Freestyling in Calcutta. With Feyago and crew. Under the Lake Gardens Flyover.
I think it’s best I not quit my day job.
Freestyling in Calcutta. With Feyago and crew. Under the Lake Gardens Flyover.
I think it’s best I not quit my day job.
Oh the bittersweet High Court of Calcutta.
How much work must I put in for little gain?
My letter requesting permission to digitize their copies of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette was rejected. The employees of the High Court, including the lawyer who had helped me much and the assistant in the research room had declined informing me that my petition was rejected because they did not want to be the bearers of bad news—a fairly typical custom in India.
I received my rejection letter yesterday. It took the correspondence section all of 15 minutes to get it to me, which is about the quickest thing I’ve ever seen them do.
Given my rejection, I asked the research room if there was anything else I could do. Hence, I rewrote my application, arguing that if I can digitize this copy of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette then I will be able to preserve an historical part of India’s history before it is too late. I hope this tact will grant me success. Another change in tactic is addressing the judge in a very obsequious manner. This process took the entire day, bringing me to three different offices.
My new application is 24 pages long (that includes a duplicate copy). The triplicate copy which I had printed out turned out to be unnecessary.
Additionally, I realized there is another court record I need to look at. A trial in 1797 involved James Augustus Hicky versus some Bengali inhabitants who were convicted of assault and battery against him. The trial mentions Hicky’s wife. If I can find out more about her, I can understand another side of Hicky—and understand him, his wife and their family better. Perhaps she was a British woman and not a Muslim as is historically thought?
Been listening to Birp! Indie music compilations. Thanks to Rishi for these. Feeling hipster in Cal.
Today back to the grind. Allons-y High Court! (Searching for permissions to get a copy of Hickys Bengal Gazette digitized)
Just discovered that I will may need to go to Bhopal for my research. There’s an archive of old newspapers there (the link, which is only in Hindi).Please, someone, tell me something good about Bhopal so I don’t dread this so much.
Only a handful of articles have been published about this archive. There’s next to nothing online except an offhand mention that they have Hicky’s Bengal Gazette. I discovered this archive at random via Proquest—challenging my assumptions that only two copies of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette existed in the world.
If I can access this archive, I will be the only scholar to my knowledge who has used it for Hicky’s Gazette. Who knows what I will find?
I can only imagine the scenes of fresh hell I am to experience.
After briefly back in Calcutta Sam and I set off to the Sunderbons.
We made no planning.
Known in Bangla as Beautiful Jungle (lit: sunder = beautiful and bon = trees/forest/jungle). The sunderbans are a vast expanse of mangrove forests, wide and narrows cross cutting waterways, and are home to a dwindling number of infamous man eating tigers. It’s a vast swamp.
It’s a beautiful swamp, and away from Calcutta, is unpolluted serenity. That’s largely because half of the Indian side of the Sunderbans—Bangladesh owns the other side—are strictly off limits to humans. You can try to glimpse that serenity, as we did, by visiting the other half that people are allowed to visit.
We made it to the Sunderbans from Calcutta by way of the Baghajatin train station outside our apartment to Canning, the end of the line. Canning is clearly a town that’s seen better days. I’ve been told its harbor, which the British once made as a contingency plan should the Calcutta harbor become unusable, has itself largely silted up drying most of the trade with it.
We crammed into Tata Magic carrying 20 people to Godhkhali to catch a boat. Fortunately we were met by a two man crew of Ramzan and Moni who piloted a rather nice houseboat and negotiated what appears was a fair price of Rs. 7000 for a full 1 night 2 day package, but strikes me as exorbitant.
We didn’t do much the first day but traipse around a town at the edge of the Sunderban called Gosaba. It is always interesting to be the foreigner, the bideshi, the outsider in a world that even though I know some conversational Bangla, remains difficult to understand. I’ve come to the realization that no matter what I do, and no matter how much people will excited and willing to invite me into their family, I will always remain an outsider and a curiosity in India. People will form stereotypes about me based on my skin, and second based on the first question I am always asked, “Where am I from?”
Another strange thing I’ve recently become aware of is that I am frequently asked questions or told statements in the negative, accusative or assumptive. Such as, “Why didn’t you take that bus?” “America doesn’t have poverty” “What about your permission to get copies?”
It’s not a bad thing. It just is.
At night we docked next another boat. It’s our mother’s boat Moni and Ramzan said in Bangla. But as I said, we were looking for serenity, not to be anchored next to a rowdy crowd of Bengali men staring at us longer than was comfortable.
I made this clear to Ramzan and Moni, who replied, “But if we dock here, we will not have fear.”
Fear? Why fear? Is it a fear of the tigers, who people in the region might be afraid of swimming up to the boat and nabbing a human? Or is it a fear of pirates? Last week, I had been told, a boat had been hijacked and pirates made away with it.
Either way, there wasn’t much I could do other than to shut up and stop being pissy about it.
We woke early and set out to the Mangrove Interpretation Center, a surprisingly good museum on the ecology of the Sunderbans. We were also given a guide, apparently a necessity for the trip. He mumbled, liked birds and deer—telling us to take copious photos of every one we saw— and said the word “also” at the end of every sentence.
We then ventured further into the Sunderbans. Up until now we had only been on the North Eastern edge. The forest protection agency has a camp set up purely for the delight of tourists to spot wildlife. They’ve carved out a giant square tank (pond) for animals to sip water as well as four or five 50 meter wide half kilometer long swathes through the jungle so tourists can spot tigers or fauna crossing them. I’d call it environmental destruction. But this is India and India doesn’t really do environment, unless it is accompanied by a pile of garbage.
