“Ginsberg, a self-proclaimed Dharma Bun, had seen the best minds of
his generation screaming for release from the American dream.
Presumably this spiritual bedlam led him to take a sabbatical in the
city of Calcutta. To most Indians this would seem an eccentric is not
totally mad decision. Calcutta is not famed for its serenity. The poet
had his reasons. Calcutta, he announced, is the most liberated city in
the world. The people have no hang-ups. They go around naked. It was
a characteristically original view. No one before had suggested to the
natives that their destitution was a sign of advance. But the Bengali
resident of Calcutta love novelty and are predisposed to regard poets of
all persuasions with favour.”
Gita Mehta, Karma Cola
Ginsberg saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness. Under his grey sun, on his mud stage, I found his Jessore Road homeless, sleeping in shit flood foul'd lairs and huge pipes, starving wet black angels in human disguise. There were monkey-sized sad groaning stunted starving silent newborns with swollen bellies on elderly nun legs, bony headskulls with big round eyes watching the sky of the living blue hand itself, curled naked on thin laps weeping at my knees, hands to their mouths in prayer. Where will we sleep when Our Father dies? Whom shall we pray to for rice?
The black holes of nature are the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time. But in the Black Hole of Calcutta, they were all pushing for space, and running out of time. After three days without food, they would vomit their next milk powder, lentils, and rice, unless they ate slow. There was no place to squat. Dysentery drained bowels all at once, into the open drains. Oxcart skeletons dragged charcoal loads past watery flood ruts. Millions of babies in pain, Millions of mothers in rain, Millions of brothers in woe, Millions of children nowhere to go.
The Red Shield was full across the street so I was checked into Modern Lodge, joining the freaks in the dorm. ‘An ideal place for foreign tourists.’ A few mosquitoes awakened the itch. The fan turned slowly. There were crickets awake in the ceiling. The gate was locked.
The street outside held sleepers, moustaches, and nakedness, but no desire. Train whistles and dog barks brought edges to the sweating and rotting teeth. Here, in this Black Hole, you would have to be careful not to get stuck in the corner of the universe, sticking morphine in your arm and eating meat. I slept like a dog in Calcutta.
The Modern Lodge was where Ginsberg, the Beat Generation and the Hungry Generation of Bengali poets had hung out. The poetry had fled, leaving heroin tracks, lost or sold passports, and missionary positions and emissions.
I awoke to find the Englishman selling his cache of batteries. His name was Ian. He told me that Button Nose wanted to see me.
We found ourselves back at the Fairlawn. Under the jungle foliage and bright-striped umbrellas of the garden terrace, we ordered tea, and waited. Kites flew spirals overhead. A Bo leaf floated to the maroon-colored concrete floor.
“I got a message from my boyfriend!” Resonated around my skull. I looked up to Button Nose and her new friend, who could have been her android double- mechanical mandible, with a broken connecting rod from the dashboard, plastic trim and plain interior. Long on miles, hard on fuel.
They both chattered uncontrollably as the sun went over the terrace.
“I bought a sari!” Said Button Nose. She wanted me to help her mail it. I asked her if that was why she wanted to see me.
“Let’s all go to a movie!” She said. But it was too late. I told her I was leaving Calcutta the following night. She asked me where.
“South.” I said. That’s when Ian and I left. To the Taj Continental, ‘where you get food of your choice.’ Our choice was mutton, potato and tomato, with rotis and coffee. Ian let me buy him cigarettes on my way back to Modern Lodge.
I found Doug and Mike had checked in, and regaled them with tales of Button Nose, and my plans of heading to Puri. They warned me that South African Sue was also planning to take that route, but I reassured them that the statistical probability of repeating my Button Nose fiasco was infinitesimal.
But, as they pointed out, it wasn’t zero. That’s what God divided by to get a black hole. Consideration of particle emission from black holes suggested that God not only played dice, but also sometimes threw them where they couldn’t be seen. And that’s where I was going.
I spent the next morning at the Indian museum, the nation’s oldest, established in 1814. The statuary and archaeology relics were decent enough, though poorly displayed, but the prizes went to the art gallery upstairs, and the natural history sections, whose display of Indian botanical and taxidermic butchery impressed by its sheer size.
My afternoon languished at Modern Lodge. I was reading in the aquarium room, when a young Canadian began to play his brand new sitar. David’s father wanted him to go to university, but he had chosen a more noble, and Nobel prize-winning, path. In 1983 Calcutta was still the iconic epicenter of poverty and overpopulation. David decided to do something about the first problem, and signed on with Mother Teresa. I told him he should have listened to his father.
Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She had spent her life opposing any structural measures to cure it, the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction, campaigning publically against abortion in a city of fourteen million hungry mouths. —“So you wouldn’t agree with people who say there are too many children in India?” She said, “I do not agree, because God always provides... And those little children are his life. There can never be enough.”
Her Missionaries of Charity, created as the blind dogmatic cult of a mediocre personality, based on death and subjection, promoted suffering to further its own financial ends. Teresa said that suffering was a gift from God, that it would bring people closer to Jesus.
A Mother Teresa’s ‘Home for the Dying’ was not a ‘hospice.’ A hospice emphasized minimizing suffering with professional medical care and attention to the expressed needs and wishes of the patient. There was no treatment at Teresa’s. You were there to die, even if you didn’t have to.
The order didn’t distinguish between curable and incurable diseases. Not because they couldn’t, but because they wouldn’t.
Instead of doctors who could have made systematic diagnosis, she used volunteers without medical knowledge to make decisions about care. A request to take a fifteen year-old boy to hospital was refused. Patients were transferred away from friends and family. Missionaries of Charity nuns were prohibited from seeking medical training or reading secular books and newspapers, and obedience was emphasized over independent thinking and problem-solving.
Living conditions resembled concentration camps. There were stretcher beds, but no chairs. Baths were cold, hypodermics reused, care administered on a prescribed schedule. On principle, no painkillers were administered. One could hear the screams of people having maggots tweezered from their open wounds without pain relief. It was God alone who would be expected to empower the weak and ignorant. Teresa preached surrender and prostration, and urged her poor supplicants to accept their fate, and quiet baptism.
Teresa’s donors thought their gifts were going to improve her facilities, but the primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been, and her order always refused to publish any audit. Instead, she used her global contributions to open 500 convents in 150 countries, all bearing the name of her own sect. Rather than establishing real medical care and teaching hospitals and hospices, she chose self-aggrandisement. Rather than the relief of suffering, she chose its glorification.
Teresa portrayed the rich as favored by God, taking misappropriated money from the Duvaliers in Haiti, and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. When her own health began to break down, during bouts with heart trouble and old age, Mother Teresa checked into the finest and costliest clinics in California. According to Christopher Hitchens, she was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud. In the City of Joy, Mother Teresa was a Hell’s angel who was beatified into a sacred cow. Her God was a philosophical black hole- the point where reason broke down.
After a last supper with Ian at the Taj International, a fifteen- rupee taxi took me to Howrah station. I sat outside the first-class waiting room under the full moon, reading.
“California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu starbright--the song remains the same.”
Led Zeppelin, The Song Remains the Same