Sitting on the train to Delhi from Kolkata. It’s still in Howrah Station and we have at least a 25 minute wait. I was in Kolkata visiting Onkar, who is continuing to have a rough time at work and therefore his life. When the time comes and he can get out of what he is doing, he may once again be the lovely person who I befriended 28 years ago. But for now, times are tough. Myna, Onky’s wife, has been a beacon of strength. She stands pat, not wavering.
I’ve been spending the past two weeks in somewhat luxurious style, first in Puri and then in Kolkata. (The army just walked by in force with a bomb sniffing dog).
In Puri VSO held its annual Program Area Review (PAR). The hotel was lovely and I shared a room with Len, which, of course was very good. There was a pool, a work out room, a beach, good food, a shower with hot water.
A fishing village, close by, where people used the sea as a toilet, was where I got nipped by a dog. I’m not entirely certain why this dog nipped me, but it did break the skin on my left leg. As the children and one adult informed me through sign language, I needed to get a shot. I proceeded to the local hospital, l with Len by my side, and received both a tetanus and a rabies shot. The cost to enter the hospital was 1 rupee and the medicine, including the syringe, etc., was about 350 rupees. Not expensive for me, even on a volunteer’s wages, but expensive for those living on the street. (I ended up getting one more shot three days later as part of the rabies regimen).
I’m very much enamored by the fishing villages in India, but as I approached this one I noticed men squatting and pooping. There seemed to be little regard for people looking on or for polluting the ocean. It was just the way that it was. Fresh fish coming to shore and fresh excrement leaving the shore a perfect ebb and flow.
Upon leaving Puri, Len and I jumped on a train to Kolkata. My ticket was RAC which meant that I had to share my space with another person. We bought Len’s ticket at the station, a general admission, kind of thing, and I told her just to come and stay with me. Sure enough others showed up and we convinced the conducted to let us both sleep together on the lower berth. We went to sleep around 11:30 PM and were awoken by the conductor at 3 AM asking for the remainder of the fare, which we gladly paid and returned back to sleep. (I’m sitting facing another person at the moment and there is not enough space. He is scratching his foot, dreadfully close to my laptop and hopefully no flakes will fly off. Of course, who knows what kinds of things are already brewing inside of my laptop).
Arrival in Kolkata took place on-time around 8 AM and there Len, Jim, another vol and I stood waiting to be picked up. The driver was close, very close, but it took us almost an hour to finally find him.
Onkar’s home is very beautiful, full of art, due to Myna’s business, and servants due to the Kakar status. There is a cook and his wife, another servant, a sweeper, quite hunched over, a driver, other people who open the gate, a shared expense, a gardener. One person made our bed, brought us water in the evenings, nimboo pani, tea, served us dinner. At the meals table, a bell is rung to call the servants. It’s nice, and one can become quite accustomed to this.
People waiting on others, serves many purposes, economic mainly I would guess. While staying at Onky’s I went to a few people’s homes and they all had servants, just goes with this class of people. It’s expected, it’s part of the fabric and probably many earn some kind of living from this type of work. I don’t really know anybody in the States, or for that matter, elsewhere, who have servants.
I know that I really love being in a foreign environment, probably has to do with my curiosity, my wanting to see things. In the movie Avatar, there was this thing about really seeing the others and things in the world. Maybe it’s the same kind of thing, but I’m always looking, maybe to the point of appearing somewhat disconnected or spacey. I know this about myself, I like to see, those little things that are there, but not always apparent. I suppose that I could look for these kinds of things in the US, but, on some level I know what they are. I don’t know that I’ve looked for the surprises though, at least on a regular basis.
Take for instance my parent’s “retirement community”. It’s the same thing, everyday, the weather, the pool, the what shall we have for dinner. Maybe it’s the same whenever one is in the same environment for a period of time. I don’t know, when I was staying with my parents, if I truly looked at things. Don’t get me wrong, because in India there is somewhat of a sameness, I mean there’s dirt almost everywhere, I don’t know that communities all look that different, there is that kind of Indian look to things. But there still remain surprises, but it may just be my state of mind, wanting to see more.
I think that I could make a career of this, i.e. living overseas, as a volunteer. I could also get an overseas job, however I do enjoy the freedom. Even though I’m working for the Indian government I do feel as if I have a lot of freedom to somewhat decide how I do my job. One doesn’t need that much money to live on, but there are the trade offs, not seeing friends and family as often, having people come and go like we’re in Oz. I do miss those connections and it’s not the same through Skype, but I wonder if I can go back.
But maybe it’s not going back because I haven’t been there yet. There would be some type of newness as to how I approach things just because of this experience, but there would be the sameness of just being with Americans. Yes, the US is a diverse country and I suppose that I could live in a large city, but then I would need more money to live on. What to do?
In reality I need to keep feeling what is right for me and then channel my energy towards that. Sitting with this can be somewhat uncomfortable. I could settle for the sameness, but that makes me grimace. I just don’t think so.