Sunday, March 11, 2007

City of Joy?

Kolkata musings
The first thing one notices when stumbling out of Kolkata's Howrah train station at some too-early hour is the abundance of charming, old-fashioned yellow taxi cabs, and the corresponding lack of bicycle-rickshaws and auto-rickshaws (3 wheeled bats from hell). After crossing the magnificent bridge seperating the station from Kolkata proper, one also notices the abundance of that mythical contraption dreamed up in Japan in the 1800's, the human-pulled rickshaw. Kolkata is the last city in the world to hang on to these slow and outdated contraptions, but it seems to be incapable or unwilling to do away with them. In the guesthouse where I stay there is a book filled with facts and figures from early 1996, and one of the boxed texts proclaims that the government has abolished the rickshaw and they'll be off the streets by the end of 1996. Hmmm...

To my memory, I never rode a train until I was 18 years old (which must seem bizarre to my Japanese and European readers), but ever since that maiden voyage from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport to the city I've had a fascination with them, especially subways. Kolkata sports India's only subway system (with a modest single line) though according to reports Delhi is soon to unveil another. It's quick, frequent, and above all extremely cheap, costing between 4 and 8 rupees per journey (9-18 US cents). It's aesthetic is reminiscent of the NYC subway: grimy but functional. And which city's subway is the most beautiful, you ask? Strikingly, it's Bangkok's elegant contribution (though the safety record leaves something to be desired). But I digress...

Wasting Away?
On the side of the road sat a poor Indian woman with a scale and a metal bowl containing a few rupees. I hadn't checked my weight since I left Japan nearly 3 months ago, so I put my bag down, slipped off my sandals and climbed aboard. Much to my surprise, the scale read "56.5 kg" (For those stragglers who haven't climbed aboard the metric train yet, that's 124.3 pounds). This means I've either shed 7 or 8 kg's (about 16 pounds), or this woman's scale is spinning lies.

Assuming the scale is mechanically sound, I attribute this mainly to a period of about 3 weeks when I was having gut issues, or as some dear friends back home used to say after eating several taco bell chilli cheese burritos, "watery shits". During this period I couldn't stomach Indian food and was subsisting mainly on bananas and yoghurt.

Happily, this ailment is but a distant memory, and I'm once again eating whatever slop I can scrounge up for 8 rupees on the street, being sure to chew carefully (gotta watch out for those rocks).

From Street Food to Street Everything
Who can resist it: piping hot chicken rolls, chow mein, egg sandwiches, teas, sugar cane juice, coconuts, and everything else your greedy little taste buds crave is being hocked on the streets in India. But did you know it's equally easy to get a shave on the road? Or have your ears cleaned? Or a tooth pulled? Almost anything offered in shops can be found a little cheaper out in the elements.


shakester said...

glad you like the street food, if with consequences.
the metro is Delhi started a couple of year s ago actually, and is meant to be far superior to anything else in the country. The network itself is nascent, but the service is reported to ne good.

Seth said...

Glad I have someone here who can point out my blatent mistruths and keep me on my toes.