To the Market

home alley

The air shimmers with the heat, the murky late morning haze. The damp air envelopes, weighing and slowing. You step down the 13 stairs and greet the neighbor perched in her doorway, nomaskar, then shuffle over the entryway, careful to not slip on the cement slicked with the wash water of the morning dishes. You walk through the double set of doors – first pull then push. Or is it the other way around? You never remember. The layers of paint creak and stick as you push (pull?) the last set closed behind you. A left down the narrow alley; drop your little bag of trash on the swelling corner heap. Later it will be gathered by the trash collectors, picked through by the scavengers, sold to the dealers and sold again to the recycling centers. But for now it rests in its little pile, festering in the sun. Its bigger and smaller brother-piles flank it in increments down the street. Small deposits of yesterday’s waste.

Turn left again onto Fakir Chokroborty lane. Say that five times fast. The life of the city teems even on this small street. Motorcyclists announce their approach with an impatient “beep, beep” and you along with the masses part to let it pass. This afternoon the corrugated tin doors lining either side of the street will all be pulled shut, but right now they gape open welcoming prospective customers to buy this bracelet or that steel cup or a brightly colored plastic bucket. Except for the stand with strands of chips and snacks hanging like garland around the door frame, most of the shops are bereft of buyers. Stay to the right at the Y and remember the pink temple perched in the crossroads because it will serve as your landmark to find your way home.

At the corner where the hiss of onions in hot oil and the body heat of customers and vendors mixes with the steam mixes with the charcoal smoke mixes with the morning humidity and hovers under the green-brown tarp…that is where you turn left again. You can either either cut through the people and kettles and cookstoves under the tarp, or contend with the autos and taxis and motorcycles and bicyclists and pedestrians on the street. Today you choose the tarp and weave your way back into the open air, picking along the broken sidewalk, turning sideways to avoid colliding with on-comers. You step over a sleeping dog, its ear half eaten, its flesh pocked with sores and dotted with flies. Now you must veer back on to the road, for the water tap ahead is on full blast and there is a man bathing in its current, his red checked lungi clinging to his wet thighs.

kolkata tram

Your progress down Beadon Street is set to a growing cresendo – honks and beeps and rings and shouts and voices and music and engines and footsteps. Your heart-rate quickens involuntarily with the sensory stress of the noise. Some days in the coming months it will grate on you, rubbing your nerves to irritability. Other days you will scarcely notice the din while you walk lost in conversation or thought. On days like today the auditory stimulation awakens you to a consciousness of the life around you.

You have to wait to cross Central until the traffic wanes enough to let you squeeze through. Your wait is in the midst of a crowd of other road-crossers. It strikes you that since your descent down the stairs you have passed hundreds of people. People with stories and lives you can only imagine. People you will never see again, people you may one day come to know, people who are exceedingly different than you and yet share your common humanity. People with the light of God’s image within them.

The light turns and you surge forward with your fellow humanity. You are almost there now. Just past Ricky’s and then a right into the maze of stalls and tables and mats. Just a morning’s trip to the market.

 

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