Saturday, May 26, 2012

OH! Calcutta!

After spending a considerable amount of time in Kolkata, over the last four odd years, and trying recently to organize a 300-plus event here, I have observed some peculiarities of the city which – frankly – irritate me no end. While some of my local Bengali friends will see the need to notice, talk about, and change these things. Others, less open minded and more immature, will see this as just an outpouring of my supposed hate for Bengal and all things Bengali. Either way, here are the facts as I have observed them …

·         I could not make an electrician do some basic work in 4 years. Call call call, they don’t arrive. When one finally arrives, he takes a look at the work, says “parts niye kalke ascchi” (I’ll be back with the spare parts tomorrow)…and never comes back…. This was repeated with 6 or 7 people. Finally I have given up. I now prefer to buy a new fan for my flat rather than go through the stress of trying to find a kolkata electrician to repair it. I later realized it is this way for all professions in this city. Professionalism is not just lacking, it is ABSENT.

·         Haven’t found a single tailor yet who knows the meaning of “delivery date” and can follow instructions. As for western wear, forget it! They can manage salwaar kameez provided you don’t want anything too fancy or unusual, and maybe a short kurti or two, but talk about shirts, trousers, and fitted tops and they are all blank. Even if you give them a sample they cannot reproduce it. Does one have to go to a Gents tailor to get women’s shirts made? I wonder. Am still waiting for a set of clothes I had given to the fifth tailor I have tried here, FOUR MONTHS AGO!

·         A buffet dinner in Kolkata means something totally different from a buffet anywhere else in the world. When I was trying to decide about how many plates to tell the caterer to provide, I was told (by the caterer as well as friends and relatives) to budget for at least 10 to 12 plates more than the number of heads. Seemed strange to me, being used to ordering 10 less in case of last minute cancellations etc. why more? I asked. Well, they said, you have to plan for the packages people will take home. TAKE HOME? What? From a buffet? Yes, apparently a Kolkata invitee will ask for a packed dinner to take home for any member of the family who was unable to make it to the event! How ridiculous is that? I have to say, in my long and varied life in so many cities in India, and from my acceptably limited knowledge of the rest of the world, I have never come across this practice anywhere else. When you are invited somewhere, you either show up and eat, or don’t show up and don’t eat. What’s all this take-away business?

·         Oh! And a lot of people change plates in the middle of a buffet meal! Not the usual, rest of India dinner plate changed to dessert plate, but multiple dinner plates, one after each course or so! What? Why? Because how can a Bengali eat mutton on a plate tasting of fish (HUH?) and so on. What the duffers fail to realize is that caterers count dinner plates to decide what to charge. So every time some idiot, completely uninformed about global manners, changes his plate because it tastes funny, the host ends up paying for an extra, non-existent person!

·         No one chews with their mouth closed! At every single event I have been at in Kolkata, no matter what the class or education or age of the people there, I have not seen anyone chew with their mouth closed! My enjoyment of typically catered Bengali food was low enough to begin with, but now it has completely gone, because every time I raise my head or look around I am treated to the sight of wide open and cavernous mouths in various stages of masticating food! Ewwwwwwww!

·         Home delivery is a new concept in Kolkata. Pan Indian chain stores like Spencer and Big Bazaar can be credited with bringing the concept to this city, barely a half decade ago. Still, the idea only exists in the context of groceries, packed goods, and a VERY FEW restaurants. The concept of vegetables, raw fish, fruits, and stuff from the neighbouring grocery store coming home at the end of a phone call is still very far away, let alone something like Dial A Meal where you can call ONE number to order from ANY restaurant in the city. Although all of this was personally experienced by me in Chennai in 1986, in Mumbai in 1991, Hyderabad in 1999, and Pune 1995 onwards, Kolkata still does not have all this.

·         Dominos does not deliver in half the city! I had the shock of my life upon calling the hunger helpline and ordering a large pepperoni! Having lived in so many Indian cities, some of them much smaller and less important than KOLKATA, I have no concept of Dominos saying “sorry ma’am we do not deliver in your area” (and I was in an area like PATULI at the time, not even my neighbourhood which is lowbrow)! What planet is this????? Oh! And there are only two MacDonald’s in the entire city! KFC used to be 2 branches, until they opened a couple more recently.  

·         People almost faint when they see a woman buying alcohol or cigarettes, although I know plenty of Kolkata bong women who smoke and drink!! Two faced gawaarness. They even look like they have seen a ghost when I try to buy birth control for heaven’s sake! How VILLAGE is that?

·         There are a number of huge malls here now. The malls open at 9 AM. Great right? No! Because most of the shops In That Open Mall will not open until 11, and so you wander around like a ghost. Want to get something to munch on? To pass the time? What a laugh! The god forsaken food court does not open until 1pm!!! I’ve never seen this before…mall opens, all shops open, and food court definitely opens! That’s logical, that’s how you make most sales! Only apparently this simple logic does not apply in kolkata.

