This is a special one-on-one tutorial page, for a writer who is willing to get a senior editor working on a project. We can follow the progress of their “conversation” and learn from them. As below:


The flight over went OK.  From Sydney, the jumbo was absolutely full and not much leg room the way Singapore Airlines has the seating arranged. Enjoyed seeing Timor and southern Kalimantan along the way. After Singapore we had a lot of spare room and Alex and I had three seats each to stretch out on, so a bit of sleep was enjoyed.

Arrival at Kolkata was pretty well on time – 10:30 pm.  Unfortunately customs ‘formalities’ were very different to last time.  For some reason my case had white crosses marked on it with chalk when I picked it up. I rubbed them off because the chalk was getting on my clothes, but anyway as we wheeled our load towards the exit, we were called over for some close scrutiny.  They wanted to know what we had in the cases, what we had come to India for and a few other very awkward questions.  They wanted to know all about the projector I was carrying and then they unearthed one of the editing computers.  Then, horror of horrors, right down the bottom of the case they found a copy of the training program schedule.  (I had told them that we were to visit some friends and to give them some help with their computers).  Several more senior Customs officials joined in the inquisition, one of whom photocopied the schedule.  We were quietly praying about the situation, then Alex saw someone he knew who happened to have been on the flight.  That gave us something to talk about and show the officials how relaxed we were.  I was in fact quietly dripping with perspiration as they excavated deeper down into the mother-lode of evidence.  After much discussion and gesticulation, and with my written assurance that I would be taking the aforementioned projector, model no xyz, out of the country again, they hit us for duty on the computer (being, sir a dutiable item).  They had gone through the ‘Good News’ picture books I had in the case, but had not made much comment – just said ‘good news’ as he handed them back to me.  In the end, it was good news as their calculation of 2884 Rupees was less than $100 and we could rejoice that somehow they hadn’t seen the recording machine or even opened Alex’s case where there was more of the same.

So, the total cost of this exercise was Rs 2884, a lot of sweat and a lot of time while the starched officials prepared and dealt with the customs excise document.  I had suggested to Alex that he go out and find Swapan in case he thought we hadn’t arrived.  I had had a growing concern that he might have given up on us.  Not that I would be long –  I simply had to hand over some money and then go out and join them.  Well, England may have introduced red tape to India, but the Indians have nurtured it and perfected it over the generations since.  I didn’t think there could be so many I’s to dot and T’s to cross.  Finally, the document was ready and I was directed to the ‘The Bank of India’ branch that is conveniently located inside the customs hall, to cough up the loot.  That of course was no simple matter.  There was much checking and re-checking of the customs assessment and a couple of animated consultations with the officials.  Then, with the deed done, I thought I was free to go – but no, it was back to the aforementioned official who had the whole transaction checked by a more official-looking official.  Calculations were verified, more sweeping signatures were applied and the document was folded up and handed to me.

I was free to go!  Or so I thought.  Silly me – I was accompanied to the door-keeper whose solemn responsibility it is to check all documents before the bearer can leave the hall.  His, the delicious consumation of all that had been going on for the last hour.  He dutifully cast his eyes over all the signatures, stamps, calculations etc etc, folded the document and handed it to me – and then quickly grabbed it back.  There was one final duty.  He carefully unfolded it again then halfway down the left side, put a neat little rip.  This was no doubt the culmination of his day’s work.  He could probably knock off now and go home to a wife who would lovingly share in the fulfilment he must have been feeling.  That final little rip for the day; a job well done.  That tear, placed so carefully, the irrefutable proof that all was in order. The world could move on at last!  Welcome back to India!

It was a relief to see that Swapan was there and we were at last able to go.  It was by now close to midnight, but it was nearly another hour by the time we reached our accommodation.  We carted our stuff up three floors to our room and were made very comfortable.  It is a brand new building belonging to a friend of Swapan’s and we were the first people to stay in the room.  As we were settling down for the night there was a repeated blowing of a whistle outside.  It was the night watchman doing his rounds.  He would blow his whistle about every five seconds, and in between would clang his metal club twice on the road.  This must be his way of signifying to the residents (and any crooks of course) that he is on patrol.

On Sunday morning after a pretty good sleep, we went over to Swapan’s house to see his family and have some breakfast.  Following church (all in Bangla except for a welcome to us in English) we went to a market to buy some chicken for tea.  A friend of Swapan’s is the proprietor.  He serves at the counter and down on the floor behind him is the ‘butcher’.  He has live chickens to hand and does the dispatching and cleaning on demand.  Managed to get a couple of photos of his shop then some guy invited me to take a photo of the shrine in the market area.  I felt that I had done shrines, but went over to keep him happy.  I was just framing the hideous figure in my viewfinder when some guy came and asked me what I was doing.  Why did I want to take a photo; what would I do with it; would I make any money out of it; did I do information gathering for my government?  Oh please!  Swapan rescued me and we went and had some lunch.

Sunday night we had the huge but fascinating task of getting all our stuff to Howrah station and on to the ‘Darjeeling Mail’.  What an experience.  It was nearly an hour’s trip to the station, then we needed a porter to help cart in our stuff.  My suitcase weighed in at only 24 Kg, so he plonked that on his head then piled Swapan’s editing computer on top of it.  I swear that his neck compressed by a few centimetres. We bought water for the trip and found our way into the ‘Three Tier A/C berths Nos 57 – 62’ (three tier referring to the triple level bunks we had to camp on).  We had booked 6 but in the end there were only 5 of us, so we thought that since we had paid for the 6, at least we could use the spare one for all our gear.  No such luck.  The all-seeing official told us that we have to get a refund some time and that for now the bunk will be required for someone else.

The night went faily well, but if anyone was snoring, you wouldn’t have heard it over the roar of the airconditioner.  In the morning we woke still a couple of hours out of Siliguri and were able to see a bit of interesting countryside.  It was very flat but was a patchwork of different crops – various types of rice at various stages of ripeness; pineapples by the ‘lakh’ (1 lakh = 100,000; 1 crore = 10,000,000.  It was funny to hear Swapan talk of the Indian population as being 120 crore people).  We started to see some tea gardens too as we got closer to Siliguri.  I was looking for a suitable spot to take some photos, when a lady suggested to me that I open the door!  Shock Horror.  She said ‘Others open it and it’s not a problem.’  Well, who could resist a suggestion like that.  I swung it open to reveal the paddies and the tea gardens rushing past and managed to get some good photos.  After some time a soldier wearing an old 303 rifle came and tapped me on the shoulder.  He didn’t say anything and there was no problem – it was just that he wanted a turn at the door!  Well, I had enough photos anyway.

And so we ended up in Siliguri and were met by my dear friend Jojo plus Enos and Ringam.  It’s a huge station at Siliguri – I lost count of the sets of tracks.  They are all of very wide guage, except for a narrow guage one that runs up to Darjeeling in the tea area.  It’s called thetoy train.

To be continued…

– kim knight