Kolkata Stories and Tips

Calcutta

In the Streets of India

Sudder Street looked so much different in the daylight. A few tobacco stores opened for business. On the left side, a couple of rickshaw drivers were lying down, sleeping inside their rickshaws, waiting for passengers. Not far away from them, a cow sat chewing from a pile of garbage. Further down, a couple of men were lying down on bamboo sheets, sleeping. They must have been really poor. A couple of cars crossed each other in the streets, barely missing each other.
I tried to make my way through the busy street, passing a few Indians on the way.
"Rupees, Madame, please?" A woman walked toward me, begging for money.
She carried a baby in her hands. A couple of children followed her.
"Rupees, Madame?"
I searched my bag and gave them small change. They continued walking along.
"Rupees, Madame, please?"
"I gave you some, now go away, please." They still followed me.
I entered a small restaurant at the corner of the street. I sat down and ordered tea and toast.
A few Westerners sat down in the restaurant. They looked rested and calm. I wished I felt that way. I lacked sleep and felt rather anxious.
A blond girl quietly sat at the table in front of me, reading a book. She looked beautiful in her blue Salwar Kameez suit. I thought of buying one too.
The restaurant looked filthy. The waiter brought me breakfast. He cleaned my table. No matter how hard he cleaned it, it was still dirty.
I quickly ate and went back onto Sudder Street. It was hot. I thought of buying a bottle of water.
"No good water, Madame," said a young boy passing by.
I took the bottle of water I bought from the tobacco shop and looked at it.
"What's wrong with it?" I asked.
"This water bad name," he explained.
It was another scam to make a few extra rupees. The bottles have been refilled with tap water. As a traveler, the number one survival rule in Asia was to neither drink the tap water nor eat the uncooked fruits or vegetables washed in it.
I threw away the bottle and bought a different brand. The bottle was sealed properly. It was safe to drink it.
The weather started to get hot. The air was polluted. I had hard time breathing.
I went inside the market and roamed around, searching for clothes to buy. I had the impression the Indian men's eyes followed me everywhere I went, watching me.
"Madame, you need help? I show you nice store." The Indian man started walking along with me.
"I will find the stores myself, thank you," I told him.
"Madame, you want to buy?" said another Indian man as I approached his store.
I bought a red Salwar Kameez suit and put it on. I thought of buying a Bindi, the red dot the Indian women wear between their eyes.
"Madame, need help?" The salesman asked.
"I need a Bindi."
"I give you beautiful Bindi." He took out a bunch of small packets of Bindis of different colors and shapes. He chose one, took it out, and placed it on my forehead.
"Beautiful, Madame." He smiled.
I bought a small pack.
Back in the streets, I noticed I was being stared at less than before. It must have been the Indian attire.
The traffic was chaotic: cars going in all directions, their horns honking. To my amazement the cars didn't collide.
"Why do they use the horns so much?" I asked myself.
A strange vehicle passed in front of me: a two-seat and two-wheel rickshaw dragged by a tiny Indian man. Two women sat behind him.
On the other side of the street, a few Indian men waited by the bus stop. They wore white pajama-like clothes and slippers.
I walked along the sidewalk through the slums of Calcutta. There were blue tents set up all along the sidewalk, and many families found shelter underneath them. I tried to look inside a tent. I could only see colorful, ripped clothes hanged in front of the tent. A woman washed her skinny naked children. As I got closer to them, they started begging me for money. I gave away some change. As other families saw me, they came closer. I found myself surrounded by tens of people begging for money. I threw some rupees in the air, and as they tried to pick the money up I ran away.
I suddenly got dizzy. I felt exhausted and confused. I scanned the images in front of my eyes, but I had a hard time realizing what was happening. This was not the reality I knew. There was too much chaos and too much poverty all around.




The above is an excerpt from the book 'Young Female, Traveling Alone.' To find out more information about the book, please visit my website

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