·         People still don’t use pressure cookers for their daily cooking! In the 21st century, with India reeling under a chronic LPG shortage, 99% of educated, modern, progressive, cultured, Bengali homes in Kolkata use pressure cookers only for the once-a-week mutton cooking (many not even for that)! Everything from rice and dal, to the raw bananas for a kofta, and even fish, chicken, (mutton too in some cases), its ALL cooked in open vessels! That’s not just regressive, and rural, it is CRIMINAL! It’s a miracle they even moved from wood burning stoves and chulhas to gas! What’s the logic behind wasting 3 hours, and liters of gas on something that should take 20 minutes? That food does not taste good when cooked in a pressure cooker. This is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard in my life! Not only does it taste BETTER, it is also a lot more nutritious, and the process wastes a lot less of the fossil fuels we are running out of so fast! And the proof? The very people, who NEVER use a cooker at home for fear of loss of taste, almost eat their own fingers and cant stop complimenting the food at my home, where there are 6 pressure cookers. I NEVER cook ANYTHING in any other way if there’s the remotest chance of using a pressure cooker.

·         I couldn’t get a roll at Howrah station…one of the busiest in Asia, and possibly in the world, because they were selling dinner… at 5 pm!!! Any other station, VT and Churchgate in Mumbai are of comparable size, would have a parallel process serving snacks while some serve dinner. And what is worse, the counter guy was incredibly rude, and almost shooed me off like a pariah stray dog.

·         I ordered tandoori chicken for the clan from a really famous Kolkata chain of moghlai and tandoori items. They have outlets all over the city, and are famous for their food. I was out shopping, and at around 6 pm I called them to order the chicken, expecting it to be at home by the time I got back. They took the order, my phone number, etc. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the house to find an absolute absence of any tandooris of any kind. It was 8.30 pm by now, and not only had the food not arrived, no calls had arrived either to let us know the cause of delay. I rang up the restaurant, only to be told that “tandooris have not been coming for a couple of days madam, not sure I can fill your order, but let me see…” this is when I lost my temper and yelled at the guy. Why the hell did he take my order in the first place, given that the supply of chicken has been down for 2 days. If he did so expecting things to miraculously change, why didn’t he call me when it became obvious that there was no change? What the hell kind of unprofessionalism is it that made me set out at 9pm to find dinner, when – with the right warning – I could have just bought the stuff on my way home?

·         Something similar is going on with my mother’s backup washing machine as I write this. The stand for the machine, ordered something like 10 days ago is arriving today. The store we got the machine from called to say that the guy has been dispatched with the stand. Great news we thought, and have been waiting for the past 3 hours for the guy t arrive, covering the 1 km from the store to this flat. Then the shop calls to say that they have told him to take a certain price, but he might try to get more so we have to haggle. What does that mean? Doesn’t the store have a fixed price? and why does the delivery guy get to decide? And why does the customer have to haggle with the delivery guy rather than the store? This in itself is totally incomprehensible. However, what is more interesting is that he has not arrived in 3 hrs, and when I called the store right now, they were surprised. They called him up, he said he had gone off for lunch (for 3 hrs????), and will come in the evening. What is amazing to me is that the store calmly passed this message to me. No penalty for not doing the job on time, no penalty for not informing the store OR the customer of this change in plans, nothing?

·         You cannot get breakfast outside the home in kolkata. There are no little udipi joints (which are present EVERYWHERE else in India). If you want to eat out in the morning you have two choices. Leather like puris with a really spicy potato curry, or equally leather like parathas  (which the vendor will squash before selling to you for some reason, with a horrible pea and potato curry. Nothing else is available, not even the rolls and moghlai parathas that kolkata is famous for. Those are EVENING foods, you see. As for dosas, vada sambhar, upma, or other stuff that I can get at every 10 steps in any other city (including NAGPUR), you can just forget it! This is Kolkata…you eat what the vendor feels like selling to you, not what you feel like eating.

·         We wanted to have lunch. So we went to a mid range restaurant in the city. Knowing what the city is like, and seeing that the watch only said 12.18pm, I poked my head into the place and asked “khabar pawa jabeto?” (can we get food now?) I was confidently told yes, at which point I asked my brother to go park the car while I got us a table. Bhai left, I walked in, was about to sit down when the guy, one of the three people lounging there, asked me “parcel to madam?” (takeaway right?). I said no… we were going to eat right there. Then he tells me parcel can be given immediately, but if you sit there and eat you have to wait for an hour! Makes no kind of sense to me, so I ask him why. Apparently the “dishwasher” hasn’t arrived. Now, there are 2 aspects to this ridiculousness that are beyond insane. One, the “dishwasher, whose job it is to arrive at 9 and wash the dishes before the restaurant opens, has not arrived at 12.20. secondly, the staff, the waiters, manager, etc, would rather turn customers away than do the “menial” chhota job of washing a couple of plates! How unprofessional is that?

