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Rough Guide To Calcutta

Can’t be arsed with further abuse for being an honorary Aussie from the Eden Garden crowd, so move to explore central Calcutta instead. Learn that in general, it’s not that clean, as evidenced by the fact that if you wander around there for a bit and then blow your nose, your snot is black, the council literally shovels dirt off the street and that the Maidan, which is the largest city park in the world looks more like a rubbish tip and grazing pasture for sheep, goats and cows. The grim irony are the no smoking signs around the place. Even the high-rises around the place are in a state of disrepair. It’s not the people that are the problem, it’s the vehicles.

All museums are shut today, so it’s follow the guidebook time. The planetarium has shows alternately in English, Hindi and Bengali. Looks like Calcutta crows are pro-Empire. Every statue of an Indian leader or yogi has a crow on it. Those of the English monarchy at the Victoria memorial are remarkably bird free. Past the zoo to the Indian national library. Want the complete works of Shakespeare in twenty India dialects? Here’s where you get them. Library canteen modelled on boys home dining room in Oliver Twist. Expect Mr Bumble to appear at any time and blast the skin off some humble library lackey. The five star hotel in Calcutta is just round the corner. Doormen replaced with guards with guns and slightly less friendly demeanour. Wonder who’s staying there at the moment?

Try to find the old British colonial centre at Fort William. Guidebook neglects to mention the two US-size freeways to cross and the copy of the Severn bridge crossing the Hugli river which splits the East and West centres of the city. River and its bridges likes the Thames in London but on a bigger scale (of course) and with more boat carcasses run aground on sandbanks amidst the fast-flowing water. More people have their daily bath-cum-urinations in it too. Fort William now army school so no access allowed but the lodge does have a radio tuned to the cricket which tells me Australia are still at bat. Walking up toward Eden Gardens, the roar from the stadium gives away the fact that their last wicket has just fallen. Strangely, there are no touts outside.

Walk north of the Maidan into the commercial area of the city. Stalls are two deep on both sides of the street. The word ’throng’ must have been coined here. Only places of calm are the little graveyard where the founder of Calcutta (Job Charnock) is buried and the site of the large, if incongruous, mosque to the East. The famed black hole of Calcutta is now a plaque on a wall near a street corner. Find the shopping street for foreigners and promptly get offered drugs and women. Just goes to show what they think of us.

Posted on March 12, 2001   #India  

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