(The entries in this series aren’t presented here as examples of my writing ability. These are quickly written journal entries and I don’t feel like spending the time to clean them up.)
Kolkata looks and feels a lot like Hanoi. The culture shock I experienced during my two trips there more than prepared me for India. The people who issued warnings to me about visiting India must not have experienced anything like Viet Nam.
Kolkata is larger and more populous than Hanoi. And dirtier. English seems to be more widely spoken here and, while most of the Vietnamese I encountered were friendly, the interest and enthusiasm the people of Kolkata express towards me is intensely moreso.
I refused a group of teenage boys their request to take a selfie with me. I might have agreed but it was in a mall (I packed lightly knowing I could get some sundries here) and malls are so middle class and Westernized it just felt weird. I might have been more amenable if they approached me on the street and weren’t dressed in out-dated designer clothing. That makes me feel patronizing and a little like a colonialist tourist but there you have it.
On the other hand, I imagine if I were in an American mall and saw a group of teenage boys approach someone in a turban or Sari and ask the same thing I’m sure I’d think it was the boys who were being patronizing. I comfort myself for turning this around like that but I also wonder if what was being expressed wasn’t so much “look at us with this exotic specimen” and more an expression of acceptance and international brotherhood.
Most who know me will probably be surprised that I have to resist the urge to hold on to this momentary and minor incident and lose myself in an internal conflict far longer than is reasonable but this is emblematic of one of my inner struggles which is a conflict between a desire to live up to an idealized image of myself and acceptance of the fact that my judgement is merely that of an average human.
Survivors of childhood abuse learn early on that a minor misread of a situation can have devastating consequences so we tend to hold unrealistically high expectations for ourselves knowing exactly what to do in any given situation. Letting go of this feels risky but that’s an improvement over feeling like a mortal peril.
Another contrast from Hanoi is that in Kolkata fewer people try to lure me to their shop or into their taxi and none of them persist when I politely decline. Sales pitches in Viet Nam were usually accompanied by grabbing, clutching and dragging. No one here has asked me for money yet. The most aggressive solicitation thus far was an over enthusiastic handshaker who seemed a little obnoxiously fake friendly. Admittedly I’ve been here less than 36 hours and I’m not in Mumbai or a major tourist mecca where a white dude might not stick out so much. I’ll be out in the streets more over the next three weeks and I expect to have a rich experience.
A picture from today: a small cow enjoying a snack of green leaves on the sidewalk was run off by a suddenly appearing dog, for whatever reason a dog might want to do that, with a very large crow watching the affair from a perch on a handrail about two feet away.
There are a lot of large and seemingly angry crows outside my room at 5:00 am.