"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 9, Morning in Kolkata

Ch. 9, Morning in Kolkata

Perhaps in return for conquest, arrogance and spoilation, India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of the mature mind, the quiet content of the unacquisitive soul, the calm of the understanding spirit, and a unifying, a pacifying love for all living things.—Will Durant

Whatever Hindu deity oversees promptness, schedules, and similar ilk must have had good laugh at the expense of the humans who devised the itinerary for our city tour of Kolata on Sunday, the 4th of January.  “Kolkata”, by the way, is the preferred spelling of Calcutta.   My preference.

 Is there such a deity in Hinduism?  Well, with 330 million, there has to be room for that one, doesn’t there?*

Everything starts out right on schedule.   Breakfast goes off without a hitch and the country boat delivers us to the dock, where the guides lead us to the three buses that will drive us through Kolkata, but not, however, before I make an observation. 

In my defense, should you think me a glutton, this is a salad plate.  Top to right:   Scrambled egg, a piece of bacon and a chicken sausage, mashed potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe, and an unidentified brown object that had an Indian name.

 I’m sitting on a bench seat near the front of the country boat and looking around at the various other boats in the river as we motor to the dock.  A large white boat catches my attention.  I tap the fellow from Haimark and say, “That boat over there has the same name as ours.”

R/V Ganges Voyager.   Did I mention I needed more sleep?

“That IS our boat!” he says.   Then, as I lay my head on my arm, he announces to the boat that I’ve won the best joke of the day.   I love it when I do stuff like this.

Now we get to see in the daylight what had scared the bejeepers out of us in that pell-mell dash through narrow, crowded, dark streets the previous evening.   It is just as scary in daylight, but for one thing:   traffic is so heavy the bus can seldom manage to accelerate to a 50 mph plunge through rickshaws, taxis, bicycles, buses, and pedestrians for any sustained period.   The incesssant beeping, however, is even more overwhelming.

Sidewalk produce markets.

Hauling steel reinforcing rod.   If you can fasten it to the bike and trailer, they'll haul it.

Shopkeepers legal and not, are tending their wares, homeless are sleeping along the road, dogs curl up for naps in the road, and the sacred cows do whatever they want to do.  I see merchants sweeping the areas in front of their business stalls, moving the liter from the previous day’s activities into piles that grow  exponentially day by day.

Note the condition of the two propane bottles.

Farmers' market.   These produce markets are where most people buy there food.   There are few grocery stores as we know them, and only a couple malls in the largest cities.   The average Indian cannot afford shopping in malls.

This is Sunday, the traditional bathing day, and men in various stages of undress, but never naked, perform their ablutions and wash their clothing at pumps and taps on the “sidewalks.” 

Most homes and businesses that pay taxes have water lines installed in them.   For those without homes, the city provides water taps or pumps along the streets.   The people in these photos are not necessarily homeless.

Electrical wiring.

Washing dishes.

Eventually, after driving past this famous building and that famous  building from the British Colonial era, the bus pulls to the curb on a fairly nondescript, tree-lined street in a less-impoverished part of town, a bit more built up and a bit cleaner.  A tidy, three-story gray building with brown shuttered windows bears a sign:

We walk down a narrow alleyway and into the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity.  

 Inside, to the right, a sister is arranging marigold petals on Mother Teresa’s tomb to spell “the wise still seek him.”   I recognize the room immediately as I’ve seen two photographs taken in this room, as my friends Cap and Patti each have photos of themselves with Mother Teresa in this humble spot. 
 Next to this room, a simple chapel where photos are not allowed.

Mother Teresa's tomb, and an accidental shot of the chapel beyond, and the museum behind the partitions.

Mother Teresa’s private bedroom is at the top of a flight of stairs. 


 A brown and white plaid spread covers her narrow bed in the small room.   Across from the bed a rustic table of unfinished wood with two benches is against the wall.   A small desk sits under a window.  

A sign requested that no photos be taken of her room, and I did not.   I did, however, find numerous photos online.  Below is one of them.

Could not find a credit for this photo from the internet.

Standing outside Mother Teresa's bedroom, looking down at the courtyard.

In a corner of the courtyard.

After visiting the museum that contains many of Mother Teresa’s belongings and memorabilia, we exit the Mother House, passing a sign that requests we not give to, and thus encourage, any beggars nearby.  And are promptly met by beggars.

