when the dust clears

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Dateline: Kolkata

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Sudder Street, Kolkata, India, 20 March 2010

Three more hours in Kolata before I leave for Singapore.

Roughly sixteen days ago, Erin and I crossed the border at Tamabil, Bangladesh, into Dawki, India, a hassle-free and beautiful journey through wonderfully green parts of both countries. Two-plus weeks isn’t a whole lot to reflect on, strictly speaking, but it has been a very significant chunk of time.

Tea stall, Lindsay Street, Kolkata, India, 20 March 2010

Working our way west from Shillong in Meghalaya State to Guwahati, Siliguri, Gangtok, Pelling, Darjeeling, and Kurseong—we’ve attended a puja ceremony at Sanga Cholling monastery; been politely denied photo-taking privileges by an army sergeant after stumbling onto a Gurkha Rifles shooting range; and helped move furniture at the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre (and also shopping for gifts in the showroom). And, after waiting less-than-patiently through several depressingly cloudy days, we got a peek at Mt. Kangchenjunga, third highest of the Himalayan peaks.

Puja Ceremony, Sanga Cholling Monastery, Pelling, India, 12 March 2010

Momentous things have happened beyond our own adventures. The Women’s Reservation Bill, which would set aside one-third of seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women, passed in the upper house. This only a day after (male) MPs opposed to the measure violently disrupted a debate on the bill. News stations ran video loops of these men scrambling over the Chairman’s desk and grabbing his microphone to stop the proceedings. A majority of MPs from a range of parties supported the bill, but a vocal—and physical—minority threw a wrench in the works. Their obstructionist tactics seem to have backfired, but the bill isn’t yet law.

We hit Darjeeling just as talks over the future of “Gorkhaland,” were taking place miles away in Delhi, and we just happened to wander into two days of enormous, spirited, and peaceful demonstrations. Darjeeling District is the heart of the notional state that Indians of Nepali heritage want to carve out of existing states. The government of West Bengal, which administers Darjeeling and other areas where agitation for Gorkhaland is strongest, is loath to let the territory go. Pro-Gorkhlanders point to the creation of three new Indian states in 2000. These were situations in which communities with a distinct language and culture won the right to separate from extant states.

Gorkhaland rally, Darjeeling, India, 16 March 2010

As we drove into Kurseong, serious tea country, we saw people streaming toward the center of town, many holding the green, white and yellow striped Gorkhaland flag. (This time, I headed toward the peace and quiet, toward the rolling hillside tea estates and not the clamor of the protest.)

Tea estate, Kurseong, India, 18 March 2010

Today, the Times of India and other papers report that Delhi has pulled 35,000 troops out of Jammu and Kashmir, the disputed territory over which India and Pakistan have gone to war. A genuine unilateral step toward deescalation or a strategic PR ploy? I’ll let the experts hash that out. But on its face, it looks like a small step away from war, if not toward peace.

And although this is outside the two-week window, it happened on the first leg of our trip, during the three days we spent in Kolkata before departing for Bangladesh: Jyoti Basu, former Chief Minister of West Bengal, and a stalwart of the Indian Communist Party (Marxist), who had died earlier in the week, got a hero’s send-off on our first full day in town. Sidewalks were jammed with people along the funeral procession route here in Kolkata who mourned the death of the nationwide power broker, regarded by many as the champion of working folks.

Two hours and counting. More from Singapore.

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Written by bxpnyc

2010/03/20 at 15:07

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