"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.)


  1. Oh my Jeanne ... these pictures of the Mother House, the narrow alleyway leading up to the relatively non-descript door that leads to the inside of the Mother House... the hair on my arms quivered with memories of having walked the very surface you were upon, and, we walked there when Mother Teresa herself was actually on the other side of that door. What a flood of memories. Thank you for the gift of returning this precious time in our lives to us in your pictures and descriptions. Humble sighs ... Patti and Cap

  2. It IS Kolkata .. I prefer Calcutta myself. Calcutta is several hundred years in history .. The Black Hole of Calcutta. Oh well ..

    FIRST HOWL .. THAT boat over there has the same name as ours. It IS our boat. Very Good .. smiling .. You had been up and down for four and one half days traveling .. easy mistake to make for sure ..

    A friend of mine in December of 1990 fell down in a street washing venue like you show at the top of the Post .. HE cut his arm in falling and HAD to be emergency air MED-EVACUATED to Singapore to save his life from a horrible infection that took over in THREE HOURS time .. Don't think for one instant that street bathing water is safe .. He almost died .. I never saw him again in this lifetime so far ..

    I enjoyed the photos of the Mother House. I am amazed that you got the photos that you did. The one off the internet was a clear as if you had snapped it yourself. What a hallowed and what a sacred place. THANK YOU FOR SHARING IT ..

    Oh Calcutta! How you have so deeply touched my life .. Smiles .. Cap and Patti who visited with me in the early spring of 1996 ..

  3. It's amazing that all those people crowded into the streets can stay fairly healthy under the conditions I see in these photos.

    Mother Teresa would have her remains in no other place than this.

  4. Excellent Will Durant quote. Photos humbling as I ponder the elegant space I'll shower in later today. (After all, it is Sunday.)

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