Friday, November 12, 2010

Calcutta. Day 3

No remembered dreams. I awake to the  TV on, blaring National Geoographic: Raging elephants killing innocent(?) people. Alrighty then.

I take a shower. And by shower I mean bending my body forward to a tap that runs cold water. I get dressed and pack my bag and depart. I check new Casio for the time...blankness stares back at me-fake Casio!

I walk down Freeuh Schooluh Street to grab a tea and map my  next move: where to stay...A man approaches me, dirty, missing teeth. His t-shirt reads: Beautiful Barbados.  He is with child.
"Didi,(sister in Hindi) where are you going? You should go to Sunflower Guest House. Very clean."

 I sip my scalding tea. I know he's about to ask me for money, and before he does, I remove ALL my eatables from my back pack -peanuts, peanut brittle, coconut, channa(chick peas), sesame cookies- handing him a cloth bag containing all the said snacks. He doesn't look that happy about it. But still thanks me. I move on. I find the guest house on Royd(uh) street.

The Sunflower Guest House is a1865 Solomon Mansions building. It's a dusty rose, and it's really tall, with the original 1940's elevator functional and awesome. (I couldn't help but think of 'Inception', that grate closing...) I take the Inception elevator to the garden roof top and inquire. A teenage boy takes me back to the elevator, down to the first floor, shows me a room. It's the size of a shoe box, there's no TV, but the ceiling is high and I could eat off the freshly tiled floor it's so sparkling! Yes. I'll take it. I drop my bag and go hunting for a bakery... 'Flurys' came highly recommended, and lucky me, it's just around the corner.

What a place, or should I say palace! Art deco heaven. Am I in Miami ? Hahah just kidding.. but still. All the waiters are old and gracious, wearing  chocolate milk shake coloured uniforms. I have the best espresso ever and a mushroom pattie. My cell rings. it's Agni. "let's meet up." Ok- cool beans! Him and a colleague walk in 15 minutes later and order a round cappuccinos. Fancy!

We drive to the Victorian Memorial. It's the White House meets the Taj Mahal. It's beautiful, but well, I don't really care so much... We drive on the suspended Hooghly bridge and THAT is fun! I take a  photo and a guard rushes over, snatches my camera and yells to Agni that it's illegal (?) and demands 200 rupees before begrudgingly handing over the camera.  Agni smiles as he places the camera in my hand. "Welcome to India!"  he chimes. Hmm ...  Where have I heard that line before?!

We eat at a small nondescript restaurant, and now I am noticing the difference in Bengalis as compared to Punjabis. They are darker in skin colour and have rounder features. They speak waaay more English mixed into their Bengali (no Hindi here). Somehow these characteristics, along with the English, comes to me as a little more approachable. Also, Bengalis stare less; I'm not being gawked at as much. Indeed, there are more beggars, more poverty; so in that sense I am attractive, but apart from that, I am anonymous. My initial feeling about this city is realizing itself.

The fish is DIVINE! Bengali food is sweeter; it has a coconut and poppy seed undercurrent, and is more delicate. The rice was by far one of the best I have ever eaten, and I've eaten a lot of rice. I do love spicy, ergo Punjabi cuisine is close to my heart. But in Punjab they favour chapati, and in Bengal rice. I am a rice girl through and through. We finish off the meal with a legendary Rasgulla: syrupy sponge balls. Splendid.

Agni takes me to the lake, where lovers come to gaze and whisper sweet nothings to each other, on a boat or lazing on benches. It's peaceful.

I want to visit Tagore's 1784 family mansion turned museum. He is India's greatest modern poet. I have read inspiring things about him since moving to India, and here's my chance to be close to greatness. The mansion/museum closes at 4. Let's go! Of course we get there at 3:50 and it's closed. Aw come on! I snap some shots. He accompanies me back to my part of the city to walk around Chowringee(uh) street. We say farewell. I buy a super purse, a couple scarves and a beer. I drink the beer and chill. I eat a kati roll, Bengal's trademark fast food. A grilled roti, fried on one side with an egg, filled with sliced onions, chili, lime juice and choice of meat or paneer. It is one of the most beautiful taste bud experiences EVER!!!! I buy another beer and another roll, this time Single Egg Chicken in lieu of the initial Single Egg Double Mutton. Mutton is an ugly word, but very very tasty indeed.

I walk, I observe, and not the other way 'round. How refreshing this is: the beer, the walk, and the being-left-alone. I'm getting a little sleepy; the king cans of Kingfisher and kati rolls sloshing about inside me.

I go back to my guest house, sit on the stoops and stare out. I finish my beer and go over  pictures on my dinky point-and-shoot camera. The ancient and ever-so-calm guest house owner joins me on the stoop. Silent. We share a moment, looking forward onto the street. We don't exchange polite or inane niceties. Simple silence. Together.
I like it here.

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