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INDIA | Thursday, 28 January 2016 | Views [384]

A moment ago I looked up at the blue/grey evening sky to see around a dozen buzzards circling over the stretch of fisherman's beach here at Puri. On my first morning I took a walk along this same stretch, stepping over and around mooring ropes, and counted three dead turtles and one dead dog which looked rather like a pig. Crows and pigeons make up the rest of the obvious bird population.

Puri, from my limited experience, is a struggle for survival, where competition is high and demand, currently at least, low. Rickshaw and Auto Rickshaw drivers, beach masseurs, chai shops, local entrepeneurs peddling the same wares or packages, like the buzzards and crows, are pecking at limited resources. Currently I feel like one of those resources and, however friendly the locals may or may not be and however much I try to understand this, I am finding it all a tad annoying. Sitting on my hotel balcony facing the sea and in a break from one of my many books (more later) I, in fact, found that I was feeling angry. Pooooor me!

Puri, of course (!), is a magical memory of my childhood. As a four or so year old we came on holiday here from Calcutta and I have memories of endless white sand beaches, friendly fishermen, huge waves and being looked after by my own fisherman/lifeguard as I sported a conch shaped hat with the number 4 (or 5) on it, my guard sporting the same number on a similar but of course much larger hat.

Today I took a swim in the sea, an experience I thought I would not have given reports of the polution which has arisen in the 45 odd years since my last visit and also becuase of the undertow here. Anyway swim I did, crash through some waves I also did and think of my brother I did too. We both loved the wave diving in, through and over variety. 

My plans are to stay here a bit longer and try to chill out. Swim, read, eat, meditate, do chi gung and maybe meet some people. After that most probably to Bodh Gaya and a pilgrimage, which will be a change of scene and pace.

Before arriving in Puri I spent two days and one night in Salt Lake Calcutta. Salt Lake is something akin to the Hampstead of Calcutta and as such a different experience from my first encounter with Calcutta at Park Street. More wealthy, greener, more spacious and less stressful. I ended up there on the recommendation of Karma, who I had met in Gangtok and, although regretting it at first as the cab ride was expensive, I soon came to appreciate being there. 

I had booked a room via the Oyo web site and, having finally found the hotel, discovered that not only was it closed until 12pm but that I had also booked the wrong dates and so had no room to check into. Thankfully, an Oyo customer services rep was very helpful and utilising the trusty Ola taxi ap I was able to make my way to another guest house close by, leaving a dead rat being pecket at by crows behind me nearby the previous hotel.

I was then able to check in and meet up with Karma and Dia for a coffee, meal and tour of a local market before heading back for an early night. 

The next day I got up, enjoyed a coffee and omelette reading the Calcutta Times and made my way to the Kolkata Book Fair at the Mely Melia (?) Stadium, which Karma had mentioned to me the evening before and which, with a day to fill and an interest in books not to mention 13 odd years working in a bookshop, I felt an enthusiasm to visit.

The Fair was no disappointment, even though this was its first day and many of the stalls were not complete or even begun in some cases. I thoroughly enjoyed browsing my way through many a stall, making notes of books to be purchased at later dates and keeping in mind what I would buy this day, even though it would mean having to lug the things until I read them. So browsing broken by one kedgerie lunch these were my final choices and purchases in order of purchase, not of choice: 50 Shades of Grey; A biography of Dr Ambedkar; Oh Shit Not Again (a lightweight Indian best seller) and the Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. A fairly eclectic, even confusing collection which I won't even try to explain. These have now joined my live reading matter, wich includes Shakespeare's sonnets and the Bodhicaryavatara.

I am currently reading the awareness section of the latter having finished Forbearance and Vigour for the time being. My mind is really like the 'roaming elephant' it is likened to and I am trying and largely failing to bind it on all sides with the rope of mindfulness. Sometimes I try to imagine (again) that I am Sangharakshita but it has made me realise more so than before just how little effort I have put into firming up my sieve like mind. Enough self reproach!

Spending time at the Book Fair I also reflected on my time at Waterstone's and at Foyles and on how I have sabotaged my potential largely through anger and ill will, which has served to restrict and constrict me. By enjoying the fair and admiring the books and authors I felt open within me the possibility not of selling books but of appreciating them and even writing them. There is a wealth of riches to be enjoyed within me and without. 

From the book fair I met up once more with Karma who tried to help me find some jeans to buy, visiting a 'supermarket', name forgotten (maybe the Big Bazaar) where I had to leave my bag and be frisked on entry and where purchases were carefully checked by a security guard on the way out. From there to my hotel where I had left my large rucksack, my first failure with the Ola ap at the worst time and a frantic rush to make my way to Howrah station in time for my train to Puri. Once again I was indebted to the urbane and universal charm of Karma who had me pass my phone on to the auto rickshaw driver taking me to a cab stand and have him hail a cab and negotiate the fare on my behalf with a yellow cab driver (cab not driver being yellow). 'No more than 200 rupees!' 

Anyway, I made it to the station in plenty of time through parts of Calcutta I did not recognise at all (Vivekananda Rd amongst them) up until we reached the famous Howrah Bridge, built by the British Army in the Second World War the funding of which contributed to the deaths of around 2 million Bengalis from famine. From the waiting room to the platform onto the train and into my carriage, this time an AC3 compartment with 3 as opposed to 2 beds on each side, of which I happened to be in the middle one. No great hardship, it just make drinking from my water bottle a trifle tricky (the workd 'trifle'  made me think of Mum, God bless her). A 22.35 departure made for a 7am ish arrival and the Puri survival race.

To finish, I am currently staying in a really nice but expensive sea front hotel, with a room overlooking the sea. I can hear the wind or waves when conscious and can walk to the beach in minutes. I shall probably move somewhere cheaper and more sociable the day after tomorrow.



Tags: beaches, books, filth

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