TONIGHT I'M GOING TO PUJA LIKE ITS 1999
29.09.2014 - 03.10.2014 -32 °C
Dubai certainly seemed a long 5 1/2 hours away after the aircraft touched down at Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, Kolkata, a full 67 years and and 45 days since Indian Independence. The airport had certainly been radically modernised recently and is a full 98% western standard (the odd loose toilet seat is inevitable). I remember when the cattle used to just roam around the check in desk munching as much excess baggage that they could find!
[I must clarify at this leg of the journey that I am half Indian and Sam 1/8th Indian. Between us we are a GSCE maths question. Sam was on a personal quest to trace her routes since her Great Grandmother was Indian and her Grandmother had coloured her imagination with countless stories of growing up in India].
The airport doors opened. After only a brief exposure to the dusty furnace which befell us, we were greeted by the largely silent but hugely welcome presence of reliable and loyal family driver Udai. He knows every cracked pavement, every rubbish strewn side street, alleyway and stray cow in Kolkata. His skill in navigating the carbon monoxide rivers of traffic is just as well. Drivers in Dubai can be aggressive, though compared to the relatively organised UAE traffic, India is Asian Mad Max Full Throttle. Within the litter strewn streets battle scarred private vehicles fight in the free for all with ramshackled buses, trams, rickshaws, mustard coloured Ambassador Cabs and of course cows.
After being serenaded by a chorus of horns, screeching brakes and yelling street vendors, we finally arrived at the sanctity of my Cousin Bunty's ground floor apartment. This is well kitted out pad. It had only recently been grappled from the rent dodging hands of 'legal squatters'. The tenant's tenure had coincided with the majority of the term of the recently ousted West Bengal State Communist party Government. 32 years of corrupt and impotent Government had been prevailed.
Sam was welcomed by family members: Uncle Tapan and Auntie Roma, Auntie Gori, cousin Rintu (plus husband Tapas and youngest daughter Pia), together with numerous maids, servants/home help and surrogate family members. Sadly missing was my Uncle Nilhu who died on New Years Day.
As part of Sam's quest we did get a reconnaissance trip to the historic and atmospherically overgrown Park Street Cemetery as Sam had an ancestor buried there. More of that later.
From honouring the dead to toasting the dead of night, we managed to get a night out at the night club Roxys, which is frequented by the young, the trendy and the wealthy (5 quid a drink). Kolkata is continuous assault to the senses, noise being the most prevalent. Loud dance music (or synthesized pneumatic drills to my ears) compounded the ear drum battering and will no doubt secure an appointment at the ENT Stepping Hill in 20 years time.
Back in the daylight, much sightseeing was prevented by the sheer level of traffic brought on by the holiday season. It was the colourful Durga Puga (festival). Durga is the multi-armed, tailor challenging god being worshiped this time in a riot of colour. Temporary temples and structures had been erected and adorned with flowers and ethergies of the gods. Everywhere in the city streets had been transformed. It is such an experience to witness an event in India, to see the culmination of days and planning and huge community spirit (across all backgrounds).
Part of the fun was just wandering around the packed streets. Sam appeared to be the only white westerner in sight and stuck out like a cue ball on a billiard table. After a few photo requests she was clearly basking in her new found celebrity status. The streets were however getting rather crowded and we were in need of a cup of tea. A cup of tea a few hundred miles away in the tranquility of the Darjeeling Hills.