of the days of the Raj. He encountered his first experience of the fascination of the Indian with the white man as children stared and started to touch him. It was an attention he would receive all day with request for photos. Strangely the police were cagey about photographs and he was not able to take pictures inside though he and DG, a photographer, surreptitiously did some filming. They then visited the cathedral and on the walk Nicholas witnessed his first impression of the anarchy on the roads. With no pavement in sight they walked along the road as traffic roared past, cars with horns blaring, bicycles, autos, rickshaws, tuc- tucs and busses bursting with citizens all vying for dominance on the road. It looked and felt dangerous but it somehow seemed to work. After the calm of the cathedral they went for lunch at a traditional Bengali Restaurant where he ate his food with his hands. It was a lovely lunch of Curry, dhal and rice with a subtle blend of spices that made the food and eating experience delicious. They then visited, at his request, the Kali Temple which was also a first for Amrit. It was possibly one of the most bewildering situations he had been in since the Odyssey began as it was crowded, noisy, dirty and aromas that assaulted them from sweet and divine to the breath holding smell of shit. A guide got hold of them, made them remove their shoes and led them through the mess of people and children to sights where they threw flowers as offerings till they were individually taken to some kind of monk who daubed his head, tied string round his wrist and coaxed 500 rupees out of him. Amrit and DG were furious about it but Nicholas welcomed the sensations that entering the bizzare world of a Supposedly holy place offered him, though he was discombobulated by the discovery that his money was likely to go to the imminent slaughter of a goat. Kali is a god of chaos and it seemed a most appropriate event. They made their way to the museum which was a fascinating look at the archeological aspect of India. He loved the faded, distressed glamour of the building and its contents which echoed the colourful and neglected architecture of the City. They then entered the market streets of north Calcutta, which was again a chaotic and noisy walk, to get to and enjoy a ride to the Ganges on a battered old tram still in operation from the 60s. If he lived here he might be driven mad but there was an energy and fury to the city that really grabbed his attention. DG was to tired to continue the ride and left Nicholas and Amrit, who talked with passion about film and Indian culture as the journey to see the sunset on the the Ganges. Experiencing Ghat was a truly haunting sight, watching men and women solemnly perform their washing rituals as the red sun set over the waters of the river. It was time to return to the apartment and they stopped for some supper before getting home. Amrit showed him the short film he has just made and he was really impressed with the maturity of the subject matter and the mastery of the story telling. Nicholas was disappointed that his 2 days in Calcutta were reduced to 1 thanks to Chinese Eastern Airlines and he did not get to do everything he had planned, but Amrit had been a wonderful guide and it was a privilege for him to meet and get to know the sensitive, deeply thoughtful and talented young man he had been friends with on Facebook for 4 year. It was an early night as Nicholas had a flight to take in the morning and continue his brief travels through foreign lands.

 

 

 

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