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its trash as the habit of centuries, the reliance on “someone else” to clean for you, becomes a habit based on an old, out of date understanding of the way of things?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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Sikhs Do More Than Feed People

Arriving in Delhi after 18 hours on the Rajdhani Express, James and I donned our packs and stumbled off the train. We both looked left, looked right, and followed the rest of the riders left on the assumption that we’d find an exit. Correct! At the very edge of the non-railway world, we paused before stepping out. We had seven hours until our train to Chandigarh, and though we were weighed down by our bags, we wanted to see something of Delhi. I had read through the highlights in the Lonely Planet and was most interested in Humayun’s Tomb, Connaught Place, and the Qutb Minar. So we forged our way into the crowd. As soon as my foot touched the top stair outside, the touts got started. I was not surprised, but fought to remain clear enough not to feel overwhelmed. You’d think that being a head taller than them would give me all the confidence in the world, but being unsure of my bearings gives me a vulnerability that is visible. Masking it is a matter of finding a direction as quickly as possible. I haven’t yet been intimidated, just half-drowned, as though covering for a teacher in a raucous kindergarten class. My usually effective headshake and repeated nonononononono didn’t discourage them, but it did keep them from stopping me. Finally, we got to the line of taxis and saw a person who seemed reasonable. After a brief negotiation for three hours of touring, we told him he was ridiculous and that we wouldn’t pay his fee. He just nodded seriously. Another man, who had remained beside me and who smelled of licorice, said not to pay him. “Go to tourist office,” he said, pointing out the place with a sign reading, of course, Tourist Office. We nodded and[…]

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Stained-Glass Butterflies and Men with Guns

Violence. Authority. I imagine that the police in India are aiming for the latter, but I can’t help but see the former. Here’s one of the little comparisons that I’ve been so happily avoiding for the most part. I came here to experience India and to seek out pockets, moments of civilization. Comparing the US and India is not what I’m after. Finding the best in each place I go is the point. But this one thing brought back to me my foreign-ness here and the fact that I do not, cannot know exactly what to expect. Walking out of the airport, I had my first experience with Indian guns. The police at the exit were carrying shouldered rifles. Real, deadly rifles, with which they could shoot and kill someone, even if fleeing. I was taken aback, but also exhausted, and it seemed to me a bit foggy. I didn’t even have the energy to imagine a cause for these rifles – reports of suspected terrorists arriving, protests outside, a violent passenger who was being removed from the airport. I just passed them by with a “whoa.” Awaiting the train today, James and I spent hours in the Mumbai Central train station. For the most part, I was happy and contented. I had a veritable pageant being performed around me. There were very poor women sitting in a group with one man (prostitutes and a pimp? Another thing I can’t recognize here). They were eating bread and butter, but somehow the man had cadged extra butter. They made little balls of the butter, popped them in their mouths, and appeared to luxuriate in the richness as it warmed on their tongues. The bread was dispatched much more quickly. The women rarely looked at me, but if I smiled, they smiled[…]

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Almost on the Move

Well, we’re hanging out on the balcony at the Hotel New Bengal, waiting for some laundry.  We had a lovely time with Vishal and Sneh and their son, Akshay, who is 15 months old.  I hope we get to spend some quieter time with them – they’re cool people, but we were all tired from a long day and I have this sunburn that saps my energy.  Akshay knocked a 7-Up over, so my travel clothes were sticky.  I took them to the desk and they sent them out for cleaning, but they won’t be done until about 1pm and we had to check out at 8am.  Oh, well! Yesterday was a big day – we walked down to the Gateway to India and took a launch over to Elephanta Island.  On the way, James and I got taken by surprise and a holy man performed a puja on us (for us?) before we even knew it.  See the slideshow for pictures… It was wonderful to spend an hour on the water.  The water itself it not very attractive, but it’s water and it’s in motion, so we were in love. The Elephanta Caves impressed me most by just being there.  Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the history of a place, but in this case, I was impressed by the modernity of it.  The fact that it was still there, still present, and really, could be cleaned up and lived in again (in parts)…that was what I loved best about it. Downside – we had our first day of paying too much for things.  Too much for a cab, for the puja, for a guidebook for the caves…but I knew that was going to happen sooner or later.    Of course, too much isn’t going to break the bank, so there[…]

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Mid-Night in Mumbai

It’s not actually midnight – it’s actually about 2am. With my time difference, it makes it midafternoon to some part of my hind brain, but the rest of me feels like going to sleep – again. I haven’t been able to do much yet. Once we got off the plane (the less said the better about that), it was all about overload. I’d heard this before, but since I have no experience in traveling outside the US, how could I have guessed what it meant? We tried to find the driver from our hotel. (Paid dearly for the luxury of being picked up by someone who knew exactly where he was going.) After a few minutes of waiting, I got put into the role of stupid tourist by a vendor who was giving me change. He gave me 400 rupees in change for a 500 rupee bill, and when I asked for the rest of the money, he went all blank faced. Well, I wasn’t about to start crying or yelling that he was a thief or anything, but it did start me off on the wrong foot. The next happening was wonderful, though. The driver walked by and I got his attention. He was from the right hotel, but had the wrong name on his board. After a few minutes on his cell phone with the hotel desk, he loaded our bags onto a cart and took us to the car. The wonderful part was the drive. It was terrifying in some part of my mind, but most of me was absorbed in trying to make sense of what I saw. I saw: burned out buildings that had been resettled travel businesses that looked open at 11pm traffic that melded and separated in a dance that mesmerized people sleeping[…]

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Last Day in Moses Lake

So, here’s the story. When I was 19 years old, I sat in Denny’s, 100 yards off of I-5, and looked out the window at the traffic. I had failed to achieve an Associate’s degree from Big Bend Community College due to sleeping through every single phys ed class during the spring quarter. I had decent grades in solid courses otherwise and it really chapped my ass to think of going to Big Bend again just for three PE credits. There I sat, talking desultorily with my friend Megan. She and I had some things in common – mostly a willingness to be considered different, even nasty, and a serious boredom with Moses Lake. She had a shaved head and almost always wore a baggy black hoodie, often with the hood up but perched slightly back on her head, so as not to hide the bristle that she enjoyed shocking people with. When it came to friends in the Greater (tiny) Moses Lake (Moses Hole) area, Megan was the one I hung out with most comfortably. I had been friends longer with Maurya and had deeper feelings, but those feelings were a bit mixed. She wanted to do so much, but didn’t seem to be making it happen. Megan was a drifter. I had no idea what she wanted in any long-term kind of way. My memories of her smiling are sweet – sweet smile, earned not automatic. Unlike Maurya, she wasn’t driven to do anything in particular, but also unlike Maurya, she didn’t see impediments everywhere either. It was lucky for me that she and I were together that night. Watching the cars drive by, I brooded on the fact that I had lived in Moses Lake, of all places, for six years. That made it my longest dwelling[…]

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