Walking on the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata II (India Blog 13)
I walked up the curved ramp toward the entrance to the bridge meeting a heavy stream of people just swarming across from the western side. They are not out for enjoyment. They are seriously headed for somewhere important. They are not on a lark like me, I want to say. I took some pictures but realized that I was going against the flow of human traffic. And the bridge vibrates. One feels it all the way across as one walks. The Hooghly is a big river, quite wide.
Just as one comes onto the bridge, there is a sign that asks people not to spit. Spitting is a problem. Right then, my film ran out. There was no place to sit down and change it. This was the Kodak color film in the old Minolta. So I had to change the film just standing there by a railing.
Some crazy person, perhaps religious, came and started putting on an act in front of me. He was trying to attract my attention. But I ignored him, working to change my film. Some small school boys were also watching me. I don’t think they have ever seen a film camera before.
I then marched across the bridge to the other side taking some pictures. One goes down a ramp and then down stairs on the other side. Then there is an underpass that goes over to the other side of the bridge. There was no need for me to go there, as I was going to walk back on the same side of the bridge, the north side.
However, I was glad that I went through there and took a couple of pictures. On the other side, there was a pisser, right out in the open. An array of men, maybe 12 or so wide, were standing and collectively pissing. Brotherhood of pissers. I just pretended to be taking a picture of the bridge, but moved the camera around to get a picture of them relieving themselves. The 28 mm lens made it easier.
Then, I walked back through the underpass to the other side and started across the bridge again.
There are signs that forbid doing vending on the bridge, but in several cases, they are being ignored. I took some pictures of people selling things on the bridge. Some guys were selling fruit. They cut up several types of fruit, papaya, banana, watermelon and so on, and make a bowl of fruit to sell. I would have liked to have one, but I was afraid that it would totally fuck up my stomach.
When I got to the other side, I walked down the steps to the famous flower market. I remembered a video I had seen of it on Youtube. It was not as interesting as I expected when I was actually there and saw it. Peons were carrying big bags of flowers on their heads over the bridge to the other side.
Most of the flowers are saffron color, which is the Hindu holy color. There is obviously a huge market for them.
All kinds of baggage and supplies were being carried across in both directions. I stayed on the bridge for a while to get some pictures of guys coming carrying things on their heads and on poles over their shoulders.
Back on the street, I ended up on a busy corner. It was practically impossible to get across the street with all the traffic. When the light changed, it was not long enough to beat the traffic.
I stayed on the corner for a long time, just taking pictures of those old broken down buses. They were stopping right in front of me. They have a conductor who stands in the door and calls out where the bus is going.
Man! One can see shades of that film of Satyajit Ray, The Apu Trilogy, on the street here. I remembered the young guy, Apu, on the streets of Calcutta. I love those three films and watch them over and over. They are reproduced by the Criterion Collection of films. Beautifully done. It is hard to watch them without crying. Powerful films done with primitive equipment in black and white. I love them. It was a real struggle to produce them in India.
I hope that I got some good pictures there.
I realized that the best way to get across the street was to join a group of people and cross with them. When the light would turn green for walking, the old buses were blocking the path. And the light was too short, in any event. It was an amazing scene.
Finally, I got across with others and walked for a long way with sore feet. My feet were getting sorer all the time. I decided that it was enough photos there and I got a taxi, an old Hindustan Ambassador to Sudder Street. Lytton Hotel. Funny, I told the driver, the Alka Hotel, I realized later. But we got to my place. The old taxis are life-savers.
After a rest, I went to Zaranc Restaurant and had some Chinese dumplings and draft beer. After that, felt fine. I went through the small streets back of the hotel, near Hogg Market, and shot the rest of a roll of black and white film. But I am now starting to get low on black and white film.
The temperature was 27 degrees C today. Man! I recovered with those Chinese dumplings and draft beer. It was light and very good for the evening.
Today when I was on the other side of the bridge, as I was about to come back, I saw some guys discover a dead body under the bridge. One of the guys ran to get someone to come and pick the guy up.
I don’t know how people can survive in some of these streets that are complete hell-holes, worse than shitholes, as Trump has it. And the brutality of these rickshaws here. These runner rickshaws! Man. It has to be outlawed. Those guys are literally dying in the harness. My goodness! Tonight I saw a whole family, man, wife, two children, climbing into one of these rickshaws. And the poor guy was going to run pulling them by foot. Can you imagine such a thing?
I don’t know how many miles a day that they have to run like a horse in the streets. This is something sort of hidden, unrevealed to the world. At least, people just do not think about it. How can one have such a torture of humans as in this country?
Indians will get angry if any Westerner points out that it is brutal. But really, that is the height of being a hypocrite. I tried getting a picture of that and several other scenes also. I hope they turn out OK. I will hang it up for tonight.
Kolkata is a wonderful city. But one needs more time.