A travel moment in Kolkata

Tonight my friend Nick and I went on a mission. We set out armed to the teeth with a mountain of paper bags containing various pakora, samosa, roti, chapati and baji. Our mission was to find those who lived in complete desperation and give them something to smile about. To see someone grin is not usually such an incredible moment, tonight the feeling was that of pure joy.

We found ourselves led through gloomy, dank back-streets of Kolkata by an ancient old man. His body had been broken by the terrible hardships of his life but his mind and soul were still full of vitality and joy. He led us on a winding journey to the centre of a place cleverly named 'New Market'. Now, this New Market may once have been new, but in reality I think it may have seen better days, maybe in or around 1812.

So, have you ever played a wild game of football, barefoot, with a gang of Indian slum children? An invitation like that can never be turned down. Off come the shoes (although not a necessity, it does provide some ego coverage when you turn out to be useless... "shit sorry about that, if only I'd had shoes on" etc.). We are ordered into teams on opposite sides in a barrage of excitable Hindi and very enthusiastically greeted by our fellow team members.

Kick off begins the most exhausting 20 minutes of my life. Although 10pm the temperature is still grotesque. A crowd has gathered to cheer the game on, the entry of two westerners has sent out a shock-wave of excitement from the locals. The pressure is on, feeling good and confident in my abilities to provide for my team. A burst of energy here, a sprint and leap there. Dizziness hits, heart pounding so violently I can hear it radiating throughout my head, sickness looming, need to sit down. "OK" says the local policeman "Are you ready to start?".

The battle fought (and sadly lost) it is time for a drink. I ask my new friends where I can buy water, they say to follow them. I am led to "where the tears of the Goddess Shiva come up from the centre of the world". It is a well and hand pump at the side of the road. The Goddess Shiva provides life for 14,700,000 people in this city. I wash my grubby face and feel totally insignificant.
Kolkata 2010

J Southan

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