Traveler's Calcutta Notes - no special order

 

1. Founded by British trader of English East India Company, Job Charnock, along the Hooghly River in 1690; served as British rule's capital in India until 1911.

2. Dhoti is a wrap around, usually white worn by males in India... almost like a sarong but no ropes... just a piece of cloth. Dhoti is traditional Bengali and South Indian, whereas kurat or punjabi is pyjamas,   traditional shirt top of North Indians; I wore this type shirt for Star TV interview.

3. Saree (saris, plural) - traditional woman's dress, wrapped around waist in specific way and draped over shoulder; need petticoat and blouse to complete the attire

4. With 3., 14 bracelets on each forearm, the outer ones are gold and the inner 12 transparent glass ones.

5. Literacy rate - around 33%

6. Traffic in getting increasingly worse. Right now people's frustrations and life of danger is at boiling point. During my stay 3 buses were burnt and along with taxi drivers that hit pedestrians, were beaten.

7. So many pot holes in streets and sidewalks. There are woman and men digging and recementing here and there but it looks like a losing cause doing it so primitively and haphazardly.

8. Had a bowl of seafood noodle soup in the Asian restaurant of a 5-star hotel. At $23 it was the most expensive bowl of soup I ever had. Maybe it was somebody else's bill....

9. 1% of federal spending goes to education and of than 1% towards elementary education. More than half of the children do not attend school.

10. Private school is so important here to land a good job.

11. There is an overabundance of advanced degree holders here and many are not very strong in their field.

12. dogs are strays here, many with bald spots from disease and malnutrition; most reminded me of sheep as they look up to me cowardly and nonthreateningly, seemingly weakened by perpetual bouts of empty stomachs.

13. The crows own the skies here, although there are abudandt pigeons and occasional vultures, they say circle the dying street dweller. Sometimes I read there are gangs of jackals. Some dying on the streets, too weakened to move, offer easy bites by the rat infested slum areas that they fall victim to.

14. there's a Chinatown in Calcutta; very intense street smells

15. Digital show at Oxford Bookstore and Gallery was covered by Z TV, Star TV, Bengali TV, the , Economic Times and Telegraph newspapers, and the most read national India Today magazine weekly.

16. Went to be interviewed on taped and got to see a Muslim worshipper kneeled and facing Mecca at noon.

17. CalTiger 3rd ISP of Calcutta. They're approaching 3,000 subscribers after existing for a few months. It was exciting to visit their new building in the tech subsidized area of Calcutta and meet the young female CEO from Bombay.

18. Calcutta started by British in 1670 for use in world trading network, attracted by deep water port accessing Sea of Bengal

19. Beautiful but deteriorating Victorian, Gothic, Edwardian and Art Deco colonial mansions and stately buildings, now neglected and blackened by the pollution of the city, plaster chipping here and there, street level space chopped into vendor size stalls fronts for today's street people's market.  The road conditions are in need of massive repair and congestion is everywhere; infrastructure has not kept up with the explosive growing population, now around 12 million people

20. Monsoon can bring on epidemics such as dysentery and cholera. Bacterial and viruses from human waste is swept up from overflowing sewer systems, entering eventually into the drinking water of inadequate antiquated sewer systems of this city of over 300 years of overcongested human activity.

21. That middle forehead spot on women - it's Hindu; a red one indicates the person is married; a black for single women. Variations are available now, with no special altered meaning; it's just fashionable options.

22. Indians are second only to Americans in the consumption of alcohol; on Indian Air everybody gets 2 small bottles of Scotch with their meal

23. There are so many different races and ethnic groups with each their own languages. Some include Aryans, Bengalis, Mongolians, Caucasians; caste system somewhat broken down but it still exists according to sources; parents still play major role in selection of mates of their children; boys preferred over girls.

24. The taxi drivers are maniacs but are adaptive to the madness of overall traffic congestion and situation; somehow they are so skilled for the chances they take very minute on the job; they risk their lives for the pay they make and the chances they take to get through traffic jams, the norm for driving conditions. They must literally run for their lives should they ever hit a pedestrian.

26. Many Indian foods includes a layer made of starch, corn or something like that of a Mexican burrito or taco. Spicy seasoning and curry is also a staple of Indian meals, as well as brown beans in gravy and yellow curried steamed rice.

27. Disposable cameras are not available on Park Street. Shops don't take traveler's checks. Money orders or cashier checks don't work. Go with wiring money if necessary.

28. The Victoria Memorial is quite an architectural wonder. However it is in need of restoration work inside the domes as paint is peeling from the ceilings. Lighting should also be installed to assist with negotiating up and down those narrow, castle-like staircases, two thirds totally in the dark and away from the inner handrail. The whole structure seems to be made with white marble. There includes colored stainglass windows high up in the twin domes. Interestingly almost all visitors were Indian and not tourists like myself. Today it is a museum of statues and relics of the colonial past.

29. Indian Air - riders leave their seat to get overhead baggage and line up to exit upon touch down of the landing gears. You get 2 free small bottles of Scotch whiskey with your meals.

30. Cauliflower sellers along road side sell a full head of such at around 2-5 rupees. There is also banana, bamboo and plumeria flowers in the country side.

31. At the wedding the guest give the bridge and groom flower garlands.

32. The taxis are old; yellow and black or black and green. Taxi drivers don't talk at all during the rides but presume you are in some super rush.  Rides are bumpy and provide unexpected illusions of impending collisions throughout the ride to one's destination. There is always debate of total fare at end of rides even as there is an agreed upon rate for destinations at the beginning of the trip.

