#7 April 2008

On the wooden track

Transporting the timber out in SiliguriWe cannot really follow our affinity to solid wooden furniture here. Timber has a doubtful reputation. Our dreams of antique teak-furniture we had to bury. Here, wood is in times of shrinking forests everything but a status symbol. Armoires a welded together from metal, chairs are mostly plastic, same goes for tables. Beds seem to be an exception. They are mostly made of timber, even metal beds we have rarely seen as of now. Plywood as well is quite popular as a construction material for interior. On advise of a friend, we have opted for a regional specialty. Siliguri is famous for cane furniture. And consequently our sofa set including the small table is caned. The frames of our dining table and the chairs are made of more stable cane. But for the table top we had to compromise with our bad conscience. The disadvantages of glass, especially when considering the small children in the household, the bumpiness of cane netting, and the swellability of plywood finally made us see the carpenter. And since we dine on a extraordinarily expensive massive table top.

During the two weeks that we had to wait for the refill gas cylinder, daily every afternoon a caravan of people has passed our house carrying bunches of wooden sticks on their heads or on bicycles. Freshly lumbered in the forests, most probably not to the benevolence of the forest department. Our maid explained us that in her house she uses fueling wood as well for cooking and that she actually doesn’t like gas cooking too much. Moreover, it was much too costly. Roughly trice the price she had to pay for gas for one month cooking. Cheap fuelling wood and expensive gas. Whether this help conserving the forests? Conservation can be fun, but only if the rice is well cooked.

Old drinks, new skins

Nestea in plastic cups in DarjeelingOn the tea stands glasses and earthen pots are more and more replaced by plastic cups. The tea wallah explains the advantages: Less breakage, less costly and less work. Glasses are multi-use, but have to be polished – and water for the tea stand mostly has to be fetched in a canister. This will be filled with drinking water at a near-by well and then carted to the stand. The earthen pots are simply dumped after use. “The nice terracotta bowls” I had thought the first few times. But it is unburned clay, multi-use is unhygienic. 100 earthen pots cost 20 Rupees. But there is breakage, not all of them reach the tea stand in proper condition. The plastic cups are easier to pile, 100 pieces cost ten Rupees and after use they are as well simply thrown away. The earthen cup manufacturers – entire villages live of its production – will hopefully keep up their countenance about the triumph of the mass product. In most cases my tea comes in two piled cups. Either the cups are not solid enough or the tea is too hot for one cup. I’ll need a cuppa to cross-calculate that.

Free choice, not obligation – a visit to the car-washing street

Harish-Mukherjee-Road in CalcuttaReligiously cleaning the car each and every Saturday is both a ritual and a metaphor for Philistinity. What in former times was normally done in front of the private garage – a man, a sponge, a car – nowadays is mostly automated. The cleaning now is done with high pressure cleaners or the car is comfortably put into a car wash plant. In India the tradition of the holy trinity man-car-sponge lives on. Though institutionalised. Calcutta’s Harish-Mukherjee-Road is a street of car washers – an Indian style car wash plant. Early mornings the streets are framed in yellow. The line of taxis stretches to the horizon. On pumping wells men line up to fill their buckets. Others sedulously polish plate bodies and interior of the cars. The goings is best to be observed, before the heat of the day sets in. Before the fractious traffic starts, one can easily stroll on the middle of the road. From there the perspective on the many stately houses that border the street is much better. Unhurriedly, one can observe the city awake. Dogs are walked, and people are doing gymnastics or walk their rounds in the park. In front of the tea stands, men sit together in small groups, reading newspapers or gossiping. The smell of beedies is wafting above their heads. The Indian mini-cigarette – some tobacco rolled into a leaf – is considered an exquisite preparation of the bowels for their day’s first duty. Flower vendors find their customers in pious Hindus who are on their way for worshipping in one of the small shrines. And at the end of the scenic road, next to a Sikh-Temple, one can nicely reflect the impressions of this morning walk with a cup of tea in an earthen pot.

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