Trip Start Mar 03, 2011
11Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Sometimes when you're traveling, you've just had enough. You're tired, you're sticky, all of your clothes suspiciously smell of chinese food, and you're fed up. I think this statement is especially true for a country as chaotic as India.
When in Calcutta a few nights ago, I bolstered myself out of my self pitying writhe of fever and stomach pain to walk the long stretch of tree lined, honking street to get to the Namden Complex, a local theater showing a Bengali drama. This was a 'must do' on our list because Calcutta is the theatrical hub of India (they even have a Theater Street!). After dodging numerous dozing dogs and cows, getting directions that pointed in about FIFTY different directions, and looking like we had just done a full clothed sprint through the neighborhood sprinklers on the 4th of July, we arrived at the Complex.
We sat for about 30 minutes waiting, and my stomach had the peculiar feeling that an elf was using a hot butter knife to clean its acidic walls. I think my loud exhales and leg shifting were enough because without me uttering a word, Fran turned to me and said "you wanna go?" I nodded in defeat, and we ran the gauntlet of unmetered cabs until we eventually settled on, you guessed it, yet another unmetered cab.
After a traficky car ride home with my head sunk sullenly out the window the whole time, nodding listlessly the way a red and white fishing bobber floats on the water's surface, we arrived at our guest house. The trudging walk upstairs, the faulty key in the Prohibition Era lock. Upon walking into the room, I had had it.
And there it came...the cry. Now let me preface the remainder of this story by saying I AM NOT A CRYER. I whine, I kick inanimate objects, I deliver soliloquies of explitives so profound Shakespeare would blush, but I do not cry. Mind you I am taking the anti-malarial drug Mefloquine, which wreaks as much havoc on your emotions as birth control.
So there I was: Ol' Faithful. But this was not a normal cry - more like dry, heavy sobs of tiredom and discomfort. Similar to the way a kid cries when they are throwing a tantrum or want attention. Franny's incessant comforting came to no avail, and the tears awkwardly persisted on for about 10 minutes until we turned the lights out for fear of invading mosquitos and went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning coated in a feverish sweat, my mattress feeling like the soft, fluffy side of a freshly flipped pancake. I'm laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and Fran starts to wake up. She rolls over, looks at me and the first thing she says is: "Geez, that was quite the man-cry you had going last night". I put my hand over my face and burst out laughing.
2 morals to this story:
1. Laughter is the best medicine
2. I should never cry in public
Fran and I left our hostel in Calcutta around 9 pm to get the night train to Orissa. Fran suggested we walk out of our little neighborhood to the main street to catch a cab. As we started walking, the clouds up above seemed to go 5 shades darker than they had been five minutes ago, and slow gurgles of thunder began to roll through the streets. A few moments passed as quick shocks of lightning lit up the peak of the red and white colonial clocktower.
The street suddenly took on the setting of a 1980's SciFi film; you know, when the Harrison Ford-esque main character is walking through Chinatown, then he looks up and suddenly everything is deserted, minus the flashing neon lights, a lone piece of newspaper swirling in the wind, and an overall feeling of impending doom.
We reached the main street to find a cab parked on the corner, and after much heckling, we decided on a still exagerrated price of 150 Rupees for the Howrah train station. Perfect timing, because as our feet left the ground, the sky turned on its faucet and gusty winds began to whip at the sides of the car.
Now this cabby sped through the streets like he was trying to dodge every single raindrop in his path. This was an eccentric cab driver, to say the least. He began by mumbling and chucking to himself, then suddenly, out of nowhere, he broke the humming silence with an uproarious shout: "BANDEGA!" he exclaimed, shaking his fist at the windshield. We repeated, mimicking his fist jab: "Bandega, bandega, bandega!!"
The driver responded in uncontrollable laughter, starting with hearty chuckles, progressing to a maniacal cackle and ending in boyish giggles. It was the kind of laugh that makes you laugh more in response. He just could not get enough of our 'bandega' - when we would retreat into talking among ourselves, he would interject the mumbling lull with "BANDEGA, Haha!", to which we would yell three octaves higher "Bandega, Bandega, Bandega!". His amusement at our mimicry caused us to assume that 'bandega' was a cuss word.
"Ok", said Franny, "do you know the word 'bullshit'?"
"Bule shize?" He repeated. "Buuulle shiiize".
"Bull Shit", we said, and after much parroting, he had advanced to saying "bull shits". So the rest of the car ride consisted of him chanting "Bandega" and us repeating, then us chanting while he repeated.
When we left the cab we entered a torrential downpour. As we adjusted our toppling bags on our backs and a flood of warm, mucky water washed over my feet, the cab sped past us. The driver leaned his head out the window and yelled "Bullshiiiittts!", victoriously pumping his fist one last time as he boarded the Howrah Bridge, its shafts illuminated neon blue and purple, and headed back into the pit of the city.
As our laughter faded, I tilted my head up towards the sky and opened my mouth, letting the grape sized droplets hit my tongue. As I stood there in the dim of the train station, my body finally relaxed from a day in the city, a rickshaw driver pedaled past me. I opened my eyes to watch him, and as I saw him push up and down, he looked at me and yelled "BANDEGA!!", shadowboxing his fist into the dark.
I watched him float away into the distance and thought: "maybe it wasn't a cuss word after all".