Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kolkata after dark

Blue Sky Cafe (Sudder Street)

I've heard great things about this cafe, from the guidebooks that recommend it to the travelers that frequent it, so I thought I'd try it out. I haven't had a bad meal in India yet, and the trend continues within this fabled haunt of backpackers. The clientele is a 50/50 mix between locals and foreigners, which is always a good sign. The prices are very reasonable. I'm able to buy an elaborate feast for myself and three different beggars, all for under 200 rupees - $5! I buy way more than I could possibly eat, which allows me to try a little of everything whilst sharing the food with those less fortunate. This place does decent western food too, for those who grow weary of Indian food. I haven't hit that wall yet, but I'm not ruling it out just yet (ask me in six weeks).

After dinner I don't just head to any pub, I head to Super Pub, which is located nearby (Mizra Ghalib street). Its an old style pub, with all waiters dressed in formal attire. A 650ml Kingfisher 'super heavy beer' is only 95 rupees and the air-con is heavenly. It is dimly lit inside, without even a window, but all of this is welcome after slogging it out in humidity all day. It is seemingly popular with Indians only, as apart from that chap in the mirror, there isn't a westerner in sight!

After a few 'super heavy beers,' I find myself stumbling back in the direction of Sudder street. Once there, I'm offered Manali Cream in a matter of seconds. The hustlers and dealers descend upon me like vultures on a carcass, it must be the long hair and beard. Like my Dad says "if you look, dress and act like a bum - what do you expect?" Most offers seem dodgy, and the dealers themselves look it. I remember reading in Lonely Planet, that being found in possession of even a little hash can land a foreigner in prison for years. My new 'friend' and king of the hustlers, Salim, offers his own advice - "guidebook is out of date. It's no problem, just don't smoke on street."

I decide not to partake here, as there are eyes and ears everywhere. Manali itself seems like a better bet. Just as I walk away, I hear a soft plop on my left shoulder. I glance to see fresh bird shit. It is warm and watery, with a fetid stench to boot. I can't remember the last time this happened to me, but know it is considered to be a sign of good luck. Maybe a sign from above that Salim is trustworthy? As if reading my thoughts, the man of the moment appears again with a moldy piece of newspaper he picks up off the street. He wipes vigorously, takes me to find some source of water and begs me to reconsider his previous offer...

On the way back to my hotel, I search in vain for some more street food stalls. I am in the wrong area, so I hop on a rickshaw and head elsewhere (Park street). As I disembark I am accosted by a man who wishes to share with me his sad tale, which concludes with him pulling back his shirt to reveal crusty sores, nasty infections and maggots boring into his skin. He tells me about problems with his wife, and his inability to feed his family, all of which he introduces me to. I buy his family dinner for less than $1. If you visit India and don't help out at least one person or family, you'd better have a damn good excuse. Lack of funds won't cut it, but perhaps having no heart will do the trick. The man's name is Sanu, and he writes down his MySpace address for me, telling me he did a documentary film on the street food of Kolkata for BBC. No wonder the veg rolls are so good here, this guy would know!

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