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Caramel Chews and Kolkata, Painted Gold

A traveler reflects on the countless small moments that make up her love for India.

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By Megha Majumder

29 Oct 2019 - 5 Minute Read


I live for these moments – simple, candid moments that soften the rougher edges of life, like when the sun is peering through the glass of Kolkata Station and it's painting me gold.

My throat is parched, so I stroll into a shop by the station to buy water and samosas.

I owe the shopkeeper 35 rupees in total, and I proffer 100.

"You no need change?" he queries, smiling coyly. "It's all right. Keep it," I reply.

He presents me with two worn notes – a 50 rupee and 10 rupee – and five Werther's Original caramel chews.

Around here, small change poses a huge problem. So, such an exchange is an element of daily life.

As the tram to East Kolkata arrives, I secure the caramel chews in my knapsack. I locate a seat and unwind while waiting for the ticket inspector to gather the toll.

"Five rupees. Exact only," he demands.

Bear in mind, I don't have any five rupee notes due to the earlier exchange. I meekly present a 50 rupee note, head bowed apologetically.

A boy standing beside me hands the conductor two five rupee notes, compensating for both our fares. He chuckles and whispers, "Tram's awfully pricey, I'll say."

It only takes me a second to recall the caramel chews. I fish them out of my knapsack, and hand two to the boy and his comrade in gratitude. It just so happens that the boy has three more companions. They eagerly ask, "Any left, Didi?"

And thanks to a slight change predicament, I do.

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Laughter bubbles up from somewhere inside me as I reflect on this delightful little sequence. I've experienced a million moments like this one, the kinds that made my heart swell. Yet, when people ask why India means so much to me or request recommendations, it's not as though I might suggest, "Try forgetting all your change one day and meet a shopkeeper with a fancy for caramel chews..."

Even so, it is why, because the warm, fuzzy, little things are what make India so special. From my experience, a fondness for any place doesn't lie in a single metropolis or a single incident.

It isn't for the Great Taj that I'm in love with India, and it isn't for the grand affairs that I'm in love with this life.

It's for the tiny happenings amid the major milestones; the slew of moments that pile atop one other and fit together like Jenga blocks; the in-between incidents that will never befall any soul in any place in precisely the same way they fall upon me.

This story was a finalist in the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship 2018.

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Megha Majumder was a short-listed finalist in the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship 2018.

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