I did not know that a 747 could stay in the air so long. After flying for what seemed like days from Los Angeles (actually 16 hours) we landed in Taipei, my first brief stop on the way to New Delhi. I had lucked out and persisted until I got a seat in the exit row, which for me means I don’t have to stare at my knees the whole flight. Geez, I hope everyone doesn’t discover the virtues of the exit row on most aircraft! Another five hours later we sat down in Singapore, the second stop. This time I had decided just for kicks to hang out in Singapore for one night, since I had never been to this place. Not only had I never been here, I hardly knew where the place was. When the travel agent suggested Singapore Airlines to Singapore, an island in Malaysia, my first thought was that the pilots probably carried spears and had bones in their noses.
As usual, by now I was wondering what the hell I was doing going to India. I always do that on the first day of a trip. I always promise myself to learn from this and from that day on to stay home and relax before a nice fire with classical music and a good book. This trip had started as a kind of joke before it got serious. My friend Ravindra Lal was planning his son’s wedding in Jaipur, over a year before the event, and each time we would meet he would update me. Then one day Ravi popped the question, I believe, somewhat in jest. "Jim, I am sending you and invitation; you might even consider coming to India for the wedding. You know you always told me you wanted to go to India." He must have seen something in my eyes, because the next thing I know, I am planning the trip in a halfway serious manner. "If you come, I will help you have a good visit. I’ll make sure someone will meet you in each place to help you with anything you need."
As you know from previous reports, this is not my usual style of travel. Nevertheless, I was not ready for one of my usual cultural adventures in getting lost. Besides, if I could make this easy enough, I might even get some long overdue rest and relaxation. I decided to accept his offer and do this trip differently from my usual. Indeed, everytime (almost) I dismounted or mounted a plane or train someone was there waiting with a sign containing my name. At times I felt a bit ostentatious. At times I could not imagine how I would be doing it otherwise. I counted over 20 such transfers, using over 80 man-hours of time all at a bargain cost of $140, one of the best investments I have made in a while. When I first saw the price, I wondered why it costs so much to have me picked up at an airport and transferred to a hotel. Believe me, on a trip like I took, the transfer task was no simple job. Later, I wondered how it cost so little.
I stayed in the finest hotels, and about half the time had a guide and a driver to explain everything, to answer questions and to satisfy my every need. And about half the time I drifted around more like in my usual travel. There’s something to be said for both. Clearly, I could not have done in two weeks on my own what I was able to do with the resources at my command. I visited the cities of New Delhi, Khuajaraho, Agra, Udaipur, Jaipur, and a dozen or so small cities and villages.
I discovered that India can offer an extremely inexpensive vacation. However, another side of this is that in India one can vacation like a Maharajah on a blue collar budget. I tried a little of both. The cost for a driver, a guide, and a car for one day was less than the cost of a car rental in the US. And as you will see, one does not want to rent a car in India.
Discussing this with my friends, I rediscovered how ignorant we Americans seem to be when it comes to world history and geography. By the time I had gotten to Singapore I had read just enough to realize that this is one of the most advanced cities in the world. I abandoned my usual land and hunt technique for a hotel since I had just over one day here and a jet lag that is hard to calculate since I had crossed the international date line. I had left on Thursday night and landed on Saturday afternoon and I figured that dinner came at about breakfast time. So I checked in a hotel chosen by the airlines, showered and hit the streets.
Even at the airport, I was immediately impressed with the natural beauty of the place, the modern highway system, and a bay full of ships of every variety. Clearly, the British got here first, since we were driving on the left hand side of the road. I had not studied yet about what I was supposed to see, but I figured there’s so much that I don’t need to worry about not seeing something interesting.
Hey! That’s a neat street just in front of the hotel; let’s check it out. Hmm, Arab Street, hundreds of really old shops, reminds me of the French Quarter in New Orleans, full of neat carpets, silk, cloth, baskets and Arab looking stuff. It was fun to walk down, I took a few photographs just in case it was a place tourists are actually supposed to see. Right in the middle of the district I found a nice Mosque. Okay, let’s get a picture of that too. Guess what. Right. Singapore’s largest Mosque. Even next to a palace.
Then I began to discover something about Singapore I still don’t understand. Singapore has millions of huge shopping malls, I mean big malls, multiple floors, elaborate decorations and architecture. In one place I walked into a whole area of town that had been covered and air conditioned, a place called Bugis Village. I had never seen anything quite like it. I began to wonder if the rest of Singapore had anything to outdo this. It did.
I bad been so busy trying to get in a lot on Saturday, since things might close Sunday, that only when I got back to the hotel that night did I begin looking for something to read to what I really should see on Sunday. Back in my room, I made a fantastic discovery. In the yellow pages of the phone book was the most detailed tourist description that I had yet seen. Full of maps, numbers, locations, and advice, I decided to use it as my guide for the next day. One of the first things I read was that the "Arab District" I had seen earlier is one the most visited, famous places in Singapore, dating back hundreds of years.
