Friday, 23 August 2013

War Zone: Calcutta and Tea

War Zone

Fortune Cookie:


 If you are afraid to shake the dice, you'll never throw a six.

Calcutta is a dark place. Even in the sunlight. Poverty leaves the people there the poorest of all city dwellers in India. Per capita they earn 27 pence a day. Just under a quarter live below the poverty line in Calcutta. People in rural West Bengal bring in 21 pence a day. The scene at Siliguri Railway Station in rural West Bengal was as rugged as anywhere I've ever been on my travels.  I stayed overnight in the station retiring rooms. It was flooded.

Breakfast at Siliguri Station

Rice with a splash of dal.
Poor Siliguri.
A frontier town for Bangladesh and Nepal.
Half of Bangladesh asleep on the station platform.

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Calcutta Slum

It isn't surprising to see then that a cup of chai from a street vendor comes in at 3 pence. The tea comes in ceramic cups which are used once and thrown into the gutter. A cup of tea in a western style café costs 110 pence. Four days income to the average Kolkatan.

Over in three sips.

Broken pottery chai cups in the street after use.

There is no getting away from it. India's real story is the crushing waste of human talent beneath the poverty. I have been to Calcutta twice in the last two years. I have spent two weeks there. The second time, only in March. Unfortunately I was so sick from dysentery that I couldn't take a single photograph or visit even one place in the city.

I have spoken to lawyers in Mumbai, civils engineers in Delhi, ex-patriates in Kochi and restaurant managers in Calcutta. All testify to the money lost through Bakshish and the use of the law to squash the little guy. Mistry's novelistic (A Fine Balance) diagnosis and description of the issue in India reaches critical mass at the point of lost and disappearing funds in the subcontinent. According to two sources India has more than enough money to eradicate the poverty described above. Just the money is in the wrong hands.

Life in Calcutta (8 mins):

I have spent seven months in India and, like the situation in Africa, something is terribly wrong here.
Politics doesn't mix with tea. It doesn't mix with anything much. But when you have been to a war zone and there is no war you have to ask the question.

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Back to a fuller appreciation of teas next time.

It's incredible. All the purposes tea can serve.

Happy tea drinking!

Also coming soon: Tea Drinking in England.

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Next Post: Tea in Viet Nam

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