Suds and Pollution in Kolkata (India Blog 16)
This evening, I walked down the street to that place called “Blue Sky Restaurant” near Sudder Street. It is a really bad place, but has cheap food. Some Chinese. It cannot be said that the food is good. I ordered almond chicken and rice. It was edible, but that is about all.
The tables are narrow, made of clear glass and look very bad. The waiter shouts the orders through a window to the cooks in the back. The place is crude and noisy. But a lot of tourists eat there because it is cheap, I guess. It is mentioned in Lonely Planet. But I will avoid going there again. Once is plenty for me. Street food is probably just as good as that, but one does not have a place to sit. I know that I have been spoiled by the restaurants in Turkey. And spoiled by the different behaviour of the waiters in Turkey. The bill was less that 300 rupees. Less that five dollars. I was starting to get low on rupees.
In the evening, I walked over to the area in front of Hogg Market (now so-called New Market). I got out my Leica and took a few shots of the vendors crushing guna (sugar cane) to make sweet rus (juice). I cannot drink that shit now, but I used to have to drink it in Punjab when the farmers offered it to me. For me, the taste was terrible. Worse, sometimes the Punjabis mixed it with milk or rose flavoured soda.
I was feeling a little discouraged. I walked back toward the hotel and thought about changing money with that guy who was running a small money exchange and tourism office. He had a rate posted at 71 rupees to a dollar. I thought it was good, if his rupees were any good, that is. It was quite a lot better than the airport. So I changed fifty dollars. His rate is actually 69 to a dollar. I guess there is some tax on it, which I am sure that he does not pay!
Having replenished my rupee moneybags, I headed for Zurich’s Restaurant for some draft beer. That was great and lifted my spirits considerably.
I was glad to change money so easily without the bank bureaucracy that one used to have to go through.
At the restaurant, that was almost empty, I ordered draft beer. The waiter offered me a pitcher for 550 rupees. I thought it was a good deal, so I took it.
“Take it easy, but take it,” as Woody Guthrie used to say.
I knew that would be OK.
It seems that it is easier to take pictures on the street in Calcutta than in Turkish cities. People here do not seem to mind. And the Indians certainly love to take selfies more than Turks.
When the waiter went to get my beer, he didn’t know how to fill the pitcher with the draft beer. When he started filling the pitcher he tipped it on the side. But he had a huge head on the beer. At least six inches. He didn’t know how to get it off. So he went to another part of the restaurant to bring the bartender. That guy scooped off most of the head and put in more beer. I could see what they were doing. There was still a quite big head, but it didn’t matter. The beer was delicious. It seems that they had not mastered the craft of doing pitchers of beer.
Settling down, rather bored, I observed the behaviour of people in the restaurant. There were two young couples at a table not far from me. They were the only other customers in the place, except a family that left soon. The girls were quite “kilolu” as the Turks say, to be polite. They had quite a lot of kilos. They were of university age, but I don’t know if they were students. The way they were acting, seemed rather inelegant to me. They were cutting up, laughing and talking quite loud.
After that, a large group started coming into the restaurant. Twenty people or more. The women sat on one side of the table and the men on the other. A long table had been arranged by the waiters. Only one of the women caught my attention as being slim and attractive. They made an inordinate amount of noise getting settled down at the table. It was a little like the noise on the street. Part of the culture, I suppose. For me, it seemed to create too much confusion.
There were several children in the party around ten or twelve years old.
I finished my beer and paid my bill.
December 10. Monday Morning, 4:40.
The air pollution is so bad in Calcutta these days that people have been warned not to go out for a walk in the morning before 7:30. The pollution is the worst between 11:00 in the evening and 8:00 in the morning. It was way above what is considered to be a safe level.
There is music beating and pounding somewhere close by. I don’t know where it goes on in the morning, but it has not stopped me from sleeping. I slept last night, then woke up at half past 12:00.
In the roadside shops, there are vendors just below my window in the lane on the side of the hotel. They pile the trash from the day in a big pile in the street. I saw the sweeper come with a cart yesterday and a scoop shovel. He shovelled up a whole cart load and wheeled it away.
Now I hear the izzan (the call to prayer) going down from a mosque. It is 4:50 in the morning.