Yesterday, the streets were filled with saffron.

My host father told me not to go out yesterday because the traffic from Rath Yatra would make it impossible to get around. I should’ve listened. I didn’t have any trouble going, but I certainly did coming back, though not because of the festival.

Rath Yatra is a major Hindu festival which commemorates Krishna’s visit to his mother-in-law’s house. The festival takes place over two days one week apart, with a day for coming and a day for going. On each day, the streets are filled with long processions of floats. Troops of young men and women sing hare krishna hare krishna as others dance. Behind them, saffron-robed Brahmins sit atop floats drawn manually by hundreds of the faithful. The general mood is upbeat, as the Brahmins toss flowers into the crowd and spray them with rosewater.

Most interestingly, there were a few caucasians in the procession. These middle-aged men and women joined up with the Hare Krishnas in their western heyday in the 70s and stuck with it. Ironically, they were almost as excited to see us as we were to see them.

I stayed in the city for a dinner that lasted until about ten, after which I planned to catch a bus back to Garia.

It turns out that is impossible.

Though Kolkata is a bustling metropolis of 15 million, its public transport doesn’t run round the clock, or as I discovered yesterday, not even past 10. To make matters worse, most cabbies are unwilling to drive to the southern suburbs at night because they know they can’t pick up new passengers for the return trip into the city. I had to improvise.

I decide to take a cab to Gariahat – a transit hub in the south-central portion of the city – and take an autorickshaw home. My cab driver – who most definitely didn’t understand my broken fusion of Bangla and English – dropped me in the northern part of Gariahat nowhere near where I needed to catch an auto south.

No big deal, I think. I know this area fairly well. I’ll just walk south, until I can catch a shared taxi or an auto.

Wrong.

As I continue walking south, I realize that the lights keep getting a little dimmer and that the density of people sleeping on the sidewalk is a little higher than usual. As I cross the railroad tracks under Gariahat’s flyover I realize I am in the middle of one of Kolkata’s largest bustees, or slums.

My normal reaction in pressure situations is to try to power through, so I keep walking hoping to make it to the other side of the slum to the part of Gariahat I know. This was the wrong choice. Before I know it, I’m in a narrow alleyway right next to an improvised temple, sandwiched between huts covered in advertisments and garbage bags. A group of curious onlookers begins to gather. It’s at this point I decide I need to get the hell out and start backtracking.

I walk across the flyover and keep walking, maybe for a mile or mile and half. Near the shared taxi stand, there are dozens of people struggling to get into a couple of cabs. Deciding I’m not up for a scrum I keep walking. I tell myself I know the neighborhood.

I keep going and the streets keep getting darker. All the Golpark-Garia autos, one of which I desperately need to get on, are full. I get to a corner where a group of people are waiting. I see an empty auto approach, but before I can grab a seat if fills up. One of the passengers, realizing that I’m a bewildered In-gree-jee makes room.

From there on out, things went smoothly, and within 20 minutes I was back in my neighborhood. I always know when I’ve reached Garia because it’s where the sidewalks end and stray dogs roam. Last night, I was more than happy to deal with them.

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