Ten years ago I went to Kolkata (Calcutta), India, for the first time, on one of my first work-related trips to India. There was a conference I would attend. My stay in Kolkata took an interesting course after I went sunbathing on my day off. Read on to find out what happened.
Kolkata is a fascinating city, with displays of old colonial splendor in architecture, stunning religious sites like the Jain temple, Mother Teresa’s Mother House and on the other side of the spectrum there is a lot of poverty. I recommend reading Dominic Lapierre’s novel City of Joy to get an idea about life in the slums of Kolkata. The book was also adapted into a film by the same name.
During my stay I had one day off in between work, which I decided to spend sunbathing at the hotel’s swimming pool. Normally I wouldn’t show much skin in India, but this swimming pool was so secluded I felt comfortable enough to show myself in my bathing suit. In fact, it was so secluded that it was not that sunny. The swimming pool was located in a courtyard in the middle of the hotel, which was about five stories high on all sides of the pool… I had to move toward the slither of sun that reached the courtyard, and while moving my sunbed I cut my foot.
The staff was very kind in helping me, but inefficient. They put cotton on the wound which got stuck and was not pleasant to remove, so I asked for a doctor to come have a look and dress the wound properly. The doctor cleaned the wound and dressed it up, and then I was all set.
I met the doctor again on the day of my return home. He wanted to check the wound and re-dress it before my flight in the evening. Turns out the doctor was also the designated medic for the jockeys of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club and he invited me to join the afternoon horse races. I happily accepted and off we went in his tiny ambulance!
It was an afternoon I will never forget. I met the resident nurse, who was such a fierce lady, having bets placed via the young assistants walking around. Even though I was wearing jeans (a terrible faux pas, but acceptable since I am a silly foreigner) I was treated as VIP and got access to all the ‘backstage’ areas where the jockeys came after the race and where the ceremony for the winners was held. I sat on the VIP grandstand not understanding one bit of what was going on during the races, but enjoying myself thoroughly. I didn’t dare place any bets myself, due to my lack of knowledge of the game.
I have never been to the races again, nor do I have much interest in attending a similar event. Still to this day though, I have fond memories of the experience in Kolkata. The wound on my foot healed nicely and I learned to be more careful with sunbeds.