I fell a little in love. Not in India, but with it.
It’s been a blast. Insane, but incredible. Frustrating, but fascinating. At times awful, but all round amazing.
My last noteworthy observations and ponderings before I depart Delhi.
1. Coming across Indian people of different castes and classes, I’ve come to the conclusion I much prefer the company of the lesser-well-off.
Let’s start with Dr A. (No full disclosure as I don’t want to be done for defamation, but I think if you’ve read since the outset you’ll know exactly who I mean).
He’s was a dick. An absolute tosser. He spouted on about how “You’re like a sister!” and “What’s mine is yours”, but it was all so fake and put on. The ashram was a money-making venture, pure and simple, and only came into his hands through riding on his father’s coat tails.
I don’t dislike people often. I always try and give open opportunities to modify original opinions of persons. But as the weeks went on and I saw Dr A’s treatment of his staff, his self centred nature and his shocking stinginess, I couldn’t help but develop a deep dissatisfaction for him. Plans did not materialise and remained unfulfilled. Promises were constantly broken. It didn’t help that what his ashram was meant to be all about – Ayurvedic living, a clean, satrric diet and a yogi lifestyle – was not embraced by him at all. How can you preach but not practise?
During meditation sometimes I’d peek at him and see him txting on his phone. He rose at midday. He burped and expelled gas loudly all the time, with no “pardon”. At first I just accepted it as the Indian way, but soon realised no one else did such trumpeting salutes.
He never once attended an asana class, not even our final exams. I could tell you all about his upcoming marriage/movie star fiancé/family tree/personal preferences in food, activities and so, but I doubt he could even tell you my last name. He made no effort to get to know any of us throughout the four weeks, with conversations with him being “me-me-me” and no deviation. I know I can be prone to turning conversations to myself and being slightly (ok, sometimes seriously) selfish but golly gosh, this was egoism in fully fledged form.
It seemed to be the way with the more-monied. I only had brief encounters so this is by no means all-inclusive, but my interactions made me much prefer Anil’s bare bedsit full of love and genuine warmth than the plush parameters of Dr A’s multiple home stays.
An ex-Government official came to stay for a night with his lady friend. He was charming and full of wonderful stories about his previous profession. On going to our afternoon yoga class, Eva and I planned to meet the couple at 8pm to continue chatting. We also set to see them in the studio at 7.30am the following morning for some yoga practice, to show them some beginner asanas they could do at home.
They were a no show. On both occasions. Eva and I promptly appeared at both meetings to only wait and be left waiting. It was fine; must have been caught up or something, we thought. No worries at all.
But when we saw them at breakfast, there was no apology issued. The only reference to the missed meetings was a hearty laugh paired with a “We stayed out/slept in”. All very well, but an acknowledgement of standing us up would’ve been nice.
Anil was the complete opposite. If he said we were to have a cooking class at 2pm in two days time, it was set in stone. By golly, if 2.03 came and you were not in attendance, he came after you, your guts for garters.
When one of these boys said they’d do something, it was done. If it was delayed for any which reason, profuse apologies were repeated again and again. And again. And it wasn’t just in the working context either; this attentive and polite approach was consistent even if they were off the clock. By the time we left, Govind could rattle off the names of Eva’s kids and their ages, knew exactly where in New Zealand I was from and how the Wortman clan was structured.
One of my favourite moments was at the graduation ceremony. Dr A made himself forefront, muscling in to be centre of every photo and of the highest prestige. After multiple snaps of us all smiling but it not reaching our eyes, Eva asked, “Dr A, could you please take a photo of us with everyone else?”
I wished I’d captured that reaction on film. He was so affronted! What? Not have me in the photos? It was written all over his face. In his favour he did as we requested and half heartedly caught us on camera. And how truly joyous were these photos with the worker men, all eyes lit up in delight.
From such experiences, I’d much rather hang with someone with a big heart than a fat wallet.
2. Last day: final tour stop off at Mughal City of Fatehpur Sikri, the Deserted Kingdom. Built in 1569, the palace was abandoned 15 years later due to a severe scarcity of water. I had been really looking forward to this attraction as abandoned buildings fascinate me, but unfortunately I was feeling slightly under the weather. Pretty dreadful. Like simultaneous excretion of fluids from all of my orifices may occur involuntary at any given moment.
I tried to muster enthusiasm and adequate awe for the sake of my tour guide, but all I wanted was the shady seclusion of my car high tailing it to my hotel. I managed a good forty minutes before my guide noted my pale pallor and unsteady steps and took me back to my pal Prahalab. A little kip and the throwing down the throat of a banana and Pop was back. Iron stomach. Iron-willed. Iron WO(rt)MAN.
(One thing I really took note of in my guide’s spiel: there was a tower about a kilometre away from the palace deemed “The Elephant Executioner Tower”. Why? Because the ruler at the time did not approve of death by hanging; he instead instated execution by elephant. So tyrants, criminals and convicts would literally be trampled to death).
3. Beggars are abundant. It breaks my heart. Especially the limp, lame or disabled ones who do not get any government support. But if you cast off coins to one, others surround you, pleading with prayer posed palms and pained eyes. I’m constantly being told to ignore them. Act as if they’re not there. But sliding your eyes past as if they’re invisible pains me inside.
On the way to Agra we were in a standstill traffic jam, when Prahalab suddenly locked the doors. Stranger-danger Pop was at once on high alert; was he putting into motion an abduction, rape and murder? (I HIGHLY DISLIKE how I always assume the downright despicable). But no, he was keeping me barricaded from the sudden onslaught of children weaving their way through the stationary cars.
The children stopped at windows, begging the people sitting in their air-conditioned comfort for cash with a simple outstretched hand. A little boy came to my window and just looked at me. I downcast my eyes but he knew he’d caught a contender, and eventually I looked back.
