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18 November 2005

enough to fall into the hole

kolkata was not what i expected. i was prepared for a city overwhelmed with ultimate poverty and decay but this morning i discovered that kolkata was very similar to the other indian cities i'd visited... men washing and doing laundry on the streets, rickshaws and other other vehicles zooming through traffic, the usual complement of small shops. the most surprising thing was the number of travelers in the area... far more than i'd seen in bombay.

a few other notes:

. indian men apparently have extremely small bladders. it's very common to see a motorcycle or car pulled alongside the road and the driver urinating in a ditch. i can understand an emergency situation, but the prevalence of roadside urinations leads me to believe that men pull over at just the mildest calling of nature. in the cities, it's common to see men urinating in alleys, against buildings, or squatting by the curb. kolkata was the first city in which i saw outdoor urinals right on the sidewalk.

. motorcycle and scooter drivers in kolkata are more likely than drivers in other indian cities to wear either hardhat construction-style helmets or military-style helmets rather than the more protective full face standard motorcycle helmet (that is if they're wearing a helmet at all). i can't imagine the hardhat would provide any protection in the event of an accident.

. kolkata was the first indian city in which i saw human powered rickshaws.

i grabbed some food and started off on a walk to the victoria memorial. the walk through the maidan park was a welcome escape from the traffic and the masses of people. with the exception of a solicitation from a self-proclaimed 'businessman' selling hash and the 'finest chinese opium', the walk through the park was peaceful and free from hassles. i paid the entrance fee for the memorial museum and gardens and then wandered lazily around the beautiful marble building admiring the trees. i'm not sure if it's just my adjustment to life in india or the city itself but i felt very comfortable in kolkata.

inside the memorial, i explorered the various photos and paintings of the building during construction and took my time in the museum which included an extensive timeline history of the city. like most of the buildings in india, the interior could have done with a hearty washdown and a few fresh coats of paint, but overall i was impressed with the memorial.

the highlight of my day came immediately after i left. across the street from the entrance of the gardens, food and drink stands lined the sidewalk to target the memorial patrons. a young boy at one of the stands saw me eyeing the bottles at a neighboring stand and shouted out for me to come to his stand.

'one pepsi, please. how much?'

'20 rupees.'

bah. a coke of that size should cost around 12-15 rupees. he was obviously adding a tourist tax.

'20 rupees, eh? fine, i'll let you rip me off.'

he smiled and offered me a seat on the bench beside him. workers at the surrounding stands immediately took an interest in me and i ended up hanging for an hour talking to them. at one point, a boy approached balancing on his head a large wooden tray stacked high with bags of potato chips.

'chips?'

'no thank you, sir.'

'just 15 rupees.'

'no sir. no chips for me.'

'15 rupees.'

'15? i know those bags aren't worth 15 rupees.'

he smiled. '12 rupees.' he pointed out the price stamped on the bag.

'no. sorry. not hungry.'

he gave up with the sales pitch but decided to stick around to listen to the conversation i was having with the others.

'doesn't look like you're selling many of those,' i ventured a few minutes later. 'i bet i can help you out. can i give it a shot?'

he handed over the tray with a stunned look on his face and then couldn't control his laughter as i wandered down the sidewalk with the tray balanced precariously on my head shouting 'chips! only 25 rupees!' i got doubletakes and huge smiles from all of the men working along the street as i continued on followed by the grinning boy.

'go ask them,' he said and motioned towards an indian family who had just exited the gardens.

'chips? only 25 rupees.'

they smiled.

'how about 20? a little high, i realize, but we need to make a profit.'

i came down to the base price of 12 rupees, but they still weren't interested. in fact, no one was interested and i had to apologize to the boy as i handed back his tray. i walked away from the crew of street vendors feeling very happy about the experience.

i headed south on the opposite side of the park looking for a trash bin to throw away my pepsi bottle. during the search i walked by an interesting rectangular hole in the sidewalk. i peered down it and was surprised to see that the hole was about four meters deep, the bottom lined with trash and a few pipes. this was very typical of india, which seems to operate on the darwinian principle of survival of the fittest. no cones, no signs, no yellow tape. if you're stupid enough to fall into the hole and break your neck, you're not going to be around long enough to pass your stupid genes onto the next generation.

it was getting dark by the time i started back towards the hotel. i've been using my gps lately to track my wandering walks. although i don't have street maps for the asian cities, i've found the gps 'breadcrumb' trail markers very useful for backtracking to a familiar place. i found my way back to the hotel without a problem, passing one of the first horses i'd seen in india. i ate, spent some time on the internet, and then used the rest of the evening for writing.

posted by paul on Fri 18 Nov 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

comments

"Passing one of the first horses I'd seen in India, I ate"??? So it's come to that, has it? No wonder you got sick!!!!

posted by unknown stranger on Tue 13 Dec 2005 at 08:39:42 est (-05:00)

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