It rained yesterday. For the first time, the city became almost cool.
In the neighbourhoods nearby, the city is thick. Dense. People apparently don’t like to waste space, or have an aversion to seeing too much of it.
In the better-to-do suburbs, city regulations require that you leave at least 6 feet between your house and the one next door. In other parts, notable the nearby “colony” where refugees settled from Bangladesh after the partition, there are no such requirements. Houses occupy each lot as completely as they can, sometimes leaving no more than 6 inches between each home.
Elsewhere, no space is permitted as each house builds on top of and into the adjacent ones.
In traffic, cars and other vehicles ignore the dotted and even the solid lines if there’s space enough to squeeze in. At stop lights, autos and motorcycles sandwhich themsleves in between the idiling buses and sedans.
Much of the city is a mix of old and new. Most of it ancient, graying, wrapped-in cables and soot-covered, but some of it oddly, polished and made of glass. It’s strange to be driving down the road, marvelling at the boxy, apartmented landscape, only to see it broken by a mega-mall with dazzling lights and strangely cubist art dotting the front facade.
Park Street is the most British-seeming part of town. The massive buildings that line the street look like something that would be at home in London or elsewhere. Bookstores with names like Oxford, that offer international selections, and trendy little cafes and pubs can be found beneath vine-tangled awnings.
There’s also the largest concetration of foreigners I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
Nearby is the Indian Museum, a colonial vestige. It’s known for being the first European-style museum in India (and possibly all of Asia). Its collections rest in a massive white stone and marble building, and include Bengali paintings, archaeological tidbits, and tons of shit the British pillaged from elsewhere (including a mummy).
The AC is also shoddy, and the building is stuffy like a sauna. We don’t last very long.
In the evening, down by the ganges, I saw a bat the size of a seagull. I looked up at the oddly slow moving darkness in the evening sky.
There’s plenty to eat for fruit bats. Mango trees and coconuts are as common a sight as crab apples in the countryside. Maybe more so.
There’s also the odd papaya about.
None of the revellers out for their Mayday holiday seem to mind. The thousands of people walking the promenade under white and blue lights, and the glow of stalls promising fried vegetables, are here for the waterfront and the ginger tea sold in tiny clay cups.
In the Northern part of the city, where the airport sits, the city looks more recognizable. There are wide, clean boulevards, with symmetrical rows of street lines and plain, open fields on each side awaiting new development.
In Calcutta’s nearby tech hub, ultra-modern buildings dot the edges of the industrial parks. Nearby, tacky restaurants that look like log cabins meet McDonald’s drive-ins, covered with bright lights and flashy signage, offer expensive diversions for the white collar wage earners.