One of the most valuable things a tourist can do is to immediately tackle the city subway system. All the details were here in the Yellow pages, right down to how much it cost and how to save money. Singapore’s MRT is a pushover, about the most user friendly system I have seen,, and the fact that everything is in English almost makes it too easy. So I changed some money and hopped on the subway to head out to a place I kept hearing about in the elevators, called Orchard District. I thought I had seen shopping malls before. I was blown away, by this district. They don’t call them malls; they call them cities, and there they sprawl out one after another. There must be at least ten or fifteen along the beautiful tree lined Orchard Street, a Harrods, a Tashiyamaha, a Tiffany’s, a Rolex Center, even a K mart. I stood there in total amazement. WHO IS BUYING ALL OF THIS SHIT!!!?
I left Singapore feeling a bit humble, a bit stupid, and a bit smarter, reassuring myself with the old homily "The most efficient way to get smart is first to be stupid". At least now when I get back on the Singapore Airlines, I will know that the plane is a lot cleaner and the flight a bit better done than I would expect on American Airlines. Jesus! I hope the next guy who comes along and looks for that section in the yellow pages doesn’t get to sore about their being missing. I couldn’t resist bringing them along with me. I mean,...... how many tourists really look at the yellow pages anyway.
I arrived in New Delhi at about midnight on a Sunday. I had no idea what to expect except that a travel agent had promised to meet me at the airport with a plan; also a former colleague would be there if he had received my message. Every over populated place I have been has the same familiar feel and smell and this was no exception. When so many people use a place, scratches and dirt tend to build up in an unremovable fashion, with dirt and rust getting into the scratches like a festering wound. From this point on, I experienced one surprising thing after another and if I could sum it all up with a single sentence or two I would probably wind up with a statement and a question. "This doesn’t seem to make any sense. and Is this really working?"
I was relieved to see my name in the hand of an agent as well as my friend, Ashok. Ashok came with his brother and his young niece, who ran up to me and threw a Leigh about my neck and welcomed me with the Hindu pressed palms maneuver. What a neat way to land in New Delhi!
Try and imagine what would happen if you took Los Angeles International Airport and serviced it with a single lane highway. That’s what Indira Ghandi International Airport looks like. Now upon my first exposure, I thought this was an impossible traffic jam, a true gridlock. Hell, this was no gridlock. For Delhi, this was light traffic.
You are not going to believe what I am about to tell you. I am not even sure that I believe it even though I have now seen it regularly in India. It is worth a trip to India just to see the traffic. At first I thought I was having a nightmare. I even ran a dream test on myself to make sure. Traffic rules in India are like nothing I have ever seen. That Indians have hit upon this particular solution and that they consider the solution acceptable is amazing. That the solution somehow may actually represent some kind of optimum is even more amazing.
Forget everything you ever knew about traffic or traffic control. Consider the following typical situation. You have a two lane road, actually, not two wide lanes either. What we are going to do on this road is to move traffic in both directions, the traffic consisting of cars, trucks, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, camels, elephants, horse and oxen drawn carriages, ricshaws pulled by hand, rickshaws driven by smoke belching two cycle motors, buses, stray cattle, dogs, pigs, and people on foot. We are going to put only a few inches between each of these components. The bicycles outnumber the cars by a good margin and there is a good chance that any given bicycle carries two or three people. I even saw wheel chairs in this congestion. To further complicate this (or simplify it?) we will put no lines on the road, we will not waste money on sidewalks, and there are no crosswalks; pedestrians cross wherever they feel the notion. They even walk down the middle of the street. There are a few traffic lights but no one obeys them, so there are essentially no traffic lights. Now we must make it possible for people to pass each other.
For the life of me, I cannot believe that this actually works! And yet it does! Traffic actually moves, people pass, all of these vehicles are within inches of each other and since I have been here, I have not seen a collision. (see the next chapter for an update.) Even more astonishing, I have never seen traffic sitting still the way it does on the San Diego Freeway. In India, traffic, almost by definition cannot sit still. In India, the car horn has a use that gives the extra dimension needed for this. A car here would be more inoperable without a horn than without brakes. Every last vehicle is sounding his horn incessantly to warn the guy in front that he is about to get hit. Every vehicle plays chicken with another one time right after another, and one of them always gives way at the exact right minute to avoid a collision. Trucks and buses, with horns that will knock down a concrete wall, plow through, blasting away, always winning the chicken game. Almost every vehicle has a sign on its rear asking you to blow your horn and let him know you are there.
Here are some of the procedures, that apparently evolved over time.
1. If the middle of the road is available, get into it. That’s like the fast last, except one lane serves both directions, and it always has vehicles in it going both ways. A more general version of this rule is that if any space anywhere is available, get into it.
2. If the right lane is open for at least a car length out in front, pass. Don’t worry about the vehicle coming head on; he can drive off the shoulder. If its a bus or a big truck, then worry; its up to you to keep from getting rammed head-on. A corollary to this rule is: Never sit still. Always move somewhere, even if you have to leave the road. A given is that the traffic moves. Gridlocks apparently only happen when there are rules to follow.
3. If there is no cop around don’t worry about traffic lights, stop signs, etc. It’s more dangerous to stop than to keep moving, because that’s what everyone else is going to do.
