Walking around Kolkata is not the hassle I anticipated. Infact, people didn’t bother me at all. Yes, on touristic Sudder street, you will get women tailing you asking, ‘Maam, henna tattoo? I do nice tattoo for you!’ I simply reply, ‘I don’t like henna!’ They cannot argue with that. Other people come to you begging but it was not as intense as I had imagined.
One thing I learnt pretty fast in India is, not to smile and keep my head down. It feels unnatural to operate like this, but a smile is a big fat invitation for unwelcome conversations and to be honest, Indians are not big into smiling at every passer by so they do not consider it rude.
The pavements are good and the air less polluted compared to Mumbai or Delhi. There are green parks and lakes, but the sun was too strong to walk around much during the day. November – February would be the optimum time for park life.
The roads are lined with smart blue and white painted iron railings which adds a cheerful back drop to the vibrant yellow taxi’s and coordinated buses.
The street life amazed me. So much to see! Cooking, hair cutting, washing, shaving, teeth brushing, peeing, pooping, ironing, washing and drying clothes, sleeping, playing cards, playing cricket, praying to gods in tiny temples. The list is endless. It really made me think about this from an emotional level.
In our culture we live in detached houses, with fences to keep people out, we employ people to wash our clothes, clean our homes, look after our children. We decline invitations when we don’t feel up to it. We feel ashamed to ask for help. We have become so supremely self sufficient that we have forgotten or lost the ability to think our fellows will help us, because we are all so busy.
On the streets of Kolkata, people cannot hide, physically or emotionally. If they are upset or in a bad mood, everyone knows about it. There is constant communion with their environment whereas we are becoming increasingly dependent on virtual communities.
Kolkata reminded me of a by-gone era. Vintage store fronts, public transport with human rick shaws, butcher shops with raw meat hanging in the heat, Singa sewing machines mending clothes, goats tied outside houses. I was staggered at the human strength still used to pull carts or carry bricks. Indians have a high level for discomfort compared to our mollycoddled society.
I was having sleepless nights because my mattress was so uncomfortable so I decided to change Guesthouse. I kept thinking about the story, The Princess & The Pea. I must be a Princess after all! I should have kissed that frog in Ashiyana, maybe that was my Prince and I would not be travelling alone anymore!
Alas, my reality is still happily solo wondering around, enjoying talking to strangers, soaking it all in. I took regular refuge from the intense heat and humidity in air conditioned Café Coffee Day (India’s Starbucks,) Wasabi and Quest Mall where I could eat the most delicious Kulfi ice creams, watch an American movie and window shop in Gucci.
I am a confusing mix of many things and a mollycoddled westerner is definitely a major ingredient!
“Our world’s problems can be overcome when we don’t lock our door to the outside world” Pope Francis
The Chic Seeker Recommends:
Bodhi Tree – gorgeous Guest House run by very lovely people
Wabi Sabi – concept store and restaurant with a delicious menu
Mystic Yoga – several locations around the city
Raj Spanish Café – volunteer hangout, legendary pizza
The Lindsay – roof top bar for evening drinks
Nizams – 50p for delicious Kati Roll, featured on TV show ‘Rick Stein’s India’
Café Coffee Day – I’m addicted