Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

At Mullick Ghat March 28, 2019

Jumping off the bus that took us to Howrah Bridge, I didn’t know that Calcutta was about to attack my senses. The Mullick Ghat wholesale flower market swallowed us into its odorous frantic belly, and held us in a firm grip until it was time to leave.

We first entered via a narrow footbridge where people – mostly men – were brushing past in both directions; fast and furious, shouting unknown words. There was no gallantry, only a determined rush! So big was the shock that when a faceless man grabbed me – not by the pussy to quote ‘the boss’ of America – but somewhere else one doesn’t like to be grabbed by a stranger, I didn’t raise even a mental brow. The act seemed to belong to the show. I sped forward and grabbed Soham, my guide, by his shirt telling him not to let me out of sight.

Go with the flow, I reassured myself. I was pushed and squeezed from side to side, back and forth, as I made an effort to cross the bridge unharmed. Then we hit the ground and ducked into a maze of alleyways. There was a continuous movement of men speeding through the market, some with flowers on their heads, or on their shoulders, it was like a rough sea. I embraced my bag; what if somebody stole my money, my cell phone – or grabbed my camera. But they wouldn’t have time for that, would they? f

The vendors sat mostly on the ground, some on a dais. It struck me that they looked like birds in nests of flowers. I pointed my camera this way and that, but I felt in the way, I was disturbing somebody’s working day. My photos got blurry because of all the locomotion and every second time I pressed the shutter somebody walked into my picture; they became cluttered with odd limbs and half faces. My strategy is all wrong, I thought.

The early morning had felt so cool and fresh when Soham and I had crossed the Maidan from where we jumped on the bus, now it was hot and humid. “Mind the mud,” he warned and stepped aside in front of me. I hadn’t noticed, but now felt my sandals slip continuously as we meandered past the many-coloured flowers of species I couldn’t always name.

We entered another vantage point to watch the spectacle from above. The millions of orange and yellow marigolds shone towards us, from enormous sacks on the ground or from vendors’ heads. The garlands were slung over their backs like a bunch of snakes, those on the path looked like sparkling coils. In between, shreds of newspaper littered what was left of open space.

Suddenly, a big truck rumbled into the area. In slow motion, the crowd parted and gave way to the intruder who claimed its right and no one seemed to blame him. The truck looked like an enormous animal from a bygone time amongst the people and the flowers which now looked small from above.
“You might think it is all chaos,” said Soham, “but it’s not. Every one knows their place, what to do and where to go.”
        I did believe him.

We left the market and walked into open space, to the beach below the iconic Howrah Bridge where we watched more work in progress, although in a slower motion. Men, and now also women, stuffed big sacks with leaves. Up on the bridge, I could see people walking on the footpath, millions a day, I had read somewhere. My eyes eventually rested on Hooghly river, its traffic had just about come to life.

It was the most amazing start of the day!



A streetcar named Desire (or A troubled tram) February 3, 2018

Filed under: Travels — benjamuna @ 3:33 pm
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They brighten up the postcard racks in the streets of Lisbon; the many cards of the egg yolk coloured Tram No. 28. Always captured in beautiful morning or evening light while meandering the narrow streets of Alfama. The yellow tram has become the very symbol of Lisbon, and blends perfectly with the charming cityscape of narrow cobblestoned streets, beautiful tiles and flapping laundry.
If you walk along the tram tracks from Alfama to Bairro Alto, you’ll meet ‘No. 28’ sooner more than later. Sadly, most of the Lisbon trams are almost covered with advertising and not as dazzling yellow as shown on the cards. For a long time, Jameson’s whiskey came to mind whenever I thought of Lisbon.

The trams of Lisbon were imported from the United States in 1901 in order to replace the old carthorses. The route 28 was inaugurated in 1914. In 1959, there were altogether 27 tram lines in Lisbon, but the construction of the metro and the expansion of the bus lines eventually sent the trams into decline. Today, Lisbon has five remaining tramlines.

No. 28 is meant to be the jewel of Lisbon’s streets. It takes the passengers on a 40-minute ride through old neighbourhoods such as Graça, Alfama and Baixa, along many historical highlights, including the cathedral and the castle. At the same time, it’s part of the city’s public transport network, but may seem as transportation for the city’s many tourists only. Whenever you catch a glimpse of it, it seems to burst and the passengers do not look like ordinary residents. They have rucksacks on their backs and a camera on their fronts, they fan themselves with maps and keep travel books tightly under their arms. Nobody pretends to be anything but what they are; a tourist who does what the travel guides claims to be “an absolute must.” Passengers are hardly on their way from A to B, it is the journey itself that matters.

And yes, the journey has a certain charm. The tram is coughing and creeping slowly up the steep slopes. And when you thought it was full, it still halts at every stop where an expectant cluster of Japanese, French or Danes are more than ready to squeeze in. So when you stand there like a herring in a barrel, more passengers pour in. And nobody gets off …

Those who have been lucky enough to get a seat can make the most of it since they don’t have to worry about losing their balance. The large windows are mostly open, a virtue of necessity since the air is thick, but the open windows also give the passengers some photo opportunities. With cameras at arm’s lengths, they capture the view as the tram harks up and down the narrow streets. Surely, they must also be capturing other tourists doing exactly the same but in reverse; taking pictures of the brimming No. 28 from the sidewalk.

Lisbon has numerous beautiful tiled facades, often including flapping laundry …

It is a dark and quiet evening, the rainfall makes the air a little cool. Tired, we’re waiting for No. 28, a tram seemingly without a fixed timetable, but supposed to run every ten minutes. And then, after the longest wait, we can hear it in the distance. There, it slips around the bend just before the small hill and wearily creeps towards us. We triumph, now we’ll sit all the way up to Graca and enjoy a quiet ride home. At this hour, the tram is bound to be empty. It was not!

What could possibly Lisbon and Calcutta in far-away India have in common?
Lisbon is not the only city with an egg yolk colored vehicle running up and down the streets:

From my room with a view!