Published: October 31st 2006October 13th 2006
When i was young, i used to venture every now and again to papaw's garage.
It was a tall barn that had high ceilings and an office loft. I don't know
what sort of business he conducted there, but i remember it seeming very
exotic at my age. My little eyes would peer over the countless tools
sprawled about, and the mysterious leaks and oil pools on the ground. There
was a smell of sweaty metal, and everything in the garage, including his
hands, were covered in a black film.
Calcutta is kind of like that.
I wish i could explain how eerily dreamlike yet forcibly conscious this
place is. It feels like a living catacomb. The architecture is strikingly
colonial, but ghostlike. In jungle settings, buildings left from
civilization are eventually reclaimed by the earth, slowly being hidden by
vines and creeping tree roots. Here, it's as if the city is reclaimed by
itself......like it's a jungle unto its own. Instead of giving way to
foilage, the colonial structures here are crumbling under the oppressive
heat and the black sooty breath of too many vehicles. The buses, the street
signs, the buildings, all look as if they are
covered in the same dusty
grime that inhabited my grandfather's garage. It's so weird. Grandeur and
The sky is an unchanging color of bone. There is a permanent haze that
feels like an unwanted second skin. There is commerce and chaos, dignity
and death. Across from a street vendor selling wrist watches, lies a man on
his stomach. His arm is a shrivelled stump and he only raises his head to
moan. As i walk down the street, i am body checked by city dwellers who
bump into me as if i don't even exist. The buildings, as i said before, are
decadently colonial, but the taxis look of the Austin Powers age. The
inside of restaurants seem very 50s era, with heavy wood beams, brown and
orange chairs, and low smoky lights, (kinda like the original Brunos). Is
this Hotel California? Am i dead?
My room is in a very large building that feels more like an armory than a
hotel. By the time i climb the three flights of stairs, i am sweating
buckets. There is only one sheet on the bed covering the matress, and it
has a small blood stain. The
light is harsh and flourescent. The floor and
table are covered in a film that could be the residue from a coughing
chalkboard eraser. The bed is hard. The ceilings are tall. The bathroom
sink slants at a downward angle. The thermometer on my alarm clock reads 91
degrees---at night. Outside the shriek of carhorns is louder and more
persistent than anywhere i have ever been. The smog seeps through even a
third story window.
I'm trying to be more "present" these days, and the way to accomplish
this is to take deep breaths. How do i take deep breaths when there is no
suitable air to breathe? After only an hour olfactory abuse, saddistic
heat, body blows, and insufficient air supply, it feels literally, like the
life is being sucked out of me.
The ywca is a great place to stay except for one very very annoying thing:
What was otherwise a great day yesterday, turned into a hellish nightmare
of a night. I should provide some background info about this. My first
night staying there i heard some unusual noises. It sounded as if the
shutter of my window was
creaking. So, i turned around and faced the
shutter, and the noise seemed to stop. I slept that way, and didn't think
much of it.
Last night before bed i did about an hour of pranayama....and i don't
know if my energy was lifted or heightened, but things seemed to get pretty
creepy after that. I showered and came back to the room, and started to
read with my head to the window again. As soon as i started, that sound
came back. So, i switched again to face the window. I was unbothered for a
while until i turned off the lights, at which point, the noise resumed.
Slightly curious, i turned the lights back on and went around to all the
wooden and metal crevices of the room and moved them back and forth to try
to distinguish the sound's source. I couldn't find it. SO i kept the light
on and read some more......i read until my eyes were barely open. Just as i
started to doze off, the sound happened again. Startled, i went about again
checking for its source. It was too near to be coming from another room,
but too unique to
be from anything inside of it. Needless to say i was a
little freaked out, and simultaneously annoyed that it was keeping me from
sleep. By this time it was about 1 in the morning. So, to abate this
sound, i decided to put on my headphones. I turned them up really loud in
hopes of falling asleep to the familiarity of music. When i did that, the
sqeaking/creaking noise got very very loud, so loud i could hear it above my
headphones....and it was continuing in a repetitive manner. It was as if
whatever energy was in the room was pissed that i was trying to ignore it.
