Beheading Goats and more Kolkata

January 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Calcutta (Kolkata) is a bit of an assault on the senses.  As soon as you walk out of the hotel, you are in a crowded marketplace with vendors yelling loudly.  Shoppers are dawdling which makes it difficult to get wherever you want to go.   I walked with my hand in my pocket and a firm grip on my wallet and rupees.    We rode in a taxicab that had a hole in its floor and a front seat that was unhinged and slid back and forth.  There are a lot of people who are far from making ends meet.  Poor poor beggars who do not have the energy to get aggressive.  Old old  feeble men or women sitting with a little beggars bowl in front of them waiting for someone to drop some coins into them.  They look vacantly.  These are the poorest of the poor Mother Theresa sought to serve.

This city was the capital from which  the British ruled  for 300 years of their 350 year Raj.  They left their mark more through the infrastructure than architecture.  Broad streets.  Beautiful Parks.  Railways.

The British are not recalled fondly here.  Instead we heard how 2 or 3 million people starved during WWII as the British diverted food to its military operations in SE Asia.

The city has been overwhelmed at times by refugees from West Pakistan in the late 40’s and then Bangladesh in the 70’s.  The state and local government has been governed by Marxists for 30 years up until a few years ago.  Some of course blame them for Calcutta not keeping pace with other cities in India.  They did hold a political rally which effectively shut down the central city one of the afternoons that we were there.  Apparently such rallies are commonplace.  Kathleen and Patrick became frustrated sightseers as they sat in traffic not moving for 2 or 3 hours.   It was a bit surreal to see all the red hammer and sickle flags of the Communist Party.  On a similar note, there are also Maoist guerrillas in some states in India.  Recently one of the Maoist leaders to turned himself into the authorities for the political assassinations that he planned.  The local papers think that may be indication of the decline of that movement.

One can see how the city has been overwhelmed by the refugees and general migration of the poor when you go to Kalighat.  Kalighat is a location about an hour from Mother Theresa’s residence where her hospice is located.   Kali is a prominent goddess among the thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Hindu gods.  The city of Calcutta is named after her.

Mother Theresa’s hospice is directly next door to one of the holiest Hindu temples that is devoted to Kali.  The hospice is a former Dharamsala or resting place for pilgrims that was given to Mother by a Hindu.  Patrick, Kathleen and I stepped inside the front door.  We were immediately in a room of 45 cots.  Each  had a man sleeping covered in a colorful blanket.  There was not an empty cot.   A couple of the guys seemed more homeless than dying.  One of them kept playing peek a boo with folks walking past and saying good bye to smiling volunteers or sisters who walked past us to go out the front door. There was sign immediately in front of us that indicated that there were 45 men and 45 women residents and 1 person had died up to that point this day.  Martin elected to stay outside.  He was a bit concerned about two homeless perhaps dead people lying still under blankets.

We then went next door to a Hindu temple dedicated to Kali.   It was jamming.  January is a popular month for the wife of Shiva. She is an angry goddess and we could see the long stains of blood where beheaded goats had been dragged across the cobblestones to the butchers’ quarters.   Patrick and Martin watched a goat get beheaded while Kathleen and I stood some distance apart transported back in time 3000 years.

Later upon returning to Hyderabad, it was so apparent how our home city is doing so much better.  People are dressed well.  There is much less poverty.  It feels positively suburban!  Sort of.  Kathleen commented that if I were based in Calcutta, she would have left for the US after 2 days.