Thursday, December 22, 2011

An American's view on Kolkata - Day 2

Woke up around 9:00 AM. Came down to tea and biscuits, courtesy the Awesome Mrs. Biswas. Sneha dropped by in the morning, then left, then came back again. After tea, I got down to typing up the events of the last two days. Sneha eventually woke Gourav up, and we had breakfast while I talked smack about Atique to Sneha (with input from Gourav now and then). So far, nothing eventful. Will update as the day goes by.

Later on we popped down to KCD - Kaka's Chai Dukan. At least, that's one of the interpretations of the acronym. It's one of the places Gourav used to frequent, and he had told me about it at length, so I had to see it for myself. The chai was good, the company was great, and it was definitely an awesome time.

We (Sneha, Gourav and I) had lunch at home. I gotta say, the food is amazing, but the quantity is a little too high for me. Another IHOP full. Chicken, beetroot, cauliflower, and staple rice and dal. We chilled after lunch, and Sneha got to see Gabriel Iglesias' "Hot and Fluffy" comedy special. I think she liked it, she was laughing as much as Gourav and I. Also, I should introduce the concept of "laed", for those who don't know what it is. It's basically the ultimate laziness, and Gourav was eating a lot of it. I should clarify: the Bengali verb "to eat" is used for many different types of consumption, like food, drink, and in this case, "laed". In this case, it means that Gourav was being a lazy bum. Sneha had a fun time getting Gourav out of bed.

After Gabriel, we went out to St. Xavier's College for a Christmas program. First was the choir. Good stuff, but they got nothing on the Spicer choir. They sang a few carols I knew, and a few I didn't. Was fun to listen to, even though I was starting to nod off. After that was a sort of performance poetry in Bengali. I didn't get anything, but it sounded pretty good to me. I'm sure if Javits is reading this, he'll have plenty of comments to make. We bailed out after that. We walked around Park Street, which is like Pune's Koregaon Park and MG Road combined. Lots of shops and stuff. It was an interesting walk, and the conversation was good. We split up at the metro station, Sneha went her way and Gourav and I went ours.

We took the metro down to Tollygunj. I can't really find a relative location from my experiences to compare Tollygunj to. The best I can say is that it's the center for roadside stalls. Kind of reminded me of the stalls you'd see during a matsuri in Japan. We took a walk and Gourav took me to a chai stall he'd been telling me about for ages. The tea... Ah, the tea. Even with my knowledge of English, I can't find the words to describe just how awesome that stuff was. Lemon tea, with a hint of salt, sugar and special masala. Absolutely divine. We travelled on after that, catching a rickshaw to Sakher Bazar.

Now, the rickshaws in Kolkata are different from the ones in Pune. While rickshaws in Pune charge you by distance (and charge you double by default), the rickshaws in Kolkata are kinda like buses. They travel only certain routes, and they charge a flat rate for the journey. So, catching a rickshaw means you need to know where to go to catch the rickshaw you want. Kind of refreshing, after all the bickering and arguing that comes with rickshaws in Pune. Also, a rickshaw with a switchboard. Interesting.

So we took a rick down to Sakher Bazar, and from there to Diamond Park. Walked around for a bit, met up with Ronojoy and chatted. Then, back home for dinner. Chicken and rice. IHOP full again. I swear I'm gonna put on a thousand pounds with all this food...

So far, this city is familiarly unfamiliar. A lot of things: Rickshaw, Metro, etc... They are concepts I'm familiar with from my life. But the implementation, the usage of these things, the little details that differ from how I know them to be... These are what make them unique to this city, this trip. I might never get to experience all this the way I have. It's an amazing thing, when you think about it. I never guessed I'd wind up here, doing what I'm doing, going where I'm going, meeting who I'm meeting. It's an amazing chain of events. This city has its own beat, and I'm not quite catching it yet. But it's new, and I gotta admit, a change of pace is always nice. I came here with the expectations of seeing new things, and I have. And it's only been two days... I'm sure there's a lot more in store.

Bonus Points: 3x multiplier for knocking out three modes of travel in one outing: taxi, metro, and bus.

High Score: Fresh grape juice in Tollygunj.

