Travel Memories

I’ve been thinking about memories and realised that I have a whole bunch of memories and fragments from my past travels waiting to get out and be heard. So here goes. Enjoy.

Man with the stump

I was in Kolkata, India. Once you’ve seen and breathed-in life in Kolkata – you’ve breathed in all the life that has ever lived. I’d been in Kolkata about a week and had spent that time leisurely walking the streets and documenting life through my lens, and notepad. After a week I felt acclimatised, anaesthetised – I thought there was nothing that could shock me. I was wrong. I was walking along one of the busy pavements along one of the major roads and suddenly a jerky movement caught the attention of my right eye. I stopped. I stared. I almost laughed – but it was no laughing matter. Picture a skinny man lying chest first flat on the pavement, lying on the rough pavement, his legs splayed and arms splayed out, but one of his arms is cut at the elbow point. And like a twitching insect that has just had its legs or wings pulled out, the little stump of arm is twitching – up and down – up and down – up and down it twitches. The man’s eyes are glazed and red from suffering and torment – and his elbowless stump of an arm twitching away is the only sign of life. He is begging and people throw coins at him and he just twitches.

It was a scene out of a macabre circus of horrors. Like one of those freakish shows you go to watch at a wandering circus full of freaks, imps, midgets and other deformed creatures. I watched him. His stub of an arm twitching like the mechanism in a mechanical contraption. The image seared on my retina. The twitch memorised. The shock and reality of the moment internalised – and then regurgitated.

I still try and make sense of the scene. Maybe it was the contrast between the rushed well-to-do commuters walking pass – and the twitching man. An insect with a human brain and a human heart.

Did the people walking pass see him as human? Or was he like Kafka’s insect?

Do you think I’m weird?

I always find that children are the best audience for my sillynesses. Especially children in foreign countries, living in cut off places such as deserts, mountains and jungles. I can make funny faces at them – pull my mouth wide with my fingers and stick my tongue out and make english sounding noises – and they will just stare, wide eyed – not even laugh or smile – but just stare at me. Why do they do that?

Because I am in the luxurious position of being a foreigner. And as a foreigner anything goes. Any sense of the ‘normal’ does not apply to foreigners. By virtue of us just being there – we are not normal.

A few children might laugh at my facial antics but most will just stare wondering no doubt what I am doing. Perhaps I am trying to communicate with them and this is how I communicate? Perhaps I am crazy? Perhaps – who knows, perhaps I am a mystery.

Ah yes, a mystery. Perhaps it will be like this when Aliens from Outer Space visit us. They will make funny faces in front of humans, and the humans will just stare – just like these children stare at me.

Lost in the Train Station

I knew as soon as I had gotten into the taxi that it was a bad idea. No, not the taxi but the destination. I was headed for Kolkata’s busy main railway station to book a train ticket. I had read the nightmare stories of fellow travellers attempts to book train tickets on Indian railways, only to give up in exasperation. But that was them and I was I – and I would succeed where others had failed. Booking a train ticket in India is a notoriously complicated and bureacratic process involving enough steps to make an internal auditor happy – but not me.

The system is a throwback from the days of Empire and the Raj.

The first thing you have to do is queue at a booth to check the timetable and the train number. Then you have to go to another booth and make a reservation and get a chit (a ticket stub). With the chit in hand you then make your way across to the other side of the station – jostling with a sea of humanity on the way – to another booth where you book the ticket – and get, yes another chit. Then with the 2nd chit you go to the cashiers booth and announce your intention of paying for the seat you have booked. He will stamp the chit and direct you to another booth to make the actual payment. You then make the payment and he stamps the chit confirming you have made the payment. Then you must queue up at another booth with the chit confirming you have made payment, to pick up the actual ticket.

And the point of the whole process?

To ensure that as many people are gainfully employed as possible. And in a country of a billion souls – that’s a lot of employment…

View from above

To really ‘see’ a city you gotta see it from above. Find the tallest building with a viewing platform you can find and head there.

A city view looking down encompasses everything. Suddenly you are intimate with those people beneath you. An intimacy you can never have at street level. But from above, it’s like you are God, and looking down onto your creation. As a result great tender feelings rise in one’e breast. Compassionate feelings I never knew I had for the denizens of a city, suddenly well up inside of me – but only, when I look at them, from above!

The eyes of love

I saw her eyes rubbing against me through the window in the cafe. They were bright wide white eyes with a well of black in the middle. Her eyes ran all over me through the cafe window. Her eyes ran through my hair, and took in my face, they roamed along the creases of my shirt collar and down the subtle pattern in my shirt. They ran down to my shoes and then back up again. She barely opened her mouth. She just stared. Her eyes took in my life, and they tried to make sense of the mystery within. They searched, but they never betrayed her thoughts.

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