Sunday, March 02, 2008


After dinner, on the train and things are heating up. After the missus and I had pushed and heaved two heaving pack mules (also called suitcases) onto the train and set them under a berth we were catching our breath and thinking of something else to do, when we were infested by a group of large Bengali women. The fact that two non Bengali speaking people had penetrated into the depths of a Bengali train was more than their brain could accommodate and the fact that we were occupying the luggage space under the seat 36 and 37 while we had been allocated 35 and 38 an assault on their very senses. This travesty of justice was more than could be taken by any self respecting, peace loving, pan chewing, toothbrush mustache toting (this includes the women mind you) Bengali. The fact that putting our luggage under seats 35 and 38 would mean that we had to chain the entire aisle was not a sufficient deterrent. The women especially were appalled by these lax moral standards. What would the pinnacle of civilization come to if luggages (and foreigners) were not put in their proper place? So after hectic consultations (with a lot of furious finger pointing and mogu mishaiing in chaste Bong speak) two of the women pushed their men folk towards us and the men folk then putting on their best voice said "Excuse me could you move your luggage please".

The missus and I pointed out that it worked out to all the same, since they had more than ample space to accommodate their single bag. However that was not to be. While the men were happy to accommodate, the women decided that they were not going to let anybody walk over their husbands (except them of course), so rudely brushing them aside confronted us. The argument was short and sweet. How can you argue with the sublime piece of logic that they could not keep their bags anywhere else since it was not safe and they wanted it to be in the corner, or the other piece of improvised reasoning that they could only keep their bags under seat number 36 (such are the mental rigors required to elect a communist government term after term). Interestingly theirs was the only bag under the seat, after we moved our luggage once again. Shortly panic set in when they realized we had a chain and they did not. Two more large ladies were recruited into a furious session of hand waving, gesticulating and speaking to us in rapid Bengali (when mind you it was very evident we couldn't understand a word of it). Then in a move that surprised everyone present everybody else got off except one obnoxious Bengali lady and a man who hadn't been seen with her ever before (we can understand why). The lady who had objected in the first place had got off too. And then there was peace in the land of the Bongs. Two innocent bags were peeking out from under 33 and 34 while a single bag winked like a lonely star from under seat number 36 only to disappear early in the morning.

First time in Bongland

In the land of the gol gappa, red flags and large fat farting women. We are in kolkotta now and the difference is obvious from the minute you leave the airplane. All visitors to Kolkotta's domestic airport are greeted first by a large sign exhorting them to visit the ladies' toilet. If that isn't wierd then there is the sign observing that the bong administration is inbetween negotiating contracts for a new trolley service and apologising for the resulting inconvenience. The sign is however dated backwards by a couple of years which leads me to conclude that at a minimum it takes upwards of four years to negotiate a contract at Bongland. I wasn't too off the mark either. At various other transactions I performed later the general air was of someone doing you an absolute favour. From the prepaid taxi booth to the cab driver the air was of a people interrupted from some lofty pursuit into performing something almost trite. The cab driver seemed to be involved in some deep analysis of eighth century Bengali literary circles and his general attitute was that he was filling in for a friend. "Only for the time being", he seemed to be saying. "It's only a favour for a friend, while I am waiting for something better to happen".

The impression seemed to gather momentum as we left for the station in a rickety Ambassador which had seen the light of better days as the official cohort for 'Jyoti Basu'. When we got to the railway station we were mobbed by a group of porters who offered to carry our luggage for as little as twenty rupees into the station. The same in Delhi might have cost ten times as much. When we refused the porters gave up much too easily, perhaps leaving to perform their analysis of Neo-Marxian principles. Calcutta it seems is waiting for something better to happen.