Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Last Days of Disco

I'm still in Kolkata, hanging with Bengali's, the so-called French of India. Politics are progressive-- actually I'm fairly sure the Marxist party rules West Bengal--and nearly all the (admittedly upper class) couples I've met have married for love. But it's all relative. I still haven't seen a single cow in the city, but a herd of goats crossed the (residential) street as we trotted down to find this iWay cyber cafe.

We've made a stab at seeing the sights, despite the thick, intensifying heat. Today we strolled through the oh-so-British Victoria Memorial gardens, under parasols; yesterday we browsed book stands on College Street, then had strong coffees in the no-frills but evidently popular Worker's Cooperative Coffee Shop. A crowd of cerebral-looking Bengali chatted and smoked cigarettes under the high ceiling.

But aside from this, we've met with a lot of closed signs, and the vague half explanations so typical to this country. The lovely Eden Gardens are shut indefinitely due to some military dispute over ticket price (according to the sign, shockingly printed in English). North Kolkata's Marble Palace is closed all weekend because of Holi, according to the guard, who did let us walk into the marvelously overgrown grounds after we slipped him a 100 note. The marble mansion is falling apart, in a glamorous, "very Mrs. Havisham" way, in the words of our friend Sita. Sita is an ex-Veerni volunteer visiting Kolkata in the name of research. She's writing a detective novel set partly here and partly in London, where she lives.

After this dead end, we gave up on chugging through the smoggy evening in our Ambassador taxi. Sita retired to the deliciously kitschy Fairlawn Hotel, where the lobby is surrounded by cascading Christmas lights, plastic leaves and faux fruit. Jess and I headed to a party at a friend's flat and then... to the "Disc"! The boite de nuit, inexplicably called Dublin, was tucked in the basement of the Sheraton, near the airport. The interior was swank, the dance floor was packed, the beats were thumping--bhangra, classic Bollywood, and ohmygod, at the end, Usher and Biggy. Our Bengali pals showed off their stuff, too; even the bespectacled engineers were working it. We closed the place at 3am, dripping in sweat.

Good times, good times... But unfortunately, I have to do some writing of my own. I'm headed to sequester myself in Darjeeling in a couple days, a cool hill station where I'm hoping to bang out text for an article due in a few weeks.


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