from e-mails sent out June 1999

Delhi Street Scene

It was all just a blur...

 

 

....but you can tick India off on my BT-DT list. Five-star India of course. And the majority of it planted in front of TV watching Tendulkar, Dravit or Ganguly - and that's just the ads! World Cup Cricket is everywhere and everything. They have two television stations running 24 hr cricket: both matches live in the evening and replays all night and day. And the radiologist I am visiting keeps getting phone-calls: "yabba-yabba-yabba Sachin yabba yabba yabba 500Rs on Kallis for man of series yabba yabba," as we sit in his office with the TV blaring... All the hoardings along the road, World Cup this, World Cup that. All the talk in the restaurants and the TVs are set up specially in most of them I notice. You get the idea... CRICKET MAD!!!

Why am I here? Initially scheduled for a training session in Delhi (Delhi), this was changed at the last minute to Chennai (Madras), but by the time I arrived the training was cancelled, and I was doing demos for 5 days. Then when I walked in the door at the demo site, at one of the best private hospitals in India I was assured, the machine dropped its guts and refused to work. So the word was "you go and rest now." When I had sufficiently rested and the replacement parts flown in from Mumbai (Bombay) next day, it was discovered that more than one board was toasted. Hmm. The talk then became maybe Calcutta, in some dungeon somewhere there for several days without McDonalds or waiters. By the time we survived a right-handed lunch, and getting very little on my shirt, it was check out time and a quick flight to Mumbai (Bombay) and a connection to Vadodara (Badora) in the North West corner of India (India)  where one the best radiologists in India was working and would be kind enough to put up with my company for two days. Did you know India has changed the names of a lot its cities? 

Red Fort Market, Delhi

Badora, as everyone still calls it, used to be the Royal capital of some principality in the Gujarat State. There is a partially run-down but expansive royal palace, part of which is well-maintained as a University, a zoo and museum. And no, they are not all in the same building. The Museum here boasts a 3000 year old mummy, from about the same time the floor of the museum was last swept, plus some interesting paintings: a Titian, several Peter Paul Reubens (or Paul Peter or one of the other Reubenses), a Poussin, a Millet... Yeah, right, sure. But the ancient statues and Indian stuff are pretty good. Just got to keep track of all those gods' names so I can swear in Indian when I get home...

We are about 100kms from Mohandes K. Gandhi's birthplace. The Gandhiji's later work was mostly done in an Ashram somewhere around Amenabad, just north of here, currently the capital. And I am sure he would have approved of me telling the six year old beggar children to fuck off. 


She's seen me! Beggar child rushing for some photo money! Agra Fort.


OK, India. Just like those Mother Teresa's documentaries. Need I say more? I have seen only minimally distorted children, and very few beggars. Its fucking hot, but man, its a dry heat. Up north anyway. Down in Chennai it was humid. It is soooooo dusty, here. Heat and Dust, great name for a .... toothpaste.... Every road I have been on has been under construction or destruction - I can't tell the difference. Workers just dump the gravel or sand in the roadway and leave it for several months, the traffic converging into one lane, until a few men fit enough to drive the manually worked pulley can lift and drop the pipes or whatever, and meanwhile their beautifully dressed women co-workers walk in a squat and sweep the water away with whisk brooms. The opulence of the women's saris and their dress in general is so incongruous. Bright luxurious purples and yellows, reds and blues, and jewellery glittering from nostrils and foreheads. The men lounging in tatty trousers and shirts hanging out. Most people barefoot or sandalled. And sooooooooooooooooooooooooo many of them. A glimpse of the slums under the approach to Mumbai airport... 

Traffic. As expected. The drivers negotiate second-by-second life-threatening situations with appropriate use of their bleating horns. Because he has a tourist in his car, my driver is exceptionally toot-full. Their continual blaring seems to elicit no response from any other of the road-traffic. My driver was so good with his horn, he managed to avoid 99.9999% of the motorcycles. That means he only hit one in the fifteen minute drive from the airport. Bangkok-like tuk-tuks are called "autos", and all manifestations of motorcycle except safe ones are seen in profligacy. All the cars are this Art Deco 50's reincarnation called an Ambassador. Buses and trucks are just nightmares happening frequently. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is a real problem.  I managed to cross the road with the assistance of a cow that just went its own way through the all the nightmare of twilight traffic, safe in its sacredness, me basking safely in some reflected sanctity for once in my life... There are many cows lounging around like sales reps, or pulling drays up this part of India. Walked past the United Colors of Benetton, and the Baskin Robbins (what - no Dunkin' Donuts?) down to the pathetic market area. No-one even hassled me, except those brats of kids, rubbing their tummies (need food, they gestured, with their hands coming to their mouths) and holding holy cards on a brass plate for me to buy. I had no Indian money. Twenty HK dollars would probably get them killed.

And yes, Indian men all wobble theirs heads when they talk to you, isn't it. And the waiters in the Indian restaurant are as obsequious and fawning as you'd expect. Does everyone here do Peter Sellers impersonations for a living? The vegetarian kebabs were really nice, and the aloo ("potatoe" on the menu) curry was not too spicy. Great food.

 

"Yes, there is a public toilet just down the road."  Agra, 50 metres from the entrance to the Taj Mahal.


