Surrounded by “genies”
The showpolisher is named Chandrak not Cleanfix, the “washing machine” Mayur not Miele, the luggage carrier Tushi not Trolley. India has to provide bread and butter for some hundred million people and here one can see how degraded Central-Europe’s service industry already is. Thousands of small movements and actions that – a blessing of modern development – in Germany are automated, are done here manually. Not by your own hand – the coffee as well doesn’t serve after looking at the automat and the luggage isn’t moving independently from the train to the station hall – but by a genies‘ hand. People sit on the street and sell freshly prepared tea – their equipment would fit in a shoe box. Others are owning a scale and charge one Rupee for weighing. Signboards that decorate the entrance areas of houses and shops are painted by hand or more nobly carved in marble. Letter typers, snack deliverers, drivers, footboys – it is remarkable how many things can be delegated. Our newest acquirement is a real multitalent. Geeta is a friendly lady in her fourties who one day had knocked on our door. Without hesitating she came in, took our son, had a brief look around the flat, and started cleaning the dishes. The idea to engage a maid to gain some leisure time for attending language classes had been there for long and we had not hided this idea. Our neighbor had pulled the strings and organised for the support. Since, every morning breakfast is prepared when we finish our bath, gone are the times of carrying two children on the bicycle, the little one crawls on a floor that is wiped several times a week, and the earlier regular evening visits to food stalls around the corner are an episode of the past. Geeta is a fantastic cook and daily freshly prepared Bengali specialties are on the table.
One problem still arises when having a genie: How to pass the time when being constrained to watch someone doing “your” work. The language classes from next week on will definitely be a good option. And then Geena, the as of now mostly mute genie, will surely turn into a very pleasant dialogue partner.
1000 years of culture – soon falling prey to the floods? Malda in Central Bengal
Night train journeys are comfortable. But sometimes one then misses substantial things. We had passed Malda umpteen times. Always in the middle of the night. The invitation by a hotel owner combined with the instruction to support his efforts to establish a tourism circuit made us stop over half way between Darjeeling and Kolkata for the first time. Malda is widely known for Mangos, as we soon found out. Mangos from Malda are internationally reputed – please excuse that as a fruit spurner I had not known it. That near Malda the former capital of a respectable kingdom was located and that it is home to the third largest mosque in the world (frankly speaking: only the ruins) could have been known by a passionate collector of information after three months in East India. We were suprised: temples, palaces, marinas, forts, and city walls – all of remarkable size and full of ahistory. Ruins that today lie hidden between gracing cows and remote villages once must have been abounding in splendor. Malda in that times was a Venice of the East – to use a threadbare expression. A large system of waterways was there in those days – nurtured by the waters of Mahananda and Brahmaputra river.
If today again the water connects the villages this is not a good sign as one could think. In August extreme high tide of the Ganges had flooded the whole district and forced thousands to flee the area – not the first millenium flood in this century. Our stay was too short to find out more about the impacts, the causes, and the steps taken. When asking our host he gives a pragmatic answer: The hotel is built on an hill and the access roads are of all-weather condition. Whether they see the green paddyfields or a giant lake, for the guests both is a beautiful sight. No need to be afraid of competitors in the near future, it seems.
An unusual arrival
On the market heavy woolens are traded, men are seen wearing long-sleeves, ladies are dressing are covering themselves with shawls. It can be observed all over: Winter is approaching. Riding a bicycle can become a fresh experience – better to have a jacket at hand. When looking for a new dress for our daughter we are shown the newly arrived winter collection. In one of the pre-schools we visit we are reported about the plans for adding a swimming pool – not to be in use before March 2008. At last it is winter. The newspaper picks up the issue in a small article that leaves no doubt: Siliguri faced a dramatic decrease in temperature with a fall from 31 to 28.8 degrees Celsius. That’s almost three degrees. While such “mild” falls of temperature are a new experience for us, many things still remind us on our home. Street vendors are offering tangerines and the year-round served cabbage dishes taste much more familiar now. After the intensive praise of the Bengali sweets wintertime as well points out some strengths of the European confectioners. Though many ingredients of famous Christmas sweets are originally from India – just think of cinnamon, coriander, peanuts, cloves etc. – gingerbread is rare. Whether the mostly Christian population in Nagaland – next destination to be covered – has been taught these aspects of Advent needs further examination.