Monday, March 23, 2009


The area in Calcutta where I live was once home to a thriving community of Anglo-Indians. Now only a handful of them remain, most of them having moved to England, Australia or Canada. What they have left behind are a number of Christian institutions and churches which continue to serve Calcutta well. One of them is the Salvation Army hostel which is about two houses away from my house. I haven't had the chance of entering the premises but from what I hear it's where a number of drug addicts and alcoholics find refuge. And given the occasional empty bottle of Royal Stag that comes flying from that building and crash lands into my garden, I suspect the truth is not very different.

I was in a mobile shop trying to get a SIM card for my mom, when another customer decided to strike up a conversation with me. He was about 50 years old, dressed smartly in the dress of an office goer and spoke flawless English. The content of his conversation however was anything but normal. He began with how the mobile service Hutch was trying to cheat him out of his money, and followed it up with how the company he had worked for nearly 24 years with unflinching dedication only to be de-frauded by his scheming boss. Also how about all his relatives had forsaken him and it was only his sister who sent money from Australia each year. It was a sad story all right but something about the anger in his voice was really unnerving. It felt focussed on an alternate reality where the entire world was aligned against him and his life. It felt like he hadn't talked to anyone for a long, long time but the shop owner was rolling his eyes behind the guy's back telling me that this was not too infrequent an occurrence.

My endeavour to offer him a patient hearing took a bigger setback when he himself told that he lived in the Salvation Army hostel. In the most ironic of ways, our conversation ended on a profound, undeniable truth uttered by this supposedly neurotic man. "It's a madhouse, the Salvation Army hostel!", he said, "You know why?... There are no women or children inside that house. Any house without women and children is always a madhouse!"

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