Sunday, 19 April 2009

An A to Z of India

Childlike yes. Though as Paul Theroux observed so much of travel seems to be waiting so herewith. This was scribbled down on the back of napkins and in my little notepad which is slowly falling apart. It was conceived partly at train stations, a bar in Bangalore and bits of pieces of were obvious immediately and pressing on their nature. For an example see "I"

Anyway here it is....
“Are You Experienced?” Amusing novel we read here about a nineteen year old's first trip to India. It was never going to win the Booker prize but it is laugh out loud in places in spite of it’s scatological humour and light hearted foolishness. In places it reads like a Bible, mentioning a “rugby team of touts” and the heat in Delhi. However cue the lamb burger incident, and the astute observation that there do no seem to be any lambs in India (so what the devil is that that masquerades as lamb on all the menus?) and we are really on to something.

BlaggersOne of the less appealing aspects of India was the feeling that everyone who was helpful or friendly was probably trying to get one over on you. From the kindly gentleman in Delhi who told us that the official Government Tourist Office was closed for refurbishment to the affable taxi drivers in Goa who mentioned that there was no bus that ran from the airport into town, the streets seemed alive with petty cons and vastly inflated prices. Then of course there were the snake charmers of Jaipur who tried to demand fiendish amounts of money for a somewhat unsatisfying display of their “skills” and the Worst Restaurant in India (found in Agra) whose greasy omelettes on dirty plates cost the same as a small island in the Mediterranean.
Cricket” From the dramatic foothills of the Himalayas to the magnificent shores of Goa and Kerala the conversation goes something like this:“What is your good name?”“What do you do?”“Where are you from?”“Ahhhhhh, Zimbabwe. You have a cricket team.” Warmth and congeniality radiate out from the speaker. We are now officially companions, friends, soul mates. I didn’t have the heart to mention that the last international game of cricket I watched was about twenty years ago.
“Driving” In our time in India the roads have shown me things that are just not scientifically possible. Cars fitting into and out of spaces that are just too confined to really happen, motorways where cars come at you from the right. And the left. And the sheer volume of traffic. I wonder, is there an un-rush hour?

“Enterprising” Everywhere we went in India I was struck by the way in which her denizens manage to get things done. In Zimbabwe we used to call it MacGyver after that mulleted, loveable eighties TV hero, and indeed in India the spirit of MacGyvering lives on. Whether it be taking a combine harvester down stream by lashing a platform across to narrow boats and towing the resultant catamaran with a smaller vessel, or supporting a five story building with bamboo scaffolding, there is always a way. Even those rogues the touts seem to possess a certain genius like quality.

“Food” The food in India has been nothing short of delicious, bar an omelette I had (see “Blaggers“). I thought I would struggle eating mostly vegetarian meals but there is such an enormous diversity of dishes on offer that this was the least of my worries. Aside from the gastronomical delights is the added bonus that I have almost lost my beer belly and their best pals the Love Handles (See “Imodium“).
“Generosity” We have been shown enormous generosity throughout our time in India. From Nipun’s Mum and Dad who helped us on our journeys and put us up in their palace home, to the relatives and friends that put us up and fed us around India. Thank you, from us. And we hope to repay the kindness. Another example of Indian generosity and hospitality that was displayed more times than I can count was being invited into a complete strangers house to have a cup of tea (no doubt with sugar) or a even a meal. The invitation was spontaneous, innocent and welcoming. It didn't make you do a double take. If a stranger off the street in the UK asked me in for a cup of tea I'd alert the authorities. Immediately.

"Humidity” I did not realise that it was possible to take a cold shower and sweat at the same time, but it is. And as I type this there is a swimming pool in my boxer shorts.
Imodium Give that man a knighthood.

