July 2, 2010

City of Joy

As I step off the train into Howrah station, I arrive back to one of the filthiest, polluted, humid, overpopulated, impoverished cities in the world. So why, if you may help me to understand, why is it that I have this overwhelming feeling of comfort, a completely unexpected sensation that is happiness?

Perhaps it is because I am returning to a place where I can expect at least 4 street-side friends and several additional strangers to greet me good morning on my daily run.

A place where I can enjoy confusing and disappointing the local boys who yell Kanichiwa and I tell them I am an American.

A place where the vegetable vendors are overjoyed that I speak rudimentary Hindi and give me free hot green chilis.

A place where the thali with all you can eat rice, dal, and sabzi is only 10 Rupees a plate.

A place where the weather is so feircely unpredictable that it dictates life with entertainingly inconvenient power.

A place where I can glory in my absolutely minimal consumption of water and petrol.

A place famous for its syrup-drenched gulab jamun, condensed fried milk balls that melt seductively down your throat.

A place where I can get the thrill of examining child patients and administering injections to my friends.

A place where my host mom showers me with Indian food, sweets, and random acts of unprecedented generosity and maternal kindness.

A place with such an unbelievably convenient system of transportation where the first bus is over 90% of the time yours.

A place where ladies on the metro shuffle their behinds to make room for yours.

A place with an abundance of harmlessly curious locals to invite me for chai and interesting conversation, where the excessive friendliness  becomes almost an invasion of privacy.

A place where strangers share their mangoes and samosas with you on the train.

A place where shopkeepers take you out for lunch and buy you ice cream even if you are not their customer, and where they may even insist you take a free shawl when you shiver in winter.

A place with such hospitality that you can get records of 10 offers of sweet chai in one day.

A place with the most fantastic yogurt for the makings of the most fantastic lassis.

A place where all food is sold in recycled paper or clay containers for an environmentally friendly deposit system.

A place where you can glory in laziness, for throwing trash out the window will most assuredly result in a man cleaning it up after you since there are no trash bins.

A place where rickshaws beckon at your fingertips, literally dying to give you a ride.

A place where women's saris make a museum of the sidewalk.

A place vibrant with music, art, literature, philosophy, and an enviable accessibility and appreciation for culture.

A place where sulking is met only by smiles and impatience with gratitude.

A place where you can trust strangers to look after all of your belongings while you go look at an apartment.

A place of unmatched spirituality and the ever-present search for truth.

A place where human nature is brought out into the most raw and primitive light.

A place where violence is socially forbidden.

A place where monsoon rains have cleansed my palette,
As I taste my last crumbs of this feast called Kolkata,
A food that I am exhausted from eating but whose ever-complexifying flavor I will never tire of.

A place that is as captivating as it is debilitating,
as amusing as it is depressing,
as thrilling as it is paralyzing,
as intoxicating as it is sobering,
as charming as it is repulsive, 
as tender as it is abrasive.

A land of paradox, a land of juxtapositions.

A land that is all too full of life, all too real, all too human.

A land they rightfully call Anand Nagar--the City of Joy.

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