Calcutta Christmas


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It’s Christmas Night. This morning we opened our gifts and had breakfast at Flurys. It’s an Oldy Worldy bakery-tea-shop on Park Street. We had a wait of about half an hour in the cold Calcutta morning. Outside, were people in their jackets and shawls, designer shoes and sunglasses. There were young and old, families and couples, all waiting for breakfast at this reputed establishment because it is ‘The Place to be on Christmas Morning.’ 

As we waited we shivered in the fresh breeze because we chose to ignore the fact that it was winter. People looked at us like we were crazy or stupid or both. It was an interesting experience. 

Eventually we made our way in, we were seated, we had our English Breakfasts and fresh, hot buttered croissants and we were satiated. But outside a man made monkeys dance, a small girl in an oversized jacket fell asleep as she waited for customers to buy Santa hats from her pavement store and a woman in a headscarf sat begging with her half naked baby, in the cold. I chewed guiltily from my warm seat in the café. I laughed a little too loudly to drown out my unease when I couldn’t finish my meal. We clearly had too much.

Back at home, we were surrounded by Christmas and warmth again. Gifts were played with, packed away for another day and everyone was happy, lit up with the glow from the Christmas tree lights. The pavements of Park Street were forgotten for a time as I uploaded pictures onto Facebook and replied to Christmas wishes from friends and family. I put the children to bed and I walked out onto the balcony. 

The winter nip was there again. The slum dwellers were in their shawls, scurrying about their evening and as I watched I remembered the little girl who sold Santa hats on her pavement stall. 

In the air a repetitive tune, familiar words marched towards me, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare…”

It was a comfort, a balm on my guilt. It took me higher for the time I listened, transported to somewhere other than this physical arena of rich and poor, good and bad. It stirred something that had changed within me, for whatever Calcutta has taken away, it has given me something more; there is an optimism now, where before there was only anger. There is a calmess now, where before there was only unrest. I can be strong, I will be strong and I already have everything that I could ever need or want. 

The people who live in apparent poverty, just outside my front door are fighting, they are working, they are smiling. They are dancing to the same song as me, as their lips move in time to the mantra that they hear. They will not be defeated and neither will I. 

Neither will we.

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Kolkata Beggar


Daily Prompt: Silver Linings.

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Ugly is the beggar I see on the street. The missing limbs, the missing teeth, the missing family. Ugly is the rancid stench from his torn garments and rotting flesh. Ugly are the stares he invites, the silver rupees he collects, the thoughts of passers by. Where, then, is the silver lining, the beauty in the rancor?

It is in the smile he offers the little girl as they sit down for their evening meal of rice and water. It is the tales he tells as she closes her eyes and lies on the dirt floor.

Oblivious to the ugly.