·         We went to a fairly posh restaurant for lunch the other day. There was practically no one else there, it being a weekday afternoon, and one could see from the lazy attitude of the waiters that this was not going to turn suddenly into rush hour. We are a little crazy in my family, and we have unrealistic (by Kolkata standards) expectations when we go out to eat. We care about ambience, cleanliness, absence of that all-spices stink, and yes, a view – if we can get it. None of these seems to be on the priority list of the average Kolkata diner, who will eat anywhere, no matter how stinky, dirty, and claustrophobic, as long as they serve large portions of what the Kolkata resident considers good food (another thing I don’t agree with, but that’s another story). So, here we are at a place that meets our approval in many ways, and it even has a large window wall! This is by no means a common sight in most mid range restaurants in the city, which seem to actively avoid having a view, and even have blinds drawn on any isolated miniscule windows they might have. There were five of us, and a large table at the window, an eight-seater. So we headed for it happily, expecting to have lunch with a view. But no! this is Kolkata! We were rudely headed off by a waiter who insisted we take a 6-seater table instead, far away from the window. The whole bloody place was empty! His logic was “niyom nei” (it is not allowed) which is the favourite fall back of all in this city. When faced with logic, such as there are five of us, the place is empty, you can always push together two 4-seater tables in the remote possibility of a party of eight actually arriving, etc, he just parroted this “niyom nei”. As a result, the entire meal, the table stood empty, and the restaurant remained as vacant as it was at the beginning, and we ate at a non-view table. I find this amazing. Anywhere else, yes, they will try to convince you to occupy a smaller table, but would have given us the one we wanted since the place was empty. Elsewhere in the world customer IS king. Apparently the customer is a serf in Kolkata and will bloody well sit where we tell it to!

·         I have been unable to find tofu here. I happen to like tofu, and cheeses, and so-called exotic vegetables. In my five year hunt, I have not managed to find either tofu or cheeses here, and although broccoli, gherkins, red and yellow bell peppers, and purple cabbage are officially available at the Spencer’s and Big Bazaars, they are intermittent and irregular. So it’s a matter of luck on any given day, and you cant plan a menu or a dinner on that basis. Cheese is not a concept here except maybe among the very “hi-fi” crowd, whose lives I have no access to. For the normal middle to upper middle class Kolkattan, cheese is made by Amul or Brittania and comes in cubes or slices. Thanks to those companies, a few have actually heard of concepts like cheddar, mozzarella, or gouda, but those are the processed and packaged versions as well. I have no hope of finding good fresh Emmental, Gruyere, or blue cheese, or even Brie here. Tofu, available at every single neighbourhood supermarket in Mumbai, pune, etc, is something I haven’t seen yet in this city. Even Chinese restaurants don’t offer it on their menu, and those that have tofu dishes on the menu never seem to have them in reality.

·         Chili chicken, that all Indian janta chines favourite, was a major shock. The first time I ordered it, at a middle rung restaurant in Kolkata, I got a bit of a jolt. Instead of the chicken strips I am used to eating everywhere else in India, largish pieces of chicken arrived, WITH BONE! Whaaat? I thought the restaurant didn’t know what it was doing, and gave them a lecture about how chili chicken is supposed to be strips, cubes, or thin slices of chicken processed in corn flour, friend, then stir fried with chillies, capsicum, and soya sauce. It was only later, after going through several of these, that I realized that that’s what chili chicken means here. If you want the normal all-India version, you have to order the BONELESS chili chicken!

·         You can’t buy veggies, fresh chicken, or fish when you want in this city.  Yu have to do it all when the BAJAR is open, early in the morning, with a consolation run in the evening (when only half the stuff is available. There are no all day veggie stores, fresh fish outlets or chicken sellers. If you want to do something as unnatural as buy your produce in the middle of the day, you  have to make do with the 3 day old greens and frozen chicken at the Spencer’s or Big Bazaar (thank god for these chains). As for fish – you can buy it when the rest of Kolkata buys it, or forget about it. Again, I cannot buy when I want, I have to buy when Kolkata insists I buy!

·         For the last 4 years or so, one has finally been bale to rent a car or just a driver in Kolkata. For many, many years, I would come in from Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Nagpur, etc and be shocked that I could not get a temporary driver or a rented car. Finally, a few years ago, the service began to be available. And yet, four or five years later, they are still ONLY available for the 7 hour slots. In all the other cities I have lived in, there are multiple options. Yes, the standard unit is the 7 or 8 hours/70 or 80 km. However, if I don’t need one for that long, I can rent it for four hours, at a slightly higher hourly rate. Same for the drivers. However, I don’t have this option in Kolkata. Here, even if my work is for a couple of hours, I HAVE to get the car or the driver for 7 hours!
·         I was unable to find a single writer with decent American, British and Australian English in 6 months and more. Most Kolkata people seem to use the “70 years out of date” over verbose, over formal, over “textbook” British English that even the British no longer use. As for American or Australian English, it might as well be Greek or Latin. They have no clue such things exist, let alone knowing them enough to write in them.

