When we arrived at the office near Sudder Street in
Kolkata, Rajesh, one of the company’s three founders, put
us at ease immediately by offering us chai and a warm welcome, despite our excessive tardiness (we got lost, and then
the cab driver got lost). He introduced us to our “riders” and
informed us the tour would last approximately seven hours.
We balked. Apparently we hadn’t read the description
very closely; we’d thought it would be more like three. Too
late to change our minds now.
We walked to the bikes, small Yamahas. The company
also offers rides on Royal Enfield bikes — a former British
label now produced in India and the oldest motorcycle
brand still in production — but our riders chose the smaller
motorbikes for this trip. Strapping on my helmet, I climbed
on the back and fumbled around for some kind of seat belt —
something to strap me onto the bike. No dice.
“How do I keep from falling off?” I asked Rajesh.
“You won’t fall off,” he said in broken but mostly-under-
standable English. “Actually, you might. But you won’t fall
hard. Don’t worry.”
He nodded at Ujjal. “If he starts going too fast, just give
him a tap on the shoulder.”
I nearly asked why Rajesh didn’t say the same thing to
my husband’s driver. But as we started whizzing down the
street, heart stamping against my chest, I knew the answer.
My driver likes to go fast.
WE DASH ACROSS THE CITY, WIND SLAPPING AT OUR
bodies, the road a blur, inches away from our feet, fear-induced smiles plastered to our faces. Ujjal and the other
driver slow to a stop in front of an inconspicuous gray building beside a busy overpass.
“You go see now,” Ujjal says, nodding to the building.
I tug my helmet off and disembark, legs wobbly on the
pavement, and proceed toward the entrance with caution, eying t wo nuns seated on a bench next to the door.
Our first stop is the “Motherhouse,” a volunteer center
and pilgrimage destination where Mother Teresa lived
and worked among Kolkata’s poor from the 1950s until
her death in 1997. Part of the building has been converted
into a museum and viewing area for Mother Teresa’s tomb.
After you’ve seen the Taj Mahal, this tomb feels downright
barren: a sparse room with folding chairs lining the walls,
plain white sarcophagus at its center adorned with a scattering of bright flower petals.
Visitors also have an opportunity to see the room where
Mother Teresa lived and worked for more than 50 years. As
I peer inside the austere space — barely big enough to fit a
chair, desk and bed — I consider the poverty I have witnessed
so far in Kolkata, which although improved since Mother
Teresa’s time remains blatant and dire in many parts of the
city. It’s easy to feel crushed by seeing such destitution. Too
over whelmed to act. Although not without her critics, Mother
Teresa dove in, as have many in her footsteps. I walk out of the
Motherhouse inspired to do the same.