Bob's your Uncle.
26.01.2011 - 31.01.2011 25 °C
My next port of call, Lucknow was for the first time in almost 14 years. My Dad was born here. The Shiite (stop giggling - notice the spelling) Nawabs once ruled (followed of course by the British). In the18th century they built these impressive tombs complete with ingenious defensive features, including early CCTV. A pool was positioned in such a way that it was possible to see the reflection of the invaders/drawbridge to drawbridge salesmen.
Lucknow was also the site of the Indian uprising in 1857. Almost 3000 British residents were holed in to the residency buildings for almost 3 months. Many perished in the conditions due to disease.
The city has moved on and It now has a very classy modern district with shops, parks, flyovers and lots of statues. The current head of Utter Pradesh (Lucknow is the capital) was so vain that she even commissioned (with civil money) a huge statue of herself, brandishing a handbag. Certainly reminded me of a certain ex British PM.
As well as seeing the sites, it was also a trip to see another one of my Dad's cousins (the Jovial Dr Ghosh), his wife, sister and son. It is always good to have a GP as a relative in India. Before I arrived I did a quick check to see if anything (body parts, organs etc) was missing or indeed if I had any life threatening illnesses. Now was the time if really necessary to get cholera, a cerebral haemorage or even a nasty boil. Fortunately nothing to report. I had stayed before on my first visit although this time I stayed in a nearby hotel as they had some sewage pipe problem that I won't go into. It happened to be their 25th wedding anniversary. As is the case in India, it is not just a special occasion for the couple in question, it becomes a big party where family friends and acquaintances are invited. I was honoured. The party was scheduled at short notice to coincide with my arrival and his son Bintu, who was shortly to go down to Pune to start a new job in the Finance sector.
The party took place in a Lucknow school after a false start, a power cut. It was small by Indian standards (only 100 guests). This is just as well as I was constantly introduced to a stream of distant relatives. 5th cousins, 15 times removed. 4th cousin's, brother in laws mother's goat etc etc etc. Any problem with remembering names and relationships was overcome however. Invariably they would be introduced as "this is your Auntie", "this is your Uncle". I did point out once though that, "Uncle, he's younger than me".
The 25th January, was the day after the party. The following day would be republic day and the city was preparing itself for processions and festivals. Huge hotels and public buildings are draped with lights like huge Christmas trees. At 18.30 my Uncle (Dr Ghosh) took me to the train station to see me off. The Himilgiri Express was scheduled to leave 3 hours earlier but was delayed for some unforseen reason. Maybe a stray cow or goat on the track. Anyway he finally found my carriage - 2 tier AC, just the step below 1st class. He waved goodbye as the train pulled away. The wrong train!. Fortunately though this train was also going to Kolkata, albeit at 20 hours was a little slower.
Thankfully I got to my destination Kolkata in time for My Auntie Gori and Uncle Nilhu's 50th anniversary (yes another one). The ticket inspector on the train was very understanding after two fellow passengers (they happened to be railway engineers) explained my predicament to him. They did have a good laugh at my expense first. A fair trade I would say. On arrival at the Kolkata station I did have to allude the platform ticket inspector. I had a plan, if asked to see my ticket I would have spoken in a rare Hungarian dialect with a lisp and a bad stammer. Eventually the words "no speak English" , "no speak Bengali" and "no Speak Hindi" would have been laboured painfully out of my stuttering lips. They would have given up trying to understand me. The plan was essential to avoid a hefty fine. It turned out that all I did was ignorantly storm past the ticket inspector like a charging bull. Works every time!
The second anniversary was a surprise one in a local restaurant. The buffet food was excellent. Indian influenced Chinese is a perfect hybrid. It lacks the blandness of some of the Chinese dishes or the heavy oiliness of some of the Indian dishes. Another round of introductions to Aunts and Uncles ensued. Once my Auntie and Uncle got over the shock of the surprise they genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves. Such events in India are usually alcohol free, so they didn't have a few drinks to hide behind as we would in the UK. As is customary in these events, they draped garlands around each other and placed a lot of emphasis on cutting the cake.
On Jatin Das roads mornings are noisy. A chorus of crows, cars, shouting etc. Street vendors are selling their wears at a ridiculously early hour. What are they selling - only the Gods know. Could be ear plugs I suppose.
For the past few days I have not really been doing much in Kolkata, just relaxing really. Ive caught a few movies on DVD (including 127 hours). I did quite a bit of walking around, just watching the world go by in this this relatively clean and leafy neighbourhood. This is what I saw: decaying colonial buildings; decaying new buildings; the odd hand pulled rickshaw (a rare site now in most Indian cities) emerging from the fog; people selling Chai in disposable clay cups;a shop selling exotic musical instruments; numerous mustard yellow Ambassador taxis (used to be just about the only car in Kolkata 14 yrs ago); a beggar with twisted limbs; many tailor shops; several guys sat on the pavement playing cards; sellers of flower garlands, gifts for someones God of choice or wife of choice if it is for an anniversary finally the odd a stray cow. Despite the poverty and wobbly pavements that almost look like they have suffered bomb damage, I genuinely feel safer it Kolkata than Stockport town centre. There are now stray cows of course other than the silly drunken variety that you see clutching a bag of chips on a Saturday night.
I'm going to moo off now