My flight to Kolkata was originally a
short one hour flight, but as IndiGo cancelled the direct flight and
rebooked me via Delhi it took me all day. In the evening I checked in at
my hotel, enjoyed dinner and went for a well deserved sleep.
Next morning I had an
appointment with Rohnit Kapoor, a self made business man creating
beautiful textiles and garments for upmarket clientele. I had chatted
with him several times on one of the Facebook groups pages of India. He
had kindly offered to me to skip the tourist ‘crap’ and get an insight
of the real Kolkata and he seemed a real nice and genuine person.
Initially I hesitated but I could not resist his offer and accepted.
He and Inzamul, his
assistant picked me up in the morning and we started the long journey to
his house. The trip itself was not that far from North to South Kolkata
but the traffic was horrendous. All roads were congested and we seemed
to be on hold longer than we were actually on the move. By now I could
see for the first time how dirty Kolkata was. Everything was covered by a
thick layer of dust, even the plants did not look healthy green.
Every single bit of space
was in use. Small shops everywhere, stalls on the pedestrian area’s, and
under the slopes of the fly-overs homeless people tried to make some
kind of a living. It was a horrendous sight but still I could not be
shocked as I more or less had expected it. Rohnit explained a lot of
what I saw and gave me an insight of Kolkatan living. Streets are much
narrower than Mumbai and Delhi and everything definitely gave a much
more cramped experience.
We left the busy streets
and drove through a quiet neighbourhood where Rohnit’s house was
located. That is where I got the first insight into his work at the
sample unit which was created in the garage. Five men were applying
embroidery by hand on a piece of fabric. The speed and accuracy were
In the house I was
introduced to the family and staff. A welcoming tika was placed at my
forehead after which we could relax and was introduced to Bambi, a very
friendly boxer, who was treated as a child. Rohnit talked about his work
and promised me to take to one of his factories later.
But first breakfast was
being served. I was already asked not to have breakfast in my hotel and
that turned out to be good advice. Breakfast was simple but made from
completely fresh products and very filling.
After breakfast an Uber
ride was arranged and we were back on the road again to the city centre.
One thing not to be missed in Kolkata was the Victoria Memorial, a
beautiful building in a stunningly laid out park. Inside the memorial
were several exhibitions of times long gone by.The interior made a faded
impression and seemed not well taken care off. Badly constructed
alterations did not improve that feeling. The grandeur of it’s glory
times were long gone by. It was the first, but also the last touristic
sighting I got of Kolkata.
After our visit I was
treated on some typical Kolkatan street food, Dani Pushka. It was a
hollow crispy pastry which was filled with a mixture of boiled potato
and several spices, extremely tasty. Another variety was filled with a
spicy brew, very nice too.
In the mean time another
uber taxi was called and we drove to one of Rohnit’s factories. It was
located in a Muslim area and as hardly any tourists come here (if any at
all) I was stared at by everybody. Still the atmosphere was extremely
friendly and I did not feel threatened at all.
The “factory” actually was
a small workshop in a back room, all on a very small scale. But before
we went there we were led to the living quarters of the head of the
workshop and his wife. With the lack of a living room we were welcomed
in the bedroom and were asked to sit on the bed. Some snacks and a
sprite each were brought after which a wonderful biryani was served.
Once again the portion was far too big so I put back most of my plate on
a serving dish before I started to eat, leaving it untouched so the
family could eat it later.
After the meal I was lead
to the workshop. The ceiling was extremely low so I had to be careful
not to bump my head. Four sewing machines were powered from one central
engine (electricity was provided by two cables simply pushed into a
power plug). I was given a demonstration how Rohnit’s designs were
transferred on a piece of fabric and afterwards got embroided on it. It
appeared to be the perfect synergy between man and machine. It was
extremely interesting to see how designer dresses and fabrics have their
origin in small workshops like these.
Of course we could not
leave the apartment block before I was shown some more home industries.
Each of the keepers was extremely proud of the work of him and his team
and was eager to show it. First a workshop where beautiful leather bags
were made. Rohnit was very open about the prices paid for these pieces
of art and this time I was shocked. It puts our retail prices in a
complete different respective. Just imagine a hand crafted leather bag
for 3 or 4 euro or a craft-fully embroided piece of fabric for only 2
euro… But then this was the bottom of the chain and the big profits
are made higher up. (By now I saw first hand the total injustice of the
system. These people deserve a much fairer price for their hard labour
so they can provide their families with a better standard of living).
The last place we visited
was a workshop where harmoniums,a traditional Indian instrument, were
made. Every single piece of the complete product was carefully put in
place by hand, and I was told it takes about four days for one
instrument to be completed.
By now it was already dark
and we returned to Rohnit’s place were dinner was being served. The
friendship and hospitality given to me was simply incredible. One of the
staff was sent to a wine shop to get some beer for me. We chatted a
while and I did not realise how late it already was, even before dinner
was served. As my hotel was at least a 2 hour taxi drive away I was
offered the master bedroom to stay overnight. It was already past eleven
so staying at the place of my host seemed the most reasonable option.
I slept well that night,
next morning I was woken up by the noise from Bambi scratching the door,
he wanted to come and visit me. Finally he was allowed in and I could
sense his happiness I was still there.
Rohnit had to finish some
business at the bank so I was left behind with a nice cup of black
coffee. This of course, like all things, in Kolkata took longer than the
five minutes planned. Around noon we had breakfast and I tasted some
fish that the maid had especially prepared for me.
Around 13:30 I said
goodbye to everybody and Rohnit and Inzamul escorted me back to my
hotel. It took us about 2 1/2 hour to get there, in spite of it being
Saturday the congestion seemed not any less than on a weekday.
One pair of eyes was
simply not enough to soak up everything that I saw. And there was plenty
of time to watch as once again we were standing still longer than
actually driving. At the hotel I did not know how to thank Rohnit and
his assistant. A random Facebook encounter and some friendly chats ended
up in an invite to get shown the real Kolkata. An invite that had blown
me away. The friendship and hospitality shown were second to one. It
was an extremely humbling experience, something one will not come across
very quickly in the west. But then this was India, a country that never
stops to surprise.
I might have arrived at my
destination but Rohnit and Inzamul still faced to long dreadful journey
back home. Earlier he had refused to let me return to the hotel on my
own but insisted to escort me all the way. Another amazing sample of his
A shower later I moved to
the restaurant for a refreshing mock tail and update my journal. I was
getting already tired by now but had to wait till 19:00 till dinner was
served. That evening was a very early night as I had to get up early
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