I am sitting here, listening to John Coltrane’s ‘Love,’ made so long ago yet still beautiful, powerful, poignant, those lush sounds that sometimes jar, sometimes soar, that take you to far away places while you are still sitting in your chair. But now I actually am in a far away place. Kolkata is about 9,000 miles from Chicago, and that’s just the surface distance. In fact, it is much further away, a very different world. A few days ago, another internet problem had me untethered to the wider world, a disconcerting feeling. This is how travel used to be, with little connection to ‘home,’ let alone its daily presence afforded by the internet. We survived just fine, thank you very much, perhaps better, centered more not only in time but in space. On the other hand, when that connection was working, a few days earlier, I took my new Bluetooth speaker into the kitchen and we listened to National Public Radio, a small, welcome and incongruous streaming treat. That’s the issue with India—it is new and old, familiar and strange, broken and fixed, crowded and lonely, rich and poor at the same time. It is that imbalance, that bizarre mixture that makes the country simultaneously appealing and frustrating. But despite occasional blips, such as the unpredictable internet or the seeming impossibility of accomplishing the simplest tasks, it’s been relatively easy to traverse. A smile, a gesture, a few Bangla words and magic happens.
Take K.C. Paul for instance. We were walking back from Seagull Publishing when I saw what seemed to be a hut on the side of a main street, plastered with drawings and writing. Those drawings turned out not to be covering anything—they were the “walls.” They were drawings of the universe, and the beliefs of Mr. K.C. Paul, who proved beyond any possible doubt in his mind that the sun revolves around the earth. While I was photographing, the drawings parted and Mr. Paul looked out. He handed us badly xeroxed papers outlining his experiments and the scientific proof of the validity of his theories. Here was a man literally living his beliefs, surrounded by his words and drawings, out there for everyone to see. He showed us letters from NASA and Columbia University (they basically said “Thank you for writing”) and copies of newspaper accounts of his activities. A true folk-scientist, who proved, once again, that the word is remarkable, and if you take the proper amount of time to look, images can part and another layer can be revealed.
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