Sunday, February 27, 2011

wait a minute...not a single unflattering photo of myself for a whole week?

What a week. 
Although it seems as if I have reached some new stage of cultural adaptation, I've had a range of moods and plenty of Serious Moments over the last few days.  February has something to do with it, no doubt, but that means something different here.  Summer is usually in full swing by early March, I have been told, and it gets hot.  I have not yet experienced the humid and mind-numbing heat of an Indian city in the summer, but apparently it leaves you so drained that you don't want to cook, eat, or work.  I am told that you can't even think.'s hot. (*)

Earlier this week, that would have been very welcome.  Too much thinking and rethinking and over-thinking.  Blah.  It would have been nice to turn that off a little. 
Yes, I am (finally) adapting (a little) to Calcutta and even somewhat mirroring the extremes of her contrasts.  Evidently the process involves as much intensity and pain as the city has to offer and, well, you'll just have to believe me on that one until you get a chance to experience it for yourself. 

Or you can take it from the experts.  In his book Calcutta, The City Revealed, Geoffrey Moorhouse introduces this great and terrible erstwhile capital of the British Empire: "This is the problem city of the world, with problems that not only seem insoluble but which grow every day at a galloping and fantastic rate.  […] Winston Churchill told his mother that 'I shall always be glad to have seen it—for the same reason that Papa gave for having been glad to see Lisbon—namely, that it will be unnecessary for me ever to see it again.' […] The truth is that almost everything popularly associated with Calcutta is highly unpleasant and sometimes very nasty indeed.  It is bracketed in the Western mind with distant rumours of appalling disaster, riot and degradation." 
Moorhouse has plenty of good stuff to say about Calcutta in his book.  It is obvious that he both admires and despises her, feels himself shrinking away from some of the worst she has to offer, and in awe that she still manages to survive (and in some corners even thrive).  He doesn't lie about the extent of the wreckage from famines, various wars and the naked greed that was the foundation of the city back when it served as the headquarters of the East India Trading Company.  And that is what is most distressing; he is trying hard to be honest.  His project was to document a little of the life of a city, the lives of its millions upon millions of inhabitants, and its past lives under various British (and perhaps Armenian) rules.  Rich and poor made the city and to both belong her horrors and her wealth.   

Moorhouse worked hard to create a truthful account and that is terribly upsetting to me because his story lines up with the one I have heard from my neighbors and others who say that the poverty of Calcutta—of India—is so devastatingly wretched that it is hard to compare it to anything.  These stories are the kind that make me want to curl up with some heartwarming fiction like Push.  (You know, the one they made into the movie "Precious.")  Because in Calcutta you encounter, on a regular basis, the kind of horrors that are usually confined to genocides or famines or sometimes prisons--all those times when humanity is on her worst behavior. 

Except that right now there is no war, nor famine nor genocide.  Just a city going about her business day after day.  It is ugly.

Turn-away-and-run-far-away ugly.  Get-on-that-plane-and-never-look-back ugly.
I am going to keep writing because (you'll never believe it) I have things to say.  I even have hope-full things to say, finally.  If you are interested, you are welcome to read along.  If this sounds like something you might not want to dive into during the month of February, or any other month, please don't. 

For those who do want to read, whenever it starts to get a little too intense and you start to feel Very Serious and Sober, then try to do what I did: take a Simcha break.  She is by far the funniest Jewish Catholic mom-of-eight blogger out there.  Sure, she's got her serious moments, too, I'm not saying that, but she's also got The Jerk, and this (don't let the title fool you, because it ends on a note of pure optimistic joy: "I’m just glad we belong a religion that believes in the value of suffering. Because, man, it’s only Tuesday. . .").  The comments to "My hobby" might be the funniest thing ever, besides the post itself. 

See you back here tomorrow, then!

Oh wait, I almost forgot.  Ta-da:

(*it's a bengal tiger.  get it?)

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