Jantar Mantar Built by Jai Singh Jantar Mantar is home to the largest sundial in the world (erm, make that 27m high) and astronomical calendars and instruments that could confuse the daylights out of Confucius himself. If it is not impressive enough that the largest sundial is accurate to within two seconds, then pause to consider that this was constructed in the 1730’s.
“Kingfisher” And I ain’t talking about the bird. A refreshing lager if ever there was one.
“Laundry” In the event that you do not have access to a washing machine Indian laundry seems to be predominantly done by a Dhobi Wallah. The Dhobi Wallah will take your clothes by the sack full down to the river bank and then give it a thorough going over, soaping it, pummelling it and thrashing it down on a slab of stone to get the dirt out. It is then rinsed (back in the river) and hung out to dry. The clothes are then returned clean, but one arm of your favourite T shirt may be longer that the other and for the ladies your revealing neckline may possibly display your new navel piercing.

“Mosquitoes” I would be lying if I said that the mosquitoes here were the size of horses. However if I said they were the size of Shetland Ponies then this would not be too far from that thing called Truth. At a mere five foot I am surprised that Nipun has not been hauled away in the night and discovered sucked dry by some river bank, wilted, Rusk like and sapped of all blood. As for myself, well they would have too much of a time lifting my beer belly.
“Noise” I remember reading a story about a lady who moved from India to central London. In her tale she wrote about how very quiet London was at night. “Balderdash” I exclaimed. “We have buses, thousands of people, overland trains, lager louts!” Now I know what she meant. London is like a sepulchre in it’s deafening silence when put alongside India.

“Odours” Some good (the food, ahhhhh, the food!) and some not so good (railway stations, certain street corners and the man who made my breakfast in Agra (see “Blaggers”).My nostrils have been constantly assaulted with new smells.

“Paradoxical” India can be Paradise and it can be hell. All in the same breath. For example, on our plush, all inclusive Rs4 000 a day houseboat we went past a young village girl washing her teeth in the river. She did not have a tooth brush, she was using her index finger in it’s place. The water she used was no doubt thick with soap, washing liquid and diesel from all the vessels. And around the bay, no more than a ten minute slow cruise away was a five star resort. Being from the third world I did not think I would notice or really be effected by little things like this. But they are impossible not to see and reflect upon.
“Quinine” Did I mention the mosquitoes? Alas some carry a horrible little disease called Malaria. Malaria is generally prevented by taking tablets that contain Quinine. I am allergic to Quinine, which is wretchedly inconvenient for anyone that likes Gin and Tonic. Or for that matter anyone who should be taking malaria tablets. True there are other medications that are available. True, I should have taken these. Laugh now cry later?

“Rough Guide” Apparently I should have bought the Lonely Planet. My ear has been bent on this point several times now.

“STD” A phone box, for international calls home. Sadly I have not had much luck with the lines between India and Zimbabwe and I suspect that my family thinks I have fallen off the end of the world. Or caught Malaria.

“Temples” And what wondrous temples they are. Alas our Eurocentric history at school in Africa never mentioned that there was much in the way of history and culture outside Europe. The temples, monuments, forts and buildings that we have seen along our journey have been magnificent.
“Unpredictable” India is nothing if not unpredictable. This specifically includes travelling.

"Vibrant” From the clothing to the temples to the country side there is such an array of colour and life. The vibrancy is not just restricted to colours either, the animation with which people talk and interact is fantastic.

"Whisky” Especially big in the Punjab. Chivas Regal tends to be the poison of choice, though is restricted to the more discerning and valued guest. For example, if you arrive at someone’s house and they crack open a bottle of Bells then you know that you are not imposing, but don’t settle too deeply into that leather couch. On the other hand if the Chivas is uncapped then make yourself at home. For a long, long time.
“X” When we used to go camping as kids we had this theory that a mosquito bite would stop it’s itching if you firmly pressed an X into it with your finger nail. Clearly, as I sit here all x-ed up, this is rubbish or else I wouldn’t feel like someone had washed me in sulphuric acid.

“Yak” Before coming to India the only one I had seen was on a Swervedriver album cover. But they are real and alive and well and living in Shimla.

“Zebra Crossings” They have them here. At least they have White Stripes painted on the roads in several places. (Not the band but wouldn’t that be groovy?) HOWEVER, you’d be better off trying to swim across the crocodile infested Zambezi River during the Hippopotamus’s mating season than using a Zebra crossing in these here parts. You’d certainly last longer in the Zambezi, though I imagine the end result would be much the same.

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