4. If you hear a horn that seems to be directed towards you, watch your ass, watch you front, watch your side. I think maybe something may even be above and below. The problem is that you are always hearing a horn. If you don’t see anything too risky, then assume the horn is for someone else.
5. The only rule in passing is that you must always be attempting to do it and acting like, come hell or high water, you are going ahead with your plan to pass. If a head on collision looks imminent, blow your horn like hell. Also flash your lights if the situation looks desperate. Bluff. Forget trying to bluff a bus. In any event your primary goal is to pass whatever is in front of you as though you are the only one who really needs to get where you are going fast.
6. When all traffic in front of you comes to a halt, assume its just because they don’t want to go. Therefore, blow your horn more and go around them any way you can even if it means going off of the shoulder.
7. There is no "Your side of the road". All of the road is everybody’s. If a big bus is coming straight at you on "your" side of the road, it becomes his side of the road and it is up to you to find somewhere else to be.
A few days later, I learned rules about the open highways.
7. When entering a divided highway, take whichever side seems to have the most open space in it. At a roundabout, if no cop is in sight go whichever way looks the fastest.
8. When getting out of a car, open the door slowly or else something will run into it.
The more I watched this traffic move, I began to realize that these people may have actually optimized traffic flow here. After a week in India, I began to see a correlation between the traffic rules and the way everything else seems to work with almost the same rules applying not only to traffic but to most other activities. For example, quite often I would find myself standing in a line (cue) which did not seem to be moving at all, and yet people were being served. Since Indians do not seem to think in a linear fashion, they apparently don’t grasp the concept of a cue. If there is a space at a counter without someone in it, it will be filled, just as space gets filled in traffic. Since I observed this routinely taking place in social and business functions, I concluded that it is not rude to move in front of someone who left a little space. At that point I recognized that being in the serving line at the wedding was tantamount to being in the Delhi traffic. One has a choice whether to drive an automobile or not’ however, one must learn the same principles in other activities or else one would starve to death.
Perhaps the Indians have found a complete new formula for dealing with life in general. If there were conventional rules to follow dealing with a situation as complex as that in India may be hopeless. I ask several friends if they see accidents very often. "Oh sure, every day or so a bus runs over somebody. But life goes on. People just walk on by when that happens."
Most vehicles pour out the black smoke so much that the whole road area is not just smoggy; its smoky, and the smell of oily smoke always pervades.
It would be nice, if less challenging, to move through life enjoying its gifts without being too conscious that the con has worked its way into the lives of even the common working man as a conventional source of income. I had seen this before. The guide takes you to see some local craftsmen at work. My first guide, a nice Indian lady kept throwing in discussions about the magnificent skills of carpet weavers. Before I realized what had happened I am sitting in a plush room with a cup of Indian tea and a demonstration. I have figured this scam by now enough to be able to play it. I relaxed, had a nice tea, looked at a few carpets, then got up and walked out of the place. I am always amazed at the prices these shops start at. In a place so poor, where labor is practically free, they apparently convince hapless tourists to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for carpets. My guide seemed surprised I didn’t have my credit cards out.
By afternoon, I had bought her lunch and generally had a magnificent day touring palaces, the Red Fort, Hayakum’s tomb, and the Qutab Minor, a magnificent tower from the tenth century. At this tower is also the famous Iron pole that has puzzled metallurgists by not rusting for a thousand years. I managed to reach around the pole backwards and touch my fingers, a sign of good luck and a grant of a wish as legend has it. It took me a while to think up a wish, but I finally wished that I would find my perfect soul mate this year with whom I would live happily ever after.
I began to feel a transition in my ability to hear words and feelings about this place. The British influence here was surely clear, but I found it puzzling that even though the Indians had kicked butt in 1947, there seemed to be few hard feelings about the whole thing. The Indians had been conquered and plundered so many times in their history, that the British were just one more of the past rulers from a whole line. It occurred to me that when a country’s history includes being taken over by outsiders time and again, a different feeling about heritage prevails. My country has yet to be taken over, so I don’t have this feeling in my data base. (Less’n of course the war between states counts when the Yankees came South and kicked the shit out of my great grand daddy.)
Becoming familiar with the guide proved to be a mistake. I had become her friend and forgotten that she was making a living being with me. She convinced me that I should buy a sahri for the wedding. She would accompany me to a local store in downtown Delhi, help me pick out something appropriate, and then help bargain for it. Before I knew what I was doing, I am walking out of a shop with a $175 sahri under my arms and it took me a day to realize that to get her small commission cost me paying about fifty dollars too much for the Sahri. I suppose I should have realized where I was when I could see that no Indian customers were in the store.
Learning how to survive as a tourist in Delhi could get expensive. By now I had gotten used to a hand stuck out for rupees everywhere one goes. The kids everywhere chant "Hello, rupees" with such a routine that I am not sure they even know that they are begging any more, since no one could respond to so many of them.
