Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Diving into a Kaleidoscope

India traffic | Photo by Krista Ricafort

"India is like a different planet. The rules of the real world don't apply here."

Jimit, the first friend I made in India, told me this on the cab ride from the Kolkata airport where he picked me up only a few minutes earlier.

My thoughts exactly, I thought as the hot air from the open window whipped my hair into tangles and the cab we were on snaked through the congested Kolkata road at an impossible speed, as in an action movie car chase sequence.

Even with a look and climate similar to that of my hometown, it took me no time at all to realize that India is a different place entirely.

Afternoon Chai with Krista and Jimit

Coming to India from Manila is like escaping a watercolor painting and diving headfirst into a kaleidoscope.

Manila is a soft whirl of blues and yellows and reds and grays, a steady symphony of jeepney hums and Taglish, a landscape of warm smiles piercing through city smog.

Kolkata is one big blast of everything, all at once. The climate is sizzling, just like Manila, but not really. There is a certain tang in the air that makes your skin feel the way your tongue feels in your mouth right after you eat spicy food—a slightly uncomfortable tingle, a kind of pleasurable burning.

Everything is draped in the most brilliant colors—roadside temples, cabs, rickshaws, street food stalls, pedestrians, even carrier trucks painted in vermillion and chartreuse and fuchsia and indigo and gold.

The city’s voice is a layered track of cows mooing in the distance, vehicles blowing their horns relentlessly, and people speaking in the quick, brusque tones of their local tongues.

Altogether, India was disarming, especially to one who had not slept in almost 24 hours.

Dazed in Kolkata | Photo by Krista Ricafort
The city had left me in a rainbow-colored daze. All my senses were engaged and awake, intoxicated even, but my mind was barely lucid. Even as Jimit and I conversed, half my mind was repeatedly asking the question, am I really here?

No matter how much I saw or smelled or felt, I still couldn’t quite believe it.

By some magic or unwritten law, we managed to make it to our destination unscathed. There, I met two new friends, Samta, who lived there, and Ajay.

Krista—who I had last seen in a mall in Makati—was already there too, though seeing her in a bedroom in Kolkata, surrounded by half-unpacked luggage and newly-made Indian friends made the experience feel even more surreal.

After drinking some Chai, eating some Bhelpuri, and plying the Kolkata streets, Krista and I were introduced to another new face, a messy-haired, smiley-eyed boy named Soumendra who was to bring us to Cooch Behar a province town supposedly 12 hours away by bus.

That 12 hour bus ride turned out to be more than 16 hours, and it was bumpy and dusty to boot, but Krista and I made it, partly because of the daze but also because of a string of interesting conversations with Soumendra, who, when he left the next night, made us feel like we were saying goodbye to an old friend, not a boy we met just the previous night.

Krista with the Class IV kids | Photo by Krista Ricafort
The next few days were a blur of endless "good morning ma’am" greetings from the children, chocolates and candies and stickers also from the children, giant servings of rice and aloo from the school hostel, overprotective hospitality, and names that were too long to remember at first mention, though we remembered the faces perfectly well.

There we were, somewhat imprisoned in the school and the hotel room where we lived, not being able to leave at night because there was nowhere to go and no one to show us around but we didn’t really mind, I think. All that mattered was that we were in FREAKING INDIA, and simply to watch the world writhe outside our hotel window, even to stare into nothingness was a new thing entirely if only because it was the writhing world, and nothingness as we’ve never known it before.


  1. Nakangiti ako mula sa simula hanggang katapusan. Ang ganda, Mandy. As in ang ganda talaga. Yun bang...damang-dama mo yung kagandahan. hahaha! Hindi ko maexpress. :)) Anyway...I can't wait to hear more!!! My heart is bursting with happiness for you two. :) At favorite ko yung last picture. Ang saya. :D

  2. i love how you write! :D

    that, and i got carsick in india. walang sinabi ang mga bus driver ng edsa sa indian drivers.