I have a trillion things planned for today. Technically I reserve sleeping in for days off, but Calcutta and her taxis and sights await. I plan to carry the snack (that was buried in my bag which I hadn't noticed) for Mr. Beautiful Barbados...
I decide today is the day to wear my new punjabi suit. I try it on. Ewww: it's a HORRIBLE fit! I didn't wear a (padded) bra the day I got measured, so it's MEGA tight in the chest area. Not comfortable at all. but I persist, in spite. I leave the guest house in search of the beggar to give him the forgotten snack before I have a Flurys coffee and start my day. He's no where to be found. I give the yummy treat to another beggar and cross the street to enter art deco heaven. I'm tempted by four delectable delicacies. Oh my god- I am so fucking uncomfortable... I take the rest of the pastries to go and return to my guesthouse to get out of this cursed Salwaar Kameez. On my way I see Mr. Beautiful Barbados. Upon seeing me he starts crying, telling me he really needs money to send his sickly child to the hospital, and flings a malaria stamped doctor's note at my face... Oh gosh. I don't know what to say. I give him the packed pastries, telling him I'm sorry but I have to go. He takes the hot pink box, sobbing. Next, he follows me yelling and catapults the box back at me, "You can! You can pay for my child's hospital treatment, but you don't want to, only! I don't want your food!".. oh my god my heart is crumbling like the cakes he's thrown at me. I race back to my room.
I sit on my bed and contemplate what to do. My chest is tight, figuratively and literally. I get changed. I am rife with guilty feelings. What should I do? Who the hell am I to give a god damn bourgeois pastry to a man that obviously needs medical assistance for his child? I leave my room.. feeling really down.
I go to the Indian museum. It's so full of cool stuff and beautiful artworks. A suspended skeleton of a whale, bottled insects, 200 year old smooth Ganesh stone statues, a mummy. Still, my mind is heavy with guilt. I think, 'ok if I see him again, then it's destiny, and I will give him some money'. This notion uplifts me, just a little.
There is this most peaceful drawing of a woman. I am mesmerized. I see a curly haired white boy with headphones and a sketch pad, drawing. he exists the space. I sprint after him, tap him on the shoulder. He removes his headphones. His eyes are big and tremendously blue. I ask him if he could please do me the favour of drawing me the artwork I've been admiring. He smiles and nods.
" Eet wooed be ma pleasuhre." Oh- he is French! He spends like 15 minutes on the drawing. I tell him to stop, he has given me too much time as it is.
I walk through Eliot Park on my way to the Birla Planetarium. A guard in the park points to my red and white bangles then points to my hair part." You make a beautiful bride". Head bob, still pointing to my hair. I don't understand. " Your bangles tell me your married, you are just missing the red line in you hair partition." Ooooh THAT'S what the red and white bangles signify!
He kindly walks me to the Planetarium. What a gentleman. I'm just in time for the star show. I am looking at a prime place in the dome shaped room. Two boys tell me "yeah- this is the best seat in the theater." I sit close to them. We start chatting. They are students in the hotel business, one is an aspiring chef, the other a hotel manager. Both boys are agreeable and sprightly. The slow moving night sky is impressive, but alas, we actually have the worst seats! Hahah. The woman introducing the sky has a lovely and thick accent and is very strict. "Silence!" she demands. "You should only be bringing your children if they can behave. Shut off your mobile! I said SHUT. OFF. YOUR MOBILE!" I like her....
I eat a veg patty outside the planetarium, finally hungry. I couldn't eat those tainted crumbled mini cakes this morning. The patty is dubious. I take two bites and throw out the rest.
Next is the Botanical garden. I find a cab and tell him where I need to go. I tell him I will go by the meter ( a lot of cabbies tell me their meter is broken to justify the inflated flat price). He says fine but add 10 rupees. I say fine- what's 10 rupees? He takes me to where where the world's largest Banyan resides. Once we reach I pay him what is owed. He spits orange stuff out of his mouth and tells me I owe more. "More more more" he says.. But. Oh god, I don't feel well. That patty isn't sitting well, at all. "Teekhai, here" and I give him more money, but he's not satisfied and starts to yell. Men and boys crowd the cab. This is disturbing. His glassy eyes (is he drunk?) and perpetual spitting, topped with the veg patty, is altogether unpleasant. I jump out and walk confidently to the garden gates, letting him yell behind me.
The walk and foliage do me good. Nature cures me of my previous malaise. The Giant Amazon Lily pads are Jurassic in their enormity. The 250 year old Banyan tree is wicked. It's reputed as being the world's largest, but the central trunk rotted away in the 1920's, leaving an intricate forest of mini Banyan trees, like a twisted intertwined aerial and rooted maze.