Some of the most rewarding time was spent with my Indian friends. On my second day Ashok and I walked around the shops in central Delhi, where he bought a few more of the silk, miniature paintings for me at a price of about half what I had paid the day before. Ashok took me to visit some of his friends, relatives, the University, a furniture factory owned by one of his friends, and we ended the day with a dinner in his home where I met about a dozen of his relatives. This kind of experience was somewhat reassuring because I rediscovered that, basically, people everywhere are really nice under normal conditions, they have a lot in common, and there is always much of interest to share.
Khajuraho; I still have trouble saying it, just as the names of the people I meet here. Even though I ask them again and again, the strange names have no register in my data bank.
My guide took me first into the West Park of temples, the magnificent temples of the Chandella dynasty, erotic statues and all. These temples show how in some era, a society honored sex and pleasure and blended it inseparably with their everyday lives. The people considered that the spirit was fed by and was the same as the senses, that satisfying the senses was an important step in the evolution towards Nirvana. I was amazed at how sexy a thousand year old statue could be, the flesh, the muscles, the forms of the bodies were all marvelously done in an extremely titillating fashion. I am almost ashamed to admit that in addition to being excited, inspired, and moved, I was also sexually aroused by the temples and their architecture. Whatever they had achieved a thousand years ago, still worked. The statues lining these walls, numbering almost 1000 for one of the temples, showed every emotion and life experience in addition to almost every form of explicit sex. Sad to say, some anal retentive, Mogul jerk, named Akbar, the Great, couldn’t bare to leave these guys alone so the society did not survive.
I experienced this first with a well educated guide who gave me the history, theories, and answers to my many questions. Later, I returned and just stood in the park for a long time, alone. Sometimes that was difficult to do. Even though hawkers fortunately are not allowed in the park, each temple has an overseer, who seems to be running his own enterprise. He volunteers telling you about the temple, and he expects rupees. Finally, I had to resort to saying to these guys, "I want to be alone, please." The next 24 hours I was on my own.
After a huge Indian meal in the best hotel in town where I was staying, I decided to go for a walk towards the village. I was swarmed by the rickshaw drivers, who were bent on having me ride instead. It’s difficult to get rid of them.
One walked along with me and chatted in broken English. He explained that he lived in the old village about two kilometers away. He wanted to show me his village. Well, I had walked enough. So I found myself in the rickshaw wondering where the hell I am going to end up. By the time the paved road had gone to gravel, then dirt, I also realized that it was getting quite dark, and here I am in a rickshaw going down a dark county road, in a strange country, with a guy who makes less in five years than I am carrying in my shirt pocket.
Partly wondering what I was doing and partly challenging fate to do with me God’s will, I decided to play this out. Coming into the village relieved my anxiety, but not much. Pulling up before a mud hut, jammed between two other mud huts, he proudly stated "My house". Then he called out to some mumbling I could hear inside the hut.
The front door was about four feet tall and when it opened I could see four or five beds inside with people already in them. An old man, my drivers father, rose from his bed and greeted me with the pressed palm welcome, took me by the hand and insisted I come into this place. From the dim light of his kerosene lamp I could see a mud floor and a ceiling so low I had to stoop. . The next thing I know, I am sitting on the old man’s bed. I then realized that at least half dozen people were sleeping in the hut.
We toured the narrow winding streets of his village which was mostly asleep by now, since there was clearly no electricity. Traveling back to the hotel, he took a shortcut through the woods, again placing us in an extremely desolate location. Thoughts of his buddies charging from the woods crossed my mind, but I never really worried that much. Something about all of his just seemed okay. I did finally put down my foot when he ask to take me into his wheat field to show his upcoming crop.
I had made the mistake of not agreeing on a price for his services and when I got out at the hotel he demanded 350 rupees (about $10), an amount that I knew was about ten times too much. I argued a little, but realized that I had gotten $10 worth of experience and knowledge so I paid him what he asked. I figured of the thousands of dollars I had spent on this trip he played a significant role in what I would remember. I hoped I didn’t spoil it to much for the next guy who wants to pay him 20 rupees.
Early the next morning I attempted the walk to the village once more. The little boy, self appointed guide, was Tsaroh, I think; his last name never stuck even once. He was about 12 to 14 years old and already he could speak four languages, a survival mechanism. With this skill, he would earn a living off tourists like me. That wasn’t the only skill he had developed.
I had no way to get rid of him, not exactly that I wanted to; I sorta liked having him along. Whatever I needed he supplied, and he helped fend off the other hawkers, who at one time damn near got in a fight over me, tugging at both arms to get me into their shops. One of the shop owners whose shop I entered clued me in that Tsaroh was demanding a commission from every one I spoke to.
Tsuroh and I rented a bicycle for 50 rupees, about $1.50. I drove and he road on the back. From the new village, which was just a mish mash of shops selling local crafts, we rode once again into the old village, which had been too dark for me to appreciate the previous night. I was glad I came back especially seeing a miniature New Delhi which was on the contrary pleasantly quite clean and interesting. I personally think this little village could make a bundle off tourists if they were properly marketed to the Khujaraho tourists.
