Monday, June 30, 2008

We have left Kolkata

My family and I are moving to Gurgaon, just southwest of Delhi. I will be starting a new blog: So far, there is only a preliminary post, but I hope to have a more regular series of updates. Kolkata was not very infrastructure friendly and Gurgoan, so far, is proving to be much more responsive (and cheaper) for me. Being white in Kolkata made it easily the most expensive city in India for me personally. (Your individual experiences may vary.)

I will sincerely miss my fellow Group Leaders (and then there were none). I will also miss the very best Marketing Team that Kolkata has to offer. They are the reason, more than anything else, that made leaving Kolkata a very sad thing for me.

See you in Gurgaon. :-)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Two Quick Posts With Nothing in Common

I Went To the Consulate Today.

After a number of attempts, some real, others imagined, I finally managed to find the U.S. Consulate here in Kolkata. My colleague, who assisted me, was not allowed to enter because she is not an American citizen. I went through one very heavy armored door to a small room where I was asked to empty my pockets, surrender my cellphone and state my business. I then went through a metal detector and a personnel gate before entering the compound. I was then escorted by an armed guard to the main building, where I struggled with another heavy armored door, asked to empty my pockets again and go through another metal detector. I was then patted down and asked again to state my business. I told them I wanted to register my passports so I was shown to another room, again with a heavy armored door. Seriously, they must have been a foot thick.

The air conditioning was just lovely - the air was fresh, no soot on anything, and very nice furniture. I stepped up to the window - it was heavy protected with thick bullet proof glass - about twice the defense of a bank teller window at home.

I told the gent my business and he pushed two cards at me to fill out and took my passports to make copies. After completing them I asked about absentee ballots. He gave me forms to send back to Chicago.

After completing all my tasks, he returned to the window and said, "Welcome to Kolkata, madam, and please take this with my compliments." He pushed a DVD in my direction, entitled "Being Prepared for Pandemic Influenza". Welcome indeed.

Sometime I think I'm a Walking Wallet

Every day, I argue with vendors of all kinds because as soon as they see the colour of my skin, the prices rise dramatically. I am paying the price for my lack of understanding the language. A person at my office offered to schedule bottled water delivery to my house. We received one bottle last month delivered to my flat. He tried to charge me 690 rupees for one bottle of water!!!!!! At the office, the company pays 40 rupees for the exact same bottle. He tried to convince me it was the delivery charge. I asked him, "Where is it coming from, Australia?" :-)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Video of a Paanwallah at Work

Every once in a while, some of my staff led by Abhishek, would invite me to go to Bangashree's for lunch. The food is great, especially their chicken and they have fabulous fish. The first time we went, Abhishek started wolfing down his food like he was in prison. I told him to "Slow down, you're having lunch with the GL. You can be five minutes late." After that fine meal, he suggested paan. Now I remember that stuff from Mumbai and it is a nasty, vile, disgusting habit that includes spitting red juice all over the street. It stains your teeth red.

But paan is actually just a medium for enticing juicy bits of stuff folded up in a leaf. Different parts of the country specialize in different ingredients and styles, some sour, some sweet, some bitter, some salty, some intoxicating, some that are supposed to have properties to "make better the wedding night".

Abhishek did me a solid and took this video for me on his phone. I have no idea what all of the ingredients are, but there are many. Listen for the sound of the traffic behind us. That's just typical 2PM traffic on a main street in Kolkata...

It may take a while for this file to load as I have no idea what I'm doing. Enjoy.


Thanks, Abhishek. Good luck in your new job. We miss you. :-)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Photos of Kolkata From My Camera Phone:

Ekta Heights

We live in Jadavpur, in the southern section of Kolkata.

Will looking out the window onto the terrace.

Living Room

Living Room


On the Road to Santoshpur

Every morning we drive through Santoshpur on the way to Ruby Hospital. Will's school is right behind the hospital. These photos are shots of everyday street life.

I love this photo, and this is so typical of India (at least here). This gent is delivering a refrigerator on a cart pulled by a bicycle.

E.M. Bypass

After passing through Santoshpur, we merge onto the E. M. Bypass (Eastern Metropolitan Bypass) which is a direct route to Salt Lake City, the Airport and other points northeast of Jadavpur.

Ruby Hospital

Behind Ruby, there is a small pond. Many people live around it, in shacks and ramshackle lean-to's. I will write more about this photo at another time.

Back to Santoshpur

After dropping off Will at school, I return to Santoshpur to pick up my coworker, with whom I share a car. This is also where I go shopping, at Ambuja, Big Bazaar, etc.

The Produce Department. Vegetables of every conceivable type can be found here, many that I have to idea what they are or how to cook. The farmers get in very early to set up shop.

The Meat Department. On the left, you can see the big slabs of Betki, some of the finest fish in the world. It's flesh is firm, similar to swordfish or mako, but less fishy - more like a flaky whitefish. Hilsa, another local fish, is not so mush a favorite for my taste because there are a ton of pin bones. On the right, the white lumps are live chickens in large baskets. Yes, everything is very fresh.

A place to buy gum and cigarettes.

The Lane to my coworker's house.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Color of Dawn

I stayed at a friend's house this past weekend and woke up to the sound of birds. They owned birds, kept in cages on the veranda. Brilliantly colored lovebirds, parakeets, cockatiels and finches were all making noise waking me up early. The house was locked up with metal grates on all the doors and windows. I was, in effect, caged as well. It was very quiet except for the birds, but as the sun rose and warmed the air, the wild birds came to visit. The two-story house in the next compound was painted a warm butterscotch yellow with melon orange trim, mint green shutters and window grates and lilac pipes. The shaded space of the balconies and porches were painted turquoise. The doors were painted orange. The bright colours of the house were muted in comparison to the riot of color from the birds, and flowers everywhere.