Later we went to another similar location, called “Dobanki” where the forest agency has set up a canopy walk, but is really just an elevated concrete walkway. After Dobanki, our boat slowly chugged its way back to Godhkhali with its 95hp diesel engine.
Highlight of the journey: Riding on the roof rack of a Tata Magic (Minivan like vehicle) with 26 people (Perhaps twice it’s max intended carrying capacity) in and on it between the Godhkhali boat launch and Canning (where we got the train to Calcutta).
Bhubaneswar, to me, seemed like a dusty, open, and spacious developing city. It is also entirely improperly mapped by google. The rock edicts of Ashoka, a 6th century king of India who conquered most of the country and converted to Buddhism—google says they are located under a highway flyover on a four way intersection. The modern art gallery—google says it is located in a back alley of a non-descript housing development (it has since moved to adjacent to forest park).
We spent one day walking around the city, I with a cold, Sam sicker. We saw Abhishek again and had drinks at his hotel.
The next day, convinced that a taxi would be a better way to go about it, we visited Konark and its UNESCO world heritage Sun Temple. It was huge and is designed in the shape of a large chariot, drawn by a team of horses. When it was constructed it was apparently on that coast and faced a position that the sun’s morning light would directly shine through the center of it.
Next we visited Konark’s beach—a lovely piece of sand, and the best beach I’ve seen in India second to that at Kochi (Ok, I’ve only seen about four beaches in India). We were told no swimming, that people were afraid of the ocean there, but we saw no signs forbidding it, so we decided to walk in. Lovely.
Our train ride back to Calcutta was not as lovely. We booked sleeper class again and found ourselves next to a group of Indian men—the same type of group that I had warned about two posts ago.
They sat on Sam’s bunk while he was sleeping, threw a bag onto my bunk too (Sam had lower, I had middle). One of them, possibly drunk was certainly creepy, telling me that he was in the India navy and that he had a girlfriend in Calcutta with a large lecherous grin. And did I have a girlfriend in Calcutta? I pretended to not understand him.
It was a great relief when they left the train.
Sam and I set off on a sleeper train from Howrah train to Vizag two weeks ago, leaving at night for the 14+ hour journey where we had the upper bunks—a surprisingly pleasant journey, and the first time I had taken a long distance train in India since I had been studying abroad in Hyderabad in 2010.
Our ride to the train the station was the usual madness figuring the number of red lights we ran, cars we nearly hit and the one way street we went the wrong way on.
We arrived into Vizag around 2pm in high spirits, taking an auto to Abhishek’s parents, who live on the coast in a beautiful 6th floor ocean-view apartment. We were well fed, and spent the first day going to a beach north of the city as well as to hill park overlooking the city via chairlift. Sam had a cold and I was beginning to feel it too.
Next day we went to Borra Caves by a train but found them to be closed, a bunch of people milling around outside the gate. Different people told us they were closed until 12, 1, or 2. So we decided to hedge our bets and walk to a waterfall 7 kilometers away, rather than paying the outrages fees for a shared car. Plus, we had plenty of time to kill.
I noticed I got significantly more intrusive questions about which country I was from here than in Calcutta.
We arrived to the amazement of the many other tourists who were shocked that we walked. The waterfall, which was cool, contained plenty of garbage at the bottom.
We took a shared jeep back in time for a quick lunch at the dhaba outside the caves and saw the caves, which I was told were either discovered by a British guy in 1807, or by someone who’s cow fell into a hole at the top. The side entrance to the cave was excavated later on for tourists.
We went to train station to buy tickets back, but the train was going to be three hours late. After a wait, we took a shared jeep to a bus station about a 45 minute drive away but our jeep broke down. And it wouldn’t start. At all, even after attempts to push start. The driver sent his buddy in an auto to get fuel which they poured into the tank but just poured out the bottom of the engine. After an hour wait in which two buses to vizag passed by—our fellow passengers asking why we didn’t get in the second bus and us telling them that we asked the conductor, “Vizag?” and he looked at us, gave us a confused hand gesture and then just drove away.
Anyways, we got back to Vizag no issue and made it on our train to Bhubenswar, arriving the next day.
It is one of my least favorite aspects of India.
Indians sometimes ask me how I am adjusting to India. Is the food too spicy? Is the weather too hot? Those things are fine, good, and aren’t necessarily true.
In truth, it is a subset of young men in India that make my experience negative. I may regret saying this, but it is Indian people (some, not all, young men) themselves who make adjusting difficult.
I am reminded of when, these past two weeks that Sam and I traveled, we were accosted by groups of young men.
At the Baghjatin train station outside my house, men yelling, smiling and waving, saying “Hey You!” And not in a friendly way.
At the Borra Caves in Andhra Pradesh, a group of young men, standing outside of the gate, staring, laughing and asking, “From which country? Where are you going? One photo?” And not in a pleasant way.
At the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa, a UNESCO world heritage site, and finding that we are the tourist attraction, men asking for “One photo.” As if we are zoo animals to show off to their friends.
In a taxi with Sheela on the way to a friend’s house in Calcutta, hearing “There’s a bideshi (foreigner)! Hey you! Hey bro! Bro! you! Hey Hi Hey!” from a group of drunk soccer fans in a truck bed. And not in a nice way.
