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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Please remain dead and keep your limbs inside the bonfire at all times.

“How do I regard you? I regard you as one of those men who would stand and smile at their torturer while he cut their entrails out.”

-Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

 Please remain dead and keep your limbs inside the bonfire at all times. 

“You travel alone?”


“Some advice. My country full of thieves. These men you talk to, they thieves. Never travel by self here.”

This isn’t the sort of thing you want to hear at a bus stop in The Middle of Nowhere, India at one in the morning. The previous night the threat was more overt.

“No donation and things get very bad for you here,” I was told over and over again at Varanasi’s Manikarnika Ghat by a druggie turned forced upon me tour guide explaining that if I didn’t donate for ‘wood’, supposedly for cremations for the poor, then maybe I’d end up cremated myself. Grabbing my arm, pulling, becoming increasingly hostile, then outright yelling; call me crazy but I’m not feeling all that charitable.

I was subject to the same scam earlier in the day at a different cremation ghat. Ten rupees--twenty cents—would likely be enough to satisfy these first-I-play-friendly-but-soon-turn-psycho extortionists. Still, I don’t give. Instead I smile, shrug, and slowly walk away. I consume 3,000 calories a day, the people threatening me less than half that. Do your worst. Nothing is more ridiculous, more foolish, than the ego of the big-bodied, but in India when your shrug is followed by a shove it’s often enough to shake the fleas off. It sure beats victimization. Even if it is only twenty cents.

Unless you’re on a packaged tour or holing yourself up in an ashram or yoga retreat India will prove a trying country to exist in. The rickshaw drivers, trinket sellers (barbers, shoe repairers, ad naseam) and beggars supply unceasing harassment. In Agra a rickshaw driver followed me the entire five kilometer walk from a railway station to the Taj Mahal, pestering for a fare right up until I walked into a guesthouse. A near hour of increasingly whiny solicitation. I laughed. It’s all I can do. Let these people get to you and you’d best not visit the country. Many travelers I met in Nepal imported India horror stories, always concluding with, “We didn’t even last a week.” How long were you planning? “Thirty days.” A subconscious self-loathing—yes, Dr. Freud, it likely relates to a repressed Oedipus complex—has swindled me into planning on sixty.

Despite the difficulty India makes for fantastic travel. The religious ceremonies are am-I-still-on-planet-Earth? bizarre, every day I’m eating food I’ve never even heard of, let alone put anywhere near my mouth (my intestines are threatening to strike), and the faces—whether they’re filthy street children or the Varanasi elderly withering away by the cremation ghats to die—are infinitely fascinating. The sights, like Agra Fort, the Taj Mahal and Meherangarh Fort, are even larger and more splendid than the best photographers have been able to depict, in Agra you have the choice of being pulled in a cart by horse or camel, in Allahabad a bull might charge at you as it makes its way down the street (the roads, even in dense urban areas, are filled with cows and cow patties, not to mention plenty of human feces), and have you ever seen a charred human leg roll out of a bonfire as children chant around it?

How about some nonsensical oxymorons? India is richly impoverished, it’s lovingly hated, it’s frustratingly beautiful. Of course, the first few days it only frustrates.

No, I’m not going to give you a donation for opium wood. Yes, I agree, this will subject me to bad karma. Why should I care? I’ve found the Hindu loophole, to bathe in the Ganges is to be absolved of sin, sweep my ashes into the river in Varanasi (also known as Benares, the City of Light founded by none other than Shiva, the world’s holiest Hindu site) and I attain instant moksha or enlightenment. Curse me, grab, pull, yell, please keep your spittle below my neck, violence will only be returned in kind for I’m an American, an imperial power of the Caucasoid variety and I’ve come to civilize you as my British counterparts did until 1947. Guns, grenades, Abrams tanks, I’ll spare no expense, something you have so little of.

That, or I just want to look at a temple, a fort, and I’ll be on my way. Worry and fret over the former as I carry out the latter. One has to talk a big game in the Land of Thieves and no, not a single one goes by the name of Aladdin.

Keep drifting.

[No Taj pics, Indian internet works as well as its social security/welfare systems, a lame joke that's terribly inappropriate and not the least bit funny when you're here.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Mowgli population control plan.

"You know, just going to do a bit of the Mowgli thing for a day or two, then head down to India for a month and play in some forts. It'll be brilliant."

-A Londoner explaining her travel plans; after a six hour bus ride and seventy-two more 'brilliants' I couldn't help but become infatuated.

The Mowgli population control plan.

If given the option, consider remaining content observing rather than sitting on top of an elephant as it saunters through the jungle. At a distance you don't realize the animal is being guided by its trainer with metal pole whacks to the skull, you're not close enough to hear and breathe in the beast's flagellations followed by a solid minute of falling feces, and your testicles won't be compressed into the seat's wooden post each time the elephant takes one of its long, awkward steps. It isn't so much an adventure straight out of the Jungle Book as it is a castration.

This blog, it's now being written in a much higher, squeakier pitch. Think Pee-Wee Herman after a date with a helium balloon.

Nepal's Chitwan National Park can only be entered with not one but at least two guides. "In case animal get one other can get tourist back," I'm told. Rhino charges are common, tiger sightings rare, but it's the sloth bear that brings the most fear. Guides are eager to show their scars, some don't need to life a pant leg, they simply point to their faces. Before entering I had to leave a telephone contact number so "we explain to family if bad happen." I've never seen such care taken since I've been in the country.

In the canoe, on the way into the park, a crocodile is spotted. It's also the same time I notice a strong smell of alcohol coming from the English-speaking guide. A half hour into our day long walk he vomits. He doesn't stop until unleashing over a half gallon of liquid in several short bursts spaced a couple minutes apart by gagging bouts. Then it's time for a nap. It's the first of many.

Between naps we walk little and stop a lot. We listen. We bend down, grab dirt, sniff it, sift it through our fingers, then sniff again. His English starts mumbled and ends gargled. I optimistically interpret that we're on the trail of the One-Horned Indian Rhinoceros. More naps, more dirt sniffing, eight hours later we're still on its trail. At least, that's what I'm probably being told.

As we find our way back to the entrance I recount having seen a tiger footprint, lots of large, frightening insects, the ass of a deer in flight, and a couple of monkeys. No rhino. Wait, there's a lot of Nepali gibberish being exchanged between my guides and the soldier with a machine gun guarding the entrance. We run downstream a half kilometer to join a few other Caucasoids with guide entourages. A rhinoceros is bathing in the river, it's blowing bubbles out of both ends. After twenty minutes it clambers out of the water. I'm amazed at my severe underestimation of the animal's size, it's prehistoric, more armor than a Panzer Tank, its ears wiggle stupidly. When you're that powerful there's no need to ever outsmart anything.

Upon returning to the guesthouse the manager inquires about my guide's services. "You see rhino, yeah? My brother good guide, eh?"

"Yes," I agree. "Incredible."

Keep drifting.

My main man Mowgli.

rhino butt

tiger track