At the beginning of this month I celebrated the slow and steady move into my mid twenties. Luckily my family were out visiting for the easter hols to ease the blow so I got to rise and shine on my birthday in India’s first floating hotel (it had air-con and a bar…I was thrilled!) in Kolkata. My birthday began with a phone call from the bell boy that had taken a bit of a shine to my sister and I, he sang me happy birthday (he’d spied it on my passport) and informed me he would be bringing a cake to the room soon. He soon appeared at our door with a classic Indian cake (all icing…minimal cake…more sugar than you can shake a stick at) which was a very sweet (excuse the pun!) gesture and he did seem very upset when he saw our bags and realised we were checking out that day and told us that “He would miss us for the rest of his life”. Other birthday gifts included an entire suitcase full of goodies from my family including mini eggs, marmite, deodorant, pasta, real coffee, a ukelele, and the 3rd series of Gavin and Stacey…tidy (or Saaf for all you Hindi speakers!)
As it was our final day in Kolkata we headed off for some sight-seeing. First stop was the Indian museum. Now this is the oldest museum in India ( established in 1814 if I remember correctly) and if you ever wondered what museums were like years ago before fancy interactive exhibits, informative labels or ,infact, cleaners, this is the museum for you! It really was a weird and wonderful step back into the past. My particular favourites were the polar bear that was so dusty it was black and the formaldehyde-pickled fish in boxes that were only half full…Damien Hurst eat your heart out. Alas I couldn’t take my camera in to show you these little gems but the laughs were worth every rupee of the entrance fee!
We decided to be adventurous and take the metro to our next stop. Before embarking, our lovely friend who lives in Kolkata that was joining us for the day gave us some advice about being careful with our bags. 3 out of 4 of us heeded this warning, but alas, as we were leaping on the packed train my dad was relived of his wallet. Luckily at this point SuperDad took over…his spidey senses immediately started tingling and he noticed missing wallet and his sidekick (our friend) spied the not-so-artful-dodger very unsubtly barging his way up the carriage. SuperDad sprang into action and headed off up the train. It was like Moses parting the red sea with people making way for him to chase his foe up the train and soon he was out of sight. Apparently after 3 or so carriages SuperDad caught up with him and in very typical SuperDad fashion quite politely asked for his wallet to which the thief immediately gave it back…who said good manners didn’t get you anywhere!? The rest of train promptly handed the man over the police at the next stop and peace and justice were restored in the Kolkata metro, Go SuperDad!
The rest of the day was spent seeing Kali Temple which Kolkata is named after where up to 40 goats are sacrificed each day and the nearby Nirmal Hirday which is where Mother Teresa set up her home for the dying…cheery locations for a birthday I know! The remainder of the day was slightly more traditional birthday fare with amazing tea at Dolly’s Tea Shop (highly recommended) and a few chilled Kingfishers at the Fairlawn hotel before we got on the overnight train to take us to Puri and birthday celebration number 2.
My colleagues had been looking forward to meeting my “father-mother-and-small-sister” for months and when combined with the news that it was also my birthday had planned a day of fun and field visits for us. We were greeted at the office with flowers presented by the secretary of the organisation’s daughter. They’d cleared away the normal therapy mats and gym balls to make way for balloons and a very nicely decorated cake. I then had to participate in the traditional way of serving out cake which involved me feeding everyone else their slices of cake (right hand only of course!). Then I discovered the reason for all the icing…it gets smeared on the birthday girl’s face!!
After all the cake excitement my family were taken out to the villages to meet some of the children I’ve been seeing and to a craft workshop where a women’s self help group are generating some money for themselves by making applique lamp shades, a traditional local craft.
They also got to go to a local restaurant and it was quite entertaining for me to see other people struggling to eat a mound of rice and watery dhal with one hand like I normally do!
All in all it was a great day and I feel very lucky that my not-so nearest but very dearest got to see what I’ve been doing the past few months. Just a warning….I’m bringing the birthday cake on face tradition back to the UK with me!