Young men, when in groups, are aggressive and juvenile. I’m not sure if it’s a need to prove masculinity. I’ve been in India long enough to become used to this, and I’m surprised that I’m still so shocked by it, having lived in South Asia for a long time. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s India number 1 social problem.
It needs to change.
I went to the High Court much of the time that I was not traveling last week (more on that in a post coming tomorrow—hence why I’ve not been able to update the blog in awhile)
So, here’s a list of things that I’ve found at the ‘Mayor’s Court’ record room in the Centenary building adjacent to the original High Court building.
Today I went to the High Court and submitted my request asking for permission to make a “certified copy.” I had gone to the Court on Tuesday and submitted a request to make a digital copy of the Extraordinary issue. But, apparently I had done so in the wrong form, and had to re-write my letter, where I went to one office where they double stamped and then hole punched and dated it. Then I brought it to the registrar, pleaded my case and he said I could bring it to the Chief Justice and if “his lordship pleases it” I could proceed in making certified copies. Then I brought the form to a person in a little-tiny desk with huge stacks of paper, he took the original form, marked something on it and took my copy and stamped and signed it, “received but not verified” and that was that.
Now I wait to see if “his Lordship the Chief Justice pleases it.” I’ve been here so long that it all doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore.
So, my tasks are now:
Badger certain people at the Victoria Memorial about the shorthand in Hyde’s notebooks Start looking through the manuscript archives of the Asiatic society with Priyanka Build an itinerary for Calcutta Walks based around the city’s Early Newspaper History
In the High Court, resides a man who I affectionately call “grumpy man.” He has a perpetual frown on his face, tired eyes, and takes every conceivable moment to mutter something under his breath and fall asleep.
I have had the pleasure of interacting with grumpy man daily. (I’ll refrain from giving his name as it would compromise his anonymity).
Grumpy man works in one of the internecine offices of the High Court, of which one I’m not really sure. But I’ve had sightings in multiple locations.
For the past two weeks grumpy man has chaperoned me to the archive room at the Mayor’s Court, adjacent to the main High Court building. He has acted as my peon (remember I’m to be accompanied by a “peon” at all times while in the archive room, because, who knows what I could do with these old files).
My usual routine has been to call grumpy man in the morning and send him a text letting him know that I’m arriving at noon for the archives.
I’ve long since given up on trying to get to the archives in the morning. And recently, grumpy man has started bargaining with me over when the archives will close.
“Konta baje bondo/What time will we close?” he asks
“Shadaronoto somoy. Panchta baje? / Normal time, 5pm?”
“No. 2pm close.”
“Ek dum na! Ekhon 1:45! / Absolutely not, It’s 1:45 right now. How about 4?”
“Tik ache. 3:30”
He is, at least, malleable. I’ve only permission for looking at a list of 18 documents. But, I found a 19 document and after some fighting (fortunately, after I had finished transcribing it) he said ok, but no more. He had gotten suspicious that I had been looking at year 1784/5 and 1776 when I had no permission to do so.(again, only after already looked through half the files) So, we also negotiated that I could look at some other files as long as I was only “checking” them and not actively opening them.
We made it to Guwahati after Cherrapunji later than expected. It was election day, the day we went out. In the morning, we went to Sumo taxi stand next to our hotel, and were shown a taxi back to Shillong, which we declined because we had not yet eaten breakfast.
By the time we were finished, we learned that all the jeeps were commandeered for the election. There was no transport. We did, however, get a shared taxi to Cherrapunji market, where we were told we might find a ride. And we were in luck. A bus, crowded though it was, came twenty minutes later.
Guwahati is a rapidly developing city. It’s dusty, and congested but has a certain vibrancy to it. We arrived to meet Rehanna, a grad student, where she was appearing as a guest judge in a talent show. There was a bit of a miscommunication and we shuffled from one bus station to another, all the way back to the first where the show was being aired.
Sheela and I traveled to Cherrapunjee (Sohra as it is locally called). I found the village to be one of the strangest and eerie places I have been to. Not from any material threat, but because it was the dry season and all around us were burning fields of tall grass (apparently used as a harvesting technique). The air was heavy with smog—I would say the air was mostly smog—and the air pollution was far worse than Calcutta.
It was dark, despite being the middle of the day when we arrived. There were no trees, either.
Cherrapunjee exists on a narrow plateau, which is part of the reason that makes the rain fall there the second highest on earth (the highest being a neighboring town), as clouds from the Bay of Bengal are forced up the valleys in between the plateaus and deposit rain on their way up.
I remember walking off to the edge of one of these cliffs, and looking down. I couldn’t see anything.
We checked into a decent hotel, which was recommended to us by the fantastic owner of By the Way Hostel (we decided not to stay there—eastern toilet, not attached. I was feeling a little sick.)
The hospitality given to us by the owner of By The Way was fantastic. He brought us to excellent local restaurants, where we had great food.
The next day we went to see the living root bridges, which was by far some of the coolest sights I have seen in India. Along the way we met a few backpackers, including an English couple who were staying at By The Way, and we trekked down with them to see the bridges.
At the moment the living root bridges are still fairly pristine. More tourists are coming however, and that means more plastic bottles and trash. I saw people who were certainly seemed educated throwing their wrappers and trash into the water. It would be terrible to see the consequences of these bridges ending up like so many other things in India: polluted.
We joined other travelers on the way up: an Indian couple from a city in northern India I can’t remember, and a British woman.
