[from early December:]
Goodbye to the miniature train community and into an old-fashioned taxi styled after the British round-bumper, crank-down-the-window town cars. Maybe it’s a literal left-over from occupation days, now worn from pushing through chaotic traffic. The truth is that I’m thrilled to be in it, crossing the illuminated Howrah Bridge and passing though Kolkata’s almost-NYC-feel streets. There are some moments when you are thrown out of yourself, an “I am in India!” feeling, where the scene slows and snaps into its own experiential photograph. Any stress becomes worth it.
I’ve heard that Kolkata is a city of the arts, and I am not disappointed. There are enormous museums, a little too hectic for my capabilities at this point; I never made it to the extensive Delhi ones, either. And parks with clusters of cricket games and picnickers. One of my fellow guest house resident’s is here to study the tabla, a difficult drum to learn; most players begin as children if their father is a musician. This lanky hippie man confirms my quiet hope that music events are happening every day in the city. The truth is that I won’t go to any of the concerts either. I love India, in some ways I feel more comfortable here than in the States, but my capacity for stimulation can be maxed out by a walk.
The small foreigner area concentrated on Sudder Street has several bookstores (along with the best naan I’ve ever had and a shop with tacky shiny plastic Christmas decorations): not just books-added-for-foreigners kind of places, proper ones that support the foreigner crowd but aren’t soulless. Books in India are disproportionately priced; a new book costs as much as a hotel room. One spot has a mixture of new and old books wedged into wooden creaky shelves, some stacked in the corners.The squat man in white with a scruffy beard brightly points out the cheapest Hindi guide; he tells me that his father owned the shop before him, that it’s been there for sixty years. I break through the dramatic haggling over a trade for a popular travel story, Holy Cow, with an American “I like your bookstore and would like to buy it from you, and I think that 200 rupees is a decent price!” He proudly beams, and accepts.