An American's view on Kolkata - Day 1

Woke up around 6:30. Damn scheduling, so used to waking up for college. Wasn't up to much in the morning except for my normal good morning texts. Atique showed up not too late after I got up, but he didn't stick around. Breakfast was yummy (Yes, yummy. Yummy train food. No sarcasm.) Everyone started waking up and getting about the business of getting up and ready for the day.

The day was uneventful, since most of the new things I had experienced were yesterday. Played more Uno with the lovely ladies across from us, now joined by two more cousins: Alisha, and Rohit (Not the same one Gourav knows). I didn't join in, though. I had finally gotten my laptop out and was finishing up Howl's Moving Castle. They later switched to a card game called "Not At Home." I got the basic gist of the rules, but it was most certainly the longest game I've seen in quite a while. One game of that and it was quits for then.

Lunch was good. After that, though, Gourav decided a nap was in order. On my bunk. And I was still sitting there. Granted, he did ask me if it was cool. But still... The dude almost pushed me off of my seat O_O;;. Afternoon saw a fully-charged laptop and more Uno, while I charged my 3DS. And, as for something new: My baby finally has her first major aesthetic damage - the palm rest is cracked. My voltage converter for my 3DS charger (sold separately) fell and hit my lappy. And that thing is a heavy little mother. No worries, though. It's a pretty thin crack and it's hardly noticeable unless you look for it. All in all, I'm strangely comfortable with it.

Evening, more Uno. And I'm still not tired of the game. By this time, however, I was getting tired of the jokes on me. Both Gourav and Atique have come up with several "nicknames" for me over the course of our staying together. And, thanks to Atique, they wore out rather quickly and now, they just annoy me. I don't mind people making jokes about me: I mind it when they pull those jokes way too far. Gourav is cool, but Atique's the one who gets on my nerves, and I don't wanna snap at G just because he didn't know how pissed I was. Gotta keep it together, Kade.

Train got to the station later than planned, but we expected that. Didn't have much to pack, as I had already arranged my backpack. My luggage was quite light - all I really had were clothes. I think my backpack was heavier than my luggage >.> Not sure, though. We got to Howrah station around 8 PM, and Sneha was there waiting for us. She's Gourav's girl. We said goodbye to Divya and crew (I didn't get their numbers. Gourav and Atique think it's because I forgot. But I've already got someone I'm interested in.)

Howrah station is the biggest train station I've seen in India. 23 platforms is no joke, especially when Pune Junction has, like what, 8? Yeah... Massive. Outside, the wait for the taxi was annoying. Had to get the 3DS up and running for musical accompaniment. We finally got one, though, and threw our luggage in and took the ride to Gourav's house. He showed up some of the city while we drove, some of the more famous shops and restaurants (And a place for Atique called "Gaylord". Don't know, don't wanna know). The city is half-new, and half-familiar. I don't mean to put Kolkata down, but living in the States has got me used to places like D.C. and Boston, with all the crowds and the skyscrapers and the roads and stuff. I know what cities are like back home, so half of Kolkata wasn't new to me: It's just like any other city. It's like a customized laptop: The basic model is the same. What makes it fun it the little details that are different from all the other models. Like the pot-bellied cops. Never see many of those in Pune. Arms, legs, neck, torso, face: all in proper shape. And a big-ass pot belly. Couldn't help but laugh.

Rickshaws aren't that much in use in this city. Taxis and buses. Rickshaws are only used like small buses: Set route, set fare, and you have to share with other people. It seems like if I wanna make this fun, I've gotta see the common Kolkata. Not the tourist places, not the famous sites. I wanna walk the streets and see how much normal Kolkata differs from regular Pune or regular Germantown.

We got to Gourav's place around 9:30. It's a pretty sweet house, although we could definitely use some heating. The place gets cold at night. But his mom and dad are both very cool. I didn't speak with them much, and most of the talking that was going on was in Bengali, so it was over my head. I can't really form an opinion of his dad, since I didn't talk to him enough. As for his mother, though, she seems awesome. We got home, had some tea and rested up, then headed out for a walk around Gourav's old hangouts. We met up with two of his friends, Ronojoy and Devanjan (I think I spelled those right). They seem like cool kids, so we might be hanging out in the future as well.

