October 26, 2010
I decided to stay a bit longer in Kolkata. I went back to Mother Teresa Mission two more times, and today I bought a ticket to Varanasi for Thursday.
On Sunday afternoon I went to Victoria Memorial. It’s a building that looks a bit like the White House in Washington, with a nice big park around it. There were some couples talking, one hugging, but not so much affection shown one to the other, it’s not allowed here. Absolutely no kisses. Among male friends they are very friendly, they hug and walk holding hands (it’s very weird for an Italian, but I saw this in Morocco too).
Well, I truly love this town. I wonder if it will be the same with other parts of India. Apparently Delhi for example is not as welcoming as Kolkata. Here people are really friendly. In the poorest area even more. Today they kept asking me to take pictures and they wanted to talk to me, to know where I come from and what I do, but with no other intentions (usually they want you to at least to visit their shop), just out of curiosity.
I went to the flower market, near the river. Beautiful. They sell flower garlands, that people buy to take to the temples, to put around the god statues. People didn’t mind me taking pictures and a man showed me with pride his large belly; his belly is proof that he has money to buy food, which is something to be proud of here in India.
During one of the mornings I spent washing clothes at Mother Teresa Mission I met an Indian volunteer. She is about 40 years old and she feels lucky her parents found her a husband born in Rotterdam and grown up in London, very open minded, that made her life much easier. Nowadays women can go to university and could marry those they choose. But often they don’t do it because if the marriage fails, they are left on their own, without the help of their family. So many marriages are still arranged. It was her who asked me what I think of the situation in India. I said it was a shock to see all those children living and sleeping in the streets and wondered why the government doesn’t do anything to help this. Are there no taxes? Not enough rich people that pay taxes? She explained that there isn’t a social and health national system, so people have to make do with what they have. There are taxes, and quite high, the rich should pay about 30% of what they earn. But they don’t do it, tax evasion is very high, because they know that even if they paid, the money would end in the pockets of some politician. She thinks the people should change. Their mentality. Indians don’t mind the people living in the street because they were born and grew up with this view, so for them it’s natural. So they don’t care about changing it. She is trying to educate people during the yoga lessons she teaches. I really liked her.
Sara, the black cat of the hotel, has come closer to me. She is very pretty. I also want a black cat. She was there two days ago too. Two days ago there was a party on the roof of the hotel because it was the last night in Kolkata for a group of Japanese tourists (there are many in town). I’ve met an interesting guy. His name is Peter. He’s about 65. Grey and long hair, beard with a knot halfway. He reminds me of Dalì. He was born in Canada, grew up between London and Paris, for the last 35 years between Tokyo and Kolkata. This is his favorite town in the world. He says it’s easier to communicate here with locals without speaking the same language, than with Canadians from Vancouver. Once, when he was living out of town where nobody locks their door and he was the only foreigner around, he woke up one morning surrounded by 8 people looking at him. He invited them for breakfast. Another reason why he likes this town is that it hosts 6 million refugees. During famines and wars loads of people flocked here from Bengal and Kashmir and other parts of India. For this reason the city grew so fast in the last century and filled up with people that live in the street.
Peter is a painter and in India has published a couple of books (poems and thoughts). For the last 18 years he has a painting in mind, that he can’t put on canvas. For him painting is a way of meditation. Like observing nature and animals. He’s been living in a room on the roof of this hotel for 6 months, with 7 cats. Sara is his favorite, a bit wild, always roaming around. He shares his food with cats and crows. Apparently crows in Kolkata are better than crows in Delhi and Japan. And they have a big thing for the family. The sick and elder travel with the others, they are not left apart.
He talks like he’s reciting some verses.
Tonight I was eating in the street, at one of my favorite places, and a guy talks to me. Tom. Polish. About 45 yo I would say. Might be younger or older, I can’t tell; he looks young but he’s already retired. He lived 10 years in India, in the last 5 he has been living in Bangkok but he’s considering coming back. A true passion for Indian culture. At first I thought he was the usual annoying man, but he’s actually very interesting. While we were there talking about gods and hindu myths, a guy he knows passed by, Sasha. Russian, probably younger than me. At 12 his parents sent him to study in New York, where he met Stefano from Bassano del Grappa. He’s in Kolkata for 6 months for an economy research on poverty, to see which systems might work better to reduce poverty. He spent one and a half year in Ghana working on the same project. Apparently microcredit is not very useful, in contrast to what I thought. Because not everyone is inclined to business, most people prefer to work for someone else and receive a monthly salary, they are not interested in having a loan to start their own business. More effective and useful is micro-saving. Bank accounts where people, even if very poor, can deposit the little they have, even if just cents, because in the long run they can make a little treasure; people that wouldn’t have the possibility to apply to a regular bank account.
After a little while I found myself on the terrace of a nice hotel, in a restaurant very posh, with toilet paper in the bathroom, where a coffee costs 80 cents and a dish at least 2 euro (my dinner tonight was 30 cents). I was spectator of a debate between a theologian and a scientist-economist. They talked about Einstein and his theory of relativity, of the huge knowledge of ancient Indians, that 5,000 years ago already knew at which angle a shuttle shot towards the moon should come back to the Earth withouth exploding (??? Tom wanted to suggested the Indians had already done such experiments? Sasha answered that they could have understood it by looking at meteorites? I don’t know, I wasn’t able to follow much), of the passage from one dimension to the other (because if it’s true that there are infinite dimensions, of which only 21 we know of, it’s scientifically impossible to go from one dimension to the other, while according to Indian theories the spiritual element can change dimension – so a soul could find itself in a fire particle around the sun). At one point they started to talk about the creation of matter (God? Explosion?) and at this point I got completely lost (while Sasha got excited telling us that last year they discovered three creators of matter – or whatever they are called – that interact, one negative, one positive and one neutral – from which the idea for the book “Angels and demons” by Dan Brown). Well, I didn’t utter a word, only once when Sasha put the theological-scientific discussion to a halt to ask me which fruit I would keep in my garden. I felt like a complete ignorant, but I was fascinated and amused by these two weird geniuses that defended their points of view with so much passion.
I went back to the hotel super late, midnight. But I can’t sleep. I keep thinking. I’m already in the second half of my trip.
I pierced my nose today. I’m going to have one of those flowery golden piercings that wear Indian women.