TV, other than Star Movies and Star Sport and ESPN, seems to consist of chubby moustached men chasing long-nosed chubby women while both exchange pained high-pitched verses in traditional "songs", (you can tell its music because the extras are dancing in a St Vitus manner in the background) the tunes of which are about as hum-alongable as your average Ravi Shankar sitar solo. The basic story seem to be boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, girl loses boy, boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, girl loses boy, boy finds girls, and then they all laugh. Then it repeats. A few times. And variations from channel to channel (16 of them) seem to be based mainly on how fat the guy is, and how long the sari-clad girl's nose is, plus colour variations (of the saris). Also their are some nostalgic variations from the age of black-and-white unfocussed TV, don't you. 

Cricket update: Ah well, the Sri Lankans are well and truly fucked and so off to bed and its back to "work" tomorrow. Who's playing?

Very Early Next Morning: AAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die.... Repeat after me this mantra: om copious watery stools, om copious watery stools... Aaaaahhhh I think I just shit my brains.... Ooooooooh, no that was them now... I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die... And Steve, STOP LAUGHING! It's a man's life at stake here. Now the dry heaves - uuuurrrrrgghhh. No sleep between 2 and 7, running back to the loo every 20 minutes.  I think it was the filtered water I drank, rather than bottled.  Or maybe that tomato slice...

And great, India has just attacked some Pakistan incursions into Kashmir, and Pakistan has shot down 2 MIGs. Excellent. Lucky they're in different groups in the World Cup, eh? But I think I might run (ha!) down and reconfirm my flights....

You'll be happy to hear things settled down (in my gut, not in Kashmir, where Pakistan is reminding India it is now a nuclear power...) after a day of not eating anything at all, pretty settled anyway apart from the occasional gripe in the solar plexus. Now I appreciate why we told all of our barium enema patients not to fart in the taxi on their way home. (True story: a certain private clinic had to pay for the cleansing of a taxi.) Walking to the practice next morning, I nearly lose another load into my undies when a gunshot blasts loudly just over the wall from me, and a pair of large monkeys scutter out of the trees and gallop along the wall...


Man in his portable shop, man asleep on his trishaw.  Agra.


After another day wasted getting from North-West to South-East India, I was escorted to an "artisan" village just south of Chennai for the tourist bit. Here is where all the little stone elephant statuettes in the world are made, or so it would seem. Dozens and dozens of "artisans" - read "beggars with a hobby" - are chipping away at piles of imported rock. Like an al fresco prison really. The true drawcard is lots of granite stone-work from the 7th century, bas-relief stuff hewn into huge boulders and some escarpments in this little village (less than 1 million residents) around the end of the sandy peninsula area. The statues and temples hewn into the "living" rock, were mainly of Vishnu the protector, and Ganesh the elephant-headed god of goodness and niceness. On these boulders there was some really cool evidence of how they chiselled lots of little holes into the rock, then poured in hot water create a fracture. From a hill-top vantage point of a 7th century lighthouse/temple we could see the local nuclear power plant. "The Pakistani's have that No 1 priority for target!" says Babu, my guide.  He was only joking, I think. Waded ankle deep into the REAL Indian Ocean (on an Indian beach!) with a group of fully clad swimmers, and they all wanted to have photos taken with me. Nice people, and not a beggar amongst them.

Saw women walking along the bare sandy plains on paths well away from the road, water jugs or food baskets on their hips, going from where to where I couldn't ascertain. It would have taken half a day for any round trip from the village to any place nearby. There were some tumble-down shelters made of palm fonds up ahead, surely they couldn't be home? Incredible thing about these women and all the others in India, & less so the men, is the dignity with which they carry themselves and their burdens. They seem so assured, so erect and confident of posture in their measured paces. Is it the caste system or some other religious attitude which perhaps gives them the sense of a definite place or role in the world and hence a form of cosmic self-confidence, despite their horrendous poverty and deprivation? I am not saying they are happy, because the women sleeping on the roadsides rousing themselves at 6 am and performing their sanitary ablutions as I was driven to the airport in Mombai did not necessarily look it.   They just didn't seem to be self-conscious or self-anxious in that round-shouldered, furtive-glancing, how-do-I-look way many western women have developed. Good or bad, I dunno. I'd rather be neurotic than hungry, I think. (I look in the mirror - success!)

 

Outside the Red Fort, Delhi

In this fishing village I saw the original Indian beggar-cum-guru, crouching on a rock in that arse below ankles way only Asians can do (I see the reason now - they have no muscle bulk to their legs, and yes they practice frequently), so old-looking, his clear eyed expressionless gaze straight at me, black skin, white beard, white dhoti (Indian version of a kilt). Look up 'wizened' in the dictionary and there's this guy's photo. Nearby, striding with a clear-conscience confidence to the market, some Euro-hippy too-cool-for-like-you crusty-type-dude, looking like he thought they both belonged to the same world. Wrong. Choosing to be poor doesn't make you a soul mate with the destitute who have no choice in the matter, a lesson people from rich countries, even George Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London, Road to Wigan Pier), never seem to learn. Unless you are Gandhi (and he had his detractors), don't try it. It's only another form of oppression or imperialism in my book. That's one thing I have going for me in India - I know I don't belong.  For one thing, my cricket statistics are not up to date.

Cheers for now

Expat@Large