Today, I will not paint a pretty picture of Calcutta.
This is not a dream holiday nor a dream.
I’ve never been so aware of the impact that the colour of our skin can have in society, as here. On the one hand, everyone here wants fair skin.
We put self-tanning creams, they put creams to make the skin whiter.
The darker the skin of a person the lesser the status. Even in ads that come in the newspaper on Sunday, it is notorious.
“28 y old Woman, fair-skinned, Scorpion sign, Brahman, is looking for a, Dr. or Eng., sign sagitarius, brahman to get married”.
There are pages of these ads, for him and her. A different version of dating.com.
After the skin colour, the horoscope sign is the most important feature, followed by caste.
Caste defines the origin and the destination. There are four castes, from the priests / teachers to the servants / attendants who must maintain family traditions marrying people from the same caste.
I spoke to people who got married in these terms. Basically, the family makes the arrangements according to requirements. Families set up a meeting and get to know each other. If all goes well, the wedding happens.
“It was a Russian roulette, could or could not have worked, in our case it worked” – said the couple in question.
Nowadays, it is no longer the case. But, there is still the tradition of parents wanting to see her son / daughter getting married, to have someone to take care of them and so that they can have the blessing of caring for someone. But, then again, isn’t that the desire of all parents?
On the other side of the fair skins, there is a whole past that isn’t forgotten, especially about Western Europeans like me.
Having been a British colony, in Kolkata there are still marks left by exploitation.
Besides the staring (that does not bother me, particularly), there is a willingness to exploit back. A cab ride costs 2 euros, so for me they ask double. If you call a taxi, they stop, but they only open the door if you tell them where you are going, preferably far away, so that the journey is profitable.
Today, I found myself thinking that this city is not for fools.
Here people try to survive no matter what, taking every opportunity to make some money to feed the family and fight for living, whatever kind of life it is.
It’s a fight for survival. No time to think about something else, every day, the same.
Today, it was pouring rain. In five minutes, streets became completely flooded and even with an umbrella, it was impossible to circulate. People living by the roadside had their “houses” flooded too. After the rain stopped, everyone went back to the streets. Adults, children, goats and dogs.
Tea was being made on a corner, bread on the other, flowers, vegetables, books, clothes and food were being sold.
Survival begins again.
Drinking water at home is also a precious commodity, I’ve realized.
Today, I saw people bringing cans and empty bottles to be filled in public sources. It is also where they were washing the dishes, taking baths and washing-teeth (yes, it is customary to see men washing their teeth at the foot of the sources).
Today, I saw a lot of garbage on the streets, feeding not only dogs but people too…
Today, I visited the Mother Teresa Foundation. Getting in was easy, difficult part was leaving. Fortunately they have many volunteers and promote the adoption of children that are left at their doors.
The perspective of life does change in Calcutta.
Complaints reduce and gratitude grows.
My thoughts today, in Mother’s Teresa words:
“Today, nations put too much effort and money into defending their borders. If they could only defend defenceless people with food, shelter and clothing, I think the World would be a Happier Place”