11.10 pm. At full volume blaring annoying alarm sound. Surprised that it’s already, I open one eye, which begs to be closed back. However, there’s no time for an additional 5 minutes under warm duvet. A quick shower, putting on uniform and semi-conscious I grab the previously prepared suitcase. I’m good to go.
Do not approach
11.40 pm I’m already in the bus taking me and a bunch of other crew to the airport. With still sensitive to bright light eyes I try to focus on my phone where I repeat the specification of the Boeing 777-300, which in about two hours I’ll fly somewhere.
At this very moment it doesn’t matter where I’m going. It could be even Seychelles, and I’d be piced of anyway that I had to wake up instead of returning to the land of dreams. Everything irritates me. Galling nostrils the smell of nail polish of one girl sitting next to me, which apparently didn’t find time to do this before leaving apartment. The driver, who drives as if he carried the potatoes instead of people. And the damn music player of brand of gnawed apple, in which, by the fault, I can’t change songs.
00.10 am. I’m at the briefing, where slowly is gathering entire crew. I’m guessing that, like me no matter where I’m going now, so for them not much of a difference where they’ll do the popular “shopping”. The situation improves only one Polish girl in crew – Kamila. Whatever she gonna be, cool or boring, smart or dumb, there’s always someone to speak in my own language – I think.
00.40 am. We’re heading to the plane. I’m starting to “sober up”. I commence even the most basic conversations with the rest. What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you have a boyfriend? ;) Slowly comes to me where actually I’m going and how I wanted to get this flight.
Big number of clients of our company are people from the Indian subcontinent. They’re literally on every flight, and on many they’re majority. I know about them seemingly almost everything. Their favorite juice (mango mango). Favorite spirit (viskhy viskhy). Gestures (hand motion resembling a twisting bulbs), expectations for the service (like in 5 star hotel) and the adorable understanding when something you can’t arrange (ok ok no problem).
So close yet still far
So I’m so close to this country, and yet so far because most of our flights to India are turnarounds. We bid farewell to disembarking passengers to immediately greet those embarking, and I’ll not even put my feet at the airport. However! There’re exceptions, like Chennai where, hopefully you remember, I already took you. Trivandrum, where hopefully I’ll go soon and Calcutta! Where I’m flying now!
Fully conscious, and simply happy, I’m going to the city, which name was long time ago saved in my memory since I was a child, thanks to Mother Teresa. To the pearl of former British India, covering the entire subcontinent with today’s Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As it turned out even the crew was interested in something more than just shopping centers. Unfortunately, a bigger group would be too much to not stand out from the crowd (which anyway failed). So into the city I went only with Kamila.
Atmosphere of celebrations
As usual in India, you will never feel alone. The entire metropolitan area is almost 15 million people. On the streets thousands of sellers of fruits, vegetables, pirate movies, books, toys. Plenty eateries, shoe and ears cleaners. Hairdressers and dentists “under a cloud”. And a whole range of colorful sari worn by the local women. It seems, however, that it’s a bit different than usual. The city is like a full of festive atmosphere. Everywhere can be seen suspended neon signs and lights, which probably make a much better impression after dark.
It was fortunate that in those days is taking place one of the most pompously celebrated Hindu festivals in India, particularly in Kolkata – Durga Puja. And even happier happened that from here comes Nilakhshya, my colleague from a two-month training college at the very beginning of my adventure with aviation. Nilakshya got me in touch with his friend, who happened to be that day in town – Nishant. Who was so nice to sacrifice his afternoon, evening and part of night for us.
Like Shahrukh Khan
Could it be better? We’re with the local guy in India, where’s just lasting Hindu festival. Storm of colors, no fading music and drums, millions of people on the streets (Calcutta is generally crowded, and the festival attracts another mass of people from other regions), fried here and there paratha, samosa and dosa. Invasion of the sensations from each side. And in addition to all I’m in awesome outfit “kurta”, which Nishant was so nice to lent me. Kamila also in the local dressed could be easily mistaken with some local woman ;)
Hundreds of friendly glances at the two foreigners pretending locals. Dozens of questions where are we from or rather which country?. I feigned a slight embarrassment and answer…um I’m from here? I’m local? Costume was, to mildly say, a bit to small but even though this slight discomfort I was enjoying wearing it with every single step I made. Purple long coat, white pants tight slumber on calves and… brown shoes of Polish brand Wojas :D I almost felt like Shahrukh Khan (Bollywood star No. 1)! ;)
Ongoing festival is preceded by a 9-day fasting. In addition to the countless lights and neons illuminating the streets, there’re being built temporary temples “pandali” made of bamboo or polystyrene. Each quite different, however, with the same motif in the middle. On the altar the goddess Durga making a fatal blow to the demon. For 10 days the city isn’t sleeping. People dance, sing and feast until late hours at night.
And all this for warlike goddess Durga who rides a tiger and has 5 pairs of hands. Well, a long time ago there was a fierce war between gods and demons. Over the millennia, the war couldn’t find a settlement. With energy-induced anger of Vishnu, Shiva and other gods was created Durga. She was endowed with all the powers of her fathers, and had one task – to kill the leader of the demons – Mahisza. Durga made a job done, killed the demon and to this day is worshiped by Hindu people.
Meanwhile, we continue wandering through the crowded streets. Then, suddenly, someone calls us from white temple we were just passing by. Gentleman in a white robe with a warm smile with a gesture invites us inside. From the beginning, we’re treated with the greatest honors. In the cozy, air-conditioned room, separated from the rest of the crowded building, is being explained to us the idea of a religious society, whose headquarters we’re just in. Me, Kamila, lady in a white robe and two 50 year old men matching here as chalk and cheese . As it turned out later, accompanying us men are the local gangsters and major donors of the society :)
Afterward we’re invited to the ceremonial hall where as in other temples on the altar proudly presents the goddess inflicting an end to the life of a demon. However, this one is like a bit different than the others… This sort of… alive. It turned out that as the figure of the goddess and her assistants dressed up 4 sisters! Alive human beings! Before entrance the gathers crowds, from where glitters dozens of flashes, and we’re seated in the front row :) At the end a local photographer asks us to pose for photos to a local newsletter :D
After clubbing grabbing kebab paratha
It’s getting late, sleep deficit getting bigger and bigger, and it reminds me, that unfortunately, I’m only human. Emotions slowly fall and most likely I’d already head to the hotel. Suddenly to our ears is coming the sound of music. In the distance, square of the size of a basketball court sparkle with colored sari. Fascinated we approach closer, and there’s a party of local youth. Pairs holding sticks in their hands lively dancing “dandiya” and their colorful costumes swirling in the air.
After a short while of staring, we’re invited to dance and so we did. Initially a little stage fright we’re dancing with Kamila trying copy the movements of others. With time, we’re separated to dance with several other persons and joy once again overshadows the fatigue :)
Unfortunately the early hour of wake up call for the flight back in the morning reminds us that it’d be advisable to have some sleep. By these last hours to give us some energy, Nishant takes us on a supposedly best paratha (Indian flat bread fried in oil, here staffed with cheese and onion) in the city. Of course, as Hindu, everything vegetarian.
Supper we eat already at Nishant home, where the amazing relief provides air conditioning. As the temperature and humidity didn’t spoil us. However, these streams of sweat on our forehead is probably indispensable part of this world. Nishant! Thanks for your hospitality and amazing time! Kamila! Thanks a lot for the great company! Nilakshya! Thanks bro for contacting me with your buddy! See you India!