When Tsaroh had first begged to work for me, he made me his Maharajah, he promised to take me everywhere for 30 rupees. At the hotel when I handed the bike back over to him, I decided to run an experiment. I would give him not 30, not 60, but a hundred rupees (about $3.00) and watch his reaction. As I expected, he begged for 50 more, then 20. I shook his hand and sent him on his way. Enough of this shit is enough.
In the afternoon I again rented a car and a guide to drive out and view the countryside. Within an hours drive we visited another palace at the top of a mountain, which my guide Dilip told me would someday be made into a hotel.
I had seen pictures of it since I was a child, I had studied it in art, and I knew that it was touted as a masterpiece of architecture. I have experienced emotion with works of art, but never before had I experience something as powerful as this. I listened to the staggering statistics, 20,000 workers for 20 years, 60 different inlays in a one inch diameter flower, numbers and ratios of perfection, craftsmen whose arm were cut off to prevent them from reproducing the work.
Taking instructions from my guide, whose every other word was a British accented "Sir", I framed the Taj Mahal in the arc of the East side Mosc while standing inside the Mosc, then slowly walked outward allowing the view to widen enclosing more and more of the Taj Mahal in my view. Suddenly, I felt a magnetic effect drawing me out. The effect was almost surreal and when the span of my view finally opened to include the entire Taj Mahal, I felt a sensation not unlike an orgasm as goosebumps rose on my arms. This is truly the most beautiful manmade structure I have ever seen. I was so glad it had been built to immortalize love and not just some trite honor of a king, a won war, or even a god.
Reflecting on this technique, which was employed in various locations around the Taj Mahal, I realized that this very concept was the magic technique I had been searching for to apply to holographic art. This experience can be achieved only with the availability of three dimensions in the medium and holography is the only way to achieve it without the real thing.
In the afternoon, I toured the city of Agra, then on to Fatepur Sikri, a city that in the 14th century was three times the size of London. The city became a ghost town, for lack of drinking water, in less than twenty years, not much longer than it took to build it. One of its claims to fame is a large human sized Pachisi boards that the Sultan used to play with real women as pieces.
The trip to and from Fatepur Sikri is equally interesting, passing through a number of villages. One of the more unusual sites I asked the guide about were the shops that were fronted by 8 or 10 cots with guys laying on them. "That is a truckstop for the truckers to spend the night,"he explained. I wondered if the food had to be good there, since truckers eat it. Each one of these villages was a miniature Delhi, almost as crowded, just as dirty. Jesus! I am glad I took all of those vaccinations. I hope they work.
I left the hotel for the station at 6:30 to catch a train back to Delhi, after which I would fly to Udaipur. This is the morning when I was truly glad to have a guide. The station was dark and crowded. People were scattered over the floor from spending the night here. There seemed to be little instruction how to do anything. I made my first mistake getting out of the car. I had noticed that the driver always rushed to open my door. I learned a practical reason for this procedure. I opened my door just in time for a rickshaw to smash into it, damn near ripping the door off. I had just seen and been a participant in the first accident. Everyone went on as though this was standard business.
The train was two hours late. I watched the local business in the station with amazement, a restaurant on wheels, hawkers selling local stuff, but not to many tourists. Most tourists could not stomach this. Dogs wandered up and down the track looking for a bit of food. Then I noticed a guy actually sweeping the floor. He had a nice pile of trash including dirt, paper, food, and dog shit. He is actually cleaning up!. I had images of him sweeping the heap into a huge dust pan then putting it into a garbage can. Then to my dismay he swept the entire stack of garbage off the platform onto the tracks.
I was puzzled earlier by the ticketing of the last part of the journey. Getting from Agra to Udaipur turned out to be considerably more hassle than I had bargained for. When you look on the map and see two cities separated by a couple of hundred miles, you don’t think of them being far apart. By plane I picture 30 minutes, four or five hours by car, tops. Going that far in a car turns out to be a long days hard journey. By train, it can be just as long and by plane, I found it took four hours...Because we made two long stops. Part of the reason the stops take longer is that Indian Airlines has the seats stuffed so tightly together that they are hard to even get into. Second, every flight I was on was full to the last seat. It takes a long time to get so many people off and on the plane.
I began to worry about my wait list ticket I had received for returning from Udaipur to Jaipur. After making the flight from Delhi to Udaipur, the reason became evident. After listening to the travel agent say no problem a few times and a dream that told me to take matters in hand, I decided to take back the charge of some of my trip and schedule a train. It turned out to be a very wise decision.
Today I made one mistake (not too costly) and one good decision. The mistake, I am ashamed of because I knew better. Two little boys tagged along saying "hello, hello, rupees?". I had my hands in my pockets at the time fiddling with two, two-rupee coins (about $.06 each). I looked around. There were no other kids in sight. I put one of the coins in each of the boys hands. The last I saw of them was the big boy chasing the little boy to try and take his coin from him as they disappeared into a group of mud huts. Within thirty seconds I was surrounded by kids, all screaming rupees, all fighting for the closest position to me. What with the traffic, no sidewalks, and the rules I described above it was a damn miracle that one of the kids did not get run over. I felt like shit, but I had learned my lesson. I knew I had no choice but to ignore them. After ten or fifteen minutes of complete bedlam all except one gave up and left. The one remaining was the little kid I had first given two rupees to. I surmised that the big kid had caught him and relieved him of his temporary wealth.
