We were angry, frustrated and tired after a 24 hour train ride. We came to Kolkata just to apply for the Myanmar visa or to find any boat that could take us anywhere out of India, as soon as possible. We had enough of people peeing on the street, in front of us, of being charged extra for every single thing we’d buy, of terrible traffic noise or simply feeling disrespected too many times. But the morning we arrived here we got nothing of what we expected from a 20 million Indian megacity. We got calmness, felt respected as humans again and not just seen as walking wallets, found friendliness and fairness – the opposite of what we had experienced during the last few rough and tough days. That’s why we ended up staying here 9 days, instead of just 2. And we even celebrated Holi here.
The days were recurrent in a positive way, except a few walks we had in the maze of alleys and lanes around New Market or to the Myanmar Consulate. We would wake up and have our morning chai across the street from our hostel, being welcomed with smiles and hugs by the staff of the eatery. Ten minutes later the newspaper man would come in and put The Times of India on our table. He already knows that Ben doesn’t like The Telegraph as much, but after a shy smile he would still end up buying both, though. We are usually in the company of great travelers we met the days before or just new good people sitting at our table.
Around 11 o’clock I would start my busking session, just at the end of the street, where vendors would gladly take a break from doing business and listen to my music. Some even instruct people gathered around me to throw a few rupees in the violin box. If it has been a good session, we would afford a shake for me and a lassi for Ben on the way back. But reaching our room always takes a bit longer than expected, despite the short walking distance. I first stop to grab a tasty masala dosa and just after finishing, the lady with red saree would come and invite me to her “house” – a blanket on the ground and a plastic sheet as rain cover – to play music for her babies. They enjoy it a lot! I then move on and the henna ladies are screaming from the distance: “Mariaaaaa!” spreading their arms and rushing towards me for a hug. They already know I can’t afford a henna tattoo on my hands, as I’m working here everyday, just as they do. But we stop for a small talk which starts with the usual question: “did you have a good business day today?” I let them look for new clients while I continue my “journey” along the street. Gouri, the girl selling chai insists like always to invite me for a small cup of tea. How can I refuse when she puts such a huge smile on her face?
Now it’s past 2 o’clock so Sanjubaba must be already here. I look for him and finally spot his tricycle and his face behind all the necklaces hanging. He’s knotting new bracelets now, but still has a few minutes to share some stories. His calmness and positive energy make me so sincerely happy that I could stay with him for hours.
Later, the volunteers are done with work at Mother Theresa, the sightseers have seen enough so it’s time to gather on the sitting stones of the tiny eatery for a street dinner. All the bums are welcome. We meet new travelers that just arrived here. We exchange ideas, useful information, beer, music, stories. Everybody mostly ends up staying out longer than expected. The staff of our hostel has locked the gate already, but who cares? After all, so many homeless people sleep on the streets that nobody would notice a few more.
As we charged our batteries with enough positive energy, we decide it’s time to leave Kolkata and its Sudder street. But it would be a tough, tough time to say goodbye to all these people who warmed our hearts. They all try to show they’ll miss us: Ma, the sweetest henna lady offers me a free tattoo and a pair of earrings. It’s so difficult to accept them. Sanjubaba gives us handmade bracelets and even invited his family to meet us. Richard, the homeless old man that sleeps in front of our lodge, wants to share his noodle meal and invites us for chai – we convinced him hard to eat it himself rather and settle for a long warm hug. Everybody takes pictures with us. Gouri was the last one we said goodbye to, and she gave us such strong hugs and sweet but slightly sad smile that our departure became even more difficult.
On the bus to the train station I thought: “how can these people having such a tough life still enjoy the everyday simplicity of life? What keeps the smile on their faces?”
Kolkata, I’ll see you again!