LL, Sys, Box
Please consider this short play, based on a true story.
START OF PLAY
(It’s a hot humid and hazy park, nestled between the haphazard metropolis of
Kolkata and the poo-brown Hooghly River, which slides past in the background
– similar to the park between Perth and the Swan River, but on a much
grander scale. There’s a smattering of people over the vast area, and the
obligatory shreds of assorted rubbish on the ground.)
Tim Knight [Australian tourist]: So Ronnie, we’ve been wondering this whole
trip how Indians can just throw their rubbish on the ground without a care
in the world – what’s the go with that?
Ronnie Benjamin [56 y.o, 5 foot, 40 kg burmese x indian, fluent in English,
Hindi, and Bengali]: Yeah those filthy f#@cken b@#stards, it’s unbelievable
TK: Yeah it sure is…… so do you throw your rubbish on the ground Ronnie?
RB (without hesitation): Yeah mate I sure do, and after a couple of days
here, you will too.
TK (thoughtful): Hmmmm…..
END OF PLAY
We will return to this seemingly innoccuous event later because it’s
dramatic importance is not yet clear to you, the reader.
From Gangtok we got a 5 hour jeep ride back down south to Siliguri/New
Jailpaguri (like Kalgoorlie-Boulder – two towns that are basically one) in
the northern part of West Bengal. We had a stunning victory, Socceroo-style,
over the Indian train system in Siliguri/NJP – a formidable opponent in
anyone’s language. Arriving just past midday, we tried to book a ticket for
that night’s “Darjeeling Mail” train to Kolkata from the Siliguri Junction
train station ticket office, only to be told that there were no tickets for
that night’s train, or indeed the next night’s. Faced with the possibility
of spending an unproductive day or two in this “nothing” town (that’s where
in differs from the happening place of Kalgoorlie-Boulder), we took the bold
step of making the 30 minute rickshaw journey to New Jailpaguri station in
the hope of rustling up a ticket. After a short wait in line I made a failed
attempt, but just as I was turning to leave the queue my mind wandered back
to our first few days in Mumbai, when a helpful New South Welshman x Indian
got us a ticket to Jodphur by yelling the word “quota” a couple of times,
really loud. I quickly turned around, mumbled something about a “quota”, and
suddenly two tickets became available for that night’s train – you can’t
imagine the relief and sense of achievement. I was high on endorphins for
several hours. A quick roadside samosa and 11 hours of fitful sleep later,
we pulled into Kolkata.
So many things happened during our week in Kolkata that it would be foolish
to try and describe them, so I will have to summarise. The first couple of
days we wandered around looking at stuff, eating stuff, drinking stuff,
breathing, sleeping and all that jazz. I bribed a security guard 20 rupees
to let me into the Eden Gardens cricket ground, which was unbelievable. It
was so small that I had to ask about 10 people “Is this Eden Gardens? Are
you sure?” before I could believe it – the ground is 2/3 the size of the
WACA yet it has a greater capacity than the MCG. It’s all just bare
concrete, mesh and barbed wire, and it costs 2 rupees to get in for an
international match – that would buy you two bananas over here if you
bargained hard, and equates to about 6 cents. Needless to say, it would be a
mad and frenzied crowd.
Anyway, after a few days in Kolkata Tim met this fella Ronnie, as described
above. He normally tutors rich children in conversational English but it is
school holidays and everyone is away, so he was just wandering the streets
and parks. We ended up paying him 300 rupees a day to show us around the
city and beyond, and he took us anywhere we wanted to go: slums, markets,
the red-light district…. all stories on their own. He also got us anything
we wanted: I got two great shirts tailored, Tim hired a Royal Enfield
motorbike for the day….. in fact the only thing he couldn’t organise was a
t-shirt that I wanted. It had to have a large Indian flag on the front, and
big black letters saying “Bring back British Raj!” – for some reason these
For those that don’t know, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) was the capital for
the Poms during the “British Raj (Rule)” of India, which ended in 1947. I
think the main British influence that has been maintained in Kolkata, and
throughout India, is the love of ridiculous paper shuffling – forms about
forms, endless rubber stamps and signatures, ruthless pouncing on
administrative errors. One fortunate remnant is Brylcream, a fine hair
product, a tin of which I found on a little shop’s shelf for a very
reasonable price – my dream of going through India without washing my hair
ended way back in Rajasthan, after a night sleeping on the sand dune. I got
the feeling that the tin had been sitting there since 1947 waiting for the
return of the British, and hence an increased demand for people wanting to
wax their moustaches.