Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lama groupies are like Jolie-Pitt groupies but with cheaper cameras.

What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?

-Ursula K. LeGuin 

Lama groupies are like Jolie-Pitt groupies but with cheaper cameras. 

I join the small crowd standing outside his house. We’re hoping for a glimpse as he enters, cameras poised, the spiritual-political paparazzi drooling for a snap to plaster on the cover of Dharma Stars Weekly. My account grows more pathetic, I admit to being excited, to having a heart rate mid horse race, to bouncing on the balls of my feet like a terrier would for dangling meat. The incisors are out, I’m laughing at our collective foolishness, at our synchronous intake of breath as his entourage approaches

There’s a white SUV and there he is, in the front passenger seat of the next vehicle, one of the planet’s few heroes outside the cineplex. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is smiling, he never stops, he raises both hands to give an air of mock surprise that a parent might reserve for Mickey Mouse. We’re not the rodent, we’re the children the expression is intended to incite joy in, and it works. We giggle as the Dalai Lama enters his compound trailed by three more SUVs. A forty-five minute wait for a 4.5 second sighting and its high-fives all around, we did it, we almost made eye contact with Buddhism’s biggest celebrity.

It comes at a time when monk self-immolation is on the rise in Tibet, when His Holiness is making regular appearances on BBC, when the Chinese government continues to label him a terrorist for bringing unwanted attention to the communist-controlled autonomous zone, and when amateur footage continues leaking over the Indian border from Tibet documenting Chinese soldiers kicking cuffed monks in the ribs while striking their skulls with billy clubs and monks sitting themselves ablaze in protest as crowds surround to watch the bodies burn alive in silence. And still the Dalai Lama smiles. He’s either enlightened or deranged, although perhaps the two are duplicitous, are one and the same. Those that sit Indian-style with feet resting on the opposite knee while chanting for hours on end live in asylums in North America and monasteries in Dharamsala and life is more about geography than sanity.

The maroon-robed, they’re always beaming, every time I converse with monks, usually at a request to practice their English, big grins plaster their faces and yes, I’m fat, balding and old, the trifecta of inaffection, a silly sight to behold for sure, yet it always seems as though they’re laughing with me, not at me. An infectious joy, there’s always a stupid grin on my ugly mug too. Stupid, because I’m unsure as to what I’m smiling about and I need a reason for there will be no smiling without just cause, my fellow Americans. I know what you’ll call me and where you’ll confine me if I’m unable to proffer sufficient excuse and so, for the moment, this monastery-crammed geography appeals to my freedom of movement. Plus, if I ordain I’ll never have to wear pants again. It may not be enlightenment but the breeze down under, it’s close enough.

Keep drifting.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The only thing worse than being poor is not being poor.

“See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what do the rich dream of? Losing weight and looking like the poor.” 

-Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger

The only thing worse than being poor is not being poor.
India is no longer filled with hippies sitting for extended periods of time in the lotus position trying to get halfway past the wheel of existence (well, not as many), but morons on a poverty-tourism adventure holiday. I know because I am one.
I came here to see the slums, the street kids, the legless beggars, the leper beggars, the women-carrying-dirty-babies beggars, and the I-can-make-more-money-putting-on-a-sad-sorry-face-in-Caucasoid-dense-travel-zones-than-through-honest-labor beggars. Cows get free reign, they’re everywhere, they’re always blocking traffic oblivious to the crescendo of car horns or acting in spite of them, picking through garbage, the plastic, Styrofoam and glass turning their bowel movements liquid and bloody and this is why I came here. To see gangs of scraggly dogs attack each other, to see the open wounds on their skulls exposing pink brain matter, each filthy and a haven for parasites. Even Udaipur, ‘India’s most romantic city’, is filled with these things, it’s lake filled with waste and garbage, it’s only romantic at sunset from the 6th floor of a hotel restaurant when dusk hides ‘the India’ from Udaipur.
Poverty-tourists, we sure get our rupees worth, and you hear it time and again. The sentence to sum up our Indian travels, the reason we came. “It just makes you realize how lucky we are.” Oh yes, there it is, Karma favors the Caucasoid.
To maintain this ‘realization’ avoid the British-influenced sections of New Delhi and the Punjabi capital of Chandigarh designed by a Swiss-French architect. Gifts from the white man, these areas are civil, orderly and largely devoid of cows. Surprise, surprise, people have money in these places and Pizza Huts follow. India’s un-Indian zones, you’ll even see bellies extending over beltlines. Also, don’t look too hard at the people you’re comparing your good fortune to. At first glance you’ll get exactly what you want, you’ll feel disgusting, defiled by your own good health and all the money in your pockets. Just make sure not to stick around to see them smile, move on before you hear them laugh, and Shiva forbid you spot a child curled up with his father on the ground at a train station at three in the morning looking so serene, so peaceful, that you’ll wonder if you’ve ever felt that sort of sincere, pure warmth this child with nothing radiates. 
Maybe he’s a child with everything that matters. 
Maybe I hate him, scorn his simple mind, ridicule his silly religion with its 3,600,000 gods, and loathe the way his heart chakra forms a bubble of warmth around the pair. I hate how his mere existence shows me what I’m missing, not only is my palate numb to the taste of the transcendental, the mere mention of it induces rage and hostility. I come from a society of such sophistication that when we hear the words ‘I love you’ it’s nothing more than a cliché, where affection and feelings are so passé. This boy, like so many other Indians, has the gall to exist in contra to my society of sophistication; he is, unquestionably, stupid, poor and possesses a strong reverence for cows excreting bloody liquid waste and here I am, now in Dharamsala, thinking maybe he’s one of the lucky ones. 
Damn it. I shouldn’t have stuck around so long, my poverty-tourism adventure has are-the-Greeks-really-going-to-abandon-the-Euro? backfired. Guess it’s time to grow a beard, pierce my nipples and assume the lotus position. 
Keep drifting.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Have you ever heard shouts for an encore after urinating?

