XXIV: One Day In Kolkata

Yesterday was a good day – like a cultural sandwich. The crusts were formed by Indian classical music & folk dancing, with the filling being a trip to the races. The day began with a rush for orange juice to counter the effects of the previous night’s drinking session. It was there, on the breezy rooftop of the modern lodge, that Malcolm, a bearded twenty-something from Athens, Georgia (US) & Rebecca, a salt-of-the-earth Irish lass from Tipperary agreed to join me on my kathak quest. We were join’d in the morning by Owen, a handsome-in-that-Irish-way traveller type from Cork – & Sebastian. I’d met him on my mission to get juice – a young, long haired Pole, resident in London & with appropriate cockneyisms chuck’d into his accented English. He’s in town to get a sitar made – a two-week process – & I said as there is sitar accompaniment to the kathak, he should come along. He did, & soon enough the five of us were sat in a lovely air-conditioned auditorium. A couple of nights previously I’d seen Kathak for the first time & was blown away by its mix of dancing, tap-dancing, rapping & all-round wickedness. I was also given a flyer for todays’ Kathak marathon – twelve hours of non-stop performance – & all for free. In fact, everything I’ve been to, more-or-less, has been free. It seems the Indians see their high culture as a native binding force rather than a commercial elitist enterprise.

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After an hour or so, me & Becky walked back to the Modern Lodge & picked up Charlie & Pete. The latter’s a lovely guy who we met while watching England in the cricket world cup. He’s a Londoner by trade, but for the last ten years he’s been living in a tiny village near Graus, in the foothills of Catalonia. He’s bought & is renovating a second house there & has said we should go & visit him later in the year for a poetic retreat. Happy days. They got even happier down the race track. We arrived after a lovely walk across the Maidan – the vast green, lung-like space of Calcutta – with a thousand Tendulkars all enacting the coming semi-final by many a home-made wicket. The walk to the course is dominated by the Victoria memorial – a beautiful domed, marble affair & a constant reminder of empire – its like the Taj Mahal meets Saint Paul’s cathedral & positively glitters in the sunlight.

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Entry to the racecourse was only ten rupees, well worth it considering the grandeur of the five pavilions & the view of central Calcutta emerging from the Maiden’s trees like New York rising from the clods of dust that formed after the dropping of the Twin Towers. O yeah, I the winner of five out of seven races. The first two winners I was drawing the number from the cosmos. I tried it again for the third – but it came dead last – & again for the fourth, which fell in a flat race! I changed tack now, & queuing at the window to place a bet on the fifth, I asked the guy in front for a tip for the next two races, follow’d his advice & duly won both of them. In the last race was a horse called Zillionaire – & feeling like one with my winnings, back’d it & won again! Great fun – Charlie won 150 rupees with a ten-rupee place bet on a rank outsider, & Becky picked three winners. Inbetween races you can even watch the horses be paraded & have a beer & banter with the locals. Great fun.

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Come sunset came the second crust of mi culture butty, & we went to a classical music festival concert – where we listen’d to the haunting violinesque mantras of the sarangee, & the wonderful guitariness of the saron. I swear down, this guy was playing stuff & I’m like, how the hell is he doing that – even the Bendrix would have had to say, slightly nonchalantly with a tight curl at the corner of his mouth – ‘he’s not that bad actually!’ It must be something down to the sheer seriousness of the musicians over here – like how the Orientals treat the game of ‘Go.’ Young boys are initiated at the age of 8 & become disciples, in some disciplines practising for thrity years before they are even allow’d to perform. In one ofthe vocal arts – Dhurava – you have to practice the base note ‘sa’ for two years!

After food, beers on the rooftop & a crack with the Irish – what was a very fine day finally finished. But that was yesterday, & today me & Charlie are off to an Alfred Hitchcock film festival…

Kolkatta
28 / 3 / 11

 

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