After months of planning and communicating, the time to get out of town arrived.
Minor hassle at the airport, with curbside checkin not possible for me. No problems with security or other travel hurdles, thank goodness.
I slept a bit on the plane from Atlanta to Paris, which like every other flight lately was full. In Paris, it was the next morning, though I didn't feel too groggy. Boarding the next flight was a little confusing, with no sections, and not much of a line. Once on the plane though, I had a little more sleep with little turbulence, landing in Delhi late Friday night. I noticed the majority of the plane was not Indian, but many French or other Europeans, with perhaps an odd American.
On Delhi, I found my backpack was not on the plane, meaning I needed to decide whether to continue on to Kolkata or wait for it there. After the travel agent helped get Abesh and Dipankar on the line, I decided to head for the hotel, then to Kolkata in the morning as planned.
some details glossed over
A side benefit of not having luggage to check was a lighter load, and less to deal with. After the 2 hour flight, I got to the baggage area but could not find Abesh. After several tweets, garbled phone calls, and standing around looking purposeful, I spotted him coming from the parking lot pictured above. We then traveled through the streets of Kolkata in a cab, eventually reaching Dipankar's apartment, where he was pacing nervously. I sat, we talked, and I was served food and drinks. A lot of attention and care is directed to guests here, where in the US someone might be more casually greeted or entertained.
Small logistics problem with not having my baggage check when we went out, as I was not thinking another trip to the airport was imminent, so we ended up takng extra time to get back. The city traffic was a new experience for me, with motor vehicles of all sizes competing with pedestrians and cyclists for road space, and horns being used constantly to announce either impending contact, or just warning the car was coming through.
Sunday morning we went to the AJC Bose Indian Botanic Gardens, which included a detour to get bus tickets for later, and waiting for the tour jitney to arrive. I have a lot of pictures from the lakes and trees in the Garden, which I can't easily post via the iPad. More later. I paid 10 times what the others paid for admission, which I had been warned about. It's a case of what the traffic will bear, I guess. And I didn't get to pay, either, because my hosts won't let me take care of anything.
In the afternoon I took a journey with Abesh to his home town, which is 180 kilometers or so from Kolkata, on an air-conditoned bus. Abesh warned me about a possible bottleneck during the trip, but what was unexpected was how aggressively the bus driver passed cars, motorcycles, trucks, and anything else on the road, constantly blowing his horn. Despite this, I was somehow able to get a little bit of sleep. We passed through Shaktigarh and Panagarh, the former being a short rest stop and the latter being the 2 lane bottleneck where speeds dropped dramatically. Fortunately we did not hit anything and arrived in Durgapur after dark.
Abesh got a " tuk-tuk" (3 wheeled cycle/cab) to his house, where I met his parents, and then after a short rest went to his in-laws where his wife and son were staying,
Abesh's father-in-law plays classical Indian music, and we talked about Ravi Shankar a bit. He said friends of his son had visited from Russia, but I was the first from America. He knows many neighbors who have gone to the US for school. The nicest thing he said was being honored by my visit.
sitting still for a time
Then it was back to Abesh's family home, where friends dropped by, and his mom served a lot of food (after me being asked would I like rice to eat). I figured out how to eat with my fingers, to the delight of the family. The worst thing I did was to try to pick up a few rice kernels that fell off my plate. Apparently guests can't do that. Besides the rice, there was lamb, fish, lentils, and chutney (I think) at the end. Abesh's mom hovered, paced, and worried whether I would like the food.
Ahir got a lot of attention, of course, and seemed to like me for short periods of time, I think my nickname will be "Jim-Uncle", according to Abesh.