We stared at each other for what felt like an hour, but would’ve only been a mere minute. My defiance faultered and I almost wound down the window to withdraw from my wallet. But the traffic started to move and the moment passed along with the jam.
Does it make me a bad person? To ignore, look away, keep my (meagre) wealth to myself? I read on my research pre-trip to look at the children begging and note that they are actually quite healthy looking, usually put to the street by their parents for extra income. That they actually are not so hard done by. That you don’t need to feel really guilty.
I’m going home to parents that paid for my petrol all through Uni and gave me cash whenever I was short so I didn’t have to work as well as study. I grew up with big birthday parties, presents for no reason and I wanted for nothing (except a Wendy House).
How can you just tell yourself, “It’s ok, that three-year-old has chubby cheeks, I don’t need to feel bad”?
Sometimes I hate humanity.
3. Throughout my latter teens and early 20’s I’ve been told a handful of time I resemble Kiera Knightly. Not so much so I took it seriously, but enough that I could start to see a slight similarity. But being in India I’ve been told about 20 times, “You look identical to the Bend it Like Beckham girl!”, “You look like a Hollywood film star, KK,” and on one occassion, “Are you Kiera Knightly?!” (Alas no, but they took my picture anyway). I’m nowhere near as willowy or beautiful as her, but boy how fantastic was it to be told I could have been her twin.
5. One day last week we were winding down a yoga class with Praveen, the gentle morning teacher. Just in that state of being super aware of myself, it was blown to pieces with the eruption of Flo Rida’s Whistle song. Praveen was getting a phone call and had forgotten to put his cellular on silent. I burst out laughing at the choice of tune. So at odds with the surroundings and his perceived personality.
Also at the rickashaw stand at the weekend, a band of bad ass boys were leaning on their bikes and swaggering around blasting Dub Step. It was so unexpected a scene and remains fixed in my memory bank. For all our differences and distances, we are all the same in some respects.
4. Muggings and robberies are done by bad people. Selfish, hideous, opportunist bastards who are out for themselves. Who see a camera, a cellphone, and think, “Oooooo, now there’s an easy few hundred rupees for nothing”. Right?
Imagine having nothing. No idea when or where your next income was coming from. You have three hungry kids, a heavilly pregnant wife, you live in a ramshackle shithole with four other families. Your youngest son doesn’t even have a pair of shoes. Your ageing mother has an infection and desperately needs a doctor. The monsoon is coming and your plastic sheet roof is littered with leaks.
Then you see a young white westerner, camera strung haphazardly round their neck, cellphone out trying to connect to wifi, fumbling with a wad of notes trying to make sense of the unfamiliar currency. Standard elephant pants flapping in the breeze, labelled backpack bursting with belongings, bartering with a weary old street seller for the experience, not necessarily the need.
What would you do?
Not all burglars are bastards. Sometimes the “victim”‘s ignorant insensitivity is the issue.
5. Last night I deleted the calorie counting app in my phone. I haven’t used it since being in India (let’s be honest, I know how calorie-laden foods are better than I know the alphabet anyway), but I was browsing through my folders and saw it sitting there. I’ve attempted to delete it multiple times, but always relent and redownload within a few hours to calculate my consumption.
I guess because it seems quite well known that Indian roads are a crazed, weaving maze of erratic swerving and overtaking I didn’t feel compelled to touch on them. But very quickly, the honking.
While in countries similiar to New Zealand a heavy toot of the horn translates to, “Wanker!”, “Bastard!” or my more preferred “Fuckwit!”, Indian tooting is not at all the case. “Beep beep” instead means, “Hello, I’m here!”, “Going to pass you, be aware” or “Just behind, be careful”. When you realise this, the incessant horn blaring stops being quite so headache-causing and you begin to comprehend it as polite and composed conversation.
7. At the rest stop on the haul back to Delhi, I went wees. Public toilets in India are actually not public, and there is always a person waiting by the cubicles for payment for your use of the facilities.
At this one I was blown away by the sunny smile reigned upon me by the lady holding the loo roll. She handed me a liberal amount and held open the door for me to sit on the throne.
On completion of my urination, she turned on the tap for me to wash my hands and passed me a paper napkin to dry my palms.
You’d think she had a high powered position at a top corporation such was her enthusiasm for her role (or should that be roll? Loo and behold, Poppy is flush with puns). I was impressed and saddened at the same time.
8. My hair has darkened beyond belief so it is now a murky mixture of muddy brown and brassy blonde. My head resembles a mashed up mince and cheese pie.
My eyebrows are beyond taming. I sat down to do them last week with Eva’s eye mirror, copped sight of the wild threads and snapped it shut.
My legs severely need a shave. Never one to approach such an act with strategy as to shear off each and every hair, my front calves are not too bad but the back of the left lower leg and knee area resemble an overgrown grass garden. Yet I keep forgetting to get a razor.
And my face is constantly changing hue from a sweaty pink during the day to a plastered pale when inside. Makeup-less at all times, it’s showing every flaw.
Yet, I’ve never felt more attractive.
It’s because I’ve come to realise what’s inside is what really counts. All those feel-good sayings told to teenage girls going through awkward puberty appearances? They’re all true.
So India is over – for now. Time to respect Sir Ed & bust up to Base Camp! I shall be travelling on to Nepal tomorrow, along with my truckload of Indian treasures and trinkets.
I’m not holding out high hopes for wifi all the time, so posts may be sporadic. But they will come and oh they will be posted in the plenty. Even if my entire Singapore stopover is spent furiously tapping them out on my way home.
Pop, forever spinning yarns.
(Happy birthday Mumma Deb xxxx Wish I was there to slurp back some sav with you).