I met Eleanor, from Denmark, in the Blue Sky Cafe on Sudder Street, Calcutta. It's a trendy hangout for travellers on the Asia trail and was packed every hour of the day. That meant you had to grab a seat wherever you could.
I joined Eleanor and her friend Leana for breakfast at a corner table. They both charmed me by laughing at all of my jokes as we devoured chocolate and banana pancakes. I remember Eleanor's laugh was as loud as a jack hammer. Every time she let loose all those cool travellers stared, but she was oblivious to them. She was wonderful.
I was loath to part company with her and, partly through desperation, suggested that the three of us watch a Scottish folk group called the Battlefield Band that evening. The gig had been organised by the British Council as a "cultural event" for Calcutta's elite. Like me, they thought it promised to be a novelty and agreed to come.
We decided to make a night of it and visited a drink store on the way. We arrived just in time and took our seats among smartly dressed, middle- class Indian couples. The band were given a polite reception. But it soon became clear that most of the audience didn't know what to make of this rowdy folk-rock. I'm embarrassed to say that Eleanor and I got the giggles. The band then encouraged everyone to dance. Fortified by alcohol, we were the only ones to oblige, with a poor improvisation of the highland fling. The audience thought us deranged.
After the final encore I walked back with the girls to their hotel and Leana tactfully retired. Eleanor and I sat chatting on a low wall, enjoying the tropical night. After a couple of hours of chatting like old friends we decided to retire. I was due to leave for Darjeeling the next morning, while she planned to stay a while longer in Calcutta. We hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes.
Early next morning I caught a ramshackle bus and made my way to Howrah Station with a hollow feeling in my stomach. There I found that the trains were on strike. Services were not due to resume until the following day. This gave me the perfect excuse to stay an extra day in Calcutta.
I went back to Sudder Street with the hole in my stomach now filled with butterflies and met Eleanor and Leana in the cafe. They were sitting at the same table and once again we enjoyed a breakfast of chocolate and banana pancakes, continuing in the good spirits of the previous evening.
I didn't leave the next day or the one after that. Eleanor and I walked the city streets, taking in many sights and enjoying each other's company.
That was more than three-and-a-half years ago. We did eventually leave Calcutta, but we have never parted company.Reuse content