Friday, 27 June 2014

A Daily Commute

From a combination of fatigue, laziness or hunger it has taken me more than three weeks to get around to writing anything. Last year, though far from prolific, I had a couple of blog posts and at least a few days written into my diary about my time in the big KK. Now, as my fourth weekend in the City of Contrasts rolls in, finishing school early, I have the opportunity to open a word processor and type.

I still maintain that to understand anything India has to offer it has to be seen, smelt, tasted and felt. Anything less than this will not do it justice. I firmly feel that a visual representation of any city is a very poor explanation of how it imparts its soul, and Kolkata is definitely a powerful example of this affect. What more can you expect from a city where four major languages exist and the weather is more fickle and changeable than even Ireland's, where we laugh about it hailing one moment only to be followed by blistering sun.

One could certainly be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by day to day life in Kolkata, but I have found that life here is like saidar, it is better to surrender to the mania and to guide from within it's turbulence, fighting with it will only burn you out prematurely...and god knows this city is tiring enough as it is.

My daily commute begins with a five minute walk down and well cared for street. Irregularly, minor diggings and road works occur on and otherwise well paved and tidy street. Sometimes even a traffic jam might happen on Ballygunge circular road, though the BMWs and Audis tend to dart around the lined up jeeps and yellow Ambassadors. On the next street over, Hazra road, we get an auto-rickshaw, or tuk-tuk, for anything between three and six minutes, depending on the drivers disposition towards The Blues Brothers-esque  driving stunts.  Ya just gotta be ok with the possibility that you might die. I've described the behaviour of traffic here like that of cyclists at home, everyone is out for themselves and to hell with the correct lane to be driving in. Traffic lights are only kind of adhered to.

A short walk around a corner and down a street lined with hot food and fruit stalls, facing newspapers being sold on the ground, we often buy a Kolkata famous chicken roll. Three feet away is a chai stall, and another few steps carries you to the underground metro station; a shockingly modern mode of transport for Kolkata. Given the difficulty transport normal presents in India, the metro is a miracle, though not without its problems. Though the metro is extremely efficient, punctual, tidy and regular, since we have been using it there have been two occasions where it has stopped running. The first time there were two suicides during the same run, during which the driver had to continue to the terminus anyway as there was nobody available to replace him. The metro was running again an hour later, little manages to stop movement in Kolkata. The second time the electricity to the power lines to the metro stopped, leaving the tram stopped in a tunnel and the passengers needing to be evacuated. I'm certainly hoping that these problems aren't regular occurrences but it seems that people throwing themselves in front of the metro is a common enough thing.

Leaving the metro station can prove to be a hazard too. Two days ago, when the monsoon came full force, I unwittingly stepped onto the moving escalator only to find myself in a scrum to get off the steps as they reached the end. The crowd that had accumulated at the exit the metro was ambivalent to the crushing affect it was having on people coming off the steps. It took ten minutes for people to realize the problem and turn off the escalator. During that time people had to mill their way off the steps or, in on case, hand their baby to someone at the top and try and run back down the moving stairs.

The one thing that strikes with India is that, although exceptionally polite and hospitable, everyone seems to be in a rush to help themselves. There is little excuse mes or allowing someone to go ahead of you, or slowing down your vehicle, or even reversing to alleviate a blockage you've created. After climbing the stairs out of the station, huffing and puffing, we round the corner and walk past a few stalls and men sitting at blankets with tools laid out for sale. Our second tuk-tuk of the day awaits us then, for which there is a scramble even when there is no rains. It takes about fifteen minutes of quick acceleration, even faster braking and shouting and joking. Narrow turns around an littered with fruit and veg stalls, with children climbing on a broken wall in the corner. One particular lady keeps her stall open even during all but the heaviest of the rains. The alley opens up onto a street, which in turn opens up into a wide road, only made narrower by more stalls. Rivers flow into the gulleys from taps and men and children sit by the curb washing. Our tuk-tuk speeds uphill towards our school and we pay 8 rupees each for the 10 minute journey. Across the road are a long line of shacks where rubbish is brought to be sorted and children roam in the nude, men with their bellys exposed and women with their faces covered, it is a Muslim community. Outside our little blue school a man sells coconut.

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