This week, I've decided to share more of my travel journal with you. Most of the entries for this week are from our time spent in Kolkata.
April 2, 2009
Modern Lodge Room 21
"The Angry Old Woman"
Because Thursday is the day of rest for the volunteers at Mother Teresa's house, we had the day to ourselves. So we decided we'd go to the Planetarium in town to amuse ourselves. The review in the guidebook wasn't great, but it would be indoors with AC, so that was that. I expected some really cheesy light show, but it was an extremely formal affair. We got there just in time for the English show to start.
We fell back into movie theater-like chairs that reclined way back, but somehow weren't comfortable. A few seats down, a white woman and her 4 or 5 year old son and an Indian man came in together and sat at the end of our row. The ceiling was a big dome with black cut outs of the cityscape around the bottom where the dome met the walls. The seating was circular as well, following the shape of the ceiling. In the center of the room was a large unattractive machine. Balanced on the end of a long arm was what looked like a disco ball.
The lights were dimmed and an aged voice with a hint of a British accent addressed the audience, her R giving away her native Indian tongue. She was first just a voice- the lights were off completely. She made a very stern announcement about turning off your mobile phone and keeping it off until the end of the presentation. The voice was extremely measured and I felt that perhaps the speakers' back was very straight and that maybe she had to fight to keep her shoulders from creeping up in tension around her ears.
The lights come on as the disco ball in the middle of the room reproduces a sunset. The stars eventually appeared in all their pinpoint glory. Sometimes the voice called forth lines that connected certain stars, making the constellations, turning the ceiling into a grid of lines and dots. The voice patiently tackled each constellation in its turn and in the middle of a sentence the voice immediately grows even more authoritative and suddenly shouts, "Who turned on their mobile?"
She pronounces mobile with all the vowels long so that she chops it in two: mow-bile. The voice continues, firm and righteous: "Did I give you permission to turn it on? Why would you switch on your mow-bile? Who gave you permission to turn the mow-bile on?"
By this time I am extremely uncomfortable because the voice is direct, instead of being politely neutral and addressing the entire audience. I am embarrassed for this great trespasser of the mow-bile rule but am also annoyed because he has brought the show to a complete halt. I look down the aisle and see the Indian man with the white woman and boy, his face aglow in the green light emitted from his mow-bile screen.
The voice switches on the house lights, enraged by this person's defiance. She appears, an old woman with her grey hair parted down the middle and clasped tightly into a tense bun at the base of her neck. She glares through severe glasses with eyebrows as crumpled and disapproving as she can manage. With the lights turned on and an usher standing at the end of the row, the man finally becomes intimidated enough to drop the phone into his pocket. He makes eye contact with no one, not even the woman he accompanies. The voice is still very indignant, the dignity of her proper and perfect presentation now disturbed. She shouts, "I think it's a disgrace! Turn. It. Off!"
Lights are switched off and immediately the voice is restored once more as she continues, "This most beautiful nebula here..."
A few minutes later she interrupts herself once more. "Keep your child quiet," she snips to the woman at the end of our row with her son. The little boy had cooed and then spoken out loudly, "Wow! Look at that! Look at that over there. Whoa! What is that?" while jumping out of his seat and pointing wildly at the twinkling presentation above him. Later, while explaining the milky way in detail, she stops again and asks about the mow-bile phone. This time, abusing a patron across the room. She abandons her proper English and begins to shout forcefully in Hindi. She finally resorts once more to turning the house lights on, erasing the stars, planets, and milky way, causing the little boy to groan in disappointment. After a good verbal thrashing, the voice switches back to English and its presenter's tone, continuing on about the marvels of the milky way splashed once more across the hemisphere above us.
It was impossible to enjoy the show, we were both so nervous about the boy who wouldn't be quiet and the apparent idiocy of the mow-bile toting patrons. And I wonder about that woman, her staunch pride in her work of explicating the mysteries that move above us in the dark. I don't think I'll ever be able to look at a constellation without hearing her voice screaming at me to turn off my mow-bile.