Have you heard of Don Bosco? I hadn’t. But if you’re in Shillong you will see his likeness or his name more than you will see Tagore in Calcutta, or perhaps, the Virgin Mary in Rome.
He was a missionary and his disciples proselytized Christianity to many parts of the world, including Meghalaya.
Some type of guilt exists in Shillong as portrayed by the Museum: As if the people of Meghalaya were so indoctrinated with notions that, before the missionaries came, they were savages, lacking in humanity. You can see this at the Don Bosco museum where there is an image of a missionary getting beaten to death. The next images in the museum portray all the good things the missionaries brought.
There’s also an ‘interesting’ segment on evolution. “If you believe in it.” Another floor tries to describe all the religions in the world. (very colorful)
For some reason, the Don Bosco museum is around the top tourist destination on tripadvisor. I can probably ascribe this to different sentiments from different cultural perspectives.
There’s a quote from Indira Ghandi that goes something like this found in Don Bosco’s museum, “I have only seen two floors of this museum but I can tell you this is the greatest museum in India.” Clearly, she didn’t see the other 5 floors.
Nevertheless, it was a colorful museum. Plenty to look at. And the experience of climbing up the disorienting conical rooftop is something else.
We took a day trip to Laitlum canyon, in a remote part of Meghalaya rarely frequented by tourists. At the top of the valley you can see a town at the base of the valley, perhaps 800 meters down. Remote in all senses except a power and television line going down the cliff side. Reception was perfect, however. At one point there was a chairlift, now long since broken.
We walked down, me cajoling Sheela against her better judgment to go all the way down. People kept asking us, “Why are you here?” What answer could we give?
I made it to a soccer field in the center of the village, Sheela a little farther up. It was a tiring way back, with no water and food, and a brush fire to our left that really did concern me. We got back to the top, but It being a Sunday, there was, of course, no transport of any kind going back to Shillong.
I was incredibly thirsty so I asked a man where I could get water, and he pointed at a concrete aquifer. That was a bad decision—the following days I got more of a cleanse than I wanted. We ended up knocking on the doors of every house that had a car. We didn’t have the energy to walk to the next village 8 miles away on the main road for a lift. Eventually a school teacher and her family took pity on us, gave us tea and bread, and a lift to the main road—where we caught a taxi back to Shillong.
Pre-September. I began asking scholars and Fulbright Kolkata about how I might gain access to the records that exist at the High Court of Calcutta. The Court holds records, I have come to believe, involving the first newspapermen in Calcutta and some of the important libel trials they were involved in. I was told many stories about the Court’s archives, including that they all been moved, or had been destroyed, washed away in a flood sometime between last year, and twenty years ago.
September. Fulbright sent a letter of introduction on behalf to the High Court asking for permission to begin research. It was returned rejected.
December 12. Not taking no for an answer, I went to High Court along with the AIIS Bangla students as part of a class trip, and met with a lawyer who works there and is a friend of an AIIS teacher.
January 9. Arranged a meeting with the lawyer, and met with the members of the Registrar of the High Court’s (“Original side” of the building) staff. They informed me of the documents that I would need:
January 15. I return with the above documents, having gone in person to JadavpurU., Fulbright, and U. Calcutta to retrieve my letters of introduction, and I submit them. The letters are looked over, and I am brought from one office where they are stamped “received but contents not verified” to another where they are stamped again, to a third office where the double stamped papers are stamped a third time with the date they were received. I am also questioned by the registrar for why I would want access and the nature of my research.
January 17. I am called back to the High Court to draft another letter requesting access to specific record rooms at the Court: The New Building Records Room, The Old Building Records Room, the Mayor’s Court Records Room, the Testamentary Records department and the Company Matters Department.
January 21. In what I think is truly record time, I have been told that I have been granted access to the High Courts records rooms! I also meet with some members of the record rooms that I am to be going to, going to the Old Building Records room, moderately clean room containing people very much focused on their chai and newspapers. I meet with the New Building Records room staff, too, in their dingy room, their staff even more focused on their chai and newspapers. In both cases I indicate what I am looking for: Trial records involving newspapers in the 18th century.
January 22. I come to the High Court where I inspect the New Building Records room. It contains three stories of putrid stacks of decaying Court records from 1862 onwards, many of which are strewn across the narrow floors in giant piles, black with dust. The lawyer informs me that because January 26 is a Republic Day, the workers at the High Court will not be inclined to do any work for the next week, until Tuesday, January 28.
January 28. I visit Old Records room and am told to come back tomorrow. They are not ready. I also return to the New Building Records room. Although they adamantly told me they had no records pre-dating 1870, I had earlier found records from 1862 onwards. I conclude that, indeed, no records exist in this room prior to 1862. Not what I’m looking for.
I am also told that all the records for the whole court have been moved to Khidderapore, on the other side of the city. I find this extremely unlikely.
I also go looking for Mayor’s Court record room, which I’ve been told has 18th century documents, but it’s in another building, the Centenary Building. Can’t find it (keep in mind that there’ no front office or floor plan to speak of), but I do stumble upon a room called “Appellate Records.” Although the director of this room says he “has 18th century records” that may be useful to me, he ignores my questions asking what he might have and insists that I must apply for permission to access his room first. (Of course, this would require me to repeat the whole approval process again, and I’d guess the registrar would be less than amenable to me going to him an saying, “That dude over there says he has records from 18th century, but he won’t tell me what they are, would you pretty-please let me see his records?”)
