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India – Spring 2007

Journal 6 - February 14

This week, we boarded the train east to Kolkata, commonly known as Calcutta. We were packed six to a compartment, three beds to wall, so most of us slept off and on through the night. Calcutta was bight and hot on Monday morning, especially coming from 50 degree, rainy Delhi. I noticed right away that Calcutta looked different than cities we had visited before. It looked older and also a little British, mainly because it used to be the British capital of India. Kolkata was also more crowded- it is the world’s 7 th largest city but with only about 9% “open space” for streets, sidewalks and parks. Therefore, we saw even more taxis, rickshaws, and bicycles.

Partially because of influences from Bangladesh, less than 50 miles from Kolkata, West Bengal is one of only two communist states in India. Natives speak Bengali instead of Hindi, which didn’t really matter to those of us who couldn’t speak Hindi in the first place. The food tasted different than other Indian delicacies and I thought it was even more delicious. Beef and bacon are allowed in this “secular” state and fish is also quite common.

One of my favorite Kolkata experiences came from attending an Indian national football (soccer) match. Seven of us crowded into a taxi to take us to the stadium. I was the lucky one who sat next to the driver with the stick shift between my knees. We hurried into the huge stadium without having to pay a rupee to find less than a thousand fans, even though this was an Olympic-qualifying match. It appears that Indians love cricket more than all other sports combined, including football. We easily found seats on the cement steps to watch the end of the game. India was up 1-0, but visiting Myanmar scored with just minutes left to tie the game.

After two scoreless overtime periods, we decided to move closer to the largest group of Indian fans and more comfortable seats for the game-deciding penalty kicks. As soon as they learned we were on India’s side, the Indian fans chanted, “Hoo-ha! In-di-a!” at us and eagerly offered us seats among them. As India dominated the shootout, we cheered and exchanged high fives with each goal and save for India. When the game finally ended, the Indians thanked us for our support and even let some of us wave their flag. The friendly Indians even shook the hand of a Myanmar fan. This experience helped me realize that even though there are huge differences within Indian culture in beliefs, language, and food, Indians everywhere can welcome me with a smile.

- Justin Hostetler