When I showed my map of Birpara to Tay, and asked her if Iâ€™d missed anything, I was startled when she immediately declared â€œYes!â€ and went on to list everything that was omitted: trucks, cows, rickshaws, bicycles, people, honking, piles of shitâ€¦
â€œYou make it look like itâ€™s an easy, pleasant walk to the park!â€ she said, referring to the 15-minute walk we attempted only once: A death-defying trek along the highwayâ€™s edge which acts as both road shoulder, parking lot, and open-air workshop of welding, hammering, and trash-burning; traffic speeding by at full speed and skinny, shirtless truckers leering from all directions.
Maps are deceiving; it is their nature. They simplify and, when theyâ€™re well drawn, they appeal to the eye. One time when my coauthor, The Randymon, and I wanted to attract Moon Handbooks Nicaragua readers to a rather remote but beautiful village which was trying to make a go at tourism, he suggested adding a map of the place, even though it was a small, uncomplicated town which any traveler could have negotiated on their own.
â€œMaps make a place more real,â€ he said.
Thatâ€™s why, dear readers, I want to show you Birpara as it exists through my eyes, which makes it an even smaller town than it already is, but somehow real-er than mere words can convey. Thereâ€™s our apartment, Akhil Bhavan, thereâ€™s the main drag (which I only just learned is named Mahatma Gandhi Road, or â€œThe MGâ€), thereâ€™s Mohanâ€™s Internet shop, the market, and Lovely Sweets. Thatâ€™s about it, as far as my life here is concerned. Oh, and there are the tea gardens, hemming us in on all sides. We can even hear the sirens each morning and afternoon marking the tea laborerâ€™s workday.
Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s on the map. For the exhaust, the rumbling trucks, the smell of urine, the blaring horns, the taste of gulab jamun, and the dampness of the afternoon, youâ€™ll have to come to Birpara yourself.