Answers

No internet. It’s been a while since I’ve had no internet in my daily life.  There are times when I want to know something – anything – and I cannot find my answer.  I have lost the ability to mark something in my head as needing to be researched.  I feel like the questions get lost as soon as I realize my inability to get an instant answer. But are the answers themselves behaving any better?  When I have access to all of the information of the internet and I look for that instant information, do I retain it?  Is an instant answer memorable? Since being in India, there are so many things that I have been unable to figure out.  So much of my surroundings are new, unfamiliar in language only or in idea as well.  For example – I went to a tailor to have my lovely Varanasi silks made up into a salwar kameez.  The woman I spoke with asked me about chowridar.  Uh oh – a new word, a new idea.  Is this the local variant of the salwar kameez?  A local kind of top?  Or something altogether different?  If I had easy, transportable access to the internet, I could have looked that up.  If I had looked that up, she and I would have had a more sense-able conversation about the garments I wanted made.  But stumbling, wondering, finally figuring it out – might I remember better once I know what the chowridar is, because of the very weight of misunderstanding? If there was a deep learning course as in scifi, wherein I popped in contact lenses, put ear buds in, and took a receptor pill…If in a hour, or an hour a day for a week, I could be fluent in Hindi…If I could[…]

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Warning: Graphic Sickness

The day of heroic effort and eventual comfort. So, we woke up at about 8am and left the hotel almost three hours after we were supposed to be out. The proprietor pointed that out to us smugly, so satisfied by our lateness that I wanted to shake him. Far be it from me to deny him the pleasure of detesting us for whatever it is he detests us for. We had almost five hours until our driver was to pick us up for the train, so we went back to Govinda’s – the restaurant with the great waiter. I put down my computer bag. I unsnapped the straps of my backpack, and with the expansion of my belly came a horrible feeling. I put down my pack and said to James, “I have to go to the bathroom – RIGHT NOW!” He thought I had the runs. I started to throw up in the hotel lobby, about halfway to the bathroom. Swallowing chunks, I dashed past the impassive front desk clerk and around the corner to the “toilet.” They don’t call them bathrooms in India, which makes sense I guess, since you’re not meant to bathe there. And they’re mostly not the toilets I grew up with either. They’re inset in the floor rather than on a pedestal like a chair, so you put your feet on the corrugated bits and squat. I hear they’re nicer than the ones in France. Just inside the room, without even locking the door behind me, I let go. I got most of it in the toilet, but moaned at the rest before losing focus again for another wave. Time after time, my stomach cramped, shooting its contents back out of my system, while my mind wandered. I stood, crouching, thinking, should I kneel?[…]

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Allahabad Sucks

Wow. Allahabad sucks. This is the first town in India that I have honestly just not liked. Strange. We arrived in town at 5am. A bit disoriented (duh), we chose a rickshaw driver by chance. He said 5 rupees – before he had even heard our destination. I knew from the map that it was close, but… He piled us and our gear into the little cycle-rickshaw and wow – do we ever not fit. Two skinny people would fit. I don’t know if James and I would fit even 100 pounds lighter, though. Very narrow seats! So we were each half on the seat and half on the decorative wooden side, which pressed painfully into my butt. The driver (rider?) then took us a completely unnecessarily circuitous route, which I didn’t begin to suspect until after I had paid him 20 rupees (feeling bad about the distance). He carried our luggage into the Hotel Tepso, then moped around hoping for more money. Having put some thought to the distance we’d gone, I was put out by him and shooed him away roughly. The clerk was a drag, the room was whatever, and the phone call we got a couple of hours later (while making up for missed sleep) was a rude complaint that we hadn’t put our passport information in their guestbook. La-di-da, like it’s my job to do your job. So we got some chai in the overdone and overpriced Jade Restaurant and then tried to shake out the wrinkles of the day. We started walking. We walked quite some ways down a main road. Businesses lined the street, but mostly behind closed doors. This felt more like strip malls than the shopping we’d experienced in India up to that point. Still not enamored of our new temporary[…]

