09 November 2006

Kartik Diary 21

The Kolkata Experience

Hare Krishna Kirtan - Life in Leicester
Eternal Bliss in New Vraja Dham
Vraja Mandala Parikrama 11

Dear Devotees
Jay Jagannatha!

Yesterday evening we left Puri with the over night train to Kolkata. We shared our compartment with two elderly Bengali ladies who unfortunately didn't speak any English. We were much surprised when they pulled out their bead bags with the maha mantra written on it and started to chant silently. Just see, no one escapes Srila Prabhupada's mercy. It is almost everywhere, and if not it is our sacred duty to distribute it to those who have been left out so far!

Early in the morning we arrived in Kolkata and soon after at the ISKCON temple on Albert Road. We had reserved two rooms at the Guest House because we wanted to spend one day in Kolkata to search for a harmonium.

After taking a shower we were just in time for ‘Greeting of the Deities' (Darshan Arati) and Guru Puja. There were only a few devotees at the temple. The deities of Sri Sri Radha Govinda, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra looked very beautiful. I have been to the temple at least once before but that must have been over a decade ago. At that time there was no guest house.

Sri Sri Radha Govinda at ISKCON Kolkata

The class was unfortunately in Bengali. We therefore sat in the reception area and chanted our rounds. After class there was prasadam. We inquired about places where to get a good harmonium. One devotee suggested to see 'Nanda Musical Instruments' at Lalbazaar as they were sponsors for the temple's Janmastami book. After an adventurous taxi ride through the congested streets of Kolkata we eventually found the Nandha Shop. It was a small store front and the owner was eager to show me different types of harmoniums. I was not very much impressed of any of them I have to say.

I have seen a very beautiful harmonium in Sona Rupa in Leicester and was told they come from Kolkata. That was all I knew, 'Paul & Co'. I thought that will be not too difficult to find them but when I asked the devotees at the Kolkata temple no one knew.

Leaving Nandha's Musical Store I spotted 'Sardar Musical Instruments', a name I only knew too well because I had ordered my very first harmonium from them in the eighties while residing in New Mayapur, France. It was shipped by air mail at the time, which cost almost the same as the harmonium itself. It was a good harmonium which lasted over a decade.

We went into the store, were taken to the warehouse and were shown different models. One had a good and brilliant sound but the manufacturing quality and workmanship was nothing great and seemed the same since the eighties. It appeared rather as a cheapish mass production. Leaving the warehouse I said I would phone if I decided to purchase the seen model as it had to be still fine tuned what would take approximately two hours. We said good bye to the elderly chatty gentleman who could remember seeing Neru, Chrustchew and the American President of the time visiting Kolkata and left the store.

On the street we asked various people including friendly policemen but no one knew 'Paul & Co'. Eventually someone mentioned Howra, which is on the other side of the city and the other side of the Ganga. Now I remembered that one devotee also mentioned Howra and we decided to give it a try even we had no address, just a name. If that is a big music shop, I thought, we will surely find it. How wrong I was. We stopped a taxi but the young and somewhat shy driver did only speak Bengali and had obviously no musical knowledge or interest what to speak of knowing where to find 'Paul & Co'. We were happy he knew where Howra was.

Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva at Albert Road

Driving in Kolkata is a nightmare, I have to say, especially if you are sitting in the front seat of an old Ambassador who's heating system seemed to be on all the time in outside temperatures of 30 Celsius and who's exhaust pipe seemed to enter the inside of the car right by my feet.

After a few near hits with a bus and after almost knocking a man off his bike we eventually crossed the Ganga bridge into Howra, Kolkata's industrial quarters it seemed.

To describe the traffic nightmare of Kolkata is almost impossible, one has to see it for oneself. Traffic rules do exist but no one follows them. Anything goes and if the car or bike fits in the small gap between the bus and the lorry then go for it before someone else does. The main rule is the larger vehicle always wins and if you get away with whatever you do then you are ok, and if not then someone will surely shout and even swear at you. One does not need to speak Bengali to understand that. And then you give a good shout to someone else who just did the very same thing for what you have been shouted at. A type of pecking order, but it seems to work some how or other and no one really knows how. On many lorries one can see written on the back ‘Good Luck'. One really needs that.

After repeatedly asking people for directions we spotted a sign 'Paul & Co' but it was outdated and the shop had already moved. Finally we got some helpful answers from a young Brahmin boy who spoke some English. We were on the right track.

