Today is the last day in the big city. I think we have had enough. We have gotten a pretty good overview and the next layer is too big to master in a day or two. There are a few loose ends that need to be tied up.
First the heat. We know tropical heat. We have been to places that are hot. Here the sun is overhead and strong and the air is quite still and man it is hot. Debbie and I spent the entire day wet in sweat. We drank copious amounts and still didn’t pee all day. We both come back to hotel each night absolutely bagged. I think the daily temp is cool for the locals and no one seems to be complaining, but for us it is wearing.
Beggars. I can’t quite grasp the concept. If you actually gave money to each and everyone one who asked, either directly or implied, you would spend more than what you spend on food and lodging for the day. After reading the book ‘A Fine Balance’, and understanding that most of the disfigured people that are on the street begging were purposefully disfigured at a young age and work the street for a beggar ‘pimp’ I’m not sure if one should help out or not. Then there are the young women with a child in their arms or the lone kid asking for money indicating that they need something to eat. I do not know if it is true but understand that there is a living to be made by doing this. Frankly, I found both the women and the kids annoying and would not give them money just because of that. Last, I did not see anyone give any beggar money. We passed maybe 100 of them in the last 4 days and not one person, tourist or Indian, handed out a single rupee. For the truly destitute I do feel sorry, this would be a hard country to make a go of it, but it is impossible to tell the ones truly in need. In situations like this I admit I do lack compassion but after all the Buddhist training the past week you would think I should be somewhat more generous.
I have mentioned the ballet like flow of traffic on the streets of Kolkata, but a similar thing takes place on the sidewalk and with the pedestrians along the edge of the driving lanes. In Europe when walking along the streets the people have blank stares and walk undeviating along their line of travel. This is quite intimidating for North Americans and it takes a bit of time before we too can walk holding our line and not giving way to someone every 2 ft. In India the whole system flows. It is just like the traffic. When a hole opens up, a person is there to fill it. There is no intimidation, everybody shares the space. Every once in a while you might brush shoulders with someone but no offense is taken. It is very comfortable walking here and I think it comes from a understanding that by the mere use of the space you accept the fact that you are part of a social network and you must share the space.
If you are Coca Cola and you don’t want to devalue your product but you still want to gain market share in a country where the people cannot afford to pay top dollar for a pop, what do you do? The answer, put Coke in a bottle labeled ‘Thumbs Up’ and sell your product at a discounted price. I am leery of generic brands of cola because at home they are generally of inferior quality. I was at a restaurant here in India, and they did not have any Coke. The waiter said they did have Thumbs Up and assured me that it was very good. I was dying for caffeine so I gambled. It was amazingly good. I did not have my glasses on so I could not read the bottle’s label, but said to Debbie that I bet that this was just Coke with a different label. She picked up the bottle and read ‘bottled by the Coca Cola Company.’ Best generic cola I’ve ever had.
Last but not least, our hotel. What a great place. The Bodhi Tree, Boutique Guesthouse. It is in south Kolkata in Swiss Park. It is also an art gallery. The rooms are well appointed, clean and have loads of personality. It is really small, so you get to know the staff and other guests almost immediately. Off on a side street, it is quiet in a city of constant noise. The young man that is the manager, Santu Dutta, has been nothing but polite and helpful every time we have talked. The two fellows that seem to be in attendance 24/7 and do the breakfast have been most accommodating while trying to help out finding food that is within Debbie’s dietary repertoire. We have been lucky the last few trips we have made and found a couple of ‘funky’ places to stay. The Bondi Tree definitely qualifies as one of the ‘funky’ places. I don’t imagine that it is a place for everyone, and for those that utilize 5 star accommodation I would think they would be disappointed but I would not hesitate to recommend this place to stay.
Good bye Kolkata, on the whole I like you as a city. Your people have been most accommodating. Debbie and I spend most of our time off the beaten tourist trail and we got some very surprised ‘what are these white folks doing here’ looks, but every time one of those people stopped to talk, and it was often, we had a good jaw and learned a lot. The people were, to a person, polite and I think very happy that we would take the time to visit their city and talk to them about our country. We had fun.