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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Hotel from Mars

Air Date: Week of May 24, 1996

Commentator Sy Montgomery tells of her experience on a recent trip to India where humble friends from the Indian countryside are overwhelmed by the bizarre trappings of modern city life.

Transcript

NUNLEY: The lure of a better life in the city is drawing millions to the urban option, but as commentator Sy Montgomery points out, not everyone who visits wants to stay.

MONTGOMERY: My friends Namita and Girindra live in a village on the Bay of Bengal. When I visit, I stay in the beautiful, smooth mud house Girindra built by hand. I bathe as they and their 8 children do, with water gathered with a bucket from the pond. They light their nights with a lantern, cook their meals on a stove fashioned from mud. Their toilet is a hole that leads to a trench. There are no roads, no cars.

Recently I came back to visit them thanks to a TV film crew from National Geographic. The day we left, Girindra and Namita wanted to see us off, wanted to accompany us back to Calcutta, in order to say a proper good-bye. So the National Geographic crew generously offered to put them up with us at the hotel in Calcutta.

It was a 5-star hotel. Even I need to get used to the enormity of the rooms, the uncountable number of fluffy towels, and the odd idea of having a telephone, of all things, in the bathroom. But for my friends, this wasn't opulence. This was another planet. As we bounced over potholed roads into a city that to Americans is the very embodiment of poverty and filth, Namita was wide-eyed and gaping. The buildings, so big! Glass windows. Cars racing so fast you could hardly see them.

But our hotel, the Taj Bengal, was the most colossal building she had ever seen, larger than she could have imagined. Six stories. We rented a room on the fourth floor. To get there you had to use the elevator. I pushed the up button. That wall, I explained, is going to open up. You walk inside the hole. The walls then close in front of you and you are shot upward through space till the walls open again. Then you get out, and you're in an entirely new place without ever having taken a step.

I carefully explain the bathroom, demonstrating how you turned a dial and hot water rushed out from the tap. How you pushed a lever and water spun down the toilet. I operated the bathtub drain and the shower massage. I explained what the toilet paper was for. I even demonstrated the telephone in the bathroom. But I neglected one thing. Girindra told me later, when I'd gone out of the room for a moment, that Namita had called to him from within the bathroom. She was trapped. I'd forgotten to show her how to use the doorknob.

Girindra and Namita enjoyed their stay, I think, but they were happy to be going home the following day. It's tiring to live in a science fiction film even for just one night. I could feel their relief at leaving the glare of this dazzling Westernized world behind. Hungry for a homecoming to a world in many ways far more human and handmade and sane.

NUNLEY: Sy Montgomery is author of The Spell of The Tiger. She comes to us from member station WEVO in Concord, New Hampshire.

 

 

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