XXI: West Bengal

Two days back I bought a sleeper train ticket from Calcutta to Chennai for just seven quid, departing on the 31st March. That means I’ll be travelling those 1700 K, then after the flight to Britain I’ll take two Megabus rides from London to Manchester & Manchester to Edinburgh, getting back to Scotland for less than a tenner. But first I’ve gotta get March over & done with. Me & Charlie left Calcutta this morning on a slow, seven-hour local train, full of blind beggars, ston’d babas & occasionally bursting at the seams. A bit of confusion over stations meant we actually slung past our destination – Siliguri – & ended up in a quiet village. While waiting for a bus, a local taxi driver befriended us & as he was driving this posh advoacte guy to Siliguri, gave us a free ride. Siliguri itself is astonishingly European, with wide-ish boulevards full of large western shops & dripping in neon-bling. Tho’ still perched on the seemingly endless, & frankly quite dull flatness of the Gangeatic plain, it is the gateway to the Himalayas – where we’ll be heading to in the morning.

Our journey here began last week, when we left delightful Chandipur. We’d stayed there a couple of days, a charming spot with a vast tidal beach. After taking off one’s flip flips one can walk for ages, the water just tickling the tops of the toes. Around you lies nothing but sand & an increasingly narrowing land-width as one gets further out to sea. A few birds flutter about checking out the cockles & jellyfish, plus teams of fishermen go out to the static nets that are about two miles out to sea. Chandipur itself is just a few hotels & a couple of places to eat. It is made interesting, however, by the nearby fishing village, with its proper harbour, lovely wooden boats & the smell of fresh fish.

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We eventually left Orissa & hit Calcutta last Tuesday, staying for a few days which I spent scouting out scenes for my future poem. Highlights were hanging around with these two twenty-something intellectual German birds, wandering the streets & drinking cheap beer at their ‘Modern Lodge’ – a great Bohemian hang-out. I also watched the 33rd nation sub-junior (U-16) interstate football championships on a primitive football stadium on the grassy Maidan. Mizoram beat the reigning champions Jharkand 2-1, & as I watched it the coaches of a local boys club tried to get me to buy them some footballs. I might arrange a charity match when I get home. It was weird, actually, & one can see which game has preference in India, for towering above the footy ground are the marvelous Eden Gradens, the greatest cricket stadium in the world. Ironically, it recently lost the right to stage the World Cup that this cricket crazy nation has just began to host – thro’ politics, bakshish & a lateness in preparing the ground. The India-England game was meant to be played here, which is testified by a number of English guys in Calcutta at the moment who’d bought flights ages ago, & decided to come here anyway.

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I saw the actual game on TV quite randomly at the crappy little town of Rampurhat on our way north. The match was a reyt thriller, swinging one way then the other, as we watch’d it with a group of Indians at the hotel. At first India’s total of 338 seemed massive, but England struck back & seem’d to be coasting, only for the Indians to strike back themselves & leave England needing about 24 off the last two overs. Then a few sixes later the last ball came along – England needed two to win & everyone was on their feet – England just got one, however, tying the match & everybody broke out into hugs, handshakes & friendship. I’m glad really, if England would have won, I dont think we’d have made it out alive.

From Rampurhat we buss’d it thro’ Murshidibad – the same city I went to immediately after my bus crash nine years ago, in complete agony & in a very concuss’d state. We linger’d about twenty minutes before catching another bus north. This swept us over the Ganges itself, which seem’d like a slightly larger Firth of Forth, with infinite flatness on every side. Then we hit Malda for a couple of days, broken by a trip to the beautiful ruins of the Adina mosque, 15k away. There was a riot in the early hours of our first morning there, when three hundred guys stormed the police station to free their mates –reminding me yet again how crazy this country can get in an instant.

Siliguri
2/3/11

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