11 Feb, 2011
16:30hrs: Its 28’c – not really pleasant – and we’re headed to one of India oldest & busiest railway stations: Howrah. Oh, by the way, I’m in Kolkata and Pranab Mukherjee & Rahul Gandhi are all over the place. While my colleagues enjoyed their tea with some local biscuits (which in total cost Rs.5 for 2 persons), I had my eyes elsewhere: on gol gappe (pani puri) & momos selling on the local thelas. Sometimes I appreciate the clarity I possess: I denied tea because I doubted its quality, but I was willing to risk my life for pani puri – as if it was prepared using Aquafina. As we listen to our taxi driver share his political views, we’ve passed Rajarhat (where real estate is booming) & Salt Lake City (where my friends Panda & Sanjay work). Our driver just mentioned that his ‘fabharit leadar‘ (favorite leader) is Narendra Modi and he’s impressed with his work and the ‘Golden Gujarat’ campaign. His take on the nation: ‘Yeh bahut difficult India hai‘.
19:03 hrs: Just realized the importance of 3 minutes and how far I can run when I have been slowed down. The story starts with some useless waiting at Park Street for a cab, after which we took a local bus over Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge) which actually moved faster than other cars. Then we just ran the entire width of Howrah station from platform 1 to 23 (which happens to be on the other half of the station), only to find the guard, ironically, waving the green flag at us and the train showing its @$$.
21:30 hrs: After hours of driving (& waiting in hope) we finally reached Sher-e-Punjab, a notable dhaba on the road to Mumbai (which is still 1900 kms away). The menu card was exemplar for creativity; receipe groups were named like: Bakre Ke Nakhre (Mutton), Sleeping in the night/Morning is the tight (curd/raitas), Chaawal ki Chaal (rice). The restaurant was highly process oriented: when the shifts changed, the initial waiter introduced us to the replacement, confirmed that handover was done & clarified what deliverable to expect from whom.
12 Feb, 2011
09:30 hrs: Arrangements for stay at IIT KGP were near perfect; each one of us had well-furnished, well-equipped double-bedded room that gave me 5 hours of sound sleep. But the time difference had fooled me: when my eyes opened to the bright sunlight while it was only 6:30 am. As we go East (esp. North Eastern states) the otherwise neglected time difference internal to the country gains significance. Done with our breakfast, we’re waiting for a car to pick us up.
21:30 hrs: End of day’s play! We’re now moving into a restaurant that has a funny name: Little Sisters. It’s not as bad as it sounds, and its the only option we have here. Over and out.
13 Feb, 2011
08:10 hrs: We were relieved to find that our train was at 8:20 am instead of 8 as we had thought. After realizing the importance of 3 mins, 20 minutes seemed like a bonus and so we decided to go ahead with the breakfast. Not having managed a cab to take us back, we got our way on two cycle-rickshaws which was another crazy experience. Mission accomplished: we’re in time for Steel Express and Kharagpur station is flooded with CPI(M) party workers headed for the mega rally in Kolkata.
10:30 hrs: Just set foot in Kolkata to infer that the CPI(M) presence at Kharagpur was just a stereotype; there is stupendous chaos at Howrah created by the confluence of supporters from all the eastern states – only for a free ride & meal. Poverty seems to be deep-rooted in West Bengal and it does not take the form of begging like in Mumbai. It shows in their per capita, their living standards, and literacy that are so low, it will take ages to bring in a change after someone decides to look into it. I know that we all so much curse the infrastructure in Mumbai, but if you really want to understand its value – visit Kolkata!
15:00 hrs: Just ended a great lunch, thanks to ‘Chief’; chief is the moniker for the waiter who served us at a local dhaba; everything he did/said was a favor. We were tickled by the ‘double thank you’ that he threw at us after he was tipped in a different way – don’t get me wrong!
18:00 hrs: There was a dude named ‘Sinchan’ at one of the counters.; fortunately there was little resemblance other than his hair-style, or else I would have freaked out laughing. I also managed to bring along 5 mishti dohi mutka‘s without a lid that are now safe, on top of my head. We are midway, somewhere over Nagpur possibly, and the crew just announced that we have an emergency onboard, at the rear. Everyone got of their seats and stared back as if they were screening the world cup final there. Anyway, the last thing I wanted to experience, after a tiresome itinerary on a consecutive weekend, was an emergency landing! Anyway, little did I know that the touchdown at Mumbai would feel alike.
PS: This post has been spiced-up for your reading pleasure!