An email plopped disconsolately into my mailbox a fortnight or so ago. My intended digs for Kolkata, it informed me, were actually full, and consequently, due to this oversight, I was homeless, or hotel-less to be precise. A further email an hour or two late from the same embarrassed source gave me the option of taking up their next best thing.

I took the next best thing.

Then I noticed on the Rough Guide map, the distance from the cricket ground, the distance from my co-travellers and fellow England fans and the nearest bar and cursed my luck.
The best part of a week later, I reckon, not for the first time on this trip, I may have misjudged things slightly. In fact, despite the haplessness of the substitute hotel, my stay in Kolkata is made for a number of other reasons.

The morning stroll to the nearest Metro station is one of the favourite parts of my match day routine. Locals look on dumbfounded as I purposefully stride through their early morning nuances. It’s a novel way to see the backstreets of this area of south Kolkata and all the nooks and crannies, the street sweepers and shopkeepers crank slowly into life.

I am enjoying the tranquility of solitude out here in the suburbs away from the bulk of the travelling England support bunkered down in Sudder Street. And there’s no pubs, so I can save up for at least one overpriced golden pint of horrible, tasteless- “aw mate, but it’s caaaaald mate”- Australian guff for when I get there soon.

Then there’s the evenings, my favourite part of my day. Sat in the hotel’s adjoining restaurant, The Wise Owl, half way down the Punya Das Road. Rooted to my wicker chair, captivated by my fellow diners, a Bollywood flick of a cast list of passers by, time slips enjoyably by as the unintentional soap opera plays out before my eyes.

The gossips are out in force. Joining me in the al fresco dining area, wrapped in jumpers, are the local beautiful people. Slipping seamlessly between Hindi, English and Hinglish, my ears prick up at the salacious stories doing the rounds between sips of lassi and pulls on Gold Leaf cigarettes.
Turning my attention away from Kolkata’s tangible take on Sex And The City and to my meal, vegetable lasagne served in a bowl with a spoon. The novelty value is augmented by the taste. It’s delicious. I nod approvingly at the waiters who wobble their heads back in gratitude.
The tiny Nepalese security guard, in between ambitiously asking for ‘teeps’, introduces me to, firstly his son, then the rest of the waiting staff. To a man; endearingly smiley, obliging and utterly hopeless. A happy band of Manuel-esque brothers.
The hotel manager presides over all this. A rotund man with a pencil moustache, attired in trainers, shirt and tie, like an off duty umpire with all the overbearing pretence, while an over-worked minion scuttles around doing the work of five men.

Peering out from behind the freshly painted picket fence and patio plants I study the form in the Punya Das road race. The contraband tuk-tuks full of workers heading to the night shift, weary blokes wheeling tradesman’s bicycles with cumbersome gas bottles strung to the front. The endless blue striped yellow taxis and their retarded hooting, the barefoot ice cream sellers wheeling their wares, wandering in hope rather than expectation.
A zeitgeist Raj-era gentleman in cravat, epaulettes, combover and immaculate moustache breezes in. Elegant women in luxurious pastel shaded saris destined for a nearby wedding head the other way. Their evening is about to begin, gathering up my notes and books I think about retiring for the night.

All Kolkata life is here. It’s been a pleasure sampling it.

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