Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
Walk on Park Street
Wandering East and South to Shakespeare Sarani

The day after the first monsoon rains in Calcutta I took a taxi to Park Street. The street is recommended by everyone and guide books for restaurants, books and clothes and it is close to some museums. The 40-minute ride from Joka introduced the additional water sport challenge of driving through flooded roads. In India there is no need for police to waste their time coming out to divert traffic around a flood. If there is any way of getting around the flooded road, be it using a pavement, median, other side of the road people do not need to be told to do this, they just take it as life. However, a shepherd with his flock of sheep in the Maidan (the large park land in the center of the city which is regularly driven through to get to Park Street) does turn the head of even the taxi drivers.

I ask him to stop outside the thoroughly modern Oxford bookstore and buy my first map and a guidebook designed by a local company to talk about Kolkata. Upon a later detailed reading of the book, I discover it would be easier to find all the places of interest listed if this guidebook gave addresses. For now I am simply walking around. I pass the Hotel Ruff Deen where a wedding is being celebrated. Happy family members stand outside a flower festooned hotel entrance. On either side of the doorway are concrete Greek goddesses pouring water from jugs into a bubble bath filled ponds. Since the bubbles are quick to fizz out, white muslin has been added and fluffed up to give the distant appearance of fluffy bubbles.

On a side street I see a common sight in New York City, a picture-framing gallery. It has the typical plastic backlit shop sign and the interior is furnished with blond wood tones. Pastel images are displayed in garish frames and a sign n the door indicates visa is accepted. But it stands as a lone piece of trite modernity on a long street with no other goods for sale. Immediately next door is a tiny green door that has a faded green sign with yellowing letters proclaiming it to be a hairdressing saloon. The saloon is packed and people are chatting. The gallery is empty and the salesman looks cold from the air conditioning inside.

Turning onto Shakespeare Sarani, which the locals are proud to say makes Kolkata the only city that named a street after the bard, I see what I take to be a hearse. But it might be a yogic guru in some feat of quiet contemplation. A small truck, with a flashing blue light a top the cab, which is not being followed by a cavalcade of cars, has what can best be described as a greenhouse on its flat bed. Inside the green house, which is filled with cut strings of flowers, laid flat on the bed and covered with many more garlands is a bearded white man untroubled by the traffick around him. Occasionally the blue light would flash and a siren would compete with the claxons of the Ambassador taxis that dominates the city streets. The shrill whistles of a policemen, in his white wellies and wearing a white hard hat, adds to the cacophony of yellow and black-bodied cabs and does nothing to urge the hearse/guru on his way.

back to top