·         Moreover, I could not even get replies or CVs of Kolkata based writers from online classifieds and jobsites, because the locals don’t seem to know how to search the internet, which is an essential skill for this line of work. With large projects in hand, office space and machines in place, I had to give up on the idea of a Kolkata branch for lack of workers.

·         When looking for a home to buy in Kolkata I noticed another strange thing. Most of the apartment buildings in the city, even the brand new ones, don’t have adequate parking facilities! Say a society has 2 buildings, with eight apartments each; one would expect 16 parking spots in the complex, one for each of the owners, right? Wrong! In Kolkata, you are lucky if it has four! There’s even a fairly good chance it might not have ANY!! The only thing I can conclude from this is a lack of car culture, and a more rural mindset which tries to maximize living space but sees no need to earmark space for such LUXURIES as cars or bikes.

·         Until very recently, (like a couple of months ago), one could not book a gas cylinder on the phone here. For the last five years or so I have seen people call and call the numbers given on the little gas books, the numbers of the dealer, and get the same messages. “the number you are calling is temporarily disconnected”, “the number you are calling is not responding”, “the number you are calling is busy”. Now, while I have occasionally gotten all of these messages when calling my gas dealer in Pune or Mumbai or Nagpur, it was by no means a constant thing, and eventually I got through and booked my cylinder. In Kolkata, in five years, neither my mother nor I have been able to get through EVEN ONCE! Every time a cylinder had to be booked, it had to be done by going to the agency in person, standing in the line with other unfortunates, and booking the damn thing at the counter! Thank god they implemented centralized voice activated booking a couple of months ago!

·         Office timings here are 10 to 5 when the rest of India works on a 9 to 6 schedule. This does not include the inevitable lackadaisical attitude of the people which makes the real office time around 11 (even though dawn happens here around 4 am, and 11 is practically afternoon). Which is why, unlike every other metro in India, rush hour in Kolkata is between 9.30 and 10.30, instead of 8.30 to 9.30 am. As for end of day, officially it is 5 instead of 6 (why no one knows), so the evening rush hour starts getting underway from 4.30 pm onwards. Yes, the work ethic sucks, this is but a small example of it.

·         Shops open at 11.00 am. Which is ridiculous in itself. Shops open at 9 or before in most cities, even the ones which do not claim to be a metro. Then the shops in Kolkata close at 1pm!!!!!!!!!! Till 5 pm!!!!!!!!!!! This is unimaginable in any other major city. Then, shops close again by 8.30, or if you are lucky 9!!!!!!!! How is anyone supposed to go shopping in this city? I get out of the house at 9am, before it gets insanely hot, and would love to get my shopping finished before the scorching starts….but NO! Can I wait until later? Until after I finish some work? NO! It must be precisely timed between 11.30 and 1, and 5.30 and 8.30. Because unlike REAL metro cities, shops are NOT open till 10 or 11pm here.

·         For the nth time today I walked out of a store in disgust. Kolkata store keepers just will not serve you! You walk into a store and it’s a competition of nonchalance. A contest of wills between you and the shopkeeper to see who cracks first. A Kolkata shopkeeper will NEVER, NEVER ask you what you want. We’ve actually tried this, dad and I. In an empty shop, the person behind the counter will resolutely and fixedly stare over your head, or do something else, instead of glancing at you and asking “may I help you?” or even a simple ”yes?” Once you manage, of your own initiative, to attract their attention, the storekeeper, like today, will insist that you tell him EXACTLY what you want so he can fetch just that item out of storage. Unlike Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Nagpur, Pune, where they show you 200 sarees, and 25 upholstery samples before they expect you to pick one, here you better know precisely what you are looking for before you get into the shop. DO NOT expect them to show you more than MAYBE a couple of items (if you are lucky).

·         We went to buy shoes for my brother. Walked into a huge swanky shoe store in a major market area of the city. After having checked out a number of other stores on this shopping trip, and not having found anything we wished to buy, we were really glad when this store had some lovely chappals and shoes that we all liked. Bhai asked the salesman for a couple of the better designs in size 9. The salesman, being the magical expert of all things footwear, insisted bhai hold his foot out, examined it from afar with his micrometer eyes, and declared that a size 8 is more than enough. “8 I apnar size”. Now these are not the first shoes my bro is buying. He is 32, and has been wearing shoes for some 30 years of his life. Presumably, having had the same shoe size for the last 10 years or so, he knows what it is? Also, even if an 8 “will do” for him, but he wants a 9, it is his choice. But no…. in Kolkata you cannot buy what YOU want, you must buy what the SHOPKEEPER wants you to buy. So the salesman insisted on selling us the size 8, refusing to even get the 9 out of storage!    

