Some thoughts on Kolkata

When I found out that I was coming to India, I started to mentally prepare myself for a totally different life. A life where the food that I would eat, the clothes that I would wear and my line of work would be completely different than what I was used to. I might have over-prepared. I had one pair of sandals that I wore everyday and they looked terrible with a sari (so did my clunky aqua colored watch). I didn’t expect for my school to have two computer labs and a smart board in every classroom (which I still have yet to use). Its funny when I meet someone and tell them that I am from the States they often seem to be surprised that I am coping in such a dusty, smelly and loud place. Often when people think of Kolkata they think of lepers and Mother Theresa, that’s what first came to my mind. Even Indians have very strong emotions about the city. They either love it or hate it. Many agree that Kolkata needs to be rebuilt. One time a woman complained to my roommate and I that Kolkata should be nuked. She had a flare for the dramatics but her distain for the city that she grew up in was evident.

When I got to Kolkata I thought that I would never be able to just sit alone in a café and stay there for hours. Sure, it is still hard to get wi-fi, but I know of at least five places to get some coffee and just chill. There are a ton of Italian, Thai and Chinese places to eat when I don’t feel like Indian (which is rare). Plus, with the cold temperatures, I’m regretting not packing more of my clothing from home. Sure, I don’t drink as much wine and I don’t wear sunglasses too often but, in some ways, I’ve realized that life doesn’t have to be that different.

There are still some really disturbing things about Kolkata too. The streets are usually covered with dirty trash, even in the nice places. On my walk to school, I have seen a child defecate on the curb and a little pants-less boy squat and urinate while hanging his hands over the rail of a major ramp. This was not even off the beaten path. Recycling does’t seem to be a thing here and my local ‘dumpster’ gets burned every morning or couple of days.

I may be used to the driving but that doesn’t mean I still think it is out of this world. The other day I was in a taxi and the driver was continuously honking as he was waiting to make a left turn. Just out of curiosity, I asked him why he was honking so much and he said, “Because I’m turning left and I want this guy to know.” That’s how driving in India works. Your horn is your turn signal and the other person’s rear-view mirrors.

I’m surprised at how much I have adjusted. The peculiar has become the everyday. And the days just continue to pass. I still haven’t learned half the things that I was planning on learning. I have a whole stack of books to read, my Bangla is still elementary and I feel like I haven’t yet mastered a super awesome Indian dish. A year isn’t enough. I feel like I am just starting to live here. But maybe a lifetime isn’t even enough.

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