29 February 2008

A merely informative post

My lazy days in Kolkata are drawing to a close as I prepare for my first Indian sleeper train journey. I expect it to be exactly like "The Darjeeling Limited." Exactly. You know what I mean!

Today, I, uhh, checked email for most of the morning, since I haven't written back to anyone (except dad, who receives priority treatment) in many days, in some cases weeks. In the evening, I finally got my third rabies booster, so I can finally engage in my favorite sport, fox kicking, without consequence. The doctor was an interesting, funny guy, and, as I indeed told him, the best doctor I've ever had. When he administered the injection, I didn't feel the needle at all, and I mean I didn't feel anything--I didn't even know he'd done anything once it was done. He might even cure my allergy problem, which has been bad recently. He recommended I try rubbing mustard oil into my nose, which is supposed to prevent allergens from sticking. You may be thinking what I thought, "Why would I want to put mustard oil in my nose?" But once it stops burning, it seems to help. It's an ancient village cure, he said. I said that in America we don't have ancient villages, so we just stick with pills. The vaccine cost slightly less than $10. In Japan and the US, it's $100-$125 per dose. The office visit was only 100 rupees ($2.50). I felt like I should tip him. When I expressed amazement at how cheap it was, he joked that I could pay him the same amount in dollars instead of rupees. I laughed and gave him rupees.

The doctor was recommend by Kajori's friend Durga. Durga owns a bookshop that also publishes editions of literary works. When it came up that I'm a budding English professor, she asked me if I might like to write or edit for them! I never thought it would be so easy to get published. Most of her editions include critical essays, and some of the essayists are quite highly regarded (not least one I saw from Rutgers). Durga also sells academic texts and, to put it briefly, every kind of book I want to buy, but at Indian prices. For example, the average $8-15 Penguin edition she sells for $2.50. She also has ALL of those cool "Introducing..." books with the illustrations for the same price. I told her I'm going to have her ship like a thousand books to me once I get home, and I'm probably not joking. Tomorrow, we're going to the Kolkata Book Fair, which is supposed to be the largest such in Asia, though Kajori claims that this year there will be "only" around 600 booths. Oh, and after the rabies injection, and after I had my fifth cup of tea for the day and bought even more books from Durga, Ananda took me to a private club (Raj era I guess) for a jazz/folk fusion concert and beer. That was nice. These people are such excellent hosts and great conversationalists, I really don't want to leave. Alas, I am St. Christopher's bitch.

I've been meaning to get to the promised half-baked cultural analysis. And I will. But I have to come up with a way to discuss India without sounding either naively sentimental, like the hippies, or depressing and cynical like, well, the Indians (V.S. Naipaul sets a bad precedent). Calcutta is not the city of hopeless poverty you might imagine, desperate to be saved by as many Patrick Swayzes as the whites can spare. It is a bit of a freak show on some of the streets, with folks offering the uniquest deformities guilt can buy off, but it's otherwise a typical Asian city with the typical problems but still maintains a vibrancy with light brushings of prosperity here and there.

Tomorrow evening I head overnight by train to Bodhgaya, where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. The following evening, I head for a 4 am arrival to Varanasi, on the banks of India's holiest, and possibly dirtiest, river, Mother Ganga. I'll spend a few days there watching bodies burn or whatever it is tourists go there for, visit Sarnath, where Buddha preached his first sermon (he's like Jesus, this guy), and then make an epic journey back to the coast, to Puri, home of the original juggernaut.

Details to follow.

It's getting hot here.

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