This temptation of making oneself feel good by giving something to someone is not unlike the guy who feeds the pigeons or the squirrels in a park. For a while it feels nice. And then one day there’s pigeon shit everywhere.
Back at the hotel, after a brief nap I decided to hit the city once more. At the gate outside of the hotel, waited a group of motor rickshaw drivers. These guys work for peanuts, but they can be worth their weight in gold, what a bargain. But I wanted a smart one who spoke excellent English, so I stopped to chat with them. It quickly became clear who the right guy was, but the problem was he was not the next in the cue. Nevertheless, my chosen guy was smart enough to buy off the next guy in cue for a few cents and off we went.
This bright young man and his machine were totally at my disposal for about a dollar an hour. He made a great guide, an advisor, and even a translator that allowed me to go into the old market place, where I bought, for example, a big bunch of bananas for $.16. Again, I was amazed at the range of prices one can pay in this country for the same thing.
One of the main reasons for coming to Udaipur was to visit Chittaurgah, a fort located about seventy five miles northeast. Actually, the trip there was, as usual, at least as interesting as the fort itself.
I began to realize that man made "stuff" is simply too difficult for nature to recycle. The way these people have evolved in handling manmade conveniences is outright dangerous. As we approached each city, the level of seemingly intolerable pollution rose exponentially, each town having become a virtual toxic waste site. In the towns, passing through the crowded streets, each time I thought I was witnessing the ultimate in insanity, I would see something to top it. I was incredulous with the outright danger I observed everywhere, people stuffed not only in buses, but on top, chasing the moving bus down the crowded street. I had seen the same thing with trains, people still chasing and mounting the train after it had exceeded a man’s running speed.
Imagine in the center of a city, horns all blowing, bicycles, camels, trucks, pigs, buses, a few cows wandering lazily down the main street, an old lady ambling in the midst of the street, two dogs fighting, thick clouds of smoke, dirt, and filth, a man pissing against a building. Jesus! I thought. Could this be where my own country is going? How in God’s name did it ever come to this? This is not an acceptable solution. But all around me I see that the people have accepted it and have apparently gotten used to it. I began to wander what things in my own life I may have gotten used to that are equally insane.
What can I do to help prevent this being tomorrow’s America? Is the way we are handling tolerance and poverty in America moving us slowly to this? I could see the earth fighting back, searching for ways to rid itself of this disease called people.........and clearly it was finding ways to do so. Would we ever bite the bullet and deal with the problem or would we, like this society, optimize the solution to support this kind of hell. I guess by now you are saying "This guy is losing it. He’d better get the hell out of there before skepticism sets in."
After seeing some of the common everyday practices in operation, the Union Carbide accident at Bhopal, India a few years back seemed quite ordinary, and, to me, even negligible compared with what was going on routinely on a grand scale in every city in India.
More than once I had heard my Indian friends say that if there is a God, he must live in India. Or "If you want proof that there is a God, then go to India." I even heard them say "This is God’s country." If this is God’s country, Where is the devil’s country? I would say that India may be proof that there is not a God, except for the miracle that no more people are getting run over in the traffic or poisoned by the pollution.
Between the towns, I sensed a distinct feeling that the earth itself was breathing relief at a reduction in the number of people it had to accommodate. I noted that the smaller villages with less modern conveniences were generally much cleaner
At Chittaugarh a mountain top fort contains many temples and palaces. This was presumably the home of the most beautiful woman in the world in the 15th century. A Muslim Mughal warrior demanded to see her face and started a war when he was denied. Just as he had wiped out all of the defenses but before he could get a look at this chick, she led a procession of 16,000 women into the furnaces, committing suicide rather than losing dignity. This feat was repeated with 15,000 women in the 17th century.
Unlike the beautiful architecture and the skillful construction of these temples, palaces, and walls, much of today’s construction is falling down even as it is built. Somewhere in history the people lost their talent or desire for building beautiful structures.
Rather than risk the chance of getting stuck in Udaipur, I elected to take the morning train. The travel agent had told me that he could get me a first class seat, so at 5 AM: I am standing in the station. By now I had learned the Indian way of optimizing the use of space and time so as to accommodate the most possible people. Even the travel agent, who was dealing with a customer when I had entered, invited me to take a seat beside the customer he was already dealing with. I watched him work between me the other customer and two telephones in the same way that the drivers move through traffic. Now so many of the interactions I had seen began to make sense. These people do not interact linearly in any part of life; that would not accommodate the numbers. I saw it again when I entered my private compartment to take my assigned seat. The compartment, which was made to handle six people was already stuffed with more than would fit. We wound up with nine in the compartment, three who had reserved seats and a family of six, who had reserved the other three seats. So now I sit in a first class train compartment with nine people making more noise than the Delhi traffic. Jesus! If this is first class, I’d hate to see second. I’m even told there’s a third class. At his point I will not be surprised by seeing people ride on top of the coach.
