I had 80 hours to kill in Bangkok and I was hoping to make the most of it. By habit, I rushed to board the bus only to realize it had plenty of empty seats!
“Which football team you support mistah?” The man in the Liverpool jersey asked. I really should have lied. The flight from Kolkata to Bangkok had been pleasant.
Furthermore, in a place where few people spoke the Queen’s language I needed this guy as I was clueless how I’d reach my destination. So I had no excuse for saying- “East Bengal”.
“Team from Africa?” Liverpool asked.
“No! West Bengal!”
“Why it called East then?” Liverpool asked suspiciously.
“It’s a long story. Cigarette?”
I reached out to fish out a packet of Marlboros bought from duty free and offered one to Liverpool who accepted without grace and lit up immediately. Liverpool was one of the attendants at the bus station I had reached courtesy a free bus service from the airport.
This bus service had been recommended by the friend who had made Bangkok his home. He had strongly advised me not to take a taxi as it would be frightfully expensive.
I had 80 hours to kill in Bangkok and I was hoping to make the most out of it. By habit, I had rushed to board the bus only to realize it had plenty of empty seats. Wish Kolkata was Bangkok!
“My team Liverpool.” Liverpool smoked smoke rings which almost formed a halo around his head. I resisted a wisecrack like I can read your t-shirt so what if I can’t read your mind and said “Bravo Bravo!”
That pleased Liverpool but the conversation had drawn a small crowd. Thankfully, none of them could speak English but unfortunately everyone loved the concept of free cigarettes and in two minutes flat, the packet was half full or half empty anyway one would perceive it.
Liverpool was demonstrating how he had celebrated after scoring a goal once to general laughter all around when I decided to break up the party.
“That’s very impressive. But do you have any idea where Bus no. 413 departs from?” I said loudly.
“You want to go bus 413?” Liverpool scratched his head.
“Yes.” I said.
‘‘Why you not say before? Look it’s just leaving.” Liverpool pointed at a bus ambling out of the station.
I ran after the bus as Liverpool pointed at me and laughed with his cronies. The bus driver was an old gentleman who was thoughtful enough to slow down for me.
As the bus passed Liverpool and his gang I yelled, “Man U 5 Liverpool 0.”
The expression on Liverpool’s face was priceless.
But by the time I had reached the house of my friend after the arduous bus journey, I was dead tired and 2 hours of my 80 hour timeline had elapsed. I rapidly calculated that only 78 hours were left out of which my childhood friend would consume 48. So that left only 30 hours to spend with Abs after which I’d check into the hotel with my friend.
Abs was known as Abbas before he moved from Kidderpore to Bangkok. It was like the Fatboy Slim song- You’ve come a long way baby! Abbas had certainly come a long way. He was a prosperous businessman now who lived in with a Thai girl. ‘Isn’t she amazing?” he asked, when she brought in some short eats.
“Yes, she certainly is.” I remarked.
She would have fitted right into the male patriarchal society which existed in our country once upon a time. In fact, I think it still exists. She was docile to begin with and did all the household chores from the cooking to the washing to the shopping to the laundry. It was like a live in relationship with a maid. The only difference was maids are not submissive.
But Bangkok does have a lot of positives other than the cheap sex and the cheap goods. For starters, they have taken the positives from our culture.
Buddhism has been exported in a major way and flashes of Hinduism are reflective as you arrive. The airport boasts of a massive statue depicting the auras and devas fighting for the somras. Too bad they have been designed to resemble Thai people. “Sacrilege!” Mr. Ghosh would have yelled. “After the goods, they have duplicated our gods now!”
But even a skeptic like Mr. Ghosh would have found the transport system to be exemplary and the street food to be mind blowing.
Emperor Ashoka has been largely forgotten in India like the teachings of the Buddha but the Thais have dedicated an entire train station to his memory.
I loved the unique ticketing system in terms of the sky train which should be incorporated immediately in our state. You get the change you need from a counter and punch in the change on a machine to obtain your ticket. Simple and effective!
The Thais are a fairly disciplined lot when it comes to systematic travel by public transport. While boarding the sky train, there was no pushing and shoving and only two people broke the queue. Sadly, both were Indians. Thankfully, I wasn’t one of them.
I expressed the desire to see a local Thai market and Abs obliged. Strange as it may sound, visiting the Thai market was as educational as visiting the Buddhist temples and as much fun as hitting the nightclubs.
The market was manned by women mostly with a few men in the stalls as well. What was impressive was the neatness and the systematic way the customers and the shopkeepers conducted themselves and the general warmth all around. There were no raised voices and no fights.
The fish was bigger, cheaper and better than my local market and that hurt a little. Other than the malls, nightclubs and street food corners Abs took me to, two places deserve a mention.
The first was a massive street similar to College Street. But instead of books, there were automobile parts and accessories of every kind ranging from foreign brands like Toyota to local Thai shops.
The second was a wholesale jewelry market in the interiors of Bangkok where one couldn’t bargain. But the prices were so low that one really didn’t need to.
Time flew and before I knew it, I had to leave Abs’s place. I decided to take a cab this time and reached the hotel in style in an air conditioned Mercedes where the driver played Dire Straits but hummed the songs all wrong and didn’t believe that I was an Indian as I hummed the songs right. It was a taxi after all!
I reached the Park Plaza in Sukhumvit where I met my childhood friend after 20 years. It was almost like the O’Henry short story except for the fact that we were both good guys. I’ll remember this hotel forever not because of the amazing food, hospitality or the high rates. This hotel will be etched in my memory forever for a simple gesture by someone I don’t even know.
That someone, after seeing my name in the register had the goodness of heart to put a small card on my bedside table which overwhelmed me with a flurry of contrasting emotions at the same time. I was elated, sad, homesick, proud and blue all in the span of just 10 seconds.
It was the most defining moment of my stay in Bangkok and the feeling beat other high moments like getting flight tickets at a steal, obtaining a Rolex for dirt cheap, the taste of amazing Vietnamese cuisine (finally) and meeting a buddy after 20 years. This is what the small card read:
“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
~ Rabindranath Tagore
Wishing you a restful night Mr. Ganguly!”
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