Post 41 – Jerri’s Musings #13 – Kafka in Kolkata (and beyond)

Our friend Jeet tells the following story: A friend of his went to the local government office to pay his taxes. While waiting to be served, he saw a man enter one of the cubicles, take off his jacket and hang it over the chair. He then took out several containers of food and water. He ate his lunch at his desk.

In a short while, a woman came into the room, holding a paper. She approached him and asked if he could simply stamp the paper to show that she had been there. The man replied by saying that he was not able to do so. “But why?” she said, “Is there something wrong with the document?” “Not at all Madam, everything is in order.” “Why can’t you stamp it then?” “Because Madam…. I am not here.”

December, 2013

I go to my local Frank Ross Pharmacy, to get some Eugi, a probiotic I had purchased from a different Frank Ross Pharmacy, three weeks earlier. I hand a green-smocked man the empty Eugi packet. He searches the shelves, the drawers – I see that this is going to be difficult. He confers with another employee at the back of the store, who consults a computer. They in turn go consult a 3rd man. He shakes his head. They discuss the Eugi for quite some time. Finally the 3rd man comes over to me, and while holding the empty strip says: “But Madam, this does not exist, it will not be manufactured until 2014.”

“But… I purchased it from Frank Ross in South Mall 3 weeks ago, and I’ve been taking them this whole time” I say. The 3rd man gets very annoyed with me, picks up the phone, and aggressively punches in some numbers. They speak for some time, then turns to me: “How many do you want?”

March, 2014

Alan gets a “Missed Call” on his phone.

He calls back.

The woman who answers is not speaking English.

Alan: I’m sorry. I don’t speak any Bangla.

She: pause….(in English) But I was speaking Hindi!

Alan: Oh. Well, I don’t speak any Hindi either!

She: (disappointed, in English) You don’t?

Alan: No, sorry.

She: Wait a moment.

A man gets on the line.

He: Hello Sir?

Alan: Yes.

He: pause

Alan: You called me. I’m returning your call.

He: You’re returning from Hong Kong?

Alan: No, I’m returning your call.

He: Oh. Are you in India?

Alan: Yes.

He: You are not calling from America?

Alan: No.

He: Oh, well this is only for people in India.

Alan: I am in India.

He: Sorry to bother you Sir.

He hangs up.


Kafka in Kharagpur

At the Park Hotel Restaurant. On the menu, in English:

. Scrambled eggs on toast

. Eggs to order (fried / omelet)

Me: (pointing to Eggs to order…) I’d like 2 fried eggs please.

Waiter: (blank stare)

Me: (repeat of above)

Waiter: (with same blank stare) No Madame.

Me: Why? Here, on menu, see…

Waiter: Not possible Madame.

Me: Look… very easy (demonstrating breaking eggs into frying pan, w/ sound effects)

Waiter: (head bobble, indicating OK)

Alan: I’ll have the scrambled eggs on toast please.

Waiter: No, not available.

Alan: But it’s here, on the menu.

Waiter: Not available, omelet only.

Alan: (somewhat confused) If you can make an omelet, why can’t you make scrambled

eggs? (demonstrates whipping up eggs)

Waiter: No sir, not available.

(Think: Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces)

Me: Just have an omelet Alan.

Alan: I’ll have the omelet.

Waiter: (smiles)




Post 7 – We Meet the Neighbors

We’ve been struck by the friendliness of the people. Except for a few street vendors who overcharged us and a few taxi drivers who tried, we’ve been treated well. People have gone out of their way to welcome and help us. While waiting for Salim and his driver to pick us up, a woman approached and told us that she lived in the flat below us and had heard we had moved into the building. She’s a graduate student in Social Geography and was fascinated by our project. She’s arranging for us to meet her professors, whom she’s sure will be able to assist us in our work.


Bedisha and Aditya (AT)

Bedisha, on the first floor, introduced herself to Jerri and invited us for breakfast. We were served a delicious Bengali meal. It may be a solely Western conceit to vary the meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner all seem to role into one here.


Shrine with wall scribblings (AT)

Bedisha has two maids, one of whom performed a ritual while we were in the apartment. She rang a continuous tone bell and waved incense while chanting, a daily routine not affected by our presence. Bedisha’s husband was working in another city and would only be home on weekends; this seems a standard practice. Aditya, their 2-year old son, had a penchant for drawing—everywhere. I guarded my pants.


Bedisha’s maid (JZ)

Later that day, we had our first meal prepared by Tapoti, our cook. It was delicious but unfortunately, by that evening, Jerri was feeling ill. We’re fairly sure that it had to do with Tapoti not using filtered water when she prepared our food. I don’t think it was Bedisha’s doing. It definitely wasn’t Salim’s feast (they not only cook but do their dishes with filtered water.) I am astonished that clean water doesn’t seem to be a priority with the Indian government. They may have launched a satellite, but things are not well on the ground. The water is simply unsafe. I felt a bit queasy, but Jerri was miserable. She was far worse 2 years ago, where she was laid low for 5 days. Now, she was nauseous and wiped out, sleeping for hours. The next few days were spent dealing with that and with internet woes. We realized Jerri had to see a doctor. I called Dr. Mousimi Rao, recommended by the American consulate and asked if she spoke English. She replied “Yes. Why?” which took me aback. We had a very funny conversation that cemented the decision to see her. Plus, she was walking distance from our flat. 500 rupees later (less than $8!) Jerri was prescribed medication as well as a diet. The Republicans may insist America has the best health care system in the world, but clearly they haven’t traveled far.

Please scroll down or select the ‘Previous’ button to see earlier posts.