Howrah Bridge Walk I (India Blog 12)
5:00 Afternoon. Man! I am tired. Walked a long way. Walked across the Howrah Bridge and then back across again. Took a lot of pictures with the Minolta in colour. I will write the story as I get time.
It is almost dark now.
After breakfast, I left the hotel around 9:00. I thought to just walk to the Howrah Bridge, but it is a good long distance. That’s for sure! It seems like three miles on the map that I have. I was glad that I went a little early. The traffic was not too bad at that time.
For part of the distance, the people who live in the open along the street were just starting to set up their shops. Shops have been set up along the sidewalk for much of the way.
There are hundreds of places for street food. Channa and puri. Most of it looks okay, but it cannot be very sanitary, it seems, for sure.
They have large heavy metal trunks where they pack their things every night. Then they break it out again in the morning. It is a huge work. What a struggle just to survive!
In some places, they had made packs in large plastic sheets, tied up with ropes. They were taking the ropes off. It seems that some of them sleep there. There were hundreds of people holding metal plates, standing and eating food. Various kinds of channa (chickpeas) and puri (fried bread). Also curried potatoes. The food smells good, but it would be hard to eat in such filth. It is cooked in the stoves that they have set up all along the sidewalks.
There are huge old buildings that in British times would have been elegant and beautiful. A hundred years ago. Now, they are falling into decay.
There are many old buses. Many of the city buses are old, beat up, and terribly crowded. I took many pictures.
In one place, there were some benches next to a big garden. This is BBD Bagh in Dalhousie Square. I was tired by that time and sat down for a rest.
An old guy came and sat down next to me. He looked older than me, but later told me that he was sixty-five. A Bihari from Patna. He hardly knew any English. I could only understand part of his Hindi. I was trying to remember some Hindi but sometimes started to fall into speaking Turkish.
He was just a friendly guy that wanted to talk to me. They say that Calcutta is the most friendly city in India. Some people are not friendly, but people are not mean or hostile.
I wanted to mention that these low-scale workers on the street and working in the markets and other places are constantly shouting to each other. Sometimes angrily, it seems, but always very loud. Well, how could they not be crude, the way they have been treated. Worse than animals. Society has use for their labour only.
So it was a strange discussion with this guy in mixed languages. He told me his name, but I can’t remember it. He was more than half toothless and that made him look older. He asked me all the places where I had been in India. I listed a few for him and he started talking about Varanasi. He ask me something about what I was eating, but I could not understand all of it. Finally, he said good-bye and walked on. He seemed to be a decent person.
I walked on. I had already taken pictures of the large red-brick building across the street from the garden.
When I crossed the street, I noticed that it was the Writer’s Building, the famous building where British clerks worked. There was a notice above and arched doorway that it was the Writer’s Building. I wanted to take a picture of that sign, but a police officer came and said “no.” That was okay. It is part of some government bureaucracy now. It takes up a huge area. In any event, one can take pictures of if from across the street.
I walked on. Before long, the masses on the side walk became more crowded. Sometimes I had to wait for others, as there is so little space left for people to walk in. Then there were more sidewalk cafes. Further were shops selling big pipes, types of water pumps, auto parts. Also big pieces of round and flat steel. By this time, I could see the top of the steel girders of the Howrah Bridge. What a landmark!
As I got closer to the bridge, I couldn’t see exactly where one would enter the roadway. There was a constant stream of people coming in from a side road, so I thought that must be the way. Buses were also coming down that road. So I saw how to enter the stream of people, but I was actually crossing on the wrong side. The south side stream of people were going west. The north side stream of people were coming east to where I was. But some other people were going my way too. Some peons were carrying huge bags of flowers on their heads from the flower market under the bridge.
Getting across the roads in that area is a problem. There are so many buses coming. If one finds an opening, they can be hit with a motorcycle. There is mass confusion. Just total anarchy. John Kenneth Galbriath once described India as a “functioning anarchy.” I think that Calcutta is the closest possible thing to anarchy!
(To be continued)