33. India television consists of many stations. Many soaps, MTV like song and dance routines combining pop music and beat with traditional Hindu dress and music. They are all gorgeous, lip syncing lyrics of popular contemporary songs. They also get CNN and CNBC with Indian and Asian markets the feature for financial stations. Lots of talk shows in languages I cannot understand.

34. Many line the street to sleep at night, including entire families. All looked blackened by the exhaust of the daily traffic, skin as well as rags and clothes.

35. A Sikh guest argued in a tongue I couldn't understand for around 10 minutes with the hotel receptionist. Later she said this was about the staff bringing him an egg as part of his breakfast when they should have known he was a vegetarian.

36. Never buy Indian leather shoes with ankle backing. It will eat up the back of your heel alive. Buy instead more comfortable sandals for the same price.

37. December 14 till January 14 not good time to wed as stars not aligned properly. Hindus therefore have busy wedding season before and after this yearly lapse in business.

38. Top Internet server is a government monopoly, VSNL, which stands for Hindi acronyms

39. Bengal villages are fertile, OK life; starving villages in the state of Orissa

40. Saturday Club still in operation, was one of the British's finest social club; includes large indoor ball room floor with surround balcony, Victorian architecture; library, men's bar, 6 clay tennis courts, expansive green lawn with many tables with chairs for picnic like dining.

41. Sign- "No Parking Parallel to KERB", affront to  Victoria Memorial museum

42.Southern Indian cuisine includes Dhaniya Dosa which makes Corrainder. The ingredients include rice, curry, potatoes, curry leaves, tomatoes, spices and stuffing. Comes with coconut sauce and lentil soup.

43. North of Calcutta is the high elevation city of Darjeeling from which Priti comes from. World famous for its tea.

44. Places encountered - Bengal Chambers hotel, Oxford Bookstore and Gallery, the Park Hotel- restaurants and disco, the Taj Bengal Hotel disco, the Queen Victorian Memorial, the American Center, the Saturday Club, New Market people's mart, the Mitas, Bhagats and Allay family homes, the art studios of 2 artists, dining in Chinese and Indian restaurants and passing by temples and the zoo.

45. No Christmas lights line main street here as most are not Christian. But I don't think such gay lights would be appropriate with the same streets providing sleeping surfaces for the homeless in great numbers.

46. Don't ask for restrooms here, but instead ask for "Toilet."

47. No such thing as driving in a "lane" here; crossovers to avoid huge potholes, pedestrians, buses, rickshaws, oncoming honking opposing traffic; basically only major international city's transit system controlled manually by traffic cops (where are they when you need them) instead of traffic lights. At stops or congested blockages, taxis turn off their ignition and lights; when access available again, instant simultaneous rumble of startups with immediate honking to get others moving in front of you, even before space opens up

48. Dust, dust, dust, that's Calcutta. Heavy pollution for inadequate infrastructure overwhelmed by out of control population explosion. Deteriorating Victorian structures abound, kids playing by not being in school and hordes of humanity cast together in mutual existence on the congested sidewalks and streets make for a scene buzzing with activity and leads to sensual overload . Don't try to relax in Calcutta. Just try to make it to your destination.

49. Their English to Western ears is rapid fire like the tempo of their Indian languages and the words are slurred instead of articulated. To not be a conscientious active listener means you will say "What did you say?" many times.

50. Cricket seems to be the favorite sport, has Eden Gardens stadium that holds 100,000 spectators.

51. Kali is famous Hindu god of wrath; some still make sacrifices but not human ones anymore

52. Passed Loretto convent where Mother Teresa resided until she went off to form her own order, the Missionaries of Charity dedicated to serving the poor, sick, and dying

53. Major religious structures - Nakhoda Masjid, Islamic shrine; St. Paul's Cathedral, Catholic; Kali and other Hindu temples

54. Eden Gardens, a huge botanical garden with pond and a pagoda dismantled and brought from Burma in 1854

55. Best time to visit the city, weatherwise - October through March; thereafter I am told it's very hot and humid and monsoon season (including floods and mosquitoes)

50. Calcutta is struggling with the population demands like the rest of the nation of a billion people. Evidently here isn't enough money to support this huge population and maintain the infrastructure of the city such as transit system, police effectiveness of making the streets safer, upgrading the aged sewer system, cleaning up the water and providing a minimal standard of living for all its inhabitants. But the city definitely is teeming with the life of activity and challenges for a better existence. An intelligentsia of writers, artists, political scientists and other professionals find their niches in the stratified social circles that provide something for everybody in this grand city founded centuries ago by the British, their second largest city of long ago. Indeed, I found old Calcutta everything I imagined that it could be before embarking and finding myself within.  It is a hustle and bustle pollution choked city where much of its energy and vibrancy is found in the streets. This is definitely not the place to come to escape the stresses, noise and conflicts of a huge city. But it is alive with activity and there is a sense of Calcuttan pride and loyalty among its citizens that impresses me.  I asked one young woman, "Do you ever think of living someplace else?" and her reply was "No, this is my home and it is all I know."

I plan to return to Calcutta. The pace of progress has been slow for decades but I sense an explosion of change on the new Millennium horizon.  It's a melting pot as well as a pressure cooker and something has just got to happen.

Calcutta in a Week