It's funny that this is called "part 2" because I'm actually posting it first. I realized that the blog displays chronologically and I wanted this to come second. I want it second for a few reasons: The first is that the content of this post is quite disturbing. You should not read this if you will be distressed by sexual or violent verbal imagery. Second I don't want this story to be the main takeaway from my time in Kolkata. I loved it there and I think it is an amazing city. At the same time I think that what I'm sharing is valuable information that is worth telling. Imagining me in this circumstance might give readers a personal relationship to poverty and strife that can seem remote from our Western perspective. What follows is a lightly edited version of a free-write I did on my third night in Kolkata:
"The hotel club was called “Someplace Else” and it reminded me a little bit of The Walnut Room, which is a venue I played in Denver a lot. It was a little seedy, the food was overpriced, but mostly it was safe and air conditioned and comfortable. So I got into the flow of that and kind of “forgot” I was in India for a couple hours. The band was insanely loud. One of the loudest shows I’ve ever seen. I not only felt the vibration of each bass drum but I felt physical pain in my ears with each passing quarter note. I usually have ear-plugs but I have been using them at night for sleep so they were back in my hotel room. I think there’s actually something to that. This place is so loud that the loud music needs to be even louder to be heard over the din. People seem to talk louder too.
So to get out of the loudness I stepped out after my friends played. I chatted with them and had a few drinks. I was feeling good but I had no success getting a cab to take me home. I tried ordering one on uber and the app out here olacabs multiple times and the drivers kept cancelling. The traffic during Durga Puja is even worse than normal Indian traffic so it is basically impossible to get around without a connection. So I ended up asking the hotel concierge to call a cab. The cab came in just about 5 minutes which was quite fast. I got in and told the driver the neighborhood. Some of the drivers have unusual impressions about people from the US so he said something that I didn’t think too much of: “Chandi Chawk? Oh you go and fuck girls one hours or two hours.” I laughed uncomfortably and didn’t respond. I was still feeling the glow from the hang and I didn’t want to worry about that weirdness.
We got to my street and I noticed the traffic was way thinner. And what was there were private cars and trucks. There were no lights on and not much foot traffic. I still didn’t think too much of it because my mind was still at “Someplace Else.” The entrance to my hotel is kind of concealed because it is part of a larger complex of businesses in the same building. So when the driver pulled up in the dark I didn’t immediately recognize where the door was. The drivers are under extreme pressure to pick up new passengers so they can hope to make any kind of profit. As a result they can be quite pushy and so he urged me out of the car pretty fast. I stepped out and shut the door and as soon as I did several things happened in very quick succession. All of my good feelings disappeared immediately. The driver sped away. I heard three different “kissy” sounds come from three different directions. And I realized I couldn’t see the entrance to my hotel. All these added up to “holy shit I am alone in the middle of Kolkata at 2am with a white face and a pocket full of money and I don’t know where the door to my hotel is.”
As soon as this thought crossed my mind I heard someone yell “fucking!” and I started to walk very fast towards where I thought the door was. A little girl who couldn’t have been more than thirteen appeared out of the dark repeatedly yelling “fucking” and asking for ten rupees (which is about 15 cents USD). I started running towards where I thought the door was and the girl chased after me repeating “fucking” over and over again. I said “no” and “leave me alone” several times and then I started shouting “no.” She grabbed my arm and I started running back the other way. By this time we were literally in a shouting match where all that was said was “fucking” and “no” and she was holding onto my arm so tightly I felt her nails cutting into my skin. I saw the door and I saw that there was a metal grill over the entrance. I thought hotels usually let you come and go at all hours but this hotel has no wifi and no AC so what the hell was I thinking assuming that?
I actually thought this was the end. Who knows what this girl would do? I had no way of getting a cab somewhere else. And I had no idea who was waiting in the darkness. All the while this girl who looked to be around eleven was screaming “fucking” at me. She was absolutely relentless. After what felt like an hour but was probably only thirty seconds a guard heard the shouting and came to let me in the gate. This person said something so drowsily and dispassionately to the girl that it was almost humorous. The girl shouted something back at him and he said something louder that clearly meant “get away from this door slut.” He let me in and the girl stood outside the gate still yelling “fucking” and putting her arm on her hip in this horribly perverse sexual stance. I walked towards the elevator and the guard took me up to my room. The girl did not stop looking at me and did not stop yelling until I got high enough that I couldn’t hear her anymore. I got into my room and realized I was crying. I sat in silence for a long time and when I opened my computer is was 3 am. I listened to the whole album “Blues Dream” by Bill Frisell. It made me picture City Park Fountain and made me think about my childhood. It made me feel calmer.
I couldn’t totally drown out the outside noise though. While I was up here on the fifth floor that girl was still down there in the street with the honking and the yelling. Some of the yelling might have even been her.
There is nothing different about that girl than my sister or my mother other than where she was born. When I was that age my parents bought me a saxophone and drove me to private lessons. And at the end of the day what she was really saying wasn’t “fucking.” She probably doesn’t even know exactly what that means. What she was really saying was “I’m hungry and I’ll do anything for something to eat.”
I probably only slept an hour or two that night. The whole next day I didn’t go an hour without thinking about that image of her at the gate. I’m still not really over it and I think I’m writing this to procrastinate going to sleep tonight. I know she’s out there. Probably on the same street that I am doing exactly what she was doing last night. And who knows if someone is actually abusing her? Who knows what would happen if they did? Would anyone care? Or listen to her? I’m sure they wouldn’t. And that makes it even harder for me to go to sleep right now.
I’m trying to tell myself that this is a good experience. That this is good learning and that I’m gaining perspective but it really doesn’t feel that way. In fact me thinking that almost makes me feel bad for having such developed coping mechanisms. Her suffering is not for my benefit. It doesn’t benefit anyone. Do you think that girl has coping mechanisms like “oh this will really make me understand my privilege better?” Do you think that girl had her mom hold her and tell her that “everything is going to be ok” when she got scared as a little kid? Do you think that girl ever had her mom hold her at all?
I don’t know and this isn’t even really about how it makes me feel but I just thought writing this would make me feel better and in some ways it has."