By the time I reached Jaipur City, the system seemed to start breaking down more regularly. I must have been relying on conventional rules too much. My usual man with a sign was absent. The message telling of my plan had been sent by telex to the local travel agent, but it had sat in the machine with no one looking at it. Hawkers by the droves wanted me in their rickshaws, even when I told them that a person would meet me. One of these gents, named Saleem Khan staked his claim on me and stuck with me, running off all others. We stood and talked while I waited.
After half an hour when it was clear no one would show, I ask him how much to the Hotel Aditya. His reply? "Whatever you want to pay." I said "Okay, then I’ll pay you 25 or 30 rupees (about $.90). We put my bags into his motor rickshaw and off we went. Yet another of Mr. Toad’s Wild Rides". Once again I heard myself saying, "GOD, I can’t remember when I have had so much fun".
By the time we had arrived at the hotel he had shown me his portfolio and wanted to show me all of Jaipur. Apparently, these men have learned that "no" does not mean "no". After he followed me into the reception, I finally agreed that if I needed him the next day, then I would come out around 8 AM and let him know. Unfortunately, he had seen my room number. At 8 AM he was banging on the door and trying to get in. Finally, the hotel security people ran him off. In this situation where there are hundreds of rickshaw drivers chasing each person on foot, would they ever be able to make a decent living? How did it get to be this way? How could it be corrected? How could it be prevented in my own country?
That night began the focus of my trip, the arranged wedding of Amit Lal, my friends son. What I was to see during the next three days of wedding festivities began to fit totally within the system I had come to experience.
In an Indian wedding, the parents of the bride and groom are essentially responsible for getting all of the relatives to the wedding and caring for them while there. My friend Ravi had essentially taken over a hotel, including dining and meeting facilities where many of the many ceremonies would be held. On the first night, the ceremony included dinner and receiving a formal invitation from the bride’s family to go ahead. The groom’s family included by my count something on the order of two hundred people, cousins, nephews, brothers, sisters, uncles, inlaws, friends, etc., coming together from all walks of life and several countries. We all ate. slept, sight see’d, and partied together for three days, which was just about enough time to really get to know at least a dozen or so of them.
On each of the three days, special ceremonies with one or two Hindu priests prepared the groom for his big day, which happened on the evening of the third day. Before each ceremony, the priest would spend about half an hour preparing various concoctions with leaves, paints, pastes, and plants. The ceremonies themselves included chants, various burnings of things, artifacts, symbolism, oils, paints, strings, powders, and instructions all given in Sanskrit. As the process progressed, each ceremony seemed to get longer and more complex.
The crowd rarely paid attention to much of the ceremony. This was when I first began to realize that the wedding process was actually akin to the traffic process. By the end of each ceremony, including the wedding itself, the crowd would be in total disarray with various splinter groups spread over the entire space available, including dozens of kids who were racing in amongst the crowd playing tag, laughing, crying, shouting, and basically trashing the entire area.
Several of the functions included gift giving. In one session, the father gave gifts to the mother’s side, then later to his own side and separately the same was done by the mother. Everyone got at least one gift. Everyone also received money from the father and mother. Apparently everyone receives money as a token of appreciation for his role in the wedding, and every single relative had at least one function in the wedding. This makes sure everyone is involved. The gifts ranged from a few rupees to a gold coin presented to the mother for supervising the making of one of the traditional dishes. In one ceremony clothes were given that in principle should be worn to the wedding. Of the five or so functions, one of the most elaborate was a party at the mother’s home in which many of the relatives sang and performed traditional dances. An aunt sang a sonnet that told the story of Amit’s and Rachna’s meeting and history up to now. Another covered the family tree. I could go on and on but I hope by now you get the gist of the event.
The major event was the wedding. Actually, the most exciting part took place on the way to the wedding. The groom, who had been oiled and painted by the women in an earlier ceremony, was dressed like a maharaja. We formed a parade down the street to the place of the wedding. The parade was surrounded by neon light poles and was headed by a band. Fireworks were set off as the parade proceeded. To add to this uproar, the Jaipur traffic which was already a disaster was made even more chaotic by the parade.
Rituals included touching certain signposts, exchanging leis, etc. The actual wedding took place in a large park that had been converted temporarily to a palace. An army band played music at the entrance and beginning. The rituals, which included fires, dances, knot tying, knot untying, went on for hours.
At the outset I had been offered a front row seat. I politely turned it down, imagining that the family would want this seat. I could not have been more wrong. During these ceremonies, as before, people were wandering around, chatting, laughing, eating, and essentially disregarding the children who had their own games of chase going on. Even while the ceremonies were taking place dinner was being served. Servants passed through he audience passing out coffee and snacks during the entire ceremony. I suppose that everyone was having his own good time while the wedding was taking place in one corner of this overall activity.
By midnight the two were man and wife. Even so, the rituals continued on into the next day, with more gift giving. Similar ceremonies had been underway with the brides family and a number of ceremonies involved interactions between the two including the trading of family trees, gifts and promises.
