भारत III field notes: Jaipur, shit, piss, temple monkeys, Upanishads, filth & squalor
Ro split back to Delhi so it was back to just j & «i» (still hereby = «you») pushing on (from Agra) to Jaipur to complete the «Golden Triangle» whirlwind tour of India—hardly the tip of the iceberg of India. an unseasonable rain set in otherwise it was more of the same along the roadside: dangerous traffic & people & animals shitting & pissing everywhere. sanitation is a huge issue here. from a nutritional point of view (j's p.o.v.) what's the point of improving nutrition if water is so bad they have chronic diarrhea & shit out (virtually undigested) whatever goes in. we've seen a lot of shit here, in the streets, smeared on toilets & kids & people shitting in public & it's almost always runny. the consistency of soft-serve ice cream at best. between bad water & the diet of curries & saucy things, you'd be hard-pressed to have a solid poop in India. & you see billboards to not urinate in public & there are public restrooms on the streets or in bazaars but it seems to just be habit to piss in public, like wolves marking their territory or something. in Africa you were always astonished (after spending hours at a time on bathroomless busses) that you hardly ever saw people go to the bathroom. here you wonder where all the liquid is coming from you see men pissing so much.
we were making good time going to Jaipur until we hit an accident that shut the entire freeway down & had to take this long detour that ended up being quite scenic, especially as we'd seen very little of rural India (Delhi, Agra & Jaipur all being large cities with millions of people). suddenly there was all this diverted traffic funneled through these little blue-painted Rajasthani towns, waking up everyone to come out & stare at us & us back at them.
as we were getting towards Jaipur our driver was falling asleep at the wheel. we kept having to shake him awake & he'd slap himself & smoke bidi cigarettes (hand-rolled flavored cigarettes with 3-times the nicotine & 5-times the tar of regular ones). it was flat the whole way until right outside of Jaipur you rise over these hills that surround the city. we went first to the train station to get tickets for our next leg back to Delhi which was a huge free-for-all of hundreds of people jamming to a few disorganized windows. you had to physically press yourself against the person in front of you to get anywhere (& let yourself get pushed from behind). if people insisted on trying to cut in front of you you'd say: «are you more important than me?» which usually worked & they would go to the end of the line.
then we found our hotel—Devi Niketan—run by this retired air force admiral. felt like staying in someone's home. we tuk-tuked to the so-called «Pink City» which seemed more orange or salmon-colored to you. first went to the city palace which was kind of boring then just strolled around in the post-rain alleys unable to distinguish between shit & mud. cows & dogs slogging through the slushy soup eating garbage. traffic maniacally pouring through the smallest of alleys, motorcycles zipping through markets & bazaars even.
had a homecooked meal at Devi Niketan. getting sick of Indian food. it feels unbalanced (in a PH sense). not enough fiber. dying for a salad or fresh vegetables, something not mushy. Indian food is overwhelming, they mix too many things together until you don't know what's what. & it's not pretty coming out the other end.
we hired a tuk-tuk for a half day to take us around. when the guy showed up (a half-hour late) he smelled of whiskey. wasted. he took us across town to a gas station where we waited another half-hour. & of course he asked for half the money up front so he could pay for the gas & was trying to milk more money out of us than we'd negotiated. then he went around town going on various errands like getting himself betel nuts & bidi cigarettes, half the time driving on the wrong side of the road against traffic, at one point causing two oncoming motorcycles to collide. drunk maniac, yelling shit to everyone. we would've just gotten out but this was someone recommended from the hotel. we were supposed to be going to a place called Amber (the main attraction of Jaipur) but he didn't know where it was & kept stopping to ask people. we'd only been there a day & we knew where it was. ended up in a traffic jam leading out of town towards Agra. he gave up asking people where Amber was & started asking where monkey temple was (where we said we wanted to go after Amber). he did u-turns & backtracked & stopped every 100 meters to ask people who just looked at him like a drunken fool & shrugged their shoulders. just when we were ready to jump out & walk back we were on some backroad to the monkey temple (Galwar Bagh). obviously the monkeys (macaques) are the big attraction here.
after that we headed back to Jaipur (the long way—from the sun temple at the top of the mountain we could see there was a much faster way to get to the monkey temple). half way up the hill the tuk-tuk got a flat. the driver took off the wheel, got into another tuk-tuk & without a word to us took off. we sat there for a while wondering what to do as traffic blared by. we'd already paid this guy more than half & he had been a complete drunken idiot so far & we didn't know if or when he would ever come back. so we hopped another tuk-tuk & just went to the city center because we were starving, even though we are sick of Indian food. ate at a place called LMB, then walked around more through the bazaars, entire blocks of saris, or bangles or sandals or paper products or spices or all sorts of other things. just when we were getting sick of all the honking & traffic & shit & piss, some hip Indian kid struck up a conversation with us & we talked for a while about film & fashion & whatever, he surprisingly not trying to sell us anything. then he invited us to his house for chai. what can you say? the kind of situation where you feel like a schmuck if you say no, so we reluctantly agreed & he took us into some sketchy inner courtyard of an apartment building & of course into some jewelry shop. at first he was acting like he was a wholesaler not interested in selling to us or to the public, sending his mother off to make chai & giving us this whole spiel about how they have disabled kids or lepers or something make their jewelry for them & how it's all for a good cause & sustainable ya di ya. must admit his routine was quite involved, total con artist. you had to take a piss & were feeling claustrophobic, especially at the thought of having to politely sit in here & drink chai & you were sweating from the heat & walking & you willed yourself to look sick & more sweaty then suddenly just interrupted him & said you felt sick & needed to go back to the hotel. it was such a convincing act that even j believed you. even as we were leaving (you clenching your stomach, acting like you were about to throw up) he still followed us out & chased us down the street giving us his card & telling us how much we could buy things for, etc. it's enough to make you sick. is there any decency left in this world? actions not motivated by greed? any cultures that have not been corrupted? you're done with India.
