Tuesday, October 30, 2007

India Ink

I'm having difficulty writing about my travel experience. It probably doesn't help that people ask me quite often some version of, "Did it change your life?" Because, you know, seeing that kind of poverty inevitably causes a complete restructuring of one's world-view and overhaul of the sensibilities and psyche.

Or not. Or maybe.

India was, for me, an insistent and intense crushing wave of a whole lot of humanity. It was sweat, perfume, stench, chaos, color, disfigurement, pathos, bathos, traffic, gastro-intestinal devastation, percussion, must, garbage, beauty, waste, beauty, sewer, beauty, strife, beauty, beauty, beauty... India was your nose pressed into every curious, ruleless, ruthless, inspired, loving and cruel moment a human being is capable of all at once, all the time. It was very tiring, but I Romanticize a bit, I suppose.

Specific things?

They use mothballs as air freshener and in all the linens. I think they put them in the air vents in one of our hotels - all our clothing reeked of paradichlorobenzene when we returned to the US, even the items that never made it out of the suitcase. In another hotel, they placed two mothballs in the sink trap, so the water would activate the aroma, I guess. It was horrible to breathe. I guess they don't know it's carcinogenic.

The India Times (I didn't expect everything over there to be in English; it was shocking, really) front page related a survey: apparently 52% of Indian women think it's okay for a man to beat his wife. Lord.

Indian hospitality is everything I imagined it would be, and more. "The guest is God," or so the saying goes. We did surmise that is was (therefore?), impossible to run a wedding without offending someone. Our hosts spent better than $150,000, an outrageous sum in any currency, in my estimation. But then, I couldn't see spending over five grand, unless yo daddy's a Rockefeller.

That much non-stop curry and spice makes my intestines feel like a mean little man's been stomping around my duodenum in wooden sabot while he pounds the walls with his angry little fists. I can't face it again for ages.

I have never seen so many beautiful faces in one place in my life. They are just that good-looking.

The amount of garbage laying about everywhere is shameful, and any idea of cleaning it up seems hopeless. I imagine before the advent of plastics, the problem was far less, and that was probably the most significant "white guilt" feeling I had on the trip. Anyhow, the lack of interest in containing it seems a cultural problem of their own making, not one the West brought over, but I do wish the animals and street urchins weren't ingesting it so much of the time.

This brings me to the toilets on the Air India, which were positively filthy within an hour and a half after leaving JFK. I asked my friend Sameer about it. He said, "Affluent Indians are used to having servants for everything, so they don't see why they should have to maintain or clean up after themselves in a facility like that. It's awful." It was just nasty, and all the sinks were clogged as well. I don't get it.

I have never been stared at so much in my life. The children in the rural villages would either giggle or gape in stunned silence. Outside Agra at one of the various Moghul forts we visited, I was repeatedly asked to pose for pictures with Indian families and young men. Many Indian women handed me their infants and toddlers to hold in frame. Sometimes the babes took one look at me and cried. I managed to slow down the insistent mothers long enough to soothe the children before I took them in my arms - you know, hold out a hand, let them tough me first so they knew I wasn't made of fire or something dreadful. It was a pleasure to hold strangers' children, an honor really, though I couldn't really figure out what they wanted it for.

Everything I saw was 15th c or younger, which disappointed me some. This is partly due to the rampaging muslims who came in and tore down the religious whatnot of the various groups who had been coexisting for eons. The Moghuls were rather confused by the general uninterest in fighting back on the part of the Hindus, which apparently cooled their passions sufficiently that they built amazing monuments like the red forts and Taj Mahal. Still, I will have to go back sometime to see the really old stuff.

I didn't know dragonflies came in those colors, and I hadn't seen so many fireflies since I was eight and in Kansas. That evening was pure magic.

More later.


McGone said...

an insistent and intense crushing wave of a whole lot of humanity

You just don't see that on the posters at the travel agencies, do you?

This is fascinating to read. Can't wait for the next post.

GrizzBabe said...

Excellent writing, Kissyface! I felt as if I was right there with you in India, inhaling the stinky garbage, holding the babies. Although I have a feeling I would have loved all the wonderful spicy food. I have a thing for flavors that smack you across the face.