Steel Notes Magazine Spring 2017 - Page 83

www.steelnotesmagazine.com Steel Notes Magazine awhile. The setting is indeed like a Tagore poem, with flowers, paddies, red earth, green trees, bright stars. It was a primitive and peace- ful interlude. Pre-monsoon Calcutta was becoming very hot and humid. Mark Twain once said about Calcutta that the weather can make a brass doorknob feel mushy, and that didn’t seem like an exaggeration. We decided to go to Manali in the Himalayas. We took a train to Jalunder in the Punjab, and from there got a bus to Ropar. The bus broke down, and we all had to wait several hours for another bus to come along. When it did arrive there was no room inside, and we all had to sit on top of the bus for the rest of the trip into Ropar. There we waited for five hours for our bus to Manali. Finally, after a rocking, rolling, muscle-tearing, bone-breaking ride all night long, we reached Manali early in the morning, and it felt like the most beautiful place on earth. A gorgeous green valley surrounded by snow-capped Himalayan peaks, it is filled with enchanted forests, full of burbling brooks and glades, rivers and waterfalls, a zillion kinds of trees, from pine and spruce to cherry and apple. The forest often felt like a spacious cathedral of peace and beauty. There were small paddies of wheat, eagles, crows and cuckoos, and hillsides graced by stone villages and temples. All this and the best charrras in India is grown and rubbed in Manali. Despite my vacillating feelings, we did get married, and it happened, as so many things did in my life, impulsively. We were back in Cal- cutta, and Penelope had gone around the corner to the doi (Yogurt) shop to buy some doi. They also made and sold a sweet that I liked called limbu sondesh. While she was gone I said to myself, “If she gets some sondesh, we’ll get married. She came back with yogurt and sondesh, and the next day we went to see the marriage registrar, Sri A.K. Bose and make arrangements. The wedding took place a few days later on the fifth of June. We had three witnesses, a Sikh, a Jain and a Tantric Swami, all friends of ours. It was Thursday, a dry day in Calcutta, which meant no alcohol, so we celebrated by going to Flurry’s for tea and almond rings. The weather in Calcutta had improved by the time we returned. The city, famous for so many reasons, was an unforgettable experience. I lived there for somewhere between seven months and a year, and I’ll always cherish the privilege of having experienced this amazing city. Just wandering the streets I could see women patting dung into patties and sticking them to walls and trees to dry. Later they will use them as fuel for their cooking fires. People taking baths in puddles and at broken water mains. Bejeweled ladies in fine silk saris stroll- ing behind wealthy, well-dressed gentlemen with elegant mustaches. Bearers pulling overloaded carts, and women balancing huge pots, trays, urns on their heads as they weave between cars, busses, taxis, rickshaws, bicycles, buffalo, holy cows and holy men. Calcutta both bombards and bathes me with consciousness-expanding images and experiences. The city inspired the Nobel Prize-win- ning poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, the starkly beautiful films of Satyajit Ray and the spiritual music of Ravi Shankar, yet for millions of people around the world it conjures up nothing but images of the black hole, poverty, deformity and death. For more than three centuries, everyone from rajahs to refugees has continued to pour into the paradoxical city. Calcutta is turbulent and tranquil, a spiritual haven to many, a den of iniquity to others. Many cherish it as a center of intellectual and artistic thought and expression, while for the endless stream of impoverished job seekers that flood into Calcutta from nearby states and countries, includ- ing Bihar, Assam, Nepal and Bhutan, it is a sea of hope. In the midst of grand old buildings such as the Gothic-style Calcutta High Court built in 1872, the Indian Museum established in 1878, and the marble memorial to Queen Victoria for which George V laid the foundation in 1906, a row of women and children crouch on the ground like baboons searching each other’s hair for insects. A barefoot man trots down the street pulling healthy, well-dressed chil- dren, with deep, kohl-darkened eyes, in a hand-pulled rickshaw. Harijan children, naked, or dressed in threadbare cotton, are running, playing, begging, as men in dhotis sit on the sidewalk and get a shave from the loin-clothed barber squatting before them. Individuals are roaming, watching, constantly picking up bits of discarded food, or whatever can be salvaged, sold, or made into some- thing. Women squat on the ground and cut scavenged, shriveled vegetables on old, rusty blades. Then cook over burning dung patties, coarse shawls pulled around their faces to shield them from the smoke, as they stir their family’s meager meal. The images, both beautiful and grotesque, dance before th H^Y\Y]HX\[ܙ[]H] [[[]Hو[[ۈ[܋X[[ZKY]\[]X[]K\H]x&\ۜ[ۙ˂Y[\XY^[B˜Y[\XY^[KB