Although I want the company of the other volunteers, I can't stand the area of that hotel on Sudder Street, where all Kolkata’s tourism happens. Every day I walk outside and get bombarded by beggars and hassled by street vendors, hotel owners, and rickshaw drivers for money and attention, and I spent most of my afternoon yesterday getting knocked around among various handicraft salesmen that pulled my leg into seeing their shops.
“I show you shop. No buy no problem. You see beautiful pashmina.”
Most of them were completely fine and nice, asking if I needed help with anything at all and wanting to give me chai. They ended up being friends of friends, as I learn how small of a world this city actually is.
But the creepies follow me to Kolkata. One of them talked to me all about sex and showed me these provocative Bengali movies on his cell phone while I finished the enormous cup of chai he got me to drink.
“Sex beautiful thing. No sex? No me, no you!!”
And my favorite:
“No enjoy, no life. Good enjoy, good life.”
His name was Ansari, which amusingly means, "no sari."
He also tried to take me all the way to the park and the Botanical Gardens, but I luckily had to meet Troy and his mom soon. I need to learn how to say no to people, but its just that I have nothing better to do than listen and learn from them. I enjoy just throwing myself into this wild culture. I've noticed how the shopkeepers and everyone do it. They offer you chai and insist that you are a friend, no t a customer. They chat with you and are actually fine if you don't want to buy anything. They're quite polite and non-pressuring. I enjoy the company and they always have things to teach me. However, it's getting a bit tiresome; I have succumbed to going with at least 5 of them already so far, which means an hour or two of socializing and drinking chai. If I keep doing this I'll never get anything done. On the other hand, for the most part, it speaks to the genuineness I continue to feel from people--they really do want to help foreigners and befriend everyone. But it is a little different than the pure altruism I would ideally be able to call it. Not only do they obviously have motives of getting your business (and perhaps more than that), they also have this karmic sensibility ingrained in their culture. This beggar lady told me, "You help me, God helps you." It seemed almost Christian in a way, in the sense that it is living for the love of other people that matters, and that we can trust that God will provide. However, here, this feels corrupted by the selfish idea of expecting to gain from helping others. Like there has to be a reward for good deeds, and that is of course why one would do good. Especially in the context of a beggar lady trying to get me to buy her the pashmina or a shop owner saying that if he helps me, good will come to him or worse, suggesting my return of payment in some other way, it is suspicious to say the least.