While waiting, I notice a man comes to the director of this room with his “Peon Book” Peon book!?!? No joke. They actually call people peons at the High Court.
I see another room in the CentenaryBuilding, called the “Records Research Room” founded in 1977. This seems promising, but the room is bolt locked. I also find the Testamentary Records room. The suave director of this room, smoking a cigarette, tells me he has only post-independence records. He appears believable.
January 29. I visit Old Records room again. Their director tells me they have no records on what I want. I don’t believe them. A man does bring out some wills from the 1830s, seems lazy like they don’t really want to show what they have, and irrelevant. The director tells me to go to the Mayor’s Court record room, but I tell him I can’t find it, and ask if one of his staff can accompany me. This appears to be a stroke of genius because it works! One of his staff accompanies me to the registrar’s office where after a short wait, one of their staff members brings me to the Mayor’s Court record room, on the third floor of the Centenary Building, behind the “stamps office” in what appears to be more like a closet than a room.
Inside are sitting two elderly women wrapped in sweaters in the dark. In what appears their only function, they guard a file cabinet to their left in which are five books that contain lists of trials that occurred at the mayor’s court in Calcutta from 1750ish until 1774 when it was abolished and from 1800-1850ish for the Supreme Court. Conspicuously missing are records from 1774-1800, ie, my research period. Disheartening.
I mark some of trials on William Bolts, who had tried to found a newspaper in the early 1770s in Calcutta, and Peter Reed, a salt merchant turned proprietor of Calcutta’s second newspaper, the India Gazette, founded in 1780, as well as a heretofore unknown trial involved James Augustus Hicky, founder of Asia’s first newspaper the Bengal Gazette, in 1773. I am told that I need to apply for permission to see the documents containing their trials. The same permission process again!?!?!?! Argh!
January 31. Armed with my letters of request detailing the trials I want, I blitzkrieg (this how I like to think of it) into the registrar’s office seeking permission. Something comes over me before I do, and I add in handwriting that I am also looking for Hasting’s libel trial against Hicky in 1781—the whole reason for me coming here, despite it not being mentioned in the 5 catalogue books.
I receive permission, but am told in the strictest terms that at all times I must be accompanied by a peon! So, with the accompaniment of Mr. Chandernath Paul the peon (his word, not mine) we enter the Records Research Room.
It’s a mess. Thick with dust, the records are arranged in barely recognizable order in giant twine bound volumes. Despite some setbacks, there we find it! In a volume mistakenly marked 1782, is a record for Hicky’s libel trial, containing an issue of his Gazette recounting his trial, and which exists no where else but in that very room. (Paul mentioned an objection to me opening 1782, but I said the trial I was looking for started in 1781 and ended in 1782 so therefore I had permission to look at it).
Incredible discovery, that the only remaining copy to my knowledge of this issue of the Bengal Gazette exists in dusty room in the High Court of Calcutta, lost to time for over 230 years.
Partial victory is mine!
(No photos, otherwise, I would have let you all into the madness)
It’s been a awhile since I last wrote
This past weekend I:
Played in Hiland’s Park Squash Tournament, which I took far too seriously (intentionally). I lost in the semi-finals, if you can call them that, to Shivam, Hiland Park’s best player. The final set was epic, and I lost 21-19! That’s 10 overtimes. I think on nearly every point, I had to make a diving shot for the ball. A normal squash set only goes to 11, with the winner having to win by two. It was awesome to have a crowd cheering, too!
If I have one goal for the end of my time in Calcutta, it is to be able to beat Shivam and Ankur, the number 1 and two respectively at Hiland consistently. This is more important than my research. Did I say I take squash far too seriously?
Sunday morning I left with Ankit and his father to see the The Statesman’s Vintage & Classic Car Rally. It was an incredible display of cars and something that makes Calcutta seem so incongruous with itself. It’s a city with abject poverty but one with a history of extreme wealth, and even if that wealth doesn’t exist today in the same forms, these cars tangibly represent the city’s privileged class. But, I think more strangely is the fact that these cars signal old wealth. Where else in India is old wealth visible? Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Adhmenabad—predominantly new wealth, cities with incredible growth. Calcutta doesn’t really have that. Much of its wealth is from the past, and many of its families are dignified in the peculiar way that perhaps, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby captured.
The car show had one Rolls Royce. I couldn’t figure out the exact model, but I recall it being built in 1923.
But the real steal of the show, for me, was a, bright yellow, unusual German made car by Messerschmitt, a company which to me evokes images of camouflaged WWII fighters. I had no idea that Messerschmitt as a company even survived World War II. Anyway, they developed a couple cars with two wheels in the front and one in the back in the 1950s. You sat in it, and the door closed above you like a cockpit. The steering wheel pivoted much like a the dials on a clock face.
After the car show, I headed with Sheela to join our friend Ifte as he presented a Calcutta walk (his company) to a group of South African tourists around some of the historical colonial sections of the city, including St. John’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s, and Dalhousie Square (now B.B.D. Bagh—named after three martyrs (I suppose the British would have called them terrorists) who tried to storm the Writer’s Building (then opposite Dalhousie Square), the seat of the British Government. We also the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta which is where the Nawob of Bengal threw the British Inhabitants of the city he captured in 1757 into a hole where many of them died, though this history is certainly debatable. It was good to see parts of the city on a Sunday when it was quiet, and of course parts of the city that I hadn’t seen as a tourist.