woke up at some crazy hour you are not sure whether to call late or early. tuk-tuked to the train station. piss & shit everywhere, all over the platform, nowhere to sit. inside a mass of sleeping bodies. when the train arrived some confusion about where our seats were. finally found the conductor & evidently we were on a waiting list (not told this when you got your tickets), but regardless we were thankfully assigned our seats, in a nice sleeper cabin. got blankets & went to sleep for a few hours. woke up at sunrise & drank chai after chai until you had tall stacks of empty cups in front of you (thinking the combined total might make up for one cup of coffee). we shared a cabin with some aussie nurse that had been traveling around India for a few months. you finished reading The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (discussed in the last post) then stared out the window.
now back in the filth & squalor of Delhi. pollution on all levels, smog so bad they had to cancel flights at the airport (hope we can fly out tomorrow), noise pollution of blaring horns, water pollution (was reading that the Ganges is not even fit for bathing, let alone consumption) & of course the shit & piss that you've already ranted about. your eyes sting from smog, your ears ring from the traffic & your nose stings from the stench of urine. your skin & hair coated in grime. there's a certain level of self-respect you throw out the window to let yourself live like this. & respect for your fellow people. devoured some Thai food on the top floor of the hotel & felt better, regained an appetite for food.
j woke up sick so we chilled our last day at the hotel trying to nurse her back to a state where she could get on a plane. she was supposed to go to work but ended up having some of her co-workers come to her, but even that wore her down. you got some books & started reading The Bachelor of Arts by R.K. Narayan—about the bureaucracy & struggles of a stressed out college student. not terribly interesting. you also picked up a copy of the The Upanishads to re-read as it's been almost 20 years since you last read them.
this line from the Chandodgya Upanishad: «There is no joy in the infinite, there is joy only in the infinite.» is interesting when juxtaposed with Conrad's Heart of Darkness: «There is no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.» & then back to the Katha Upanishad: «As the sun, who is the eye of the world, cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes or by the objects it looks on, so the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot Be tainted by the evils of the world.»
as you were reading by the pool an endless stream of pigeons would come to drink & bathe on the edge. some hawks or kites circled overhead. one pigeon landed in the pool & was flapping around trying to get out but kept landing back in the pool. the pool attendant was waving something at him trying to scare him which was only making it worse & the pigeon was flapping spastically, at times upside down in the water, so you jumped in after it & brought it to the edge, but it seems it was flapping so much it broke it's own neck. you put it off to the side but it just sat there unable to even hold his head up.
not that you buy into all the reincarnation & karmic new age crap, but some of the Upanishads make sense if you replace «desire» with «inherited evolutional urges» & swap «Self» with «genetic human collective consciousness» or the part of our DNA common to all.
continued reading Upanishads while waiting for the flight. your favorite is the Aitareya Upanishad, whose structure is similar to that of Genesis, but with quantum physics underpinnings. & also the Taittiriya Upanishad.
plane was delayed because of some sort of mechanical problem. it was almost cancelled which would've really screwed us up but it resolved itself as they were headed back to the gate & they turned back around & took off. watched 127 hours on the plane. then you had this sudden & weird feeling, perhaps induced by the (jarring & visceral) movie, or the gin & tonic (only had one, but we hadn't been drinking all week). or maybe you were channeling j's sickness (she was miserable with Delhi belly) like you did that one time going to the airport in Tokyo. you started to feel all flushed & sweaty but in a warm, tingly way. then you started to feel nauseous so you got up to go to the bathroom. as you were walking down the aisle you were stumbling like you'd had a dozen drinks (although you were very lucid, more like a Fijian kava high where you lose muscular coordination but your mind is intact). before you even got to the bathroom your feeling of nausea was gone & you were back to feeling normal, all in the span of a few minutes. when you got back to your seat you told j & she said she was suddenly feeling better.
when we landed in Zurich we had 30 minutes to go through passport control, through immigrations, then wait for an inter-terminal train, then through security, then run down a series of long corridors (whose signs informed us would take us 15 minutes to reach our gate) & we got to our gate with barely a minute to spare. now we are in the air headed home for Rome.
you also bought another book, Tales and Legends from India by Ruskin Bond, a collection of stories taken from the Mahabharata, Vedas, Telegu, Vaisunava & Jataka (buddhist). most were fairy tales in the vein of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a penchant for reincarnation & arranged marriage, especially to princes & princesses. but most interesting to you were the stories of animal conspiracies against man or animals helping humans or other animals for favors (reciprocal altruism).