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July 3 & 4, 2008 - Starting in the Subcontinent: Kolkata

INDIA | Saturday, 12 July 2008 | Views [346]

I was completely mistaken in my misconceptions about Kolkata, or Calcutta, the former British Trade Captial of their Indian Colony. I blame the image of millions of starving children in a desert of devastated, crumbling mud homes on Sally Struthers and Charities that show westerners only the most destitute and poignant glimpses of the empoverished areas of the world in order to open our pockets. Allow me to exempt Mother Theresa. Yes they are doing more good than I am, probably, but miseducation comes in all types of packaging, and is universally detrimental. To be sure, Kolkata is fighting overwhelming levels of poverty, but that's not the whole story.While poverty is omnipresent, Kolkata is a modern city, with many economic tiers. It has shopping canters, an easily used Metro system, internet cafes, beautiful mosques, churches, and temples, as well as high-end businesses, hotels, and restaurants and a gorgeous downtown park. Although we were only there for one day, we met several very nice Indians, but many more beggars & con-artists. Other things that hold Kolkata back, aside from the sheer volume of the poor, uneducated, and unconcerned, is an uncontrollable smog problem(the most severe I've ever encountered), a disbelief in the benefits of clean water(where available) and washing, and the garbage mountains that can be found mid-block. Most Indian cities, towns and villages have no garbage removal systems.

Kolkata does, however, have something very unusual to India in its downtown parks and gardens. A former stretch of tiger and elephant filled dense jungle was leveled to give the Brits a clear shot of either the city or the ocean from their fort. The remaining tigers and elephants only exist as charactiture trash bins in these parks, which no one seems to use nor empty. Some show burns - perhaps that's how they're emptied. Otherwise this huge expanse of downtown greenery is filled with football(soccer)and cricket matches, horses and carriages, marble British-Indian monuments fusing the elements of architecture from the UK, ancient Greece, and traditional India. Most unexpectedly, Indian couples on picnics or lunch hours were present here. Quite a progressive scene considering how taboo men talking publicly to women is throughout the rest of India. We found the Metro to be very useful, and also a few acceptably clean restaurants. Here I met my first Indian love: Thali! Thali are huge set meals with mounds of various delicious foods for just over 1 US dollar.

Tags: calcutta, kolkata


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