He takes me to Victorian Memorial Hall. It was made for Queen Victoria. It really is a sight- a palace in the middle of green gardens. It reminds me of Lister Park in Bradford in the way that a Lion could remind you of a tabby cat. I think of a show we did called Time at Moghul Gardens. All of a sudden I miss my wife. He buys some Paprichat: the Indian equivalent of nachos I suppose, all tomato and chilli and tortilla like crisps. It’s as good as the Fuchka and I tell Suman I am not sure which I prefer.
There’s a statue to Indra Gandhi. I say that someone told me yesterday that everyday knows her husband had her killed but America wont say so because everybody is scared of Pakistan. Suman is not sure about this.We take a running leap in to a bus. It doesn’t stop, apparently it’s not personal, they never do.
We get off two stops down. I’m quite impressed by my dismount until I nearly smack the conductor to the ground as I am in the middle of saying to Suman how well I did at the dismount. Suman is now regularly laughing at me. In a nice way. He takes me to a market to buy a Gamcha. It’s a cloth men wear- like a shawl. But butch. And I I’ve been told I need one to keep the sweat off my face.
I buy two, one for a gift for someone back home. He isn’t happy with the price but he says it’s all Indian made so that’s okay. We buy a present for my wife. I’m not going to say what. They put it in a box branded “Hollywood Shop”. Suman tells them to find one without the word Hollywood because it’s embarrassing. They can’t find one that is as nice so we take that one and leave. A lot of men are staring, I ask Suman why- surely they have seen plenty of tourists here. But never in June, he says, No one would seriously come here in June.We go to the centre of arts. It’s all associated with a very famous Indian poet that it is clear I have not heard of. Suman reacts as if I have suggested the sun moves round the earth. As way of contrition I tell him that India has had 6 Nobel Laureates and each one was from Kolkata. He knows already.
We visit The Wreckage by Swapan Kumar Mallick; an exhibition of paintings full of mobile phones, websites and genitals. Neither of us are impressed.Next door is Insight by Madhuchhanda Sen. It’s abstract photographs of fire, water and reflections. It is very good and thoughtful. The artist is there, we tell her it is very good. She seems pleased. And then it starts to rain. Two drops then all the water in the world. We both shout Run and sprint to cover.
We start to laugh. It has got cooler. We are packed in with all the other people sheltering. We wait for five minutes enjoying the cool. Then Suman says he’s going to hail a cab and then he’ll come back. I can’t let him go alone so I go and stand with him. We hail a cab. The cab wont take us. The next five cabs wont take us. I give Suman my spare Gamcha for his head. He protests but I insist. We are friends. Yes, he replies, we are friends. After five minutes hailing cabs and getting refused the full realisation of exactly how wet we are dawns on both us. We start to laugh. I am happy says Suman because I am cool for the first time in month. You have brought English rain with you. The others are looking at us from the shelter. Everybody is looking at us. We are the only people standing in the rain. People are shaking their heads at us, the way you shake your head at a child that has done something simultaneously naughty and funny. Or equally a pair of idiots who are stood in the middle of a monsoon with Gamchas on their heads.
We start to walk. We walk through the rain with our Gamcha’s round our shoulders. They make no difference but I think it makes us look distinguished. As it happens they don’t because the dye has run so we are now many colours.
There are no cabs to catch. The city is being drenched. It has become a blur of colour, of flashing lights and beeping horns and thunderous rain. It is all of a sudden very exotic.We jump a bus. I am an old hat at this sort of stuff now, Suman doesn’t even wait to grab my hand as we leap up.
We sit on the back seat like two naughty boys- men in their thirties, soaking wet and leaning out of the window like labradors on a car trip.
Tiny shops blur past like I’m in a French dance music video. It stops raining as quickly as it started, people start to move around again. We get off the bus, Suman hails a rickshaw because he promised me each and every type of transport that was on offer. We bounce along on the back of a bike. When home he grabs hold of me, hugs me, tells me I smoke too much, to take 10 or 12 cigarettes a day is fine but I smoke too much, says we will be in touch soon but he leaves Kolkata tomorrow for a few weeks. And then he goes. He is, as Amitava would say, A Fine Fellow. And he showed me around Old Kolkata. ——————— Suman Das really is a fine fellow. He is an actor, director and facilitator who works for Amitava. He is going out of town on the trafficking project I mentioned before, working in communities to create interactive theatre that allows villagers to engage with the issue. He is quite frankly one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Patient with me as I bounded around Kolkata like a fool. He lives with his parents near the airport. He said his parents were supportive of his career in acting but there is a real crisis as acting just isn’t financially sustainable in India. He’s worked with the Guru director Probir Guha for ten years. Mr Guha is India’s leading progressive theatre practitioner. He knew Mr Boal as Augusto and Mr Brook as Peter.
I have been invited to his workshop next week before I fly out for a day or two. He makes, amongst many other things, a type of theatre called ‘Journey’- where the audience have to move through the show. I am fascinated what nature of promenade it is.
That’s a dream ticke
t for me so I’m very excited. The best moment today, which didn’t really fit in to the account above, but bears sharing is that of course tonight I am meant to be going to the theatre. But Suman said, “It was a drawing room comedy and you would have been very bored”.
So we took a mad dash around Kolkata in the rain instead. Viva La Progressives!