BEAUTY IN THE DUST.
The footpath is lined in long straight rows of sleeping bodies; as though in a morgue; each on their own little straw mat, some wrapped in a piece of sheeting, others bare. There are men, women and children; poverty holds no regard for any. It is close to midnight and we weave our way through to the hotel gate.
At our rattle, a young boy jumps up from his sleeping position, tucked up against the concrete wall behind the stairs. He is expecting us. He unlocks the gate and assists with our luggage. No one on the footpath stirs. They have come here for the safety of these gates and they sleep secure.
We are taken up to our room; simple and clean. Our bags are left with us and the ‘sweet coffee’ is ordered for 5:30am. The room is quite spacious and the square hair mattress has a clean sheet on it and two small flat pillows. Our skin already has a film of grit and dust, just coming from the airport. The tiny bathroom is tiled out and there is a small electric hot water service to warm the water for the bucket for washing. What luxury, before we catch the morning train interstate.
The morning is surprisingly crisp and as we leave the hotel at 6am, there’s not a sign of a sleeping body anywhere to be seen. Mats have been rolled up and poked into cracks and crevices and secreted places, awaiting the return of their owner that night.
Kolkata is already busy at 6am, and it takes quite a bit of jostling through the morning market activity to reach the station. People are bathing at the government pumps.
Ten hours watching the surrounds change from the train window; from the little stone buildings stacked up on top of, and leaning into each other, falling into the streets, mixed with the garbage lying in between; to green rice paddies lined with palm trees pocketed in the rubble.
This is India.
We arrive only half an hour late (perhaps due to dropping one man miles from any station – because it was too far for him to walk home from the station).
The Indian dust has penetrated our clothes, our skin and our hair. No Kolkata hotel this time; the shower (there is one) leaks water day and night and that’s the only pace the cold water runs. It is an art form to manage to soap, splash and rub all areas enough to remove the dirt.
We spend the day purchasing enough goods and chattels to see us through the next few months, push them all into the ‘taxi’ and head for our new dwelling place.
The roads are a living organism, a river of such a variety of life. Vehicles, big and small, motorized and hand pulled, motor cycles, bicycles, people, dogs, goats and of course cows. The sign on the back of the huge trucks obviously needs no prompting BLOW HORN. Amazingly all respond with patience to the noise and the rule works – Who ever blows their horn has right of way. The huge trucks give way to motor cycles and cars, when the horn is honked and bicycles wend their way through the maze. Pedestrians get out of the way and step off the bitumen to make way for all and the cattle ignore it all, demanding their regal rights, sitting where ever they please.
There is no respite from the dust and grime, even the air seemingly holds it in its pores. It layers itself into the skin, penetrating the pores so deeply as to feel like it has actually become skin; hard, brown, grey, leather skin, cracking at the heels. Feet take on the same texture as the earth, dry, brown, dusty and dirty. One would have to soak them a very long time to remove it. No one here soaks for a long time.
Through this chaos and debris they move, beautifully draped, gentle femininity swathed in soft saris, they walk through the dust and go about their day; each exuding beauty, the women of India. They carry huge burdens on their heads as though they were mere head dresses and their carriage remains smooth and seamless. Beauty walks in the dust.
(My own paraphrase)
Oh, ‘India India’; ……..
How I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings……..
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