Next on the list is Mother Teresa's Mission. I have 40 minutes to get there. I decide to take a public bus. The bus rides through the Howrah neighbourhood, onto the Howrah bridge, built in WW11, a 705 m long architectural icon. It is one of the world's busiest bridges. This is a great ride. I have no clue where to get off, though, hahah. The bus boy gestures with his head that it's my stop. I then take a cab and explain where I am going and ask him if I will have time to reach. Head bob, head bob, head bob. Hmmm yes or no? He doesn't hassle me, puts the meter on and drives like a maniac. I get to Mother Teresa's house 10 minutes before closing time. I give the cabbie more than the meter states. "Thats what you get for not treating me like a bloody tourist" I say, handing him the sum. Head bob!
I wonder if the place will be closed.. it's not! I visit her tomb and the mini museum: displaying her sandals, journal, enamel dinner bowl. I walk up the stairs to a sermon taking place. I sit and pray. I think about Mr. Beautiful Barbados, and doing right by him.
As I exit the Mission a woman and her child approach me. She tells me I look like an old friend of hers, asks me where I am going. My immediate reaction is to be open, then to stay shut. I can't figure myself out sometimes, but I do believe somewhere, strangers are drawn to me, like moths to a light, like chinese food lovers to the smell of frying szechuwan peppercorns in peanut oil. I don't mean to come off pretentious when saying this, but I have a feeling some people can smell my perfume. 'Oh, I recognize that- it's 'OPEN' (aka as Naive), by Brandt-Rousseau'..... We walk together. She tells me her daughter has malaria. She shows me a malaria stamped doctors note. She hands me a metal pendant of Mother Teresa. I am touched. She tells me she is alone, homeless, jobless, doesn't have a rupee to her name, and that her husband left her. I must tell you, beloved reader, that both her and her daughter are looking very clean, very fit, and very well dressed; not destitute at all. "Can we go for a little stroll together?" she says. I head bob. We walk a bit and then I say I am turning here. Her eyes plead but her mouth doesn't. She says some people lie and some people don't and only the true good people can tell the difference. We part ways. I keep walking, a bit surprised that I didn't cave in.
"Didi! Remember me?' I turn my head to the summoning voice. It's Mr. Beautiful Barbados, sitting on a stoop, with a mickey of booze and a gigantic grin. No child. He waves to me with the mickey in his hand. I am LIVID! I stop in my tracks, go over to the stoop, and tell him I was worried all day about doing right by him! He head bobs, breathing alcohol all over my face, still grinning. "Ap kya se oh?" he asks me (how are you?) It's like what had happened this morning was a dream or something! UGH! I storm away. My appetite is back in full force now.
I stomp to Hot Kati Roll and order double egg double mutton. Bring it on. I get a beer. I am about to keep walking when I notice that a man has spotted me and stopped, pretending to tie his shoe laces, lurking around the beer stall. I retrace my steps and hang out with the beer vendor, wanting to be in bathed in halogen light. I drink my beer and glare at the dude. He gets it and walks away. This new B rocks!
Now I notice another stranger across the beer stall smoking, stealing glances in my direction. He looks preoccupied. He is chain smoking, checking his cell periodically, almost frantically. He comes over. "Hi, can I talk with you for a moment? I am having girl problems and I have a feeling you will give me sound advice."
" Uhhhhh, ok what's the matter?"
He tells me his dilemma and I am smitten by his romanticism and innocence. He is in love. He is jealous. He is insecure. He is 19, and he is adorable. I want to give him a big hug but I don't.
"Don't worry," I tell him, planting my hand on his shoulder, the only touching I allow myself to indulge in. "Just tell her you love her, and bake her a cake. You'll see."
We talk India, cultural norms and differences. We share views about love and trust for half an hour. It is very pleasant. I'm hungry. Again.
I walk to BBQ, a legendary chinese food restaurant. I order a killer chicken szechwan chow mein, write in my journal, and peruse my photos. I'm satisfied with today, feeling like I aged 10 years in maturity. I go back to Chandigarh tomorrow. Chandigarh hasn't touched me like Calcutta has. Calcutta beckoned me the moment I stepped foot here, that night with James, and it hasn't lost it's luster, in spite of any unpleasantness I have lived. I ask the charming Nepalese waiter to pack up the rest of my meal. As I leave the restaurant I hand the take-out to the old beggar on the corner. She smiles a toothless smile. Good thing she's having noodles for dinner!