The Kolkata we walk into from the airport this time looks
nothing like the one I remember from my first impressions on the previous trip.
Where last time visibility was constrained by fog, dust and
the darkness of the pre-dawn, today it is already more-or-less light out, and
only the amazing rain keeps us from seeing far.
What rain it is! I had always longed to see a monsoon in Kolkata, and the
elephant weather-gods seem to have laid one on specially for me - this borsha began yesterday morning, and already the
streets are flooded. I have only seen rain like this two or three times in my
life, and British rain never has this staying power. My only point of reference
for the flooding is way back in my childhood, crossing the causeway to Mersea
Island at high tide, mighty wings of water thrown up about us as we slosh
The dusty, deserted streets of my previous arrival here have
been washed clean, and we pass many people on our way through. Everyone wears
sandals, and most people - including one cyclist - carry umbrellas. In
cycle-rickshaws, passengers hide from the driving rain beneath sheets of
rough plastic; no such luxury for their drivers.
The slowly building prosperity of the city is noticeable,
too - we swish beneath new flyovers and past long rows of elaborate, sponsored
topiary, but I don’t think the shanty town is getting any smaller or more
secure. I wonder how the people in handmade wood-and-plastic huts like these
cope with this kind of rain...
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