·         Most of the stores STILL don’t accept credit cards. If they do, they expect you to shop for a certain minimum amount, or charge 100 rupees extra! This is true even of jewelry stores!!! We shopped with cards in Chennai in 1986… almost all large and medium stores accepted them, and many small ones as well. Mumbai, since 1991, we have shopped with plastic. In Pune, even if I went to a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop in Tulsibag, they would take plastic, for any amount, without any extra charges!

·         Looking for a HATKE saree for my family wedding, I went through ALL the major saree stores in Kolkata with no result. 4 floors of sarees, and all they have are endless repeats of the same old tired designs. I asked for something in purple and was met with sullen comments like “how is it possible to be so specific madam”. In entire stores with thousands of sarees, they could not find me 10 pieces in purple! I miss the mega stores like Shagun in Pune and even the small stores like Man Mandir in Malad, Mumbai which had endless variety. End of the day I had to go to a NON Bengali store, called Jaylakshmi, where they displayed one piece after the other, with the smiles never leaving their faces, saying “just take a look ma’am this is new, don’t buy, just take a look”, and found me EXACTLY what I wanted! Reminded me of nicer cities.

·         People here are unbelievably rude, all the time! Especially people in the service industry! From waiters, and sales staff, to storekeepers, mechanics, electricians, carpenters, tailors, you name it. None of them has ANY clue how to talk to a customer, and has never heard of the politeness principle of the English language. Thank you, please, may I help you, smiles, soft tones, none of this computes with them. THEY are the rulers, the great ones doing you a favour, and the customer is the beggar, the beholden one who is being blessed with this favour. Even national and international chains seem to be unable to train this out of their staff! The staff remains sullen, perpetually angry, offensive, and combative!

·         Kolkata used to be renowned for its helpful and caring folk, and how well it treated its women. Recently, in the run up to the family event, my father and I were running around getting stuff done when the car broke down on us. For close to an hour and a half, in the blazing summer sun, in one of the hottest days in the last five years, I pushed the car down kolkata streets, ALONE, while my old father steered and tried to get it started, without a SINGLE offer of help from any KOLKATA resident. Were the roads magically deserted? No. was I invisible? NO. hundreds of people stopped to watch, craned their necks out of buses, autos, cabs, cars, almost caused accidents by turning back entirely on bikes to see this fun sight, but no one, NOT A SINGLE PERSON, offered to help or asked what was wrong. Finally, when I came upon a bunch of men sitting outside a shop, passing the time, I asked for their help. They REFUSED! They made excuses like there are no labourers, who will push now…. Four strong young men sitting around… pushing a car is beneath them I suppose.

·         I haven’t yet seen a doctor here who prescribes antacids with pain killers or recommends vitamin b-complex with antibiotics. This routine, and necessary pairing, seems to be an absent concept here.

·         Gynecologists have never heard of using a curtained off area, or cover sheets when they do an internal pelvic exam. They expect you to just pull your pants down and sprawl on the rubber examining table, without a sheet over you, while they poke and prod at your private parts. And this is true even for the best known ones in really good clinics! The only place I have seen, which was worse in this matter than Kolkata, was Nagpur. But Nagpur is a small town, this is a METRO city proud of its CALCHAAR and education. So why this absence of basic dignity   at a doctor’s office?

·         My brother was taken ill with food poisoning like symptoms, runs, extreme nausea, frequent vomiting, in the middle of the night. At 3 am we rush him to this fairly large hospital in the area. Turns out they have no emergency room, no doctor on duty! Where to go now? At this point bhai is so sick he can hardly sit up. So we ask them which hospital to take him to. Turns out none of the hospitals close by…including some of the big ones on the E M Bypass, have emergency rooms or intake facilities!! Finally find one behind Highland Park which will admit him at 4 am.

·         So kolkattans cannot fall ill in the night? Or on Sunday? All the doctors I have come across in this city in five years are unavailable on Sundays.

·         Bhai was diagnosed with food poisoning, and the doctor very clearly told the nurses that he was to be given nothing to eat or drink other than the oral rehydration solution called Electral. Four hours later he was sent a bowl of cornflakes in milk! Milk! For a lactose intolerant person with food poisoning! When we protested, we were told the nutritionist has sent it. Apparently the nutritionist thinks he/she knows better than the doctor. We, of course, sent it back, refusing to make bhai worse by feeding him such stuff.

