Category: India, 2018

Blogging Hell and Off to Kolkata

October 10, 2018

My blog seems to know when I am about to go on a trip, and so arranges to break down spontaneously to give me fits. Yesterday, I spent at least an hour on the phone with my very responsive and knowledgeable ace blog guru, Glenn Crocker, from Kansas City,, to resolve the question of why the hell I could not load things into my damn blog. I’m not sure I’m doing Glenn a favor by putting in his contact information. I’m sure he’d like more clients, if they weren’t as much of a pain as I am. (If you have better things to do than read and philosophize about my blogging problems, and I’m really sorry if you do not, you may want to skip the next six paragraphs.)

Glenn resolved that problem (please don’t ask me how), but when I awoke this morning, I discovered that I had not been sent a notice of the post that I’d made yesterday. That meant that, though, the post was “up” on the blog, nobody would know that and so nobody would read it. This raises the difficult philosophical question of whether, if one writes a blog post that nobody knows of, does that blog post exists. This, you will recognize immediately, is analogous to the question of whether a tree that falls in the forest with nobody around to listen, makes a sound. The difference between these two philosophical questions, to me, is that I don’t really give a damn whether the tree in the forest makes a sound.

So, today’s project has been to try to get notices sent out. Now I know that this is a First World Problem. In fact it may sorta be the dictionary definition of a First World Problem. And, rationally, I told myself, “Look, Arnie, this probably will get solved, but if it doesn’t, it’s not that big a deal.” Very mature, I think. Only I’m not mature, so I obsessed about it for a good part of the day.

So, if you’re reading this, I guess it got fixed, eh? And, if not, well you won’t be any the wiser.

Why write all this garbage, then? Well, first, it may be related to the fact that Carol and I just read (and discussed with a group we’ve been in for many years) Yuval Noah Harari’s great book, HOMO DEUS, the follow up to his equally terrific book, SAPIENS. In the former, he prophesies that humans will be supplanted by a superior “race” created by us and smarter than we are. They may treat us the way that we treat animals, since we think that we’re king of the heap. It’s a very chilling and compelling book. Part of it is based on the evidence that we’ve already willingly ceded control over our lives to machines, and the future likely will bring many more examples. If we ever had free will (which Harari does not believe), we’re giving it up. Big Data is the new religion. The way my blog controls me may be a small example.

It also is (sad) evidence of what a privileged life I lead. I mean, really, how can this be so damn important?

Finally, since that has dominated the past two days of my life, I figure it’s no big deal for you to take a minute to read about it. Thanks.

Okay, we interrupt this rant to get back to our blog.

I set out for Kolkata tomorrow afternoon, non-stop Chicago to Delhi, then a short layover before continuing on to Kolkata. Altogether, probably more than 20 hours in transit. Yuck. One technological advance that I’d welcome and would make travel a hell of a lot more pleasant would be some kind of time travel; click your heels together and you’re not in Kansas (or Chicago) any more, Dorothy. I’m going to comment about Dorothy in tomorrow’s post, so hold that thought. Important question for the future: will frequent flier miles be awarded for time travel?

I’m going to spend only two days in Kolkata, before moving on to the tribal areas that are the focus of this trip. Here’s a question for you, “what’s the first thing you think of when you hear, ‘Calcutta”?” I’m betting that for many of you the answer will be a version of “extreme poverty and Mother Theresa.” Living in a city that still evokes “Al Capone” as what one thinks about, Mother Theresa sounds pretty good. (Although, if Michael Jordan has now replaced Al Capone as the Chicago image, I might go with Mike, because his miracles are on tape.)

Kolkata or Calcutta as it used to be known grew from an obscure village on the banks of the Hooghly River to become the capital of the Great Britain’s Indian empire during the British Raj, until December 1911, when the capital was moved to Delhi. Kolkata’s name change is not an isolated event. It is part of a wider trend of renaming Indian cities, often in an attempt to move away from colonial identities and reclaim the significance of the original names. For example, Bombay became Mumbai– a nod to the city’s patron deity, Mumba Devi. The city’s name has always been pronounce Kolkata by the Bengalis. I’ll use both spellings of the word in this blog, depending on where I’ve stolen material from.

It used to be said, “What Bengal does today, India does tomorrow”. Sadly this adage is no longer true. At one time, Calcutta was the proud intellectual and cultural capital of India. Its inhabitants made outstanding contributions to art, medicine, science and social reform. Kolkata is a pioneer in the field of drama, arts, theatre and literature with several nobel laureates contributing to the Kolkata culture.

It is a city of glaring contrasts, a curious blend of the old and the new, partly feudal, partly born out of growing urbanization, partly un-definable. It is a medley of the east and the west, a graft of a European city imposed on the Asian scope that gives Calcutta its bewildering charm, confusion and excitement. Being just about 300 years old, Calcutta hardly has many great historical monuments. Perhaps, the oldest remembered is the site where the Kalighat Temple now stands. Today Calcutta is the third most populous city in India with a population over 5 million and boasts of India’s first ever Metro rail system. It is a city that shocks on first impression but eventually, I’m told, the visitor falls in love with it.

Here are maps of India as a whole and of the area that I’ll be going to after I leave Kolkata.

Okay, I’ll be leaving for the airport in a few hours, so I probably ought to try to figure out what I’ve forgotten to pack. More from aloft.

4 comments to Blogging Hell and Off to Kolkata

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