First to come were tiny little grey birds with long thin beaks and flippy tails that were long in proportion to their bodies. They are about the size of hummingbirds, but do not fly like them. Next to arrive were larger bright yellow birds, orioles, with black caps. Other even larger generic looking black and grey birds vied for footing on the tree branches and shrubs outside the windows.

The lush garden of hibiscus, cannas, palms, weeping trees, flowering maples and other tropical plants and vines attracted dragonflies and butterflies, flitting along on the breeze. Chickadees dared to enter the veranda to search for fallen seeds on the floor. A spotted brown dove arrived, but was deterred by the window grate. It flapped its wings hysterically, before finding a roost on a nearby tree.

Around nine AM, wallas starting shout-singing their wares down the quiet lanes. The parakeets emerged from their little ceramic pot house to preen their feathers. Music from a distant radio started playing Bollywood show tunes. At one point, there were 12 chickadees, wrens and sparrows between me and the caged birds, looking at me, looking for seeds, looking at me, looking for seeds, then jumping to the window grates to watch the birds in their cages. The wild birds dispersed as the caged ones grew more animated and loud.

The parakeets started getting jiggy with each other, rubbing their faces against each other. The finches stared to sing a rather tinny, robotic song. The lovebird chreeched regularly at this point. He was a riot of color, like a melted box of crayons. He kept trying to tip his water bowl over, which was bigger than he was. The cockatiel, who, when I first stepped out on the veranda, became quite upset, flexing her crest, jumping from roost to roost, dancing on the floor of her cage with her feathers splayed - she'd calmed down and sat still with her beady eyes watching me write. The lovebird did a few more spins before settling down. That's when the parakeets started getting a bit noisy.

At my place, I get more than my share of crows, which are larger than U.S. crows. They have interesting plumage, black with charcoal grey heads - quite striking. Plus I have at least two mating pairs of kites that spend a lot of time using my terrace as a lookout point. I've also had visits from smaller, jay sized black and white birds. They remind me of water birds, with extremely long legs in proportion to the body. They have crisp white bellies...

Suddenly, the wild birds flew away with a great flapping of wings and cacophony of whistles and the caged birds went stark still and silent. I took it as a reaction to my flipping the page in my book. Then I looked to my right to find that a beautiful feral cat had silently padded its way close to me and crouched two feet away. Her tawny coat had flecks of black. Her lime green eyes were slits ringed in black. Her tail, with rings of black, flitted back and forth and her butt twitched ready to pounce.

A head popped through the curtains at the door.

"Tea?" she asked.

I looked down. The cat had disappeared.

"Sure," I said. "Can I help?" I asked, as I rose from the chair. It was going to be a beautiful Sunday.

Guest Post: William Goes to School

Well, I guess I should being by telling the story of The Others:

About the time we moved here, my mom was contacted over myspace by an Indian skater by the name of Zubin. (Editor's Note: Zubin is a kid who knows my friend Nick, who owns sk8 Goa, just south of Mumbai. It is the only professional skatepark in India. Nick had mentioned to Zubin that we were moving here and that I was interested in building a skatepark in Calcutta. Ever since, he's been stalking me about it.) I was overjoyed by this unexpected and seemingly fantastic notion of a group of Indian skaters. They call themselves, the skate group, The Others. The Others include Zubin, Ben and Tim (Canadians), Akshay, and Varun, and yours truly.

All of them except Akshay attend Bridge International. Akshay studies at Cambridge
and I myself am receiving my education at Calcutta International (C.I.S). Apparently, The Others are famous throughout all three of the schools, as the schools are all tightly connected with one another.

The first day of school:

Upon entering the gate, I was struck by the amount of eyes zeroing in on the funny dressed American. Well, after receiving my instructions for the day, I was put in with my class group walking up the steps to class 8-B. The classroom itself was smaller than I expected, but in my opinion more comfortable.

A few people began to talk to me, asking where I was from and so forth. Then a few more people walked in, and immediately came walking up to me.

"Are you Will?"

"Um, yeah."

"Don't you know Akshay and The Others?"

"Um, yeah?"

"Oh cool, bye."

"Um, okay???"

That whole theme continued throughout the busy day. I am currently learning French on Mondays and Korean on Tuesdays. We have gym every Tuesday as well. Other than classes we have quite a few breaks, allowing us to visit the school and perhaps hang out in the basketball court and shoot some hoops. (Yeah, I'm not as good as I was in the States.)

My other classes are Algebra, English Language, English Literature, Physics, Geometry, Art, World History, Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Drama, Computers and something called Science Club. Whatever...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Durga Puja!

Shubo Durga Puja! This came to me in the comments section of my last post, but I felt it deserved a post of its own. My experience of Durga Puja was mine alone and I seriously didn't explore the depth that can be found if you endeavor to spend 4 solid days venturing out to pandals. I wanted rest and relaxation more than anything else. A reader posted a comment on this blog that links to amazing pictures that show the depth and breadth of the beauty and intricacy of the pandals.

The thing that is so amazing is that most of this work occurs within one month prior to the celebrations, and are taken down and submerged in the Hoogly River or other water source at the end of the four days.

Check these photos out. They are just incredible:
(Step 1: Click on "Options" at the right hand bottom of the screen
Step 2: Tick on the tab "Always show title and description"
Step 3: "Save" this setting
Step 4: Enjoy... )

(Step 1: Click on "View as slideshow"
Step 2: Click on "Options" at the right hand bottom of the screen
Step 3: Tick on the tab "Always show title and description"
Step 4: "Save" this setting
Step 5: Enjoy... )

These are the kind of pandals I would gladly support - there is one with hundreds of little cubbies, another with columns lit some inside... breathtaking stuff... Please take a look.

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