Calcutta (renamed Kolkata), a city I’ve heard about my entire life, a city I never had any particular desire to visit, the city I find myself in now. Before I tell you about Kolkata, allow me to tell you about Buttmunch and I trying to get here.
17th of July
Buttmunch and I find ourselves at the train station around 8 to catch our train that is supposed to leave at 8:55am. We are tired and we are sad because we had to leave behind a crew of simply wonderful people that we had more than bonded with. Upon arriving at the train station we see that our train information is not displayed on the screen so we settle down in front of it figuring our info would eventually get posted. Upon arriving we are also harassed by the Tourist Police. Nope. Wait. Allow me to correct myself, BUTTMUNC H is assaulted by the police while I am ignored. I don’t think the police even looked at me once the entire time they bothered us. Bother us they did. “excuse me madam..which country you are from?” “madam…we are the tourist police…if you be need help, we here” “madam…do you need help?” “what if your name madam?” “what is your train madam?”. Buttmunch did her best to be polite and tell the helpful to the point of annoying police that we didn’t require their help. But these uniformed souls persisted and after a slew of more annoying questions (all directed at her…again…I might as well have been invisible) she finally gave them her name and showed them our ticket. They stared at it for about a good ten minutes only to tell us information we already knew. “your train leaves at 8:55” SO HELPFUL. Perhaps the one good thing that came from their desire to please the white skinned (who are clearly superior to the brown skins they themselves wore) was when they led us to the ac-ed waiting room. This, we did appreciate.
I have a few waiting room stories, I’ll try to keep them short:
1)The woman who literally picked up her chair and moved it to have it faced directly at us. Optimal view. Who needs HD?!
2) After about 15 mins, I went to see if our information was displayed on the board…it was not. I went to the enquire booth which took a bit of shoveling and elbowing to get myself to the hole in the glass where I could ask what was happening to our train. Delayed. No further information was bestowed upon me.
3) After a while longer, I asked Buttmunch if she would like to go ask for information regarding our train. I may sound bitter (and not at Buttmunch clearly) but I bluntly said “you’re white, you might get more help”. I hated that I had to say that and more than that, I hated that every bit of it is true. I hate that I’m a brown person here who gets ignored because I don’t wear the white of the race that people here bow down to….even if only to break into the very same pockets of those they kiss ass to. It angers me that when they see my skin and my Nepali nationality is confirmed I am no longer of interest or value to a lot of locals. I hate that it gets such a rise out of me…but it does. I am so lucky to be with a friend who too sees this and does more than her fair share to include me, to put me on a stand where she and I are equals…but despite the way she always says “we” or “our”, I am ignored. It’s a strange thing and I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t mind not being the center of attention and I’m content to stay on the sidelines…but…it’s the principle of it that drives me up the wall. I keep wondering, what if I was brown and wasn’t Nepali/Indian? What if I actually didn’t speak the language? What then?
I’m side tracking…but I have to write about this. We were at one particular meeting in Lucknow where a guy asked where we were from, and he went as far as to say to me “Oh, you’re not a guest here. India and Nepal are the same”. No. No. No you ignoramus buffoon. It’s not. Ugh. I’ll have to write another post on all the wonderfully racist things that have happened…but back to the train station…Buttmunch always returned with the same answer that the lady (most unhelpful lady btw..no idea how or WHY she of all people was given the post at “enquiry” to assist people) would give…. “Indefinite delay”
4) One of the times that Buttmuch went off in search of perhaps more than an “indefinite delay” a woman moved from across the room and seated herself right next to me. Uncomfortably close next to me. She leaned over and asked me where I was going in Hindi. Perhaps it was because I was tired. Perhaps it was because I was tired of people making assumption about me. Perhaps I just didn’t want to converse with strangers…I pretended not to speak the language. She repeated what she asked and I gave her a blank stare and in English said “I’m sorry…I don’t understand” hoping that I would be left alone. She sat there and after a few seconds, she leaned over me, hand on my knee to reach my wrist and look at the time. I was slightly baffled but there wasn’t much I could do. Hoping to be left along I stared into space and inched away from her. This didn’t mean that I was in the clear. After a while…she looks at me and busts out…in English “where are you”. It sounded more like a statement as opposed to a question…I kept my straight face on before saying “umm…Lucknow?…”…she looked at me again with the same level of confidence and shot me with another “where are you”… even if I hadn’t already known what she was asking me, I supposed I could have figured out she was trying to ask where I was headed. “Kolkotta” I said assuming that would be the end of that. BUT HARK…NO….the woman persists! She then, again in HINDI…a language she should have figured out I didn’t speak (even if I was feigning it)… asked if I lived there. Again, I put on a blank face, shrugged, half smiled “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”. She repeated the question…slower…in Hindi. I just shook my head. I was too far in the lie to change my mind and acknowledge that I did know what she was saying. Lucky for me…Buttmunch returned and I could go back to chattering in English. For the rest of our stay in the Ladies waiting room (the men had their own), the woman next to me didn’t try to talk to me…but it didn’t prevent her from inching her way right next to me. She got so close I even had to ask Buttmunch…TWICE…to push all of our stuff further down the bench so that strange lady who didn’t accept my ignorance of her language wouldn’t end up on my lap.