We board the bus, expecting our next visit will be the Missionaries of Charity orphanage.   Instead, our guide advises that a Muslim parade is coming up the street and we must move or chance being stuck there for hours.   We look out the back of the bus and see a large crowd marching in the middle of the street a couple blocks away.

So move we do.

Hard to get a decent photo when the subject is on the opposite side of the bus thats careening around a corner.   The hand MIGHT be an Indian mudra, prominent in yoga, Indian dance and art.  This one might be the Varada Mudra, symbolizing the act of giving, in love and benevolence.   I think that rather than a tree, this is a form covered in vegetation.   See:  http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/DIALmudras.pdf

(*Hinduism believes in only one God but allows its followers to worship the God in many forms such as nature (including trees, sun, idols, animals, etc.) and persons (Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, etc.). These persons are called devas (deities) and are often confused by calling them  gods.   The figure 330,000,000 is a poetic expression.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 8, The Little Boat

Ch. 8, The Little Boat

Don’t worry about the world ending today; it’s already tomorrow in Australia.—Charles M. Schulz

The 6:30 wake up call Sunday morning is especially taxing this morning as I’m nowhere near caught up on sleep from four and a half days of travel to get to Kolkata.  I get out of my comfy bed reluctantly and head for the shower to wake up.

Once I’m dressed, I see daylight peeking in the drapes and look out the sliding glass doors. 

 Everything is shrouded in fog but I can see that sometime during the night the RV Ganges Voyager slipped its hawser lines at the dock and moved to the middle of the river where it anchored.   Good idea, because we were to tour Kolkata today.

First, though, breakfast.

Eggs cooked to order.   Later on, I'll go into food on board in more detail.   Today, we have lots to do.

Earlier we were divided into three groups, the Shiva (the most powerful Hindu god at the center of the universe, with four arms), the Dolphins (the Ganges “ emerged from Lord Shiva's locks and along with it came... the dolphin ... "), and the Ganesha (the Hindu deity of beginnings and success—among other things—is represented by an elephant head).  That’s what my research came up with, but those who chose the names might have other reasons.   There are, by the way, about 60 river dolphins in the Ganges River.   Anyway, each group is assigned a guide.

At 8A.M., the Shiva group is called to muster on Deck Two, then the Dolphins, and finally my group, the Ganesha with Asif as the guide.  Once on Deck Two, the real treat begins.

Below me, tied up to the RV Ganges Voyager, is what Indians call a “country boat.”  It doesn’t look river-worthy, much less sea-worthy.   Over the next seven days, I come to love this boat and at this writing, it remains a highlight of the entire trip, including the elephant ride And the rickshaws.   

It is the discovery of a humble country boat that I love about travel.

Come on, let’s board the country boat…

Decorated with potted plants.

This bamboo contraption was the boarding ramp.   Ever so much simpler and far less expensive than the fancy boarding stairs used by big cruise ships.

Note the bottom of the boarding ladder doesn't sit flat.   There were many variations with this ladder.

Before I get to the best part, I want to show you some photos taken of the country boat on different days.

The bamboo ramp in use.

Showing this one to illustrate the deck boards.

Sometimes, tying up was basic.

Now for the best part:

This simple tool was of the utmost importance to our tour's success.

This is the country boat's engine.   Note the lack of safety barriers.

That bamboo pole?    Wait for it...

Another engine view, with the bamboo pole and a hose.

Tied with a rag so the leaks don't spray the tourists.

Past my feet.....

Out through the hull....

And into the river.   I am hoping this is NOT the bilge pump but that the engine is water-cooled.

So, that special all-important tool is placed on the front of the engine and.....

Is that utterly cool or not!!!    While we're all fanning away the blue exhaust, did you notice what the bamboo pole and cord were for?    They're the throttle control!

And did you notice that the helmsman was controlling the rudder by two pieces of plumbing pipe fastened together?   Love it.

The steady hand of the helmsman holding the cord attached to the bamboo pole, attached to the throttle.

Ah, the country boat!   I hope they never get rid of it.   In this USA, we have become so liability conscious that there is a refreshing freedom in countries where it's absent.

Wherever we went, the country boat followed, fastened to the stern of the RV Ganges Voyager, along with the very practical boarding ladder and ramp.

NOTE:  The video did not appear on my Apple iPad, but did on two other devices.   The outstretched hands were for a squirt of hand sanitizer.