Friday, February 5, 2010
Kolkata: Its a long one
Kolkata is nothing like you expect, simple because people don’t allow themselves to think or imagine so many people living that way. Everyone who goes there should be shocked at the conditions of people living and dying in that way, and if you are not, I will pray for you.
My first impression of Kolkata is hard to recall because all of my senses were at one once overload and unable to single one out the most outstanding impression.
Sight is often the first of our senses that we rely on to pass information to our brain about our surroundings. In Kolkata however, especially at night, the fine grit of dust and pollution that hazes the city prevents a clear image of all that is near. At night the lights of hundreds of taxis and other cars cause this thick are to clare strangely sepia around you. Not only is it hard to see in general, but the dust settles over the moisture of your eyeball and every time you blink it away it settles softly again. Watery, crusty red eyes in Kolkata is part of your time there. Once the day breaks, the haze is pierced by the sun and you are able to see all of the color and the beauty that is nearly hidden by development. Evidence of English occupation is clear in the buildings and every where you look you see it. The buildings are brightly painted and peak between bodies through crowded sidewalks and roads.
Instinctually your ears strain to compensate for the lack of vision clarity. Immediately the ear canal is packed with incessant car horns, long and short hongs layering over the top of each other. Underneath that you can hear the deep and raspy voices of Indian men rapidly firing words in Bengali and Hindi at each other. The roar of ancient exhaust pipes fill whatever space is between the voices and horns and creates a symphony that lacks both rhythm and melody but still manages to synthesize musical currents that incite reactions from your body. Muscles tense and step forward, and immediately jerk your leg back, but rather than dancing this is the natural response to the fear of the fear of being hit by one of the careening taxis.
Finding out two primary research senses handicapped we breath deeply through the nose. A more basic sense to tell us what information we need to survive our situational landscape, the nose tells us many things as Kolkata is a plethora of scents and smells. Once we get past the general musty smell of dust and car exhaust that we knew were coming because of what you are able to glean from the eyes and ears, the nose is able to discern the scent of pungent body odor. Indian men smell like no other mass of unwashed bodies on the planet I think, haha. This tangy and salty smell mingles with the sickly sweet smell of slightly over ripe fruit and vegetables. Spices tickle you nose and often redeem the general lingering smell of decay that clings to your nose hairs. The delicious smell of Indian food wafts by on the draft of racing buses and Tuk-Tuks. Weaving in and out of the smell of various pipes and cigarettes and the intriguing aroma of strong marijuana burns the back of your throat as it makes its way into your lungs where the rest of this polluted oxygen is filtered into your blood and is pumped through your body.
Scent at taste of often one in the same, and in Kolkata the are partners in the experience of your stay. The dust in the air films over the inside of your mouth each time you part your lips. It absorbs in the saliva and causes you to feel thirsty most of the time you are on the streets. Of course the food is a huge part of the India taste experience. All of the food is a rich and complex as the culture. Eating with the right had to shovel food in ads salty skin flavor to a touch of dirt that is forever engrained in the grooves of your fingers. Savory dahl and spicey masala seems to flavor the naan like exotic bread and gravy. A pleasant slow burn lingers over your tongue and lips like you’ve just kissed that person you’ve waited your whole life to kiss. It makes the lips feel swollen and puffy and draws more stares from the suggestive eyes of the Indian men all around.
Our final and most personal sense touch is on full alert from every angle. There are people everywhere in India and the gender is primarily men at what I figure to be a 5:1 ratio at any given time on the street. Pressing around entirely me body is hyper aware of the sly brushes of swinging hands and nudges to the softest more feminine areas of my anatomy. Not wanting to jump to conclusion and assume the worst of this new culture the doubts in your mind fade as the brush happens again and the nudges grow bolder. In the markets my sense of touch feels the feather like silks and softest cashmere scarves and stiff cottons on saris. At the end of the day evidence of our textual curiosities is evident by the gray tinge to my fingers.
This is my physical description of Kolkata. I am not able to emotionally, spiritually and intellectually describe Kolkata yet- if I ever fully will be able to. I have seen suffering, and extreme poverty, prostitution and oppression- I have been face to face with all that is represented by third world countries. This wasn’t new conceptually for me. The difference is the magnitude of Kolkata and that it is everywhere. Every city has a slum; there is always a rundown part of town where poor people live, except Kolkata doesn’t have that. There is no part of town, no other side of the tracks, because it is a city of 20 million plus living in a slum.
Kolkata is humanly fixable. There is no sense of hope lingering in the eyes of the people who live there of times getting better. This is life for them; they are resigned to live this way because this is how it is. Yes the hope is there in the missionaries and the people who come and live there, but even their eyes and hearts grown hard and blind to the evidence of homeless and starving all around them- and who can blame them as it happens as a way to survive; a callous that protects their hearts as they work everyday to a possibly unreachable goal. While I was there I was thirsting to death to hear redemptive stories of life and quenching love that fuels the soul and body to press on and finish.
Kolkata broke me totally. I am still scrambling to hold myself together so that my guts don’t spill out because I have things to do in Thailand. I couldn’t stay there; it hasn’t been given to me the strength to see that place every morning. I have been blessed to see I believe so that I can tell others what they refuse to believe exists. I am so thankful for those God has given the strength to answer the call to Kolkata, to serve there, to take on the problems of the people there as their own problems and struggles, it is a testament to your faith. I respect you, and love you and pray for you doing what I don’t have the strength to do. Thank you.
To those of you, who don’t know about Kolkata, learn about it, because it will make you uncomfortable. Being in Kolkata you see images of Mother Theresa everywhere. I was thinking of her life and how God gave her such an amazing calling. That isn’t the amazing part though, her calling anyway, because her calling is the same as the calling we all have issued to us in the gospels. The amazing part of her call is to where she was called and who she helped and the fullness in which she answered her call. We all have the call Mother Theresa received, the only difference is our responses. Im not saying we are all called to Kolkata, but we are all called to love until we are uncomfortable- to love as much as we love ourselves. The outside looking in image is that we Americans love ourselves a lot.
**Abba- break me. Please may I never cease to be broken and cry at the sight of human suffering. In my brokenness show me how to serve to the best of my abilities and gifts. Pour your love through me, the never ending flow of your love that I will pour it out and make you evident to those around me. Thank you for this chance to see suffering and to know this life was never your desire for those you created and love and the promise that you will restore and reconcile us to your perfect plan and kingdom. I love you, not as much as I should but I am growing in you by your hand into the woman you desire me to be and I am thankful for your faithfulness t me and my life.**
For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. Isaiah 65:17