Madness. That's the only word that can possibly describe the furious pace of life on the streets in Kolkata. Like the boiling pots of curry dished up on the corner, nothing stands still here. More things are in motion, being moved to another location, than any place I've ever been before. It seems everyone has goods on their head, cart, bicycle, or rickshaw, with the goal of getting them somewhere else, almost as if the present location was always unsatisfactory. When I arrived Tuesday morning, I was met by an army of yellow Ambassador cabs left over from the era of the British, in all states of disrepair. Though I've not been there, I had visions of Cuba racing through my head as I wove my way through the bumpers, trying to get away from the hounding of the drivers, my hotel only a short walk from the station. A shower and a place to sleep was all I wanted.
As I walked to my hotel from the train station hordes of men were moving crates of what I later learned was fruit, off of trucks by the thousands. It turns out, the largest fruit market I have ever seen is just block from my hotel. And according to guy on the street, it happens every day. The sheer man power alone required to sustain that kind goods transfer is staggering. Not that there is really any shortage of that here.
Something tells me the organized chaos on the streets of Mumbai is not representative of the rest of India. I've been told, Mumbai is the most expensive city to live in, and as such, affords a certain refined atmosphere.
Kolkata, seemingly the exact opposite, does not. From my uninformed perspective, there are no rules here. Rickshaws, both hand pulled and motorized, mix with cars, motorcycles, cable cars, and buses, driving in all directions unchecked.
Roads turn into one way streets until the police signal the other side of the intersection through, at which time somehow someway a lane forms for one row of vehicles to squeeze through. The flow of traffic through major intersections is managed only by the presence of a single intrepid police officer standing amidst the mayhem.
Long associated with pain and suffering, the streets here are cruel. There are an estimated 70,000 homeless in Kolkata alone, a figure that is a three years old. Poverty is gripping in this city.
But there is beauty to the people here that is endearing. They're warm, friendly, and curious. More people have asked to take a photo with me here than I think I ever experienced anywhere else in the world, always with conversation to follow. I've been offered street food from vendors at no charge on many occasions, and had people approach me simply because I was alone and buy me tea.
Many simply ask to have their picture taken by me, while the camera is dangling at my side.
I had a chance to meet up with Matt Brandon and the guys at On Field Media Project on Wednesday, to see what they were up to. They train NGOs on how to use the tools available to them to create media to tell their organization's story. It's pretty cool stuff. If you're not familiar with Matt's individual work, it can be found here. Thanks again for letting me sit in on a session guys!
I've got some work planned up near Sikkim (between Nepal and Bhutan) coming up here in the next two weeks for an NGO, but I've got a little time to kill before then, so I'm heading to Darjeeling for a week to explore what life is like up there. It's going to be a wild ride for the rest of my time in India. I've had some down time at the beginning of this trip that I've been rather slack about doing something useful with but that is going to change quickly. I'll be here in Kolkata for another day most likely doing some serious research for a personal project and also for some of the other cities I'm planning to visit, but after that I'm off and running. I've got some thoughts on blogging I've wanted to blog about (redundant maybe?) that I'll share in the next few days as soon as they are cohesive.
See you soon.