My trip to India in Feb 2014
In February of 2014, I made a trip to India. Primarily the Mahanagar Kolkata. (is it a mahanagar ? ...well...depends on the perspective and the relative nagars). For folks who are confused by the term 'MahaNagar' it means "Great City" in Bengali or Hindi as I know it. Maha means anything great or huge or large or wonderful. Nagar means city or town. The term Mahanagar was also used and popularized as the title of a famous iconic classic movie directed by legendary film director Satyajit Ray.
Believe what you see!
The trip was primarily to visit my family residing in the city for generations. For folks who are foreign to the concept of visiting family in different country for a long period of time, let me explain to you - the trip is very very different from a business trip or a vacation trip even as you might know it in the western world.
Apart from being an international sabbatical type trip to visit my family, let me add that this was a surprise visit to my family. My sister was sick and she was hospitalized a couple of times and had a couple of pretty serious surgeries. That was the trigger for this trip.
When I landed at Kolkata it was a Sunday morning. I took a pre-paid cab from the airport and went straight to my sisters house which is pretty close to the airport and my mother was also staying with my sister at that time. I rang the bell and my sister's daughter opened the door and stood there for a couple of minutes as she could not believe her eyes. I understood the meaning of the phrase 'could not believe my eyes' quite literally..
Some funny anecdotes
In this particular post, I just wanted to share a few funny anecdotes from this trip - ( some of this is corruption related and you could also call it anti-corruption campaign )
1. Rickshaw rates hike due to ? ( answer : because Cops bribes got higher ) .
Yes , unbelievable but true. The area where my mother lives is a suburb of Calcutta/Kolkata which is still served by hand-pulled and cycle-rickshaws. If you are not familiar with those terms and concepts, you can search for these in Google. So one day I took a cycle-rickshaw from my mom's place to get to the nearest Metro station.
I asked the rickshaw driver how much the fare was and he started explaining that the rates have really gone up quite a bit. When I asked him why it went up, his response was "Sahib, do you know the cops in these areas are charging so much more?" . I asked "Charging taxes or what ?". His response was "No , the ghoos (bribe) amounts have really gone up now" !!!!!
2. Taxi drivers refusal created a special cab service called no-refusal taxi cabs service but they are most of the time out of service !
Based on my experience with hailing taxi cabs in Kolkata this year, I would say I was refused about 90 percent of the time. Only 10 percent of the time the taxi driver actually agreed to go where I wanted to go in one shot or attempt. I think in this city the refusal has become so rampant that it has become like a habit for them. It is like checking for forged notes/bills when you hand over cash to any trader in the city.
The fun started when someone mentioned a new line of taxi cab service called no-refusal cab service. They are white colored cabs with a big NO-REFUSAL TAXI sign painted on the sides. I saw one on the street and waved to the driver and asked him if he could take me to my destination. Do you know what his response was? Well, an alternative way of saying no. He just said "Sorry - I just went out of service !!!"
I know it could be authentic service issue, but my gut told me that it was nothing else than a plain refusal said in a different way.
3. Taxi chased through city streets after collision hit and run.
And all this happened while I as a customer or passenger, was sitting inside the taxi. The driver of my taxi took a sudden U-turn without even looking or caring for the oncoming traffic. Sure enough there was a collision as another small car ( a Maruti ) was coming from the opposite direction oncoming traffic and hit my taxi as it was taking u-turn. Since all this happens in low speetds this are not fatal or very serious and life continues as usual. Only in this case the other car driver and his companion started chasing us ( my taxi). My taxi driver started driving at full speed in busy city streets. Luckily I survived the ordeal.
No place to stroll or jog ... literally
If I were to tell you that there is literally no place to jog or even walk or stroll if you live like a typical Calcuttan (KOlkatan!) , as a westerner or someone living in almost any other city in the world , you would not believe it - right ? But it is TRUE. I stayed in a couple of different localities in North Calcutta and it was true in all those places. In the morning , if I had no major plans I would attempt to go out for a walk ( forget about a jog )...and it was impossible.
There is literally no place to jog or even leisurely run or even walk. It is true as I tried it and failed! All the pavements are used and run over by pavement dwellers and the street vendors ( or hawkers ). You practically have to walk on the middle of the road competing for space and movement with all kinds of vehicles and traffic all competing fiercely to move ahead beyond maybe a couple of miles an hour speed !!