After hanging out for a bit, we came home to dinner. Amazing, amazing food. I don't even know all the dishes that were cooked, but they all tasted great. And the sweets were delectable. I felt like I just left IHOP after dinner: That kind of full stomach that makes you just want to lie down and sleep it off. I started settling in after that getting my laptop set up, checking out the internet (Server problems do not leave good first impression >.<) Set up his uTorrent to pick up Nikki and the rest of the latest anime I'm missing. Got him set up with Firefox and IDM as well. Server died before we could get any proper downloading, though. Will try again later. Eventually, knocked out around 3:00 AM.

An American's view on Kolkata - Prologue and Day -1

Right, then. As some of you may already know me, let me just introduce myself. My name is Kade, and I'm an American who's been in India for around 10 years, on and off. However, my experiences in India were somewhat limited, as I hardly ventured out of Pune - not for the lack of opportunity, but for the lack of interest. I really don't care about touring placing and seeing all the tourist spots, or visiting a place because it's famous. Which is what everyone suggested. So, when my roommate suggested I come down to Kolkata for Christmas, I was initially apprehensive of the idea. But hey, if you don't try, you'll never know. So, we booked our tickets, and now here I am. And it's been an interesting trip so far.

The point of this blog is not to be a travel guide to this magnificent city. It won't tell you where to go for shopping, or what to look out for. It won't give you tips on saving money. It's just me, throwing my words at you for you to read. So don't expect any life lessons: Just read and laugh. I'll try to update every day, but you can expect it to most likely fall between 2-3 days for posts.

Kolkata - Day -1

Started out train journey from Pune on the Duronto Express. First time I've ever been on a train for so long, and much better than a flight of the same duration. We left Pune around 3:15 PM. Not much interesting happened until the evening. The family sitting opposite us in the compartment had a cute little girl who got along with Gourav fabulously. Atique got stuck in another compartment, and talking to the TT to convince him only got him a scolding. Odd fact that G pointed out to me: Both Atique and the TT were Bengali, and both were trying to speak Hindi XD. Anyways, no luck for Atique, so he got sent back to his own compartment. Sharing the space opposite our bunks (We got Side upper and Side lower, on the side of the compartment) were two sisters from Kolhapur, also rather cute. Divya and Shweta. After watching them play cards with their cousins who came from the other end of the compartment for quite a while, we got the idea that a few rounds of Uno wouldn't go amiss. And they didn't. They loved the game and we had a lot of fun stacking +2s on each other. Gourav got smacked with a +14, as my memory serves.

Dinner on Duronto was much better than expected, and way better than anything I've ever had on the three-hour rides from Pune to Mumbai on the Deccan Queen. Although it was a little cramped on the seat (Note: No train in India is fluffy-friendly), we managed quite nicely. Chicken curry for dinner, with dal and rice. Snacks were a cheese sandwich and I don't remember what else. Plenty of food to be had, though. There really was no need to buy snacks, but we did anyways.

Our Uno games were joined by Dhamesh, Divya and Shweta's cousin. Although young, he had an attitude to match MY age. Really fun family, those guys. We played Uno and laughed and pretty much got introduced that night, and we all wrapped up and light's out at 11.

Now, while Gourav and I were having fun in our compartment (B8) with these two lovely ladies, Atique was stuck in B6 with, as he put it, "two uncles." And, as Gourav once told me, "Stick 5 Bengali people in a box, and they conversation with always wind up on politics." I can imagine what Atique had to sit through. And, mean as it may be, I did laugh about it.

Another similarity between Duronto and planes: Bathrooms are way too tiny. At least, I felt so, but then again, I don't think I should be used as the standard for such things. At the end of each carriage of the train are two bathrooms (4 per carriage, therefore). One Indian, one Western. Note to self: measure the chain on the water mug BEFORE doing your business T.T

During the downtimes on the train (I.E. Bored out of my skull), I was lucky enough that both Val and Usagi-san decided to talk to me, so I was always texting them. Gourav was also (I believe) texting his girl, and Atique was... I dunno, doing whatever has was doing while stuck with two uncles.

We met Gourav's friend, Rohit, on the train as well. Sat and chatted with him for a bit, but he didn't hang out in our compartment. Mostly Gourav was going over to his. Cool guy, and it didn't take him long to figure out which one of us was the crazy one (Hint: it wasn't me... I don't know how, but it wasn't me.)

My last complaint about Duronto: The beds. Also not their fault, though. I don't the train was designed to accommodate fluffy people. But I did manage to get a good's night sleep.