5) I like to think, for the most part, that I dress well. One of the times where I let my style slide (besides trotting around India doing research for three months) is when I’m traveling. Who cares about style…I vote comfort all the way. I thought this was a universal thing, but waiting for the train in Lucknow…Buttmunch and I noticed a most confusing thing. The women we were sharing the waiting room with were clearly on the departure end of their journey and without fail, almost every single one of them changed before leaving the waiting room and boarding their trains. I suppose changing into travel clothes is something that is normal…except that every single woman emerged from the bathroom wearing something far fancier than what they had previously been wearing. Buttmunch and I could see no logic in this. Sometimes I’ve visited the ladies room when arriving at my destination before stepping out to see my welcoming party but what about a train ride inspired more ruffles..more sparkles…neat hair…and..make up? We still don’t get it.
6) After four hours and countless “indefinite delays” later, Buttmunch and I called it quits and decided to leave the train station and voted on seeing what we could do about flying to Kolkota. Upon arriving back at our Homestay, we were OVER JOYED to see our lovelies again and thrilled about getting to hang out even if only for one more night. A quick internet search informed us that our train was delayed by sixteen hours. How that happens is beyond me…but…a friend of Buttmunch was kind enough to suggest that the delay was due to cows. Cows. This being India, I wouldn’t be surprised if his stab at humor ended up being correct. Thankfully Buttmunch and I managed to buy plane tickets to Kolkata. The plane ride was about an hour and a half….the train would have taken us 24 hours. Even after spending an extra night in Lucknow, we arrived in Kolkata EARLIER than we would have had we waited for our train.
The Plane Ride:
This story deserves an entire section of its own. The afternoon of the 18th, Buttmunch and I said our goodbyes again….which was torturous because having to leave the ones you’ve grown to love is never pleasant, but having to do it twice is insufferable. Somehow (perhaps saved only by the reassuring thought that I KNOW I’ll see them again)…we made it.
We arrived at the airport without incident and having made it through customs and security we found ourselves in the waiting room. Around the same time, Buttmunch and I acknowledged that we were both feeling unwell to the point we were convinced I was going to hurl and she was just managing to stay strong enough to let me sleep for a few minutes before boarding.
We got to our seats on the plane and both of us quickly managed to drop off to sleep which was blissful because …well…let’s face it, throwing up is undignified but doing it on a place into a pretty blue paper bag is 1) disgusting 2) humiliating.
Buttmunch took the window seat which left me in the middle between my dear friend and… Master Fatso. While I tried to avoid throwing up by means of sleep….Master Fatso decided that two sleeping girls next to him was most optimum for releasing some gas. The stench was foul…and it was painfully identically to the stink I was subjected to from my flight from Kathmandu to Delhi. The gaseous fumes were so bad in fact that is crept its way up my nose and into my brain, suffocating me out of my sleepy state and waking my unconscious mind to savor the delights of his bloated organs. Have no fear, Buttmunch and I managed to keep the barf down…and we, the opportunists that we are even wrote a song about his stink.
Even as I write this….Buttmunch and I are laughing about how bad his farts smelled. I suppose the situation is far more enjoyable when you’re the one letting the silent but deadly fumes into the confined space of a 30 rowed airplane. Next time, if there is gas in the air…I will not be the victim but instead, I vow to be the happy perpetrator because I will not have three flights in a row where I’ve had to smell the aftermath of someone’s poor decision on their last meal.
And now….after dragging on about waiting rooms, racism and gas….KOLKATA:
As soon as we exited the airport we got a prepaid taxi to take us to our hostel. While waiting for our taxi to come to us, the rain started and it was in the downpour that we threw our bags into the trunk and with our half wet clothes sticking to us that we climbed into the bright yellow ambassador…that had no idea where we were headed. A few phones calls and half Hindi half Bengali (which I don’t speak) conversations later, we managed to figure out our destination.
Kolkata, Buttmunch and I both noticed, is surprisingly green. From the plane we caught a misty view of the city which didn’t look much like a city but more like houses spread out between palm trees and sporadic spots of water making it look like a place built on top of a swamp. I wish I had a picture to show you because we both felt like we were landing in Hawaii (where I’ve never been) but our view from the plane didn’t suggest the stuffy streets of Kolkata.