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Krishna’s Birthday in Fatehpur Sikri

After our long, long walks of yesterday, we arranged a taxi to take us the 30km to Fatehpur Sikri. The short version of the story goes like this: Emperor Akbar says, when will I have a son? Priest/saint/wise man says, on such and such date. Emperor Akbar says, oh yeah? Well, if so, then… So when the son is born as the priest had foretold, Akbar is way stoked. He says, okay, I’m moving my capitol to your town. Get ready. He builds a huge complex of temples, palaces, and a big ol’ fort. (He liked forts. He built the one in Agra as well.) One palace is called the Palace of the Christian Wife. (I bet you can imagine why.) That’s where the mother of his new son lives. They go along for a short while like this, then someone says, Emperor. He answers, yes? That someone says, well, we’re out of water. This place can’t support us. So the Emperor and the whole court move back to Agra, and the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri fall apart. They’ve been restored somewhat now. The very beautiful marble building in the courtyard beyond the Victory Gate is now the tomb of the saint guy. It was pretty cool, and the gate is enormous! James and I walked up the road until we reached a fancy building. We went in and looked around. It was all free. We had managed to accidentally miss the palaces that they charge admission for. Oops! But that’s okay. The real highlight of the day started while leaving the gate. We sat down to put our shoes on and suddenly there were people around us, Indian people, taking pictures of each other with us. Like with a rock star or something. It was funny, but James and[…]

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The Emperor Imprisoned

The smell of spicy-sweet incense, the heat that soaks beyond bone marrow into DNA, the smooth-sharp crack of HindiGujaratiMarathiMalayalamWhoKnowsWhat over the constant background of horns. These combine to hold me in each moment. I never have a TV feeling, never a moment that could have been on a screen. Every pore and nerve ending is whispering, screaming, sighing, or laughing. And they are all saying the same thing: India. We toured around the Taj Mahal, walking all of the way around below it before climbing the wooden stairway built over the marble stairway. Once atop the broad base of the Taj, the artistry of the designers and builders shifted something in me, just like my first view from outside the gate, the glowing Taj Mahal framed perfectly in a dark entryway. The Taj Mahal is a piece of art, surrounded by more art. The Taj Mahal is a crypt, but it lives. Never before have I truly loved a piece of death-art, but this place is homage, not just resting place. It is love, not loss. We spent an hour and a half or so there and then walked to the Agra Fort. One piece of information that had stuck with me was this: Shah Jahan, the ruler who caused the Taj Mahal to be built, was imprisoned by his son in this fort. He was given rooms from which he could see the Taj, but was never allowed to visit. Where I loved the Taj as art, I loved the Fort as function. It is a real, defensible fort, with real battlements and small openings from which you can hope to decimate an attacking group before having to face the remainder. But in addition to the actual fortress (still host to a garrison of soldiers and closed in that[…]

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Uncivilized India

So far, pretty much everything I’ve had to say about India has been easy to categorize as praise.  It’s not perfect, though.  In one way in particular… Uncivilized India is gross, overwhelming, too strong to ignore.  Uncivilized India is a country of littering.  And littering is a weak, polite word for an action that, en masse, leads to a river so choked with plastic bottles that the dead cow only shows a bit of bloated belly, otherwise hidden, coated, covered by Pepsi, Mirinda, 7-Up, Aquafina, etc, etc, etc.  The strange foil packets of tobacco flakes, breath mints, who knows what – they pile up in cracks and fill the potholes in the road. People are constantly sweeping the sidewalks and street edges, but they cannot keep up with the flood of trash dropped, tossed, unconsidered by a billion people.  Who are the sweepers?  Are they of one caste?  Are they disappearing with the caste system?  Will the beauty of India drown in its trash as the habit of centuries, the reliance on “someone else” to clean for you, becomes a habit based on an old, out of date understanding of the way of things? It’s happening.  But a country that opens trash bags to find what’s usable should be able to move toward recycling.  Right?

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