Friday, January 13, 2012

If your play becomes work then what will your work become?

All in all, it wasn't a bad trip.  Could have been better.  Did not find any traces of Waris Ahluwali in Amritsar and wished had spent more time on the beach in Sri Lanka but there you are.

Need a vacation to recover now.  But I think I'll stay on the island for a while.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Things that baffle me about India and possible explanations

1. Why everybody yells at you all the time – at airports, in hotels, on the street, in temples: they’re underpaid, overworked, not getting laid often enough, think you have something they want or that you’re trying to gyp them by failing to read a sign correctly

2. How even the skinniest driver/porter can lug your massive 25 kg bag up and down stairs and in and out cars/trucks/vans and not think it’s heavy: large quantities of ghee in diet

3. Why they levy a ‘luxury tax’ on your hotel stay when the paint is peeling, the shower doesn’t work, there is no heat or air, the sheets are damp, the towels are dirty and the curtains are dusty: they’re so poor that having four walls, a ceiling (albeit cracked) and a floor is considered luxury

4. Why they think it’s bizarre to find a woman travelling alone managing her own affairs: Indian wimmen are prolly only good at bargaining at shops and do not possess the brain power to actually live life or be useful at things that matter. It should be noted that I am crap at bargaining at shops, a swap I’m willing to pay extra for.

5. Why nobody has a sense of personal space: see #1 above

6. How anyone can wear Punjabi juttis: their feet have been hobbitized after years of conforming to Punjabi juttis

7. Why the entire country smells like a latrine even though there are no cows on the streets anymore: men will poop and pee anywhere. They will also, at every given opportunity grab their genitals – at airports, in hotels, on the street and in temples.

8. Why people are either too loud or too soft: loud when they’re yelling at you (see #1) or talking on the phone while pushed up against you (see #5) and soft when they’re asking you important immigration questions (see #4)

9. Why everybody on the road honks for everybody else to give way: Indian drivers have an unnatural sense of entitlement combined with absolutely no civic sense

10. Why Indian people have no civic sense, even in the holy town where the religion is based on community and goodwill toward man: see #14 below

11. Why hotels in Amritsar are obsessed with 80s English pop music: it’s still the 80s in Amritsar

12. Why it takes an Air India office manager two hours to unsuccessfully issue you a ticket when you can do it yourself in 10 minutes online: Air India office managers are all morons. Sweet and kindly. But morons.

13. Why female Air India ticketing agents can never sort out your tickets and check-in without needing help from the manager: see #4 above

14. Why people think that bad behavior is acceptable: I have no explanation for this. It baffles me.

That being said, it’s very cute when little surdi boys run up to you and say “Sat Sri Akal didi, thwade paas chingum haigi?!”

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Madamji, aap Monday ko aao. Abh to kuch nahi hoga.

Foolish hopeful heart, trying to get out of India.  Simply cannot be done.  Stuck here.  Till Monday.  Misery.

This is because while the Indian Embassy in New York and the Air India office tell you one thing, the stalwart emigration officers at Amritsar airport tell you another.  With the result that you don't get to leave.  Till Monday.

Then you rant and rave.  They direct you to the Air India booking office back in the city.  Because, you know, the airport does not have a ticketing office.  You start to leave the airport to find a cab to take you there and back in 2 hours (because you smartly decided to get to the airport 3 hours in advance of your flight) but you can't get out.  You have to be escorted out by an airline employee.  Who takes multiple copies of your passport and then after having you wait for 40 minutes, runs off because his shift has ended and he couldn't be arsed.  Consequently, you have missed your flight to Delhi and will possibly not get another one till Monday.

You then demand to speak to the station manager who, a kindly person, finds you someone who will take you out the airport.  Then the nice taxi fellow waits 2 hours while the nice but utterly useless people at the Air India office try to rebook you.  They cannot.  Until Monday.

They order you a chai and a cutlet with brown chutney.  Then one nice man calls the nearest hotel to negotiate a rate for you for a room.  Till Monday.

You get to the hotel cold, wet, lungs teeming with all sorts of germs, tired, broken, hungry, dejected and in pain.  The room is freezing.  They give you a space heater.  You're thirsty.  They give you a bottle of water.  There is no internet.  You head to the lobby to find a signal.  Ironically, will let you book a flight out to New York (thereby confirming that people are useless and all Indians should be replaced by the internet).  For Monday.

