Bangla classes at AIIS have been draining. I must admit that four hours of class monday to friday saps my energy. Traveling there and back is a trip: either packed into a suburban rail so tightly that boarding is a process that involves shoving people further into the carriage. On the plus side, I don’t need to hold on to anything as the mass of humanity around me holds me up. Alternately, I can take a bus and then shared auto to class: more civilized, but does take longer.
Class is intense, but also great in that I have one on one tuition, so it is highly individualized. They teach Bangla comprehensively: so I get training in speaking, reading, writing, and listening.
After class on Wednesday I went to the Asiatic Society to meet with the general director and the head librarian. As with most of my meetings, they are awkward in the way that I have found only meetings in S. Asia can be awkward. This one involved the gentlemanly general director, who acted as if the 1850s had never passed, expatiate on the evils of overpopulation and the downfalls of the Indian nation. After that meeting, he directed me to the librarian, who insisted on showing me every single holding they had in glass case in their manuscript room which smelled strongly and oddly of diesel fumes. She then launched into a spirited blow-by-blow account of one of the Indian epics. Of its nature, I could not be sure, but it had something to do with a prince, princess, and a fish that swallowed a ring. She later insisted on teaching me Bangla script (parts I already know) as I wondered how to politely disengage conversation. Two hours later, and with a comprehensive tour of the old and new Asiatic Society buildings, though still not having seen the manuscript catalogue (my main goal), I left.
Friday after class Mr. P. of AIIS took us three students on a tour of college street—a street known for its numerous book sellers. What a trip. Nevertheless, I am still unable to find P. Thankappan Nair’s many books on Calcutta history. (I found his history of Calcutta streets at Rs. 4000 but I’m not about to pay $70 for a beat up copy of a tangentially useful book) Hopefully I will meet him soon at the National Library. I’ve been told he goes there in the mornings, and everybody knows him. We also visited the “Coffee House,” originally the haunt of Calcutta’s intelligentsia from the 19th century onwards. It looks like an ordinary cafeteria with uninspiring food. I’ve no intent to return.
Later, I had dinner with Alec and some more AIIS fellows at Banana leaf, a Keralan restaurant. What interesting stories these interesting people have!
In other news, I had another ‘interesting run’ today. It was nice up until the five mile stretch of running along a canal, eg open sewer. On the way back, I passed a dead kitten sprawled out in garbage. Not pleasant.
I’ve also begun reading Dalrymple’s White Mughals. What a fascinating book. At so many parts I keep thinking, “But that’s what I want to say!” Alas,