Navadwip, West Bengal, India — Friday, April 1st
Yeah, yeah, I know that we're not supposed to view the holy dham with material vision and all that, but I think you will excuse this blog about the bank that we went to in "downtown" Navadwip earlier this week...
The narrow, potholed road to the bank is teeming with pedestrians, cows, buffalo-drawn carts, dogs, bicycles, rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles — and even an occasional car! — so we beep! beep! our way slowly along until we reach the dilapidated three-story building that is somewhat pretentiously named, "The State Bank of India."
We enter the front of the building through an extremely narrow opening in the chained security gate; unless you're one of those thin, wiry Bengalis, you have to suck in your stomach and enter sideways.
Inside, the paint on the walls is faded and peeling and the plaster is chipped and cracked. After speaking to one of the officials and logging in, we are directed up a dingy flight of stairs to the safety-deposit room. The concrete stairs are chipped, and the stairwell smells strongly of — can it be? — pee. I'm, like, surely the security here is not so lax that... and then I see the "gents" toilet to the side of the stairs.
Upstairs, the official opens the thick Chubb steel door and another metal gate, steps into the strong room, and before we can follow him in, he steps back out again with an extension cord in his hand. He plugs the cord into the single electrical outlet outside the door, and a fluorescent light inside the strong room flickers on.
The strong room is about ten feet by twelve, about ten feet high, and bare, except for two freestanding rows of metal safe-deposit boxes. You can tell that nobody has been in here for quite a while because everything, including the floor, is covered with a fine dust, and there are no footprints on the floor.
There are three old cardboard boxes in one of the corners, also covered in thick dust. I don't know how long these boxes have been here, but one of the boxes used to contain a 300 cps (characters per second) dot matrix printer, and I haven't seen one of those in at least a decade!
The walls are unpainted, and made of concrete, a foot thick. Nice and strong, I think, until I notice the security of the room is severely compromised a by nine-inch square hole in the corner, just below the ceiling. If this is some bright spark's idea of an air vent, shouldn't the hole at least have some sort of steel grill over it? You could easily fit a small boy or a trained monkey through there...
We finish our business and on the way back down the stairs, I notice that the smell of urine has been replaced by the acrid odor of sheep dip. (The last time that I smelled sheep dip must be at least four decades ago, but it is not a smell that you ever forget.) I don't know which smell is worse...
As the cheery khaki-uniformed security guard (who has no gun, truncheon, or even a lathi with which to defend himself and the bank) waves us through the narrow opening at the front door, it occurs to me that I have not seen a single closed circuit security camera anywhere...
But then this is Navadwip, right? Who's going to rob a bank here? The Jagai and Madhai gang?
Navadwip, West Bengal, India — Monday, April 4th
We have had some rather unusual weather ever since I arrived here in India: lots of rain, high winds, two terrific thunderstorms, and even two hailstorms!
The temperature is normal for this time of year (30°C/86°F), but the rain is definitely not. The rainy season does not typically begin until June, yet we have already had at least six storms since I got here.
It rained lightly the day after I got to Calcutta, a little over two weeks ago, but the big storms have been here in Navadwip. The storms have not lasted very long, but the wind and rain has been quite intense.
The hail, of course, is extremely unusual. The first hailstorm, two days before Gaura Purnima, caught everybody by surprise. The Russian pilgrims, unaccustomed to the warm weather — and sunburned from their long marches on the parikramas! — were quite incredulous, and exclaimed, "Sneg! Sneg!" or "Snow! Snow!" in excitement.
With all the freakish weather that we are having here, I would not be too surprised if it actually did snow soon!
Navadwip, West Bengal, India — Thursday, April 7th
My erstwhile traveling companion, Sripad Janardan Maharaj, returns to California this morning. There must be only a dozen Western devotees left here at the Math now.
The steady exodus of devotees and pilgrims began almost immediately, on the first weekend after Gaura Purnima, when thousands of Bengali pilgrims began returning to their villages; in the last two weeks, most of the devotees from Europe, England, Australia, Russia, Venezuela, Singapore, and South Africa also returned to their respective countries.
Now that the last of the major festivals — the pilgrimage to Hapaniya (Srila Guru Maharaj's birthplace) last week and the pilgrimage to Bamunpara (Srila Gurudeva's birthplace) earlier this week — are over, it is so much quieter here at the beautiful Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math on the bank of the holy Ganges River in Navadwip.
Layout by iMonk — April 7th, 2005.