Monday, March 03, 2008

What I Did On My Holidays

A gluesniffing Indian kid, yesterday.

This piece originally appeared in thefirstpost, a few days back.

Sean Thomas is working for FIFA, publicizing charities around the
world. Recently he arrived in Calcutta. This is a diary of his first
day in this Bengali city, of 15 million people

One Day In Calcutta

21:00 Arrive from Bangkok

22:00 Drive into Calcutta. On the way learn that Winston Churchill
said of this city: "I am glad I have now been to Calcutta, because it
means I never have to go there again".

22:30 During the drive, nearly crash twice due to insane traffic
conditions: cars ignoring lights, trucks barrelling up wrong side of
road, everyone pressing horns creating a mindnumbing cacophony

22:35 Wonder if I am just being paranoid and traffic isn't that bad

22:36 See aftermath of road accident with taxi completely overturned,
in a narrow street: blood is splashed across the asphalt

23:46 Go to bed at hotel with large gin and tonic

09:30 Visit Futurehope, a charity that works with Calcutta's thousands
of streetchildren: abandoned, homeless and feral kids

09:40 Meet nine year old Jamal. Hear how he was found lying in the
railway station, where he slept with a razor blade under his tongue. Discover he used blade to defend himself from attackers

10:10 Meet twelve year old Kesar, who was burned hideously when his
mosquito net caught fire: a fire that killed his mother who was lying
next to him. He was found in the station sniffing glue and smoking heroin.
He plays football with us

10:50 Meet fifteen year old Ravit who was found age seven living on
street having been continuously raped for years by predatory
homosexuals: his syphilis was so bad he had to sit on a bucket of
potassium permanganate for six weeks

10:55 See the wooden sculptures that Ravit now carves. He is a
charming and friendly boy

11:00 Just about manage not to cry

11:40 Go for tour of Calcutta, "the city of joy"

11:50 On way through suburbs pass a begging leper, with no fingers;
see people living in plastic shacks by side of the road

12:00 Learn that we are in "the posh part of town"

1:00 Visit flower and spice market where peasant girls in gorgeous
saris sell beautiful garlands of orange marigold

1:45 See people living under the nearby flyover

2:15 Crawl through traffic and have minor crash: driver ignores incident

2:16: See an angry taxi driver continuously punching a smaller guy, in
the middle of the street

2:30 Go to the shores of the great river Hooghly, a tributary of the Ganges

2:40 Thousands of men are washing in the filthy water. An albino
child, apparently abandoned, stares wistfully at the banyan trees

4:00 Cross the river on the world's busiest bridge - a mighty steel
arch erected by the British - and take the slumroad to the "burning

5:00 Three corpses are being cremated in the open air, on great pyres
of wood. A new corpse is being prepared for its immolation. The relatives stand around chatting as they watch the corpse attenders anoint the head with dark brown clarified butter

5:30 Watch as the fire is lit; the scent of burning human flesh fills the air

5:45 Step back from the heat and smoke as a previous pyre is stoked by
the corpse attenders; the half burned corpse rolls out of the embers:
the skull is still intact but the legs are burned to blackened stalks

5:50 Avert face from sight

5:51 See that behind me is a man naked from the waist down, in the
process of soiling himself; his loins are a mass of scarlet sores and
his wounds are seething with flies

6:30 Realise the man is dying

6:45 Climb back in Futurehope van to visit street kids who live under
the platforms of the vast Howrah railway station

7:15 See a teenage boy lying across tracks, with green flannel
draped over his face: the flannel is soaked in glue. His body spasms
as he inhales

7:50 Fight enormous urge to get taxi straight to airport

9:00 Instead go to visit Sonagachi, the red light district of
Calcutta, where 12 year old Nepalese girls grab every man by the arm,
trying to drag him in

9:15 Decide as a group to head directly and instantly to the hotel and get drunk

10:30 Have dinner in hotel restaurant of softshell crab in brandy
sauce, accompanied by Chilean shiraz

11:15 Realise wine cost hundred pounds: realise have drunk, in forty
minutes, a year's salary of average Calcuttan

12:05 Go to bed.

12.25 Stare at ceiling

12:26 Take Valium

1 comment:

Summer said...

Your report is utterly graphic and hard not to be moved by it. How do you cope with what you describe? Thank you for what you do.