Though it was only 4 years ago, India has definitely grown since I have last been here. For example, I left the Delhi airport in an AC bus with a clearly identified route and number – something I had never seen here before. From New Delhi station we took a 20 hour train ride to Kolkata, but not before being hassled by some fake authorities for some fake tickets. Thankfully, having been in Cairo only 48 hours prior, we were able to quickly and firmly brush these ‘swindlers’ aside. I use ‘swindlers’ in quotations because of the hilarious warning signs we have found throughout Delhi. Some of our favorite life advice from the boards include (these are not typos):
– DO NOT ACCEPT THINGS FROM STRANGERS, IT COULD BE A MISCHIEF
– DO NOT DO DRUGS, LET US FIGHT THEM TOGETHER!
– DO NOT SMOKE, DO NOT SPIT, BEWARE OF SWINDLERS
We had a nice chat with an official from the office of tourism – after relating our stories of being hassled by people at the gate, he simply said ‘Sir, you are confirmed. Your ticket is confirmed. This is not a genuine man. If he comes to you again, phone the police.’
Anyways, after obtaining multiple bags of ‘Masala Magic’ flavored Lays, we hopped on our 20 hour ride, which was almost too comfortable. Indian Railways provides more hospitality than any train or hostel in Europe. Our new friends, Vishnu Gupta and his wife and children, informed us (to my amazement) of the 3 meals, 4 cups of chai, 1 bottle of water, ice cream dessert and complete set of bed linens that awaited us on this ‘standard’ ride. Remember, David and I were traveling 3rd class AC.
The moment I set foot in Kolkata, I was met with the warm embrace of my Mashi (aunt) and soon the rest of the family. It is amazing to be back. The food is fantastic. My bangla vocabulary is improving/returning. I am seeing relatives I haven’t seen in many years. Even the Rikshaw drivers on the local corners remember me, and wave when I pass by.
On the 5th, Kenny (my good friend who has been living here studying music for the past 3 months) took us to the YSS Dakshineswar ashram for the birthday celebrations of Paramhansa Yogananda. In the West, this would normally mean a long meditation. Here, this entails a large parade through the town, as well as a Satsanga, a Meditation and food for the whole neighborhood (around 5000 people). David and I were thoroughly amused by the enthusiastic spirit of the people. A local boy decided to call me a palm tree, due to my lanky build and floppy hair. An amazing sidestory – while wandering a back alley sidestreet with Kenny and David, I bumped into Swami Bajanananda and Trevor, friends of mine from LA, who were wandering Dakshineswar while waiting for their 18 hour delayed train. Clearly Kolkata, a city of 20 million, is quite small 🙂
In the evening, Kenny took David to his first classical Indian concert – a vocal performance by Ajoy Chakraborty and a tabla performance by one of my all-time favorites, Swapan Chaudary. The concert (and dinner) finished late, so David and I stayed in the guest room of Ken’s music academy. Normally this would not sound like a big deal, but considering we were given the 2 room suite that would normally be given to Ravi Shankar, you can imagine my shock when I saw our accommodations. Definitely the most luxurious of the whole trip.
The next day we returned home to more amazing food and more family members. I have had thoroughly amusing visits with my Choto Dadu, Chaudari Dadu and Minti Dadu. Minti Dadu’s character is a paradox worth noting – one minute he is joking about my grandmother farting, the next moment he is reciting a deeply metaphysical tidbit of philosophy. We will be traveling to Darjeeling (the Tea Capital of the World) with him later this month.
Today we returned to Dakshineswar to see the Kali temple, and to have a brief meditation in RamaKrishna’s room there. We also visited Vivekananda’s large temple nearby, and two of my Grandfather’s sisters, who had also cooked us a feast. For the first time the whole trip, I have completely stuffed myself on every meal. David and I are waited on like kings here, and I literally have to shove amazing food away before I burst.
I could write 3 times as much about the past 5 days but it is impossible to convey the differences of Europe and India, or the warm feelings of family reunions. I will try and post shorter, more frequent posts after this, now that I have internet access.
Stay in Bliss my friends,