I suppose the upshot of all this is that I get one more chance to do some shopping for Black Cobra and BIL and see the Temple in the night tomorrow.

I'm going to take my pills and go to bed.  I expect to be back home by Tuesday.  If the wahey guru sees fit.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Mein aapke dil mein rehna chahta hoon. Mein aapke ghar mein rehna chahti hoon.

Packing for Boston.  Flight in 7 hours.  Relieved to leave but wish could have gone to Harmandir Sahib once more, staying in Ceylon longer, met fun people and done more shopping.  Oh well.  Pleased that have at least managed to avoid deadly diseases and retained kidneys.

Wish me luck.  Transiting through Delhi again.  Wonder if they'll let me leave?!

Damn.  Work on Monday.

Auto mein gayi, taxi mein wapas aayi

Moosladhar baarish in Amritsar since predawn. Lots of lightning but strangely no thunder. Electricity in and out. Attempted to go out to find a place to buy things and ended up soaking wet at Alpha One mall. Bad idea. Managed to make it back to the hotel 2 hours later, somehow wetter. Here's a tip, don't take an auto when it's raining.

The television choices, true to being all things India either lewd or pious, are thus:
Religious programming in Punjabi
Religious programming in Hindi
Tamil movies about Devi Maa
Hindi movies about Devi Maa
15 channels of Bollywood music all showing Chikni Chameli in synchronicity
4 channels of cartoons in Hindi or dubbed in Hindi
One shopping channel showcasing blenders that can crush ice
The 59th National Kabbaddi Championships live from Mumbai with young fit men in shiny shorts grabbing each other

I think the choice is obvious.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Wahe Guru di fateh

Spent morning trying to get on an earlier plane to Boston. Did not succeed. Considered calling people to rescue me from my misery but decided to eat breakfast and head out to the Golden Temple instead.

Good plan.

You get a friendly doorman to flag you an already occupied auto to take you to the Temple. Riding in an auto is fraught with peril, noisy, rattly, full of diesel fumes and noisy. Over the bridge and through Gandhi Gate, he drops you very far away, possibly lying by saying it's on foot from here on as other autos whizz past you. You head on. Past lots of shops and pani pura wallas and pav bhaji walas and other random things to eat wallas. Then you come upon the Jallianwalla Bagh Memorial where everybody is trying to sell you a headscarf, cycle rickshaw ride or a trip to the Wagah Border. Where I have decided not to go, by the way, since there is border pe tension and I wish to live to ripe old age. Also it's an hour each way for a 30 minute marching ceremony where you have to run from gate to gate with the masses. I opt out.

The Bagh, when the massacre happened, was apparently deserted land bordered by the backs of the houses around it. Now it's a garden of sorts. Walls with bullet wounds. Very clean but the ubiquitous "Jassi loves Preet" graffiti greets. Martyr's well - into which people jumped to escape the bullets. Room of paintings and stories of people who perished then.

Another room with prints of letters, newspaper articles and peoples faces. First issue of Satyagrahi, edited by M.K. Gandhi, an unregistered newspaper in defiance of the Indian Press Act. Orders issued by the Government of Punjab preventing MKG's entry into Punjab after the massacre and his hand-written reply, "I regret to have to say that I shall be unable to comply with the [sic] order". Dated 9 April 1919. Newspaper article about The Crawling Order (a street where a Ms Sherwood was hurt in a mob was designated "sacred" and anyone who wished to pass was made to crawl on their bellies). Rabindranath Tagore's letter renouncing his knighthood in protest of the massacre. Shaheed Udham Singh's memorial for shooting Michael O'Dwyer (who endorsed Dyer and the massacre).

Really puts some reality into all the horrible things that happened in those days. Makes you feel sad and proud and troubled and grateful.

Out again and onwards the dusty road to the Temple. The first time you see it, you don't quite believe it. There are these shallow pools of water through which you walk to clean your feet and up and down the steps into the complex. And a complex it is.

Harmandir Sahib was built in 1574. Guru Ram Das excavated the tank that became known as Amritsar and Harmandir Sahib was built in the middle. It contains the Adi Granth and other works of gurus and saints. The full temple was built by Guru Arjan Dev who apparently invited a Muslim Sufi saint from Lahore to lay the first foundation stone (myth?) in 1604. Baba Buddha Ji was the first Granthi so there's a memorial to him. There are three holy bers (trees) and many other memorials and plaques of Sikhs who have died in battle either for the British or against. The entire place is built of marble into the slabs of which are inscribed names of those who contributed including (strangely) the UN force at the Gaza Strip. Don't ask.