In other news, we’ve had Turkish-Dutch guests over, and they just bought a motorcycle which they plan on riding all the way back to the Netherlands on! As well, Mithu our maid came back from her Holiday to Jharkhand. Also confirmed is that One Step Up on Park Street has great burgers (lamb, meaning they are great for India standards) if they are available.
Great resource for researchers! Especially given the extreme difficulties of accessing materials at times in South Asia.
Accessing the High Court still poses a problem. I’ve managed to figure out that if I have my passport, passport copy, a letter of introduction from Fulbright and a University in Calcutta, know a lawyer at the High Court and have the registrar’s and chief justice’s permission then I theoretically will be granted access to the High Court’s Archives—whatever those might be.
But, just getting these letters in order, finding a time to meet with professors and with the lawyer is not nearly as easy as it is in the U.S., where everything, meetings and documents can be handled via email.
Second, in anticipation of sending the codes found in Hyde’s notebooks back to the U.S, I have traveled to the National Library more times than I have wished. Looking at Microfilm, requesting scans (the Reprography/Microfilm department now offers digital scans of microfilm as well as photocopies. Who’s even heard of the word Reprography? Am I spelling it correctly?) getting scans, finding out that the scans I got, my research assistant couldn’t pick up, looking for books, giving up looking for books because they only exist in the west, etc.
Right now I am searching for copies of Hyde’s notebooks from 1775-1776. These years, I believe, contain a passage of Hyde’s shorthand that I believe has been broken 100+ years ago. If I can find that passage, I can compare the code with the translated section and break it (or have it broken) much like the Rosetta Stone. Exciting!
The notebooks, which reside at the Victoria Memorial, are being scanned by the Jadavpur University School of Cultural Texts and Records, and therefore seem to be difficult to access now. The national library’s collections of Hyde’s notebooks begin in 1778 (the National Library has only microfilm copies, not the originals), as I unfortunately discovered. I fear that the years 1775-1776 fall into the so called “brittle sections” that I’ve heard talk about. That means things could get really complex…
Though I knew it before, I am often reminded that research in India is not easy.
Hey Joe, How Was Your Holiday Break?
From the article,
“Abu Khattab, a 43-year-old Saudi hospital administrator who was pursuing jihad on his holiday breaks,”
At the office water cooler:
“Hey Joe, How Was Your Holiday Break?”
“Oh you know, went to Syria to fight jihad. Killed a few people. Feeling great.”
Calcutta’s 11k/Marathon began in chaos.
The announcer shouted, “Women to the front! Women at the front!”
The women moved to the front, shuffling through the crowd. The announcer said that they would start the 11k race five minutes before the men. As I was mulling the patriarchy and patronizing-ness of the situation, the starting gun went off.
The women began the race, but so did the men too! A horde of green shirts and cold, excited men stampeded forward, bursting through the attempts of the race authorities to stop them.
The announcer was shouting for the men to stop and managed to succeed to some extent. But then the starting gun went off again, by mistake!
And the race began! A total chaos of swarming moving bodies
But, actually, it was chaos before the race even began. The “public toilet” was a bamboo structure with blue FEMA tarp constituting all four walls. No actual toilets or urinals, you just peed on the dirt on the ground inside the structure.
The desk in charge of giving out numbers and t-shirts to runners was overwhelmed. After a few minutes a shouting match broke out. The desk collapsed as people were climbing over it. I managed to snatch someone’s number (and made it mine), but Sheela nor I could get a shirt.
I don’t know if anyone knows their time. I don’t. (I think I came in in 44 minutes but that’s just an estimate) There was no starting clock, no specific starting time, and no times noted for people approaching the finish line.
But hell it was fun!
(The actual marathon runners started about 20 minutes before the 11k)
Running the Kolkata Marathon Today
Wish me luck.
Sheela is also running the 4k, or if she can make it, possibly the 11k also.
I don’t think I’ll be able to beat my 9th place finish as I did in the Colombo 5k (where I won some fairly and lovely skin whitening!)
The race starts at 6am. Here’s the route.
বাংলাভাষা (Bangla Language Learning Guide)
Since the semester ended, I’ve been concentrating on creating a compendium of all my knowledge I learned in class so far.
Hopefully I’ll be able to look back at the last semester and say: Hey! I learned some Bangla and it was useful.
I aim to finish it before the beginning of next semester, on Jan 6, when I’ll begin to take classes half time in January and February.
(Explicit Post. At moments like these I want to doubly remind readers that my blog is no way a representation of the views of Fulbright nor is condoned by them.)
Ok, here goes:
With our new found vocabulary, I asked Mithu some questions to test his pronunciation- and she clearly understood what I was saying! And proceeded to chase me and slap me 15x.
So, after some instruction, we have created a short vocabulary list:
পাছা / pacha = ass/tail/butt
বিশাল পাছা / bishal pacha = badonkadonk
ঝাটের বাল / jhater bal = pubic hair
গুদ / gud = vagina
ধন / dhon = penis
বিশাল ধন / bishal dhon = HUGE PENIS
বোকাচোদা / boka choda = fucker
দুধ / dudh = boobs / milk
বড় বড় দুধ এবং ছোট গুদ লাগবে / boro boro dudh ebong choto gud lagbe = big boobs and small pussy needed
Last night I fond a bamboo stick in a garbage can and gave it to Mithu. The moment you pick up a bamboo stick from a trash can, and give it to your maid so she can beat your housemate. Priceless.
