Looks like BangLinux broke even. Given how much we weren’t charging attendees, that’s pretty good. Last day before Tim and I fly home in the evening. Have done our souvenir shopping and bags haven’t burst. Will have to pay excess baggage in Mumbai, that’s all but I can charge that back to Wrox anyway. Small meal last night to say bye bye to everyone. Of course, unable to convey to Wani that I won’t be in at all from tomorrow, but hopefully Bajaj will sort it out. John, Jo and kids back in a month. Sad to go, but keen to see everyone in the UK again.
Sigh. It’s been a trip.
Wake up ill. The dirt and smog has got to me. Realise my trousers are a dark shade of grey. They were a light cream day before yesterday. Decide to escape back to Bangalore. Jet Airways office next to closest thing India has to HMV and sign reading ’Feed the Poor here, 9am, 5.30pm’. Like they are some sort of circus attraction? Mother Theresa did a lot of work here, God rest her, but obviously not enough. Get back to flat and feel instantly better after swim.
Can’t be arsed with further abuse for being an honorary Aussie from the Eden Garden crowd, so move to explore central Calcutta instead. Learn that in general, it’s not that clean, as evidenced by the fact that if you wander around there for a bit and then blow your nose, your snot is black, the council literally shovels dirt off the street and that the Maidan, which is the largest city park in the world looks more like a rubbish tip and grazing pasture for sheep, goats and cows. The grim irony are the no smoking signs around the place. Even the high-rises around the place are in a state of disrepair. It’s not the people that are the problem, it’s the vehicles.
All museums are shut today, so it’s follow the guidebook time. The planetarium has shows alternately in English, Hindi and Bengali. Looks like Calcutta crows are pro-Empire. Every statue of an Indian leader or yogi has a crow on it. Those of the English monarchy at the Victoria memorial are remarkably bird free. Past the zoo to the Indian national library. Want the complete works of Shakespeare in twenty India dialects? Here’s where you get them. Library canteen modelled on boys home dining room in Oliver Twist. Expect Mr Bumble to appear at any time and blast the skin off some humble library lackey. The five star hotel in Calcutta is just round the corner. Doormen replaced with guards with guns and slightly less friendly demeanour. Wonder who’s staying there at the moment?
Try to find the old British colonial centre at Fort William. Guidebook neglects to mention the two US-size freeways to cross and the copy of the Severn bridge crossing the Hugli river which splits the East and West centres of the city. River and its bridges likes the Thames in London but on a bigger scale (of course) and with more boat carcasses run aground on sandbanks amidst the fast-flowing water. More people have their daily bath-cum-urinations in it too. Fort William now army school so no access allowed but the lodge does have a radio tuned to the cricket which tells me Australia are still at bat. Walking up toward Eden Gardens, the roar from the stadium gives away the fact that their last wicket has just fallen. Strangely, there are no touts outside.
Walk north of the Maidan into the commercial area of the city. Stalls are two deep on both sides of the street. The word ’throng’ must have been coined here. Only places of calm are the little graveyard where the founder of Calcutta (Job Charnock) is buried and the site of the large, if incongruous, mosque to the East. The famed black hole of Calcutta is now a plaque on a wall near a street corner. Find the shopping street for foreigners and promptly get offered drugs and women. Just goes to show what they think of us.
Ninety thousand people crammed into Eden Gardens to watch the first day’s play and I end up two seats across from the only other English people in the stadium; two girls on their last day in India. This is cricket India style —the scoreboard breaks down, the Aussie contingent is fenced in, you can tell where Sachin Tendulkar is on the field at any one time because the nearest quadrant of the stands has a thousand people’s faces mashed up against the fence, the seating is concrete covered with whatever cushions you brought and the queue for plastic bags of water is ten times longer than the queue for pepsi and fanta. Am mistaken for a lost Aussie in third session as their batting collapses from 190-1 to 288-8. Am also witness to first ever Indian hat trick in test cricket. Harbhajan Singh, if you’re interested. Wonder if I can get a ticket for tomorrow?
Awake at five, remain knackered and spaced for rest of day while house becomes thoroughfare for everyone collecting and dropping off. Fridge now in dreadful state thanks to neglecting veg? in the bottom try for about a month. Even the lizards have stayed away. Vaguely aware of flying to Calcutta for last break before I leave back to Blighty. More aware that every local has poster paint in at least one colour splashed on their face and torso. Another festival—because it’s the second Saturday of a month within a ‘r’ in it presumably. This one is just known as the festival of colour.
Calcutta is a surprise—it’s quite cool. Instinctively reach for passport, remember I didn’t bring it ’cos I haven’t left the country, and groan because I need it to cash travellers cheques. I want a ticket for tomorrows test match India vs Australia but don’t have that much on me. Taxi gets hit from behind on the way in. Fortunately, hotel is not far away and has complimentary first day tickets for the match, so all is well even if the air conditioning system seems to have a loud speaker attached.