·         As for the oral re-hydrase, it didn’t arrive. For six hours after the prescription, we kept asking for it, and kept being told “ante gecche, anle debo” (someone’s gone to get it, we’ll bring it when it arrives). It never arrived. The only thing a seriously ill patient (serious enough to have been admitted) can eat or drink, and they can’t get it to him in six hours?!! Finally, when I arrived, I went out and bought some.

·         There was no water in the taps or in the cisterns or flush tanks. This was not a fleabag hospital. This is one of the better known ones, plus bhai was in the best room, AC single deluxe room, which cost a serious bit of money. And yet, there was no water, the AC sounded like a bunch of pebbles was being tossed around inside it, and the place looked pathetic. Compare that to any hospital in pune/Mumbai/Hyderabad/Chennai/etc, and you can see the huge difference. My father was in Lilavati for a couple of weeks. The hospital to the stars, more like a five star than a treatment facility, they are courteous, efficient, professional, and surprisingly inexpensive! My mother’s knee surgery cost more, at a pathetic dump, which cost much more than Lilavati, but didn’t give even one percent of the service.

·         One cannot get a doctor’s appointment over the phone in Kolkata. In most places, you have to go in person, or send someone, to go and “naam lekha” (have your name written) on the day that you wish to be examined. Best case scenario, some places may allow you to call for the privilege of having your name written, but only on that day, only at a certain time, and there is no time estimate attached to it. So…no matter how many names there are on the list before you, everyone has to get there at the same time, before the doctor arrives, and sit around waiting their turn.

·         Alternatively, you can have your name WRITTEN, and arrive there, AFTER which they will give you a sequence based on who has arrived and who has not (taking the fee in advance. Ensuring you do not leave). Then everyone gets to hang out till the middle of the night while the doctor goes through some 30 patients. This happened to me when I broke my foot. I was forced to sit there, with a broken foot, and painkillers wearing off, for four full hours while people whose names had been written before me got looked at. Having paid Rs. 400 in advance, I was stuck. And they have no provision for an emergency! I finally left the clinic, with the long awaited plaster cast, at 11 pm, six and a half hours AFTER I first arrived there!  

·         We couldn’t find a single petrol pump/fuel station, on the left side of the road, between AJC Bose Road and Patuli. Our mistake? We crossed this large chunk of the city and decided to use the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass for a large part of the distance. Naming something Metropolitan doesn’t make it so, and this is a prime example of that. Its equivalents in other cities, like the western express in Mumbai, are teeming with fuel stations, as they should be. The very purpose of a bypass is to relieve the pressure of traffic on city roads, giving long distance commuters a fast way to get where they are going. How am I supposed to do that if I have to keep going into the damn city, and taking u-turns, to get to a fuel pump?

·         Kolkata drivers will not turn on their headlights in the city, especially on street which have decent halogen lighting. What the reason behind it is… I have no idea. Maybe it saves on wear and tear on the headlights? It is not only spooky, but unsafe to face down these thousands of cars running at me totally without any lights on.

·         All Kolkattans seem to walk at half speed, all the time. I feel as if I am perpetually on fast forward mode among people who are all walking in slow mode, and I don’t even walk that fast! In fact, among my friends from everywhere else, I am probably amongst the slowest. Everyone here though seems to amble through life as if strolling in their own back yards. A sense of purpose seems to be totally absent in all of their gaits.

·         This above is true at all times except when crossing the street. They wait while the cars are stopped at the red light, gabbing, and passing the time. at the very moment when I am given a green signal to go, they jump purposefully in front of me, plunging into the onrushing traffic, to cross the major roads. Maybe they think the red light is aimed at them? And that the green light for the cars is actually to invite them to cross? There are some idiots in every city who act in this way, true, but here, it is EVERYONE! Whole masses and hordes of people, ignoring the pedestrian crossing signal, and surging across the intersections at the exact wrong moment!

·         There is a unique concept known as the Semi Western Commode which I have never come across anywhere else in India, at least not in posh buildings like in Kolkata. And what is this amazing invention? It is a commode type thing, lower than a normal western commode, raised about a foot and a half from the floor. However, and this is the strange part, it has foot rests for squatting on it!!!! And the toilet seat is especially designed to cover those foot rests! Essentially it looks like an Indian latrine raised a foot! What the hell is the point of it? Everywhere else in India, you have the western loo and the Indian loo. It is only when trying to buy a home in this city that I first encountered this strange creature called the semi-western loo! The ridiculous mental picture of someone squatting a foot and a half high is just too funny! And this is high end flats, not rural or semi rural!

·         My flat is in an Old area. Not a newly settled one. It has been part of Kolkata at least since the partition and independence of India. Yet, in 2012, it does not yet have water pipelines or direct water supply. This is true of large parts of the city, and groundwater seems to be the only option in those places!