So now, i am severely freaked out. It's not that i felt in danger, but
it was this gut wrenching horror that something was in the room besides
myself or another human being. I once again turned on all the lights, made
a very hasty run to the potty, and came back to my room. I was half tempted
to engage the thing in converstation, ask what the hell it wanted from me,
but i was too scared that i would get a response....that a book would go
the room or something. I should also add that the ywca is
huge. In my little corner are two other rooms....both empty. Outside in
the hall is a staircase that goes to a darkened 3rd floor, and around the
bend the lovely open air veranda that i practiced my yoga.
WIthout access to a telephone (they lock up the place at 10), with
nobody to talk or run to, i was left alone and almost pissing my pants. I
decided to venture downstairs to see if the night watchmen was awake, or
anyone for that matter. bad idea. As i walked through the veranda, bats
were flying in the courtyard. The place was empty and completely
silent---which for calcutta is abnormal in itself. As i walked, i felt one
of the eeriest sensations i have ever felt in my entire life. It was like
my entire body had gone cold......like something had just stepped through
me. Every hair on my body was raised. I walked downstairs and sleeping
under a mesquito net was the night attendant....only i couldn't see him.
His entire body, including his head was covered in a white shroud. It
looked as though he was dead.
At the end of the hallway was a life sized
illuminated statue of jesus on the cross. i contemplated running to his
feet and crying for mercy, but even he looked foreboding......He just hung
there in a ghostlike and grotesque manner. In fact, all of the religious
paraphanelia in the place took on an ominous and foreboding air. The whole
place felt like it could've been the set for "The Shining." Even more
scared, i returned to my room. Knowing damn well that sleep was not to be
had, and that dawn was many long hours away, i proceeded to search violently
for my xanex. I knew it was the only chance i had at attempting to sleep.
As i waited for it to kick in, i slowly ate the peach danish i had bought
for the morning's breakfast, taking a mild comfort in the familiarity of
food. I was very sad when i finished it.
So the xanex worked, but um, a little too well. When i woke up, it was
11 and i was supposed to have been at the volunteer place at 7. SO not only
did i have the evening's phantom to contend with, i now had a sizeable chunk
of guilt for not showing up when i said i'd be there. I decided i would go
about trying to find another hotel room. As i walked out of mine, the
lights flickered and then the power cut. Neat. As soon as i walked outside
there was a huge crash of thunder, and it began to pour. I tucked into a
cafe and thought about what the hell to do.
Later today i ran into the teacher and told her the whole story.
(Because i'm SURE she really believed that the reason i didn't show up was
because i was spooked by a ghost.) But she was suprisingly sympathetic and
at least i didn't have the guilt hanging over me anymore. I never did find
another hotel, which means i'm back to the same room tonight. SHould be
Now, a lot of you out there are probably saying to yourself, "she's just
scared because she's alone. I'm sure it's mice or something or the other."
And i will not deny the possibility that all of this is in my head. But if
any of you have ever had any contact with the supernatural, then you will
understand the utter terror i felt when that "chill" came over my whole
body, when that noise grew louder and more repetitive. Also keep in mind
that this YWCA is over 150 years old. Who knows what stories have unfolded
in its walls. Anyway, i am not looking forward to tonight. I may drink
myself into a stupor to dull my senses before bed. I feel really bummed
about missing a day of volunteering and spending it eating inside as it
rained drearily outside. Please say some prayers for me that Mr. Indian
ghost will leave me alone tonight........i don't know why he's hastling me,
but i just want to go to sleep. Anyway, tomorrow is sunday so i am not
volunteering then either. Which means i have yet another FULL day to fill
in this stinkin' town. Hopefully i can occupy myself with thoughts that
don't involve the supernatural. Oh yeah, AND it was Friday the 13 as well.