Perhaps it’s all the horror stories I’ve heard about Kolkata but this is the city that I’ve been dreading the most. Of the thousand tips my mother gave me, 800 of them probably had to do with Calcutta. The brutal sun. The pervy men. The thieves. The scams. The Nepalis. The food. She warned me about everything. Stories my best friend told me of her being assaulted and somewhat molested on the streets did little to make me feel more comfortable about coming here, however, Calcutta surprises me.
The area that our hostel is located in is peaceful. The hostel itself is wonderfully clean (to the point where I accidently dropped my peeled mango on the floor…but decided that this place is so spotless that a quick rinse would prevent my mango from going to waste, and in truth…these mangos are WAY too delicious to throw away), the hostel is also incredibly strict and makes me feel like I’m back at a Christian institution where visiting hours are regulated and the gate is constantly locked. The gate that is opened each time I leave and immediately locked behind me gives me a sense of security meshed with opaque smog of fear over the necessity of such security measures. Besides that, Calcutta has proven to be an adventure.
Yesterday Buttmunch and I spent our day in vain trying to find an internet place…and then trying to find an internet place where the internet was actually working. Our adventures led us to finally deciding to purchase a broadband stick which has proven to be more convenient, but which also means we’re careful about our internet time. Getting the stick and finding lunch took the better part of our day but considering how AMAZING the fish here is…it was totally worth it.
Today we found ourselves making a long trip to speak with an organization to help with our research. Getting to our destination (named….SALT LAKE CITY!!) proved to be interesting seeing as we had no idea where we were going and the Calcutta metro isn’t available in that particular area. Buttmunch and I walked down the street and was able to find an auto that informed us that getting straight to Salt Lake City wasn’t going to happen, but that for 10rps each he’d take us to another place (with a name I forget) where we could find a connecting auto. We did that and from there for 20 rps each we got another commuter shared auto to get us to Salt Lake City. We wandered around Salt Lake City trying to find the correct address which proved to be a bit of a challenge seeing that I have this fear of speaking to perfect strangers (a fear I have to fight and win over every day Buttmunch and I head out) which is only made harder here since the primary language here is Bengali and not Hindi….I don’t speak Bengali.
Buttmunch and I found our address and it proved be amazing. This has been, without a doubt, the best and most informative meeting we’ve had. Over a few documents that were handed to us and in the course of an hour we were able to gather information that it had taken us WEEKS to compile in Lucknow. As Buttmunch puts it, we were “blissed out”, I couldn’t have put it better.
The strangest part of today was Salt Lake City itself. I imagine this was something like what Dorothy experienced when getting to Munchkinland…except that Buttmunch and I went from dirty Kolkata to Metropolis Center. The buildings near by all looked like something out of a tourist picture promoting Singapore with cafes and movie theaters. They were tall and reflected the sun, our meeting took place on the 18th floor (we took a mildly awkward ride in the elevator which ended up being THE VORTEX OF SILENCE). The building we were in had a huge Levi’s store, a Pizza Hut (where Buttmunch and I gorged ourselves afterwards) and the architecture made me feel like I was in a building that was half of a mall in Dubai (again, a place I’ve never been) or/and a museum/art gallery. Bizarre. It just all felt so weird.
The most FUN part of the day?! When trying to get back home, Buttmunch and I took a guess at the name of the place where we’d got our connecting auto…only to be taken to a completely different destination. After asking a lot of auto drivers questions, between their Bengli and Hindi and my Hindi and Nepali we managed to piece together useful information which led us to getting on Bus number 201, paying 12 rupees (for the BOTH OF US!!) and looking for the “pink building” that Buttmunch luckily recognized on our street that got us back to our hostel. All in all, Kolkota hasn’t been terrible.
The hardest part is how QUIET our hostel is. It claims to be a “youth” hostel but we have yet to see the more youthful side of people over the age of 45 seeing as we’ve only seen one other girl here who looks like she’s our age. We miss the range of characters we met in Delhi and Lucknow. We miss coming home and telling people about our adventures. We miss the people we’ve left behind and we miss the joys of dinner together over a big bright yellow table. It’s a good thing Buttmunch and I REALLY get along and enjoy each other but it’s a pity this city doesn’t seem like it’ll expand the list of people we’ll meet on our travels. I could be wrong, after all, we’ve only been here for a few days but I am glad that so far the worst thing that’s happened here is me walking into a huge rock..my little pinky toe on my right foot is now grey and hurts and I wouldn’t be surprised if it fell off. Oh well…if that’s the worst that’ll happen to us, I’ll deal with a missing toe nail.