The line-up at Calcutta immigration went on forever, and it took forever to finally get out of the airport. Wandering out into the dark was scary and I was glad I brought my flashlight. In a big, dusty yard across from the terminal people were climbing into banged up tin cans that might have been dragged out of a wrecker's yard and hammered into a bus, but not wanting to be left behind Aimee and I climbed on to the last one leaving. It was cramped and dark and stuffed with people and luggage and the ceiling lights blinked on and off as we bounced over the potholes to the highway. I had no idea where we were going.
Garbage lay in heaps and red spittle juice was splattered on walls and pavements. Trucks, cars, bicycle rickshaws, street vendors, smoke and people choked the streets and every so often the smell of urine blew into the bus through the cracked windows. Down the middle of the main thoroughfare of Calcutta a long, deep tunnel had been dug out where people had lit fires and set up camp. Lean-tos made of corrugated tin, wire, blankets and cardboard had been erected and people were cooking and canoodling on banged-up furniture that looked like it came from a dump site.
My daughter frequently grabbed my arm. 'Mommy, look at that!' she said as I gazed, stunned, out the window at the men and women in rags staggering about as if in a daze. Whenever the bus stopped, children ran around outside of the bus and crammed against each other with their filthy hands outstretched. Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Baksheesh!
We stopped at a main square and I got out my guidebook and looked again at the hotel section of Calcutta. I didn't feel any threat from anybody even though many people stood and stared at us, but by this time it was eleven at night and not the time to be wandering around looking for a place. A taxi took us to Sudder Road, a tourist district with hostels and cheap hotels and I thought we'd easily get a room, but everything was booked. My mind was collapsing, until one hotel owner said we could sleep in his office on the floor. While we were setting up, a tall, black fellow wandered in and said, 'you can share with me if you want. I have three beds in my room.' I got a good vibe from him and so did Aimee, so we brought our stuff in and unpacked. His name was Chuba Paul Moneke from Nigeria and he really helped us out.
The streets were quieter and shops were closing up when I stepped outside the hotel for a moment to take a break. Out of the dark shadows an old man with bowed legs and wearing a filthy white dhoti appeared and as he trudged past I thought, that old buzzard hasn't had a wash in at least ten years. Holy shit bags! His hair was matted and covered in bits of fluff and dirt that he'd picked up from sleeping on the ground. His feet and legs were tarred and he was covered in scabs and scars. Suddenly, about thirty feet away from where I was standing he stopped and put his back to the wall and removed his dhoti. He half squatted, resting his butt against the wall and proceeded to take a huge crap that sputtered out of him like a cow. After he finished, he turned around and looked down at his pile then peed into his hand and washed his butt. A shopkeeper came out and started screaming at him and hit him and pointed to the mess and hit him again, but the old guy didn't miss a beat as he stooped down, picked up the dhoti where he'd dropped it on the sidewalk and nonchalantly wiped his butt. He then tossed it over the soggy mess and trudged off again stark naked down the sidewalk. The shopkeeper shook his fist and swore as the old chip disappeared without so much as a howdy doody. Welcome to India.
I had wanted to go to India, but I was nervous about bringing my 9-year-old daughter along. I thought we'd probably get sick and die from either food poisoning or some disease because I'd heard so many horror stories. (People love to regale you with their horror stories) However, when I was in Marang, Malaysia I met a young couple who'd been all through India, and even though at the time I met them they were supposedly going to Bali, they missed India so much they were going to cut their trip short to return. It was a sign for me, because up until meeting them I couldn't decide whether to go to India or not, and hearing their stories I decided it must have been divine intervention. I decided to travel to India, disease and food poisoning be damned.