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Kolkata, India

Trying to find a way of sending the bike back to England but it’s not easy. I went to the post office and at first they said they could send it and asked me to come back with the bike so they could weigh it but then when I did return with the bike another guy said no, a bike can’t be sent in the post. So I’ve been trying to find a shipping company. One of the guys who works in the hotel was offering to buy it off me today, but he would only offer 3000 Rupees, perhaps a lot of money in India but not much when you convert it to pounds – about £40. I said I’d want at least ten times that amount.

I want to get away from this place but it’s the hassle of loading everything up onto the bike again, getting it to the station and onto a train, which would probably be a bureaucratic nightmare, that’s keeping me here. If I just had a rucksack everything would be so much easier.

It is tempting to just give it to the Indian guy here. He admitted it would be like a gift if I sold it to him for 3000 Rupees. You can’t compare it to England, he kept saying. This is India. He promised he’d look after the bike, said he wouldn’t sell it to anyone else.

I’ll try DHL tomorrow. I’ve emailed them and if I can send it for not too much money then that’s what I’ll do. I don’t feel it’s really my bike to sell, any way. That’s why I didn’t sell it in Canada, where I probably could have got a good price. More than £40 at least.

Money infests everything. I’ve gotten to know some of the beggars on Sudder Street. One, a kid of about 12 or 13 who first said he was a guide and that he would show me the sights of Calcutta for a small and very reasonable fee, then started saying he was from Mumbai and wanted the train fare to get back there to his family. He just needed 150 Rupees for the train, the Sir General Bogie. That’s the name of the train which goes to Mumbai, or so he kept telling me. I wouldn’t give him the money for the train ticket but I said I’d go to the station with him and if he could put up half the money for the ticket I’d pay the other half. That was yesterday. He’d told me he had 65 Rupees because he said he was going to buy a box of strawberries to sell to tourists but didn’t have quite enough money, and then he was saying he’d need a bit more money to pay off the police. I told him that all sounded like a bad idea.

He couldn’t work out whether 65 Rupees was half of 150 Rupees. I told him it wasn’t quite half. I don’t think he’s been to school much. He told me the reason he came to Kolkata was that a friend of his here said there was a good school he could go to, but when he got there they wanted 350 Rupees a month which he couldn’t afford.

Yesterday he came up to me, having been waiting for me for three hours outside the internet centre, to tell me that his train the Sir General Bogie went at six o’clock in the morning which would be too early for me to go to the station with him so I could just give him the cash for his ticket. I said no. Wasn’t there a later train he could take? The early one is the cheapest. Okay, maybe it’s a bit more expensive to go later in the day, but it can’t be that different. 150 Rupees is £2. I don’t mind paying an extra 50p, or even an extra £1, but I don’t want to hand over cash to him. He’s telling me that he really will go and that if I see him after tomorrow I can get the police onto him. The fact that he’s saying this makes me more suspicious than I already am. I tell him I’ll go to the station with him tomorrow and see him onto a train.

Tomorrow was today, and I haven’t seen him all day. Maybe someone else gave him the money for the train ticket. Or maybe he didn’t want to go to Mumbai at all.

Someone I met the other day told me all the beggars on Sudder Street are scammers with homes in the country. Another guide, who I hadn’t asked to guide me and who I hadn’t agreed to pay anything, he was taking me to the racecourse and on the way, as we got off the tram, there were a number of homeless people living under a raised section of road. They were the genuine poor, he said.

But I think many people on Sudder Street are genuinely poor. Perhaps not as poor as those living under the road, but still poor. There’s a rikshaw puller with a long grey beard and a missing front tooth who always rings his bell and grins at me as I walk past. He used to ask me if I wanted to go somewhere in his rikshaw, and then when I said I was fine walking, he complained that tourists don’t want to travel in rikshaws any more and he was finding it really hard to get by so maybe I could spare a little bit of money for him.

All the rikshaw drivers (pullers?) seem to be old. It’s not a business that young people are going into. I’ve seen a few tourists riding in rikshaws, but not many. Most of their customers seem to be wealthy Indians.

There are many people sleeping rough here. If they really do have homes in the country, to sleep rough for part of the year in order to make money suggests they can’t be that comfortably off. Each morning I sit in a cafe just over the road from the hand pump. I watch people washing. Men and children. I don’t know where or when the women wash. With something wrapped around their waist they fill buckets and tip the water over themselves. Others stand outside the cafe looking in at the tourists, smiling, trying to catch someone’s eye, making eating gestures, rubbing their stomachs. A woman with a baby, a long haired guy with one arm, young skinny children.