There are few geographical features that evoke mysticism like the Himalayas. There are even fewer passes through the mountain range. For Christmas Tanmoy arranged a trip to the far north of Sikkim, to the mountain pass in which the Chinese and Indian armies meet in tension.
This pass, which follows the river Teesta north from Sikkim’s capitol, Gangtok, travels through remote mountain villages to the Chinese border. It was been fought over for hundreds of years, and within the last two centuries has seen invading British, Bhutanese, Nepali and Tibetan armies. (Yes, Tibet once tried it’s hand as an expansionist power). Eventually the British succeeding in establishing their dominance over Sikkim.
Our destination was Gurudongmar Lake, a holy lake surrounded at mountains on the plateau on the other side of the Himalayas, and just south of the Chinese border. The lake had stood out like the holy grail of our trip. The blue beacon we had been aiming to reach. Tanmoy had assured me that I would be able to reach Gurudongmar and its 17,000 feet elevation.
It was a journey that brought thoughts into my mind of the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. With long jeep rides, I had much time to think and to read, and to reflect upon my experience. I also had time to reflect upon how I want to approach life, and with what attitudes, values, norms and acceptance of others. What joy a the respite from the barely functional chaos of Calcutta was.
We started our trip with an interminable 16 hour bus ride from Karunamoyee Bus Stand, Salt Lake, Calcutta to Siliguri, and then a 5 hour jeep ride from Siliguri to Gangtok.
Gangtok is a lovely small city, and has probably the most attractive people I have seen in India. (That’s a plus, you know). The center of the city is a road only open to pedestrians known as M.G. Margh and reminiscent of Istiklal in Istanbul. In our limited time in the city we were able to explore a beautiful park at the top of a cable car that transports people from one hillside to another.
Another 8ish hour ride brought us to Lachen. On the road from Gangtok to Lachen, along the river Teesta you can see much construction work, including the building of a great damn near the town of Mangan. This huge infrastructure project, which I was told the 2011 earthquake claimed dozens of workers’ lives, will surely change the nature of the valley.
Lachen is a small town in Northern Sikkim, reachable by a treacherous and winding dirt road. It’s a wonder that, amid the road’s many switchbacks, more trucks don’t fall off the edge. There we stayed at a small guesthouse, suffering in the cold unheated building and sleeping in all our clothes. On the hillside on the west side of Lachen is a two hundred years old Buddhist monastery, with beautifully painted walls and interiors.
Further north and more remote is Thangu. Thangu is another 2-3 hours. It’s not really a town as much as it is a small village of a few roughly made homes attached to a larger military base. Three years ago there was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake that forced some of the outlying homes to be abandoned.
The next day we traveled to Thangu at 14,000 feet (4,300 meters). From Lachen, At 14,000 feet, I felt the altitude distinctly, in my sluggish movements and low level nausea at certain points. But altogether, it wasn’t terribly difficult to adjust to.
From Thangu, Tanmoy and the Indians traveled to Gurudongmar (only Indians are allowed to reach the lake). The night before Tanmoy were to had told us two Americans that we would be unable to make it to Gurudongmar lake. When I heard Tanmoy’s words, I was indeed disappointed. Despite the initial disappointment in knowing we would not reach Gurudongmar, Richard and I decided to make the best of it and, with Sonam, our Sherpa guide, we trekked into the Chopta valley, climbing another estimated 500 to 1,000 feet.
Our short hour and a half hike stretched into 5 hours, whereby the end of it we were thoroughly exhausted, and surprisingly hot, the sun’s rays at 14,500 feet warming us well despite the bitter winter cold. Sonam told us were the first tourists he had taken so far into the valley—so it was nice to know we were the “first” at something.
Midway in the Chopta valley, after scrambling down a hillside off any path, we came across a few large boulders. What do I do when I see a large boulder? Climb it!
I will not forget that valley.
It was nice to have a trip organizer, and to bond with Richard, a Fulbright researcher. We shared our thoughts from everything from Consumerism to the Great Classic novels. I didn’t have to think about a thing. Every detail was planned for and I was simply taken along for the ride. Not having to think or plan is great. That said, my usual gripes remain in that Indian hosts tend to be overbearing especially in wanting to ensure that we are fed and comfortable. (Also, dinner at 9pm or later?)
Great trip. Wonderful Christmas! Goodbye Himalayas.
Forgive me, for I have forgotten. What color is the sky?
And, forgive me, for I have also forgotten. What color is water?
Today we brew beer.
Entering India I would have never thought that it would be possible to brew beer here. Not that it is not possible, but that it would happen. However, we have all the necessary ingredients and equipment now. Capper, fermentation tank (literally a cooler), brew pot, bottles, caps, yeast, hops, malt, adjuncts, etc.
So, to start, using Alec idea’s for a beer, we’ll make an I2PA. India’s first ever India Pale Ale. The first might be a misnomer, but I’m too lazy to check/don’t want to have my assumptions crushed by the internet.
This coming week is the last week of the fall semester of Bangla, meaning tests are coming, as well that I am to give a slideshow presentation. Now, the question is, do I present about my research or about brewing beer? Which is more interesting? You can tell me, but I think I know the answer.
Last Thursday our Bangla class visited the High Court of Calcutta, a zoo of a place, in that it keeps a very strange breed of creature called “lawyers” in its walls. They swarm around in vast halls, sitting in plastic chairs, and yelling at each other and with judges in barely audible court rooms. I’m sure there’s a system in the High Court, but on a first glance, I’m surprised it’s functional.
