Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thursday in Kolkata

Continuing the theme of simplicity, breakfast at the hotel includes 2 choices - eggs or an Indian dish. Today it was a wonderful fried flatbread with a local stew with potatoes, chick peas, tomatoes, greens and very distinctive chile seasoning. The chai was thick with full fat milk and the spices were less complex than some we've had. It was delicious.

We headed out for a visit to Dakshineshwar, the place where Hindu Saint Ramakrishna received enlightenment. The site included a school, a museum, several temples and attractive grounds. This qualifies as one of those places I have seen while in India that requires more research and learning when I return. The site sits on the Ganges, and so many were washing at the riverside or collecting water to take home. We had several Hindi families stop members if our group for pictures with the white folks. Curiosity works all ways.

We stopped on the way back to the bus for a fresh coconut. We've had a few folks sick, and we could all use the potassium, I am sure. A touristy pursuit, but fun. Each coconut was about $.40 and the vendor hacked off the top with a few well placed hacks of the machete and dropped in a straw. I am sure the locals were amused by our antics while we sipped.

We drove through some very cool spots getting there and departing. Kolkata is older and looks more like the movie and story book version of India, in part due to its colonial history. The plant life here is tropical and lush. There are small bodies of water (ponds at best) with communities clustered around. Woman washed laundry at water's edge. Some are choked with water hyacinth. Slowly the shanties and tents gave way to businesses and manufacturing, then high rise office buildings, then gated developments. We visited Sathi's brother-in-law, Dr. Mammen Chandry and his wife Anu in their very nice home. It was a sharp contrast to the crowding and poverty we've seen. Lunch was served - a fantastic mix of North and South Indian dishes. My favorite was a simple preparation of eggplant from North India. It was sliced in rounds, dredged in turmeric and salt, then lightly pan-fried in oil. Anu layered them in a pie plate to serve...simple and wonderful served at room temperature.

We left with Dr. Chandry to visit the Tata Cancer Center, where he is the director. We toured the state of the art facility which provides comprehensive treatment for patients of all ages. Tata is a family name. The family runs a vast multi-national corporation that funds a trust. The hospital receives significant funds from the trust. Unlike the hospital we visited in Delhi, this facility had an electronic records system, wide, bright hallways, two floors of private suites with balconies and amazing views, diagnostic and treatment technology, and plenty of staff (actually, they are just overcoming a nursing shortage and bringing another unit online next month). We walked through open units of children and adults. They offer palliative care as well, and seem to have good supports in place for families and staff. They have an aggressive and exciting master plan for further expansion. St. Jude's provides housing for 15 families off site.

We are ending the evening with a light show at Victoria Gardens. We are en route and stuck in traffic as I type. More as the days unfold.


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