Kolkata Days

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The day started off well, but as it progressed, I started feeling slightly uneasy. The first thing we did was go to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Unfortunately, we missed the service. So instead, we all shuffled into the sanctuary, soaking the gorgeous architecture.

Though the cathedral was once under British rule, to see the Indian nation gather and manage the space on their own, shows the leaps and bounds this country has made within the century. Anywhere you look, though, it’s obvious that Britain has left its mark, especially in Kolkata.

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You can see it in the architecture, in the taxis that roam everywhere, the laws of the road too. You can see it the the monuments erected around the city. But that doesn’t keep the Indian culture and pride reigned in. This culture builds off this influence, and uses it to their advantage. They turn it into something specific to their culture, putting a twist. I’d like to think the reason they keep these influences is for purposeful reminder of the independence gained. India can make her own decisions, without the British parliament to impose. It’s a great feeling to be independent.

But, even with the giant steps India has taken, they still have a ways to go, especially if they want to engage in the modern world. For example, women’s equality is still making it’s way through the patriarch society. With the caste system deeply embedded into the culture, unfairness lurks within the hidden lines of India. Poverty is everywhere, the imbalance of the rich and poor weigh heavily on a young and growing society. Every country has had all, or are also in these similar issues, the United States included; it just takes time to find a solution in all out if.

But enough about my tangent.

The whole purpose of this post was to share about my experience while in Kolkata.

I did an errand today. My professor challenged us to explore Kolkata, let it be the city where we venture on our own without guidance from our trusty teachers. And that also included completing an errand.

“Do what you would do in Spring Arbor, or your home town, in Kolkata.”

So I decided to do some grocery shopping with some friends. I wasn’t planning on buying anything much, maybe some fruit and mostly cookies for the children who begged on the street.

img_2116It felt weird walking to the grocery store. In America, I would have hopped in my car and  drive to Kroger, 10 minutes top. If I even considered driving to a grocery store in India, I’d probably take about an hour to tow just to drive three or four blocks. Traffic was especially heavy in the afternoon. Plus, Kolkata is set up differently. Within the city, there isn’t any major two lane street. It all appeared “one way” but drivers would squeeze between each other as they tried getting totheir destination. Bumper to bumper, honking left and right was just an ordinary thing in congested Kolkata.

The grocery store was smaller than my local Kroger. It was about the quarter of the size. Still, you could find a variety of products, and for cheap too. Ironically, there weren’t any toilet paper rolls to buy. They had everything but toilet paper, and that made me laugh.

I grabbed about 12 rolls of small cookies, five rupees each, 60 rupees total. That’s less than a dollar in US currency. Once I got all the cookies I went to check out. I searched for my friends, hoping they’d have an idea on how to check out.

Even in the grocery store, everything was done backwards. Literally. I assumed checking out groceries would be similar to the ways things were done in America. I was wrong. I should have paid more attention to my high school science teacher who told me “not to assume anything” (in science) and applied it to my poor cross cultural skills.

I cut in front of everyone without realizing it. The worst part was not me cutting as an American, but me cutting everyone else at that store and looking Indian. Scowls and impatient expressions were thrown my way and I quickly realized my mistake. Thankfully, the cashier picked up on my accent and graciously checked me out. It was kind of embarrassing, but it’s not like I would have known anyway. I’ll know what to do if I ever go back, though – not to assume anything and obviously not to cut in line anymore.

I quickly thanked my cashier, smiled sheepishly, and grabbed my plastic bag, before rushing to meet up with my friends outside of the store. I told them about what happened, and they looked at me funny.

“What do you mean you didn’t check out right?” my friend asked.

Besides the whole “cutting people in line” thing, I didn’t exactly feel different while I shopped with friends. Buying food felt the same, but had I planned to stay in Kolkata a little longer, I probably would struggled without the toilet paper (I know, I know, definitely a first world problem). The store might have had some, but I was also shy in requesting it. At my Kroger, I would have known where everything was, but here, supplies were completely foreign to me. It was an experience that put me out of my comfort zone, but well worth it.

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