All the gold and marble carvings were done under Emperor Ranjit Singh, Maharaja of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. And it is real gold plating on copper. Very awesome. You stand there and stare for a while with mouth agape. Then the Sardars with the very big lathis with the khandas move you along and then you sit by the side of the sarovar and gape some more. There's the free langar place on one side and accommodations for pilgrims all around. Men singing in a corner. Two large flagpoles with the Nishan Sahib. People sitting around the edges. Then you get into a complicated queue which narrows to a single lane onto the bridge that takes you to the Mandir. The dome looks at least 3 stories high topped with the ik onkar. The inside is not as big as it looks on the outside. The entire thing looks like it's been carved from one giant block of marble. The gilded ceiling has patterns on it. The Guru Granth Sahib sits under piles of embroidered green cloth with a beautiful green awning. Men singing with the loveliet voices (wonder if I can get a cd). Paid a few bucks but did not manage to get any prasad - wanted the stuff that comes wrapped like a book in orange kapda for Jasmine but alas the masses decreed it not so. Plus they prod you along if you wait there too long. You take rounds of the place, drink sarovar water (no thanks) and then back out. If you're devout, you do seva which means carrying out a trash can or a pile of thalis or sweeping the place. Back out to the marble walkway around the Temple. You sit here for a bit and cry a little, then a lot and then some more, probably from a combination of PMS, depression and loneliness. Then you walk about some more because the marble gets cold really fast and your feet are starting to cramp. Apparently taking a dip in the holy water cures cripples. I tried a toe. It did not work. Maybe you need faith or something.

Through some silent communication, suddenly, some mushtande line up by the sarovar. Older men hand them buckets which they fill with one quick stylish movement (all of them make the same movement, it's very interesting to watch) and hand filled buckets back, which get splashed violently along the marble walkway. Then the wimmen follow with brooms and then more men with those squeegie things and then more wimmen with cloths to push water into the drains and wipe clean. As the contingent moves along, the mushtande (about half of them are Caucasian folk who look remarkably like Sikhs) leap up and move along with them. It's all very cool.

Then the sun starts to set and the gold looks so pretty that you can't stand it anymore. Back out through the langar area where armies of volunteers are peeling garlic and chopping carrots, past another army washing thalis. Out to the street to find a bench to put shoes on which were cleverly installed in handbag the entire time.

Bought two kadhas for Jasmine's babies. Thought I'd get a pink shiny Punjabi jutti for Black Cobra (and a corresponding one for BIL) but contrary to popular opinion, they are HUGELY uncomforable shoes. No really, they're like vices that pinch you in all the wrong places. Decided not to inflict. Will go to main market tomorrow and buy something else. Maybe a Full Patiyala (only Rs 200).

Back to the hotel, pop two antis (biotic and inflammatory), eat Brittania Good Day Butter Biscuits, update blog and watch tele. Might make it to dinner or might just order room service. Only time and the nerves will tell.

Not so sad now. Maybe because had good cry earlier.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

"Masterji, pitaji ki patloon ek bilang choti kar do"

Up at 4 am. Flight delayed. Went back to sleep. Up at 6 am. Check out was horrid. No compensation for being bitten by bed bugs. ITC Sheraton Rajputana is a terrible hotel. Car to airport, paid money to a chap who carried bags through and checked-in. Took bag tags this time. Security did not understand my idock but "computer ke liye hai" was enough for them. Paid Rs. 40 for a vegetable puff that did not deserve it. Stood at the gate for an hour. Got on purane zamane ki bus and was taken to plane where everybody jostles to get on first since they clearly haven't been told that it's assigned seating. Hour flight to Delhi. Got taken off the side of the plane into another bus and driven to Amritsar plane. Bags all done manually here. Scary and fascinating at the same time. Plane full of turbans and one very screechy child who I would have like to murder with bare hands if only her mother wasn't glaring at me.

