Diamond in the Rough

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July 28th 2012
Published: July 29th 2012
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I should have come to Kolkata before I went to Bombay. I probably would have liked it more. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, for it has its own charms, but after the pulsating, multi-dimensional life of Bombay, I find it somewhat lackluster. Of course, Bombay is a tough act to follow, so it’s not Kolkata’s fault, per se. That being said, it does have a few particular nuisances that I’m taking some time adjusting to.

First and foremost, I’ve lost my anonymity. I’m not just any old person walking down the street – I’m a tourist, whose only purpose in the city is to buy things and amuse the men. I can’t step out anywhere without attracting attentions, catcalls and sales pitches. Men follow me down the street to ask me where I’m from. If I answer, they follow me around the whole day, grilling me with questions and lewd looks. If I don’t respond, they rush ahead, turn around and pass from the opposite direction, this time commenting on the horrible weather. And the weather is horrible. It makes people lethargic, irritated, and irritating.

Kolkata definitely tops my list my list as the most horrendously humid place I’ve ever been. There’s no relief – neither nightfall nor rainfall helps to cut the heat. All day long, I’m slick with sweat. There’s so much wetness in the air that I’ve had to redefine dry when taking in clothes off the line. Add to the suffocating humidity and the ceaseless hissing of men an incessant buzzing of mosquitoes and the unending honking of traffic and you have all of Kolkata’s most objectionable aspects. Other than that, it’s a rather lovely city, stretched out as it is along the east bank of the Hooghly River.

Like I said, Kolkata does have its charms. It’s where the Ganga meets the sea. It has scrumptious fish curries and sweets that’ll make your head spin. It’s a city full of poets who fashion themselves after the local Nobel-laureate, Rabidranath Tagore. It has the beautiful Bengali script and the largest secondhand book market in the world. It’s where Mother Teresa established the Missionaries of Charity and showed the world the meaning of compassionate love. It has policemen in white uniforms with funny white helmets and black patent-leather boots. It’s home to the word’s largest banyan tree, which spreads its prop roots out over an area of 1.5 hectares. It has vast expanses of green areas and horses housed under overpasses. It has hand-pulled rickshaws and transvestites that won’t take no for an answer. And what’s not to love about the world’s longest-serving democratically elected Communist government?

Plus, I have to give credit where credit is due. It was Kolkatans who finally convinced me to stay in India, and made it possible for me to do so, legally. After a short trip to Nepal to renew my tourist visa (and a large detour to Bombay to renew my love for city life), I’ll be making a base in Kolkata. Then, as soon as my work visa comes through, I’ll be earning a living doing something I never knew I always wanted to do – dancing with a professional company that tours throughout India and Asia. That’s right, I’ll be getting paid to dance, and to travel! Life is good, my friends. Life is very good. I want to say a very special thank you to all of those who got me here and kept me get here. Thank you!

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