I'll write whatever I want, dammit

Lunch in the 'Hood

I had the most wonderful experience today. I was invited to lunch at one of my new Bengali friends’ house. This is what I travel for, what interests me. I don’t care much for tourist spots in general, but here in Kolkata every tourist spot seems to have something to do with the british occupation of India, so what little interest I might have had wanes even more. I feel kind of bad that in spite of asking a couple of times, I can’t even remember his name - it is an obscure Bengali name that is hard to pronounce.

But what an exceptional honor to be invited to someone’s home, however humble it may be.

I just loaded all of my pictures from today, and unfortunately I was a pretty lame photographer, but I’ll show you some anyway.

They live way outside the city, probably 40 miles or so. He and his son ride the train to work and back every day, but the trains are so dangerous that they insisted we take a taxi for my sake. A friend of the family is a taxi driver, and he gladly took us there and back in exchange for my friend’s wife’s Biryani, which is somewhat legendary.

We left Kolkata proper and headed out:
People always seem to be going somewhere, even if there is no apparent place to go:
It took almost two hours to get there and we kept going into poorer and poorer neighborhoods:
And past a banana plantation:
Finally, we turned down an even more decrepit street, then a few more:
And we were there:
(Actually, this is a house down the street, but you get the idea, their house is actually a bit nicer, with solid walls...) Not much to look at from the outside, and extremely small on the inside, but they keep it very clean and are extremely proud of their home. There is one room, about 100 square feet, and a small anteroom that is used as a kitchen, washroom, whatever. They share a well and a pit toilet with six other households. He lives there with his wife, teenage son, and two daughters, about 8 and 11, I would guess. There is a table/bed/lounging space that they all share.

We had some Indian sweets, dates, raisins, and nuts with some homemade (family recipe) chai and beer. Then the main course arrived. It was incredibly good and they made me eat until I just about exploded. We ate with our hands in the traditional Indian way, and I was not very good at it, so they gave me a spoon.

I thought it would be rude to take many pictures, but I did get one with his son, the cab driver, and the main course:
All five of them sleep on that bed. I can’t imagine how one manages to get pregnant...

It is customary in Bengal that if there is a male guest, the women eat after the men, but if there is a female guest, the women eat first. The only time men and women eat together is if they are family members or it is some sort of feast, like a wedding. I did spend some time talking with his wife and daughters when we were through, and gave them a bunch of chocolate, which the girls went crazy over. I wanted a picture of the whole family, but his wife declined and I didn’t press the matter. Afterwards, she graciously thanked me for coming and said that I was welcome to come by any time I want.

After another two hour drive, we got back to the shop and they gave me some gifts, including two very expensive saris. I tried to decline, but they insisted.

What an incredible honor it was, a banner day. I feel very special right now. It is also inspiring to see people loving life and being healthy and cheerful and proud, even though they have practically nothing. Out of the three places I have visited in India, I find the Bengalis to be the kindest, warmest, and most cheerful and approachable. I would recommend a trip here to anyone, and if you find and go into the Curio Art Palace and mention my name, you just might get a home-cooked meal, too.


Now is the Time...

...to visit India - if you really want to save money.

Foreigners are fleeing the country in unprecedented numbers. There was a line at the hotel last night of at least 30 people checking out early. Almost like a riot at the check-in desk. The hotel is a ghost town (90% empty) and the local merchants are in serious trouble for lack of business. The airlines are reporting up to 80% cancellation rates for flights into India, and this is the tourist season. The government keeps finding unexploded bombs and weapons caches all over the place, and they also keep finding boats coming into Indian waters with angry young men and weapons on them. They are setting up anti-aircraft guns and military checkpoints everywhere around Mumbai and Delhi, and I expect that it will be a royal pain to get through airport security next week. Everyone here is concerned that “26/11” will be the start of “India’s 9/11”. I had to go through three checkpoints to go to work and five checkpoints to get back into the hotel today - and they were setting up additional checkpoints this evening. The threat of war with Pakistan and the fear of additional attacks on locals and foreigners is palpable. Zombie Lady isn’t helping matters much with her presence and rhetoric- if anything it is making things worse.

So if you want a luxury hotel experience really cheap, and some seriously cheap saris - and you don’t mind tanks and soldiers pointing AK-47s at you every 50 feet or so - this is the time to come to India. It really is a cool place.

Bargain Basement!!!! Check it out before it gets nuked. You only live once, after all...


Last night I had a dream. I was driving down a nicely paved road without mounds of trash everywhere. Everybody was staying in their lane, the sky was clear, and the air smelled nice - no stale urine at all! Nobody was defecating in public. None of the houses that I passed were made out of tarpaper and sticks and discarded smelly trash. Everybody looked like they had eaten SOMETHING in the last couple of weeks or so.

I stopped at a store and I wasn’t assaulted by hordes of hawkers and beggars and thieves. Then I got back into my car and drove on that nice clean road and got home and my beautiful girlfriend was there...

Then I woke up. Damn.

This could get ugly

You know it’s getting really serious when India is contemplating canceling their upcoming cricket tour of Pakistan.

India is blaming Pakistan for the recent events in Mumbai, and is considering some preemptive strikes against “terrorist havens”, although they are being very careful with their rhetoric. But they did just find another Pakistani fishing boat full of young men and weapons.

And looky here! The idiot and the zombie as peacemakers (!), invoking the “sovereign rights” of Pakistan and asking for “cooperation”. Apparently, we are the only ones allowed to attack them. We really must be the most wonderful country in the world to have such privilege. I feel so special.

And for those of you who can’t wait until late January when the Messiah takes his rightful position on the throne, don’t get too excited.

What a gaggle of hypocrites...

Nothing Too Exciting

This is one of my new acquaintances here who wants to start an import business with me:
We hung out in his shop last night and had a couple of beers with his brothers and a friend. That’s his son in the background. He and his partners have the finest pashminas and silks that I have seen in India (and I have seen quite a few since I have been here).

We all went out for dinner at a local joint that they eat at all of the time, but the tourists are scared of the place. The food was great and the local whiskey is pretty good too. I didn’t drink much at all, but before too long, I was super-drunk. They were kind enough to walk me home. His brother invited me to his house for dinner ( well, lunch, really) at his house, but I am pretty physically spent and apologetically declined. I had some work to do today anyway.

I went for a short walk to take some pics, but the vendors here are so obnoxious that I had to come back. I did take a few shots, nothing exciting...
This is my hotel with some slums across the street:
Crossing the street takes nerves of steel:
We start work tomorrow...
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