Carlton Country Hotel and Suites do not have any Suites. And the Queen Room is a single bed. Buffet lunch and to bed to stay there for the rest of the day and night feeling sorry for myself. Work called at 3 am which did not help. Wondering why I embarked on this stupid journey. Wishing I was home already. Starting to moult and losing alarming quantities of skin from sun burns to reveal also blackened but also strangely pinkish skin. It's very mesmerizing to stand in front of the mirror peeling bits off you...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

"This will be too much food for you madam"

It all started with paneer tikkas. They were large and square and thick. I ate them. Then came the sheekh kababs. I ate them. With very thick yoghurt atop which was arranged finely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. I ate it all. With two roomali rotis. And then kaali daal. I ate that. With two papads. Then came a giant thing of pheerni in a clay katori. I ate that. Washed it down with a salt lime soda.

Feeling quite sick now. Think I'll go lie down for a bit.

Monday, January 02, 2012

"Give me a loan and leave me alone"

Out and about in Jaipur again today. Birla Planetarium closed. Went to Birla Mandir instead. First Hindu temple that I've seen with stained glass windows. Large marble clean hall. View of the Maharani Gayatri Devi palace up on a hill built like a Scottish castle. On to Amer.

Amber Fort. Overlooks man made Maota Lake and garden which were created to experiment growing saffron in Rajasthan. Tourists on elephants being carted to the top. We drove. Built in the 1500s. You enter into Jaleb Chowk which is the large courtyard where the soldiers used to present arms. Large staircase leading to the Siva Devi temple and above to Ganesh Pol decorated with many frescoes using natural paints (green from spinach, yellow from turmeric, blue from indigo) which are still vibrant. Into the Diwan-e-aam above which is the Suhag Mandir through which the royal wimmen used to apparently shower flowers on the king. Through this to the private quarters and Sheesh Mahal covered with lovely Belgian mirrors all over meant to reflect candle light through colored glass for the royal disco. Across the garden is the Sukh Niwas with a channel of water that runs through through over ridged ramps that then evaporates and creates coolth. Through this to the Zenana where the king's 12 wives lived, each in an apartment of their own. Small rooms in an open plan with secret passages to the king's apartment. Got proper lost there - entered through first apartment and came out through the 5th. Main queen had her own bathing pond and latrine which begs the question... It's also the only one with frescoes on the ceiling.

Checked out the bookstore there. Lots of pretty books on history of India and Rajasthan and Hinduism but sadly cannot carry books in baggage. Also lovely hand-painted wall hangings. Might change mind tomorrow and buy some anyway. Went to the Emporium in Amer town and bought a sari and a pashmina razai which they will ship to Boston for free. Hoping have not been fleeced and that it indeed arrives by the 13th as promised - also because sari and razai are both stupendously lovely. Jewelery is very expensive so dinna buy any. Have figured out that turning into Dilli ki aunty is best way to quibble over prices. Must use same strategy tomorrow.

Stopped by Jal Mahal on the way back and made friends with little boy who really wanted to show me magic tricks. This was the summer palace in the middle of man made 5 foot deep Man Sagar Lake built in the 18th century. Sadly closed to the public but was told they're opening it up next year. Would be nice to take a boat in to take a look. On the other side of the lake are the Aravalli hills and the prison.

Stopped at Thomas Cook on the way back to the hotel for tomorrow's shopping extravaganza. Put your orders in now.

Left foot is doing nerve pain thing so in bed with the tele on. Very disturbed by the sight of a very dyed Naseeruddin Shah being ashleel with Vidya Balan. Don't know which is worse - Shah pretending to be young and sexy or Balan pretending to be Silk Smitha. Must change channel now and rip out eyes.

Biryani for dinner I think.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Masala baked beans are a terrible idea

Breakfast buffet included. Found out by accident. Service at the ITC Rajputana leaves a lot to be desired.

Tried the masala baked beans. Turned out to be a bad idea.

Took a tour today. Drove around the city, saw Hawa Mahal. It's got some 900 latticed windows through which the wimmen used to peer out. Didn't get to go in since traffic was bad with no place to stop.

Jaipur is not as glamorous as I thought it would be. Crumbling around the edges. Not quite pink but more coral. Or is it salmon?

Jantar Mantar, the observatory. Built by Jai Singh II in the 1700s. Quite marvellous that it's in such good shape (sections restored of course). Has 14 major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking the stars and doing fun things with zodiacs and planets. There's even a blank calibrated instrument used for testing students with an identical one built across the way with the answers on it. Overcast day so no sunshine so couldn't actually tell time or make any brilliant predictions.

City Palace next. Built in the 1700s. Parts of it still the royal residence. Mubarak Mahal with Madhosingh's massive clothes (he was a large king). Diwan-i-khas with the world's largest silver