The smell of India, wow!
I cannot accurately explain how wonderful the smells of India are simply because of my lack of descriptive prowess and the fact that I don’t think English is a language that is built to describe the things that are in the air of India! I mean, saying something like, it smells like the combination of thousand year old incense, curry and four thousand years of passionate tears falls short by orders of magnitude, really!
5 hours of waiting in a train station sitting on a marble bench now feels normal but when we left Mumbai’s Central Terminus bound for Delhi my ass was in the special hell reserved for court clerks and meter-maids.
We boarded the Rajdhani Express in the 2/AC car (meaning, two bunks on each side top and bottom facing two more and the car was air conditioned) and immediately made ourselves comfortable. Sitting directly across from me was an older gentleman of Indian decent that commented on my Didgereedoo and asked me for a visual inspection. I started to do my standard explanation of what it was but he stopped me short by telling me what it was and where it was from. My response was a simple ‘yes’ and he began to tell me the story of his life by starting simply with, “I am a musician and a teacher…”
His name is Ustad Mohammad Sayeed Kahn and he is the 50th master of Rhaga singing in his family line, he is also the tragic end of that line of great singers. Over the next 6 hours (of on-and-off eating) he told us the story of the 400 years of his family and art and how the dynamics of rhaga music are the dynamics of life itself. He was born in India but because of his religious beliefs (Muslim) he now calls Amsterdam home and travels under a Netherlands passport and was on his way to Delhi to visit some family and “get a dose of India”, the home of his heart. After a much needed nice long sleep we all woke up, said good morning, and started eating again. After a while Ustad (master) Kahn got all the people in our little 6 seat train complex into the conversation and Mohammad told us stories from all over India that had us all totally engrossed till the train came to a full stop in Delhi. We couldn’t have asked for a better bunk mate, it was truly an honor getting to know this man!
Once again, my words fall short on the greatness of this man. (Edit 12/30/2018: This great musician died in 2012, but you can find concert footage and stories online.)
Then we were in Delhi but Dena already told you about that…
A thick conical shield of indifference created by a cell-phone and a dirty diaper…
Two distractions that have effectively turned my species into self-centered prigs I believe.
I say my species only because I share certain physical commonalities with that ass-hole talking on a phone, changing a shit filled diaper on a screaming infant, on a packed train to Amritsar, India.
As the funk was stripping the paint from the ceiling, “Yes, yes… Buy-buy, sell-sell” droned the one sided conversation in a language I did not speak (Hindi, maybe), It (said funkyness) was suddenly and not-surprisingly joined by the familiar scent of baby powder. (Oh thanks, something I can actually stomach…)
This is indeed what 21st century mankind has become to some extent, totally oblivious breeders of screeching nasal-insults, mindlessly perpetuating themselves over and over and over again.
…On a fucking train?! You think this is the right place to clean that horrible mess, while the other four of her offspring insanely ran up and down the aisles of the train-car dodging over-worked porters and passengers (hunched over, holding their bellies) on their way to a lovely Indian-train-ride restroom experience. (?!)
The supposed father of aforementioned brood slapped the face of one of the little angles as it ran by (for good measure I guess) then continued his phone conversation that never ended for the entirety of the 6 hour trip to the most holy of Sikh cities, Amritsar, India the home of the Golden Temple.
Ah yes, Amritsar… It’s now 10:30 at night and the only people awake in the train station are the (almost starving) auto-rickshaw and taxi-cab drivers that descend on the white people like flies on an Indian train-track. They surround us in a packed circle that quickly removes all of the oxygen from our immediate environment. Back off! I yell, (a first for me in India) and the two of us jump into the first auto-rickshaw that pulls up and the driver quickly puts all of our stuff in the back of the car. Dena says “Guru Arjan Deb Niwas”
“You are staying at the Golden Temple?” the driver asks, surprise in his voice.
“Yes!” We say in smiling unison.
“Ok, 50 rupies each.”
The temple is three kilometers from the train station so just out of walking distance in the middle of the night. Visions of thoughtless cell-phoned, ass-hole parents of stinking nightmares flood my head, I am drenched with sweat and covered with the muck of a thousand miles of Indian train travel and inspired to boom, “Fuck You!” (another first for me in India) I then jump out of the rickshaw and start yanking on the back door that has all of our baggage behind it, I say, “Open it or I’ll rip the fucking thing off! The driver quietly says to Dena, “Ok, ok 50 only!”
I (not hearing the above part of the conversation) am rocking the rickshaw off its wheels trying to get the back door open when Dena yells, “50 total!”
Suddenly subdued, I reply, “Ok” bow my head and returned to my seat in the rickshaw.
It is a quiet ride to the (now closed) Golden Temple. The drive of our rickshaw, whom was aware of this the entire time, quickly disappears into the night.
We walk about a block to the Sharma Guest House where stands the smiling face of our host and friend for the next 72 hours, Mr. Prem Singh Bore or rather “Mr. Love” as he came to be known by our crowd.
(…And the Spectacle)
“My name is Prem and in my language it means, Love!”
“Mr. Love, do you mind if I call you Mr. Love?”
“Yes, yes! You are my friend, you can call me anything you like, but this Mr. Love, I like!”
Ah, the Punjab! This is by far my favorite place in India so far, the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people we met there is (of course) indescribable but powerfully inspiring. I shot almost a thousand photos made some true friendships and came away with memories and stories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. All this in one night, a day and a night…
(…To be continued)