Our journey took us through obscure back streets and I have to admit that the thought of a set-up and a robbery was closer to my mind than finding a music shop. This thought was even amplified when suddenly a fattish Bengali man jumped into the car. However, it turned out later that this man was perhaps our best alley and guide in finding the music shop. He spoke something about factory and workshop and it became clear that we were actually not looking for a showroom. By now our taxi driver also looked bewildered and fed up. Surely he did not expect a journey over hours but rather a short trip around the block perhaps. He must have been worried as we were supposed to pay by taxi meter, which had by now gone once around the clock already.

Finally after more narrow pathways hardly wide enough for a car we arrived at our destination and our guide introduced us to an elderly Bangladeshi gentleman, Mr Paul. We had arrived!

It turned out that this was his home and his workshop or factory as well. And yes, he had the most exquisite harmonium I have ever seen. He had just 20 workers who put the whole thing together by hand in a very careful and skilled way. They were just producing one model and when I mentioned 'Sardar' or 'Nandha' he just laughed and said 'big showroom'. Obviously he was not impressed by their instruments. Nor was I after seeing this masterpiece. He produced only 60 instruments a month, most if not all for export. He mentioned New York, Swami Narayan and ISKCON.

Unfortunately we had only English money left but he wanted only Rupees for obvious tax reasons. Now the next nightmare started of having the laksmi changed into Rupees. The only bank open after 2 pm was ICICI not too far away. However, they seem to have never seen Pound Sterling as the inspected one 20 Pound note from all sides. Eventually the branch manager got involved and after many phone calls they agreed to change it.

Next came identification. Fortunately I had wisely taken my passport with me. The next obstacle was that there was no address in my passport. After again many phone calls I had to write a declaration and sign it. However, my signature didn't exactly match the one in my passport from some 10 years ago or more. Next all the numbers on the bank notes had to be written down and checked against a computer record. I wonder what would have happened if one of the notes was not genuine or came from the recent robbery of a security depot in England. I don't dare to think of it.

Eventually after a few hours in the bank and the excuse that the system was slow today we headed back to Mr Paul who kindly offered us some Rasagullas, Gulabjamoons and a drink. After a tour through the factory and a hand written receipt which took ages to complete we went back to our taxi. The driver was by now in a desperate condition. We reassured him and gave our guide a donation to his satisfaction and left for the ISKCON temple. There we rewarded our taxi driver to his satisfaction and went to our room. What an experience! I thought we could get an harmonium in a couple of hours but it took us all day. In the end it was all worth the while. We got an exeptionally beautiful harmonium for half the price than at Sona Rupa.

After this Kolkata experience we needed a good meal in the near by Govinda's restaurant. Taking a taxi back to the temple we had a driver who got lost all the time driving us around the block it seemed and asking a ridiculous price upon our arrival. We didn't give him what he asked for and left.

While completing this last report of our pilgrimage we are sitting in the plane and are flying over Germany. We should be in London in approximately one hour. The plane is more than half empty. We had a great pilgrimage, better than ever before. Time has been standing still all the while and looking on my mobile which day and date we have it seems meaningless. Have we left yesterday for Vrindavan or was it the day before? Five weeks gone? Impossible!

We have a lot of nectar for all of you. We have been thinking of you all the while. I hope you enjoyed the reports and we were able to share some drops of nectar with you.

Please visit us this Saturday for our evening program at 7 pm. It would be so great to see you all. We have much more nectar to share with hundreds of photos, new CDs and DVDs, some pastime recordings with Deena Bandhu Prabhu and of course Maha Prasadam from Vrindavan, Mayapur and Jagannatha Puri. There is something for everyone.

I hope this meets you all in good health and in a happy Krishna conscious mood.

With love and affection,

Your servant in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

Gauranga Sundara Das


Anonymous Basudeb Sebak said...

PAMHO. AGTSP. Thank you Prabhu for your nice articles. Can you please email me the address for Paul and Co to insignificantservant(at)gmail.com?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hare Krishna!
Stumbled onto your blog :)
I want to mention something which has perhaps nothing to do with your blog.
I am looking for photos of the meadows of Vrindavan, the river banks. I have many paintings but am looking for photos. Infact I am almost yearning for them. Could you suggest any website that has them>?
Enjoyed reading your posts :)
Hare Krishna!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008  

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