We also went to see some of the criminal courts in an adjoining building. Unlike the High Court, the lower criminal courts were largely vacant. This is because Calcutta has no crime, one of our teachers wryly noted! Judging by the quality of the bathrooms and the number of shitstains in and around the toilets, I have little faith in the diligence of the cleaning staff. I can’t tell you about the diligence of justice.
My real reason for wanting to visit the High Court is that it supposedly has an archive of some type, with manuscripts and attestations dating to the 18th century. However, different people have assured me that the archive has either (A) been destroyed in a flood 20 years ago (B) been destroyed in a flood last year, (C) moved to the Alipore Court or (D) never existed.
Last month I received a reply back from Fulbright that the letter of introduction they sent on my behalf to the Court had been rejected and that I would not be able to access whatever archives exist there. Being Calcutta, I thought, I’d have more luck if I went in person, met the right people, and prayed for rain, so to speak.
Luckily AIIS (American Institute of Indian Studies) contacted a lawyer at the court, who toured us around and introduced us to the deputy registrar, who then introduced us to a man who position I still have no idea about, but who assured me that he would give it his all to assist me in accessing these supposed archives.
Now, to wait and see, and pray for rain.
No pictures, sorry, not allowed at the Court.
This is where I’ll be going for Christmas break: Gurudongmar Lake is one of the highest elevation lakes in the world. Second highest to be exact, I believe at about 17,000 feet elevation. The lake is right at the border of China and India.
Bangla passes well and already after four I am somewhat sort of. coherent, and can read Bangla at an intermediate level (I think). বাংলাভাষা খুব জরদী আমার গবেষনার জন্য. হয়ত আমি সংবাদপত্র বাংলা থেকে ইংরেজি অনুবাদ করতে পারব. তাই আমি বাঙালি ভাবুক (Bengal Renaissance) নিয়ে বুঝতে পারব.
Last night I went to Calcutta Jazz Fest. What an awesome event, and what awesome music! Last night featured Aakash’s band and the international faculty from a University just South of Chennai called Swarnabhoomi. The drummer was from Mexico, the pianist and base from the US, and the Guitarist from Calcutta. Two of my favorite songs of Aakash’s were Monsoon Blues and one sung about the pacific Northwest Coastline in which Jayanthi joined in, adding her voice and bringing the a stark cloudy day on the NW coastline to life in Calcutta.
The days pass, with some limited successes in research.
A few cryptographers have expressed interest in deciphering the shorthand/cipher I have encountered a cipher in Hyde’s Legal Notebooks (a source I am using at the National Library) which I have been unable to solve.
Bangla is progressing well, and during the weekdays I have increasing confidence to read and translate documents. It’s a difficult language.
Out of the blue I received a personalized email from a company called vedams books about a book called, “A History of Calcutta’s Streets,” which I had been looking for for months. Apparently a German had bought the last copy available copy to my knowledge a month ago. I don’t know how they knew they I wanted the book. Perhaps someone knew I was looking for it and called them? I don’t know—but I do now I have someone to thank for the help.
And some setbacks
I was denied access to the High Court of Calcutta’s archives despite Fulbright sending an introduction letter. Other scholars (not connected to Fulbright to my knowledge) have been granted access.
The National Library of India has run out of ink for photocopying, so I will have to wait a month until I can request photocopies of materials. Meaning that I can’t supply the cryptographers with the scans of the shorthand they will need to solve it.
As well as some interesting travel
Last weekend I traveled to Bishnupur on a class trip with Matt, Jessica and our teacher Debanjan. Bishnupur is a fascinating small city/town with an array of Terracotta temples dating to the 17th century, with numerous surrounding villages that produce a variety of handicrafts. Each village specializes in a certain craft, granting it comparative advantage in that specific craft. Ricardo and Adam Smith would be proud! I also fulfilled my dream of driving an Ambassador car—the ubiquitous yellow taxi of Calcutta. Fantastic!
Apologies for some banal writing. I’ve lost my voice due to a few successive days of having a sore throat, and a little too much partying. I therefore think I’ve also lost my writing touch. With more things to do and more people to meet, it’s harder and harder to find time to write. I also should have been around to talk to my grandfather during thanksgiving, maybe there will be time for that too!
A fascinating town, now effectively a distant suburb of Calcutta, Chandernagore was owned by the French until 1952, a few years after India gained Independence. So, there existed an entirely landlocked French town surrounded by India. How strange.
The town had passed back and forth between the French and British as the British, in a series of successive wars, captured the town, only to repeatedly give it back.
You can still see the French influence. In the long stone waterway promenade with large trees, steel benches, the smattering of Colonial Buildings (such as a church), and in the street lamps that look as if they come straight out of turn of the century France (Although Debanjan noted that, “Do you really believe those remain from the French?” Regardless, they give the town a colonial feel.
However, you wouldn’t know the historical aspects existed if it you had stepped of the train or bus station as Chandernagore looks similar to the other Calcutta suburbs.
We went to Chandernagore to witness an idol immersing festival. I think it was Doshami, related to Kali puja, but someone should correct me on that fact. It was a hot, sunny, loud, polluted day, so I wasn’t quite following the intricacies of the festival.
Supposedly there exists an interesting library in town or nearby.
Enough of this—look at some photos!