We returned late last night from two days in Naya, a small village in the Mindapore district. Our driver was Sohom Daw, and our guide was Biswajit.
As soon as we left Kolkata, the landscape changed completely. Well, perhaps not so completely. The buildings outside the city still seemed to be in varying states of construction or demolition, farm animals still wandered across the road as freely as you please, and there were still people, people, people everywhere, but less condensed. There were also fields, generally of rice, waterlogged from the monsoon, being tilled by cows dragging ploughs or shored up by men and women with picks and shovels. We drove past a river and saw boys casting their nets into the water from long, almost elegant, fishing boats.
There is a lot of horn honking in India. Most taxis don't seem to have all or any of their rearview mirrors, so drivers beep instead. If you're going to pass someone, you beep. If there seem to be a lot of pedestrians on any given street, you beep. If a goat is in your path, you beep. So we beeped along, past bikes and motorbikes laden with bags of sand or a pallet of oil cans strapped together with jute rope, trucks and busloads of people. After driving for about two and a half hours, we dropped our bags at the circuit house in Mindapore town, a somewhat large hamlet situated in the middle of the district, and set off again for the last thirty kilometers to Naya.
Suffice to say, we aroused curiosity everywhere we went. In fact, by the time we finished our visit and wandered from the last few houses we visited to our car, we had a small parade clustered behind us. Apparently, American tourists don't swing through Mindapore on a regular basis.
But Naya, our destination, and the scroll painters who live there, have seen a few. We arrived at the village and were immediately ushered into the home of Shyamsunder Chitrakar. This is when it occurred to me that we should have studied Bengali a little more. A lot more. I wasn't sure where to sit, or what to say, or how to introduce myself and explain why I was there. Anyone who knows me knows how awkward I can get at in such a situation. I was saved when Shyamsunder's wife, Rani, immediately unrolled a Patachitra scroll and began singing about HIV in India. She had a beautiful soulful voice, and as she sang and pointed to each scene on the scroll, I was able to follow, even though I couldn't understand a word of what she was singing...
Okay, that's all for now. We're off for our overnight train to Orissa in about thirty minutes. I'll write more about our visit to Naya as soon as I get the chance. And, while we haven't had any icecream since we've been here, we've had plenty of other sweets and amazing food which I'll write about later. We played it pretty safe on the culinary front for the first few days, but when a family offers you fish from their river, how can you say no?