Some nights I rule the world
With bar lights and pretty girls
But most nights I stay straight and think about my mom
ah, I miss her so much
For the first 48 hours, Kolkata was the most hateful city on earth.
Because, for the first 48 hours, I spent most of my time on the phone with various airplane companies, trying to discover how on earth to obtain our luggage, which was sitting cozily in the Mumbai airport.
Plus also, Kolkata does not make herself easy to love.
And when your first experience of Kolkata is sitting in internet cafes trying to reach 24 hour airline help numbers, and calculate the time differences between here and the United States (fun fact about Kolkata: it's in a half-hour time zone. I know. I don't even ask; I just accept.), and convincing armed airport security guards (they were pretty friendly, as far as armed guards go) to let you and your friend enter the arrivals gate of the airport (after agreeing to leave your third companion, the elderly British lady, behind at the entrance) so that you can plead with the airline's representative to give you a form that they absolutely will not give you (for admittedly somewhat valid, albeit infuriatingly bureaucratic-red-tape-y reasons), then that doesn't really help Kolkata's cause, I'm afraid.
This city, I decided, literally stinks.
I didn't come here, I thought grumpily, to deal with stupid lost baggage and other first world problems.
I came there to Work at Mother Teresa's Home.
Rewind to May the 6th.
During a fifteen-minute-long advice-giving session upon my impending departure for India (which, surprise, I actually listened to without protestation or interruption. Miracle of miracles. If this other miracle doesn't work out, we could offer this up to Vatican Theologians as JPII's second miracle.), my friend told me:
"Let Kolkata be Kolkata."
Let Kolkata be Kolkata.
So, for the first 48 hours, I had a terrifying experience: I couldn't love a city I'd so deeply desired.
I was living my dream, but I wanted to be anywhere but there.
That, my friends, is terrifying.
So, I let Kolkata be Kolkata, in all its crazy, messy, smelly glory.
Because, if you love someone, then you trust them.
You trust that no matter what, they will carry you, and they have your ultimate good in store.
So, once you love, you can begin to trust.
And once you can begin to trust, you can surrender.
And once you surrender, you enter into what some would call "detachment" but Mother Teresa chose to call "cheerfulness."
You find that the world, instead of sapping your wells of good-humor and gratitude dry, continually replenishes them.
The buses. The crazy buses.
Instead of seeing them as Traps of Certain Death, they become something of an amusement park ride.
Whoever invented roller coasters was probably emulating a trip on a Kolkata bus.
Although he tamed the experience a bit.
But if you're not worrying about dying (as I am 97.6% of the time), then the whole experience of Kolkata traffic in general becomes a joyful shade of absurd, that can only be responded to with immense peals of laughter.
It's a joyful disaster.
And amongst the strange street smells of Lord-only-knows-what, you begin to learn to sniff out the smells of egg rolls frying or a cake stand nearby, or the tangy smell of a sweet curd shop, or incense arising out of a street shrine
Like the sound of sparrows singing through a cacophony of crows, or the gentle harmonies of sisters singing cutting through the din of trams and taxis speeding by, those little moments of sweetness are Kolkata's surprises.
Which you can only find if you surrender what you think Kolkata is supposed to be, and open your hands to receive what it is.
P.S. And yes, we got the luggage. Sister Valadkhani, the airport expert, shook her head and said this was an impossible case, and one of us had to go back to Mumbai to retrieve the luggage. So we sent our site partner, a theologian-ninja of sorts, off to Mumbai.
He arrived back late Monday night, with the troublesome little lost sheep in tow.
Nothing, as Sister Beatina reminded us, is impossible for God.