·         This area also does not have fixed line Broadband! I couldn’t believe it! I have lived in out of the way crannies like Sanghvi and Baner Gaon in Pune, and never had to ask twice about internet. This is a metro city, larger and more important than Pune (if you ask the locals) so why is infrastructure so pathetic? Is this how a metro is? I think not. In such a populous and old area I am still forced to work on half speed dongle!

·         Hotel bookings for Bengal tourism or other hotels, for weekend destinations around kolkata cannot be done online or on the phone! One has to go to the office…in some remote locality of the city, and book in person!!!

·         Computer printout and DTP shop owners do not know how to paste pics in a wordfile, do not know how to change font, do not know how to reformat a basic file or pic. In fact, none of them seem to know anything beyond the basic open file and give print command. I miss pune net cafes like hell…those guys are EXPERTS!

·         Invitation card printers cannot do anything other than their own catalogue of set patterns, cannot do digital prints, cannot provide good card stock. I had to search through half of Calcutta before I found one who would. 11 yrs ago in pune, a small town, non metro, I found the same in 5 minutes.

·         I had some paintings framed here for the first time, last week. They came home, I drilled the holes, put the nails and hooks in place, and went to hang them up. Imagine my surprise when I found that they had no chains to hang them by! There were hook on the edges of the frames yes, but no chain connecting them which would go over the nail in the wall to hold the picture up! Neighbours, helping me hang up my stuff, asked me “why didn’t you tell them to give the chains?” Apparently people here bring them home, then attach their own string or twine, and then hang up their paintings! How was I to know? I have had stuff framed in so many cities but I have never had to mention this. They ALWAYS came with chains attached, ready to go on the wall. I had no concept that someone had to ASK for them to provide what the rest of India considers a part of the basic package!

·         Schools in the city take no responsibility whatsoever for their “school buses”. These are all operated by private operators and all dealings are between the parents and the bus operators with the school having no say, no control, no hand at all in the running of them. Which means, if the bus doesn’t arrive, arrives late, drives badly, has an accident (which they very frequently do), or kidnaps or molests my child, I have no recourse, and the school will take no responsibility at all!

·         Most of the city has no underground sewage system. Huge open drains by every roadside are common, and calmly accepted. On stating this to some Kolkata dwellers, I got the reply “but where will the waste go?” “Uh…..into the SEWERS, under the ground like in all other major cities????”

·         The state of the roads here is frankly pathetic. Although South India has the best roads, nowhere in any major city or around it have I seen such a pitiful state of major arteries, national and state highways. Being more accustomed to driving everywhere, we feel the difference strongly, which kolkata people who have never lived anywhere else or travelled much by car do not seem to notice. It takes forever to get anywhere, and the wear and tear on the car is unbelievable! Apparently one cannot expect such basic infrastructure in a METRO city!

·         The Kolkata metro was the first of its kind in India. However, 30 yrs later, it is exactly at the same place, no expansions happened in 30 yrs (work has only now begun to build a network that should have been in place 20 yrs ago), and what exists is falling apart due to overuse and lack of maintenance. Delhi, arriving on the scene 25 years after Kolkata, has overtaken it by acres in connectivity, comfort, efficiency and quality. I am sure the Mumbai metro will too.

·         The first train of Kolkata metro on weekdays is at 7am, a solid two hours behind Delhi metro’s first train at 5am. The last train in kolkata is at 9pm, a solid 2.5 hours earlier than Delhi metro’s 11.30pm. So… even though Kolkata is so much to the east, and gets its dawn about 2 hours before Delhi, it works 2 hours behind, essentially wasting 4 hours. Then there’s the 2.5 hours lost at the end of the day. A metro city? I think not. Oh! And on Sundays the Kolkata metro does not work in the first half of the day, and services begin only after 2 pm! That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!

·         The entire city still has wires strung everywhere. Neither the electricity nor the telephone wires are either optical fibers or under ground. Feels very strange when I compare it to Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, or even Pune.

·         The lack of GK in the average, on the street, Kolkata person is APALLING! Their store of knowledge seems to stop at something like 50 years ago. Tech, social, cyber, professional, no updates have happened since then.

·         Literature for the reader in Kolkata seems to have ended with T S Eliot, and reading means Shakespeare or the Russians or Wordsworth. Anything after the 1970s is anathema. Not worth reading, etc etc.

·         Many highly educated and frequently travelling Kolkata Bengalis I know cannot even load film into their automatic cameras. The studio loads and unloads the film for them. No wonder the studio people look at me as if I am from Mars when I take my film in and tell them exactly how to develop and print, what effects I want, what format to store the digital versions in and so on!

·         There is no real industrial presence in Bengal, let alone in Kolkata. In the last 30 years or so, hundreds of thousands of small, medium and large industries have actually CLOSED down in the state, never to come back. As a result, jobs are few and far between except for highly educated people and in the new IT sector. Maybe this is the hallmark of a METRO city to locals, it is not so to me.