“May you have ten daughters and may they all marry well.”

-The ultimate Hindu curse, at marriage the bride’s family must present the groom’s with a dowry, the richer the groom’s family the more substantial the gifts expected. Ten daughters would make a welfare recipient out of Donald Trump.

Have you ever heard shouts for an encore after urinating?

The kids, the filthy beggar children that look like they were recently rescued after being trapped for several months in a coal mine, they always hone in on me. Indian tourism has nosedived in 2011 with the downfall of the Caucasoid economies, few white folk can be found unless you’re at ‘The Taj’ or a Rajasthan fort, and so it’s no surprise when they surround me at the train station. Again. When I sit down they sit down. They smile, they bat their big brown doe eyes and repeat a phrase that, to survive it, one must turn into a meditation mantra. “Please sir, ten rupees.” It’s on a sound loop. Again.

I stare back in zombified indifference. I prefer to reply with funny faces and abysmal movie impressions—“That’ll do donkey, that’ll do,” (Shrek) or “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men…” (Pulp Fiction)–but I’m zapped of energy. Again. Another head cold, the third in four weeks, with intestinal issues in between. Welcome to India.

My own behavior is to blame. I shake hands anytime they’re offered, hands that most often belong to those of the street, I’ve even been on the receiving end of a few undeserved hugs. And these people are so ragged, so wretchedly thin and grubby, the antithesis of Mr. Clean, that ten out of ten doctors, their spouses and their extramarital affairs would all advise against it. One night I even slept at the train station. I was awoken several times with looks of concern, with questions like, “What doing?” and “You okay?” I’m fine. I’m just doing what the locals do. I didn’t come here to live like an American although a single night with a backpack pillow and muck encrusted concrete floor for a bed hardly qualifies as ‘roughing it’ when you see how so many of these people live. I might seek out the biggest s**t-holes in terms of accommodation but I’m always surrounded by four walls and lying on some sort of cushioning that serves as a mattress.

Still, I get sick a lot. I’m weak. I can’t handle the country. I’m not Indian, even though I urinate like one.

There aren’t any public restrooms in India because the Indian regards the world as his toilet. Social custom allows one to whip it out to relieve oneself nearly anywhere in this otherwise sexually modest culture. Sides of buildings, shrubbery, sidewalks, vehicles— preferably parked—are all fair game. While making your way to a city palace you’ll have to skip over, or splash through, several yellow streams. Inevitably nature calls. While the Indian can seemingly relieve himself in private in the public arena my pale tint removes any sense of pissing decorum. To urinate with an audience is one of those bizarre traveling moments that an international relations degree has no equal for. With a doctor’s intervention right out of the womb even ‘down there’ we’re different and yes, Mr. Hajib, I really am from a binary star solar system on the outskirts of the Andromeda Galaxy.

It’s a dog eat dog country so I’m marking my territory throughout the Indian state of Rajasthan , having added new rivulets to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar and now Udaipur. A Pushkar experience wells sums up the Indian male in relation to the Caucasoid traveler.

Indians are loud, pushy, and walk around as if they own the place. (They do.) A young Brahmin, or supposed priest, was insistent I take a small flower from him and place it into the holy lake, at which time he’d bless my family and I. This would be followed by a demand for a large ‘donation’. I didn’t accept his gift. The real priests don’t solicit on the street. When the same scam has been going on for decades every guidebook and, therefore, every traveler warns against giving in to such priestly generosity. This only makes the faux Brahmin more desperate. His hostility quickly escalates to absurd levels, I’m embarrassed by the public display. Yet I can’t help but antagonize.

I say that it’s going to take a lot more than a flower to get me to take my clothes off, I ask him to please stop looking at my butt, it’s making me uncomfortable. In male-dominated homophobic India this is enough make his mouth froth, to fill this rottweiler with rabies-like rage. At which point I escape into a shop selling women’s dresses. For my mother, I tell the shopkeeper, but dang it, I don’t know her size.

A few hours later, as I’m walking back to my guesthouse, I receive a slap on the back. It’s the Brahmin. He wants to have a cup of chai with me. Oddly enough, I do. We laugh about our encounter earlier in the afternoon, chatting for a couple hours he gives me a perspective on the country, a perspective on life, that’s incomprehensible to my rationally Western way of looking at things. When they’re not ‘working’ Indians are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever run into.

He leaves before me. I end up having to pay for his chai. Well, at least it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a ‘donation’ for blessings.

Keep drifting.