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Mirza after dark

August 4th, 2012 | dustin

We, along with everyone else, were walking west. Our feeble efforts to catch a cab having failed, we resigned ourself to the now familiar walk to Park Street, that strip of land filled with Respectable Restaurants, Familiar Brands, Tourists. Everyone, it seemed, was out, and S.N. Banerjee was buzzing despite its lacking electricity.

Our side of the sidewalk had inexplicably retained its power. But the opposite sidewalk, and all that lay between us and Park, was awash with darkness. As we stood at the head of Wellesley, watching our walking companions disappear into the ink washed city, only distantly illuminated by the odd store’s florescent lighting and the pale, greasy smudge of single candles, we avoided our inevitable left and opted instead to continue along bright-lights-Banerjee.

Our street, like many streets are in Kolkata, is lined with vendors. Shoebox dioramas, selling magazines, bracelets, t-shirts, umbrellas, pastries, thali’s of rice/daal/curry, prescription drugs, shampoos, xerox copies, fabricated metal parts. In the dark, this work continues. Each stall, each vendor, each workshop set out a single candle (by which to see? Or more to simply signal their continued existence and willingness to sell to the passerby). But while the single flame of each produce-vendor gave a vague shape to their papayas and watermelons, the focus of the crowd was directed towards a small store, not 6 feet wide. Clearly, the only store for blocks with a surplus of candles.

When we finally reached the stretch of our street that pedals paintings (paintings of horses, of gods, paintings with gemstones, painting in oils), we paused before Mirza Ghalib. Our last chance at cutting an easy left. The autorickshaws were rounding the corner every moment, plunging into the black that separated us from our dinner. With eyecontact and some vague gesturing, we were aboard—diving into a small swathe of large part of West Bengal left Power-less.

The candelit stalls whizzed by. One, lit by a lantern, had remained rather popular; with few taxis to disrupt our ride, we plummeted, in silence and near darkness, to our destination. It was one of our more peaceable transit moments.

 

July 31, 2012

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