·         There are 3 whole pages of Jyotishi. Bashikaran, tantric, advertisements in Ananda Bazaar Patrika everyday. If they didn’t get business from it they would not spend money to advertise. This is educated, intellectual Bengal? This is not a pulp paper for the rickshaw wallahs, this is high brow daily for the intellectual artsy crème e la crème! So why are such people calling these quacks and frauds?

·         I have never seen so much of the population wearing so many, so visible, astrologically significant rings, amulets, taga, tabeej etc. I have lived in states like UP, and Maharashtra, that the average Bengali loves to deride as uneducated and superstitious, but none of them seem to be as much into these superstitious and magical “aids” towards improving their lives. Is this what superior education, superior culture, high thinking, and communism gives? And do they really think a blood-flow-restricting, cycle-chain-resembling tabeej on the upper arm goes well with skin tight jeans and a halter top?   

·         Proud, educated, cultured, polished Bengal shows DISMAL statistics in human rights and safety. It is Number 2 in Illiteracy in The Nation, it ranks at Number 3 In Sex Selective Abortions Of Female Fetuses, and it is second from last in the matter of safety for women. In addition, this educated and long term communist state ranks among the lowest in terms of organ donations and blood donations. However, it ranks very high in human trafficking, ranking as number one in the country. Also, a UNICEF study has found that 53.9% of girls in the state are married off before the age of 18. It also ranks number one in India in suicides, especially among young people ranging from 14 to 25 in age.   

·         Polio continues to be a problem, and Bengal is one of the worst offenders, only behind UP and Bihar in the matter. A mere two weeks after the WHO took India off the polio-endemic list an 18 month old child was admitted to a state hospital in Kolkata with polio. The child hails from Indrabala village in South 24 Parganas district. The last detected case of polio in the country was also from Bengal, in January last year, when a child from Howrah district was afflicted with the virus. There have been no reports of other polio cases in any other state in the 12 months between these two cases in Bengal.

·         My brother will be here for 1 month, and needs to have some clothes dry cleaned before he leaves. Since the 3rd  of June we have been shuttling from one cleaner to the next, one laundry to the next in search of someone who can do the work in 22 days. No luck no one in this city seems to be able or willing to clean 3 kurtas and a dhoti in 22 days! And what’s the reason I am getting? “It’s raining now madam, how can we guarantee anything?” what has rain got to do with it? Is it that the DRY cleaners here charge dry cleaning rates and then get the clothes WASHED by the neighbourhood dhobi?

·         My brother wanted to write personal thank you notes to all the guests who had come to the reception. So we have spent the last four days scouring Kolkata for blank cards that can be used. You know … a box of identical greeting cards that say thank you at the top and are blank inside? The kind I can get at any card shop in Pune? Turns out Kolkata stores have never heard of such a thing! Even the greeting card stores in the biggest of the malls looked totally blank and then slowly shook their head “no”.

·         Kolkata is the honking capital of the world. I have lived in much more congested, far larger cities, with much worse traffic conditions, but I have never seen one where people honk so much! Everyone seems to always have one hand on the horn while they drive, and don’t care if they are near a school or a hospital. They play their horns compulsively in situations where any one can see it is quite useless… not likely that the 200 cars in front of you in the jam will magically disappear because you are honking at them!

·         It took me 4 months and 4 mistrials (with 300 US dollars lost each time) to finally get the online transfer of money from my Paypal account to my local bank account sorted! Something that took me 10 mins in pune! Not only can the employees at the banks here NOT know how to use a computer, they don’t know NEFT processes, give wrong NEFT numbers, botch up entries! They cannot grasp why I would want to receive money from non Indian sources when I am not an NRI!

·         Kolkattans still firmly believe that you should NOT drink water just before you step out of the house into the hot sun. I was actually told I would not only get fever but actually die if I did that! And contrary to medical opinion (oh these doctors don’t know what they are talking about) they wil not let you have water when you arrive from the hot sun! they will torture you by making you sit for five minutes by the clock before they bring you water (to prevent pneumonia), and when they do… 80% of the time it will not be cold or even cool. That’s right, 80% of the calcatians I know never store water in the fridge in summer! What’s up with that!!!???

·         The great Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport is a major joke. First of all, no real direct international flights either take off or arrive here anymore. The only ones that use the terminal are the Mumbai Kolkata, Delhi Kolkata, tail end legs of international routes. The facilities are totally hilarious. The terminal is more like a dairy yard than an INTERNATIONAL airport. Even the PUNE airport (which we laughed at all the time) had better facilities. The loos are disgusting in both the international and domestic terminals, help desks are nonexistent or uninformed, food stalls etc are badly stocked with stale items.

·         The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport has a website which manages to provide NO information AT ALL to passengers or family and friends. The last time it was updated was in 2008, and although there is a phone update service advertised on it, that doesn’t work either.