Between wedding events some of my newly made friends and I toured the town, visiting the City Palace, the Palace of the Winds, and the major highlight, the Amber Palace and Fort, just North of the Jaipur in the city of Amber.
In the middle of one afternoon a group of us ask the driver to take us to a lunch place near the City Palace. Although we enjoyed a fine meal at a bargain price, we had gotten ourselves into two problems. First, taxis are not suppose to carry more than four tourists. We had six. Second, while we were eating, the street in front of the restaurant on which our driver had waited for us, became a one way street as we ate. After lunch, we did not get far before two cops on foot ran up and demanded the driver get out of the car. A considerable dialogue took place, which my friend Rog translated for me later. It seems the cops were unhappy about the violations and the back talk, and were essentially demanding a bribe. The driver was promising them if they would let him pull over to the side, then he would get out of the car. He was assuring them that he would not attempt to get away. No sooner than the cop moved from in front of the car, the driver took off, with cops in hot persuit on foot, blowing their whistles as hard as possible. The driver was too good for them and we escaped.
Just before the parade had started, I learned that my flight to Delhi the next day had been canceled, so I would have to find another way to get home. By early morning I had hired a taxi to drive me to Delhi. The drive was about 175 miles; It would take six hours and cost about 50 dollars. What a bargain! I imagined that the cost of this in car wear and gas could not have been much less. Watching the driver skillfully work his way through traffic for hour after hour convinced me that this had to be the most underpaid guy in the world.
The drive was sprinkled with towns that all began to blend together and look the same, all with the same traffic and people (and camel, elephant, cow, etc.) problem. Between towns the highway system in some places actually became freeway-like with what we would call a four lane divided highway. (What the Indians would use as 8 or ten lanes depending on the situation. Occasionally, the traffic would back up for miles behind a camel drawn wagon or caravan.
God’s miracle ceased on this day with the trip including several accidents. In one case a man, apparently dead, lay in the road having been struck by a van, two head on collisions, and a few vehicles turned over off the road. I began to take more notice of how many close calls we were participating in......a lot.
The first three hours of the trip was quite relaxed. For the first time in a while I had space, an entire back seat to spread out in. I dozed a while and gawked a while. At the halfway point the driver pulled over at a tourist station, apparently the only thing like it between the two major cities. I ventured off for a tea and rest stop. Walking from the bath room, I heard someone shout, "Jim!"
For a moment I froze. No one here can know me. I had learned another fact about learning in recent days. Indian names and Indian faces don’t fit the normal data base in my brain. Therefore, "They all look alike." This gentleman did look familiar but it took more for me to realize that I had met him and had several conversations with him over the course of the last few days.
The bottom line was that his car had broken down and he needed my help. For the next three hours my once spacy, Americanized trip became a car stuffed with eight people. I expected the driver to object, but he acted as though this is just business as usual.
Back in the airport again waiting for my flight and realizing that one cannot change rupees back into dollars, I began to spend the few hundred rupees I had left. Even though now the scarf I could have picked up for 100 rupees before, now cost 300, it was still worth more than the paper. Being down to 160 rupees, I gave up and headed through the last security check before boarding the aircraft. At the security check point the guard checked my pockets and saw the rupees in my shirt pocket. He then asked for the Indian money. Just for a second, with the way he ask, I actually thought I was supposed to give it to him. I took it from my pocket, looked at his outstretched palm, looked him in the eyes, and said, "No". He repeated my word as a question, "No?". I put the money back in my pocket and walked through the gate wondering if he was just disappointed or pissed.
Once again I lucked out (actually persisted) and got an exit row seat. Nevertheless, even as I entered the aircraft I could see that the row I was supposed to be in was already full of Indians. No problem. By now I had learned how to survive here. I just kicked one out of my seat, even after he insisted that I swap my seat for his, which was a center seat in the middle of 700 screaming kids, took my seat, stretched out and was sound asleep before the wheels were in the well.
I slept the whole night through and woke up in Singapore. What I had forgotten was that I still had another night on the plane before arriving home. A 747 flies about half as fast as the earth turns. So for every day it flies West to East, a day and a half (which in this case included two nights) passes.
I have just completed one of the most rewarding trips I have ever taken. Over and over as I was experiencing India, I felt a deep sense of excitment and pleasure in being there and seeing some of the most unusual sights I have seen anywhere. In general, I felt safe, except for an occasion close call in the traffic. The people were extremely friendly and even the con artists were good sports whether the con worked or not. The presence of immeasurable beauty against a backdrop of almost equally immeasurable ugliness seems to amplify both. I will want to return and make use of the knowledge gained in my first venture. Over the centuries, India has been invaded and conquered many times. I fear now that the most cruel conquest and genocide is already in progress, with the population now slowly destroying itself with pollution and mishandling dangerous modern technology, especially through the incompatible mix of modern and ancient technology. I came to realize that we all get use to the solutions with which we choose to deal with lifes problems. In some sense all solutions work, because life goes on. And the acceptabilities of our solutions, though often incompatible with each other, are ultimately relative to the viewers data base. Even from this viewpoint, the solution that India has evolved to deal with the vast and ever growing population would seem extremely difficult for any individual to accept.