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Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Calcutta: Narkeldanga Main Road

Have an overnight connection? May as well use it to find something interesting.

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The rule is: never check anything. (Skis? Jam 'em under the seat in front of you. 50-inch flat panel? Try the overhead.) Trouble is, some of these foreign LCC's get fussy, so here we are, waiting for a bag. Nothing interesting, you say? Not so. Behold the silent obsequies for Air India.

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Go ahead. Call me names. "Foreign language, nine letters, starts with a 'B'."

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Ugh! Computerized percussion for the fashion show below.

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Glamor.

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Next morning we escape, head down Narkeldanga Road, and duck under a Calcutta Metro line still under construction. A stop here is going to transform the neighborhood.

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That would be Subhas Lake, named for perhaps the most popular Bengali hero of the last century, Subhas Chandra Bose.

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Netaji is customarily shown with his large glasses and the uniform adopted by the military organization he founded to overthrow British rule in India. Bose had himself been briefly a member of the elite Indian Civil Service and so for the British was a traitor twice-over.

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Hmmm.

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Glamor poof! Yet it's all in the eye of the beholder, right? The guys on the right are enjoying a peaceful patch of shade.

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Back on Narkeldanga, there's value in trash. The dogs know it. The crows know it. The hardworking woman knows it.

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Just have to find the stuff worth money.

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These guys are sacking up recyclables.

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These guys are dumping construction waste. Somebody will find value in it.

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The trees hint that this was once a quiet residential street.

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Confirmation: "Bari" means home in Bengali.

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Across the street.

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"Garden Home," now subdivided and infilled. Why has the Kolkata Corporation paid for the renovation of the gate? Good question. Alas, I have no answer.

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Side street.

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Community latrine.

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An early sign of the Metro-inspired growth cycle. Inox runs a chain of 420-movie screens across India.

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Need cash?

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Highrise housing is well underway.

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It keeps coming, including to the old estates behind the signs on the right.

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It's not an absurd claim: we're two miles east of the old city center along the river, and we're about a mile west of the new hi-tech center around Salt Lake.

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The funny thing is that if you were selling expensive apartments in New York or London today you wouldn't show mother and daughter playing duets. But the ad's not completely fraudulent: educated Bengalis a hundred years ago were far better read in European literature than all those handsome young European aristocrats. Don't believe me? Take a look some day at Nirad Chaudhuri's, Autobiography of an Unknown Indian.

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What fraction of the people on the street can read the sign? Maybe a tenth of those on foot; maybe 90 percent of those in cars. Two worlds.

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Gotta keep 'em separate.

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This guy claims to offer properties designed to be in harmony with the cosmos. I might believe him if it wasn't for his office.

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Date? Purpose?

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Hooray: we have an answer. It's a school from 1952.

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And here, just over 4,000 feet from the Hyatt we come to a wall around a large tract.

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Can you believe it? The gate's locked and nobody answers, but lo!, the little door opens.

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Presto.

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Most of the graves are about a century old.

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Born in Cochin, died in Bombay, buried here. Why? Where's my t-shirt? You know, the one with the words, "I don't know."

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The tombs are brick with a concrete veneer.

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Occasionlly the concrete is ornamented.

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Here comes a cement-mixing crew.

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Back on Narkeldanga, the metro is diving underground here. Do you really want to keep walking? Me, I'm heading back to the fashion show.

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No thanks. I may be [French, nine letters, starting with B] but I'm uncomfortable riding in cycle rickshaws.

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Wouldn't mind stopping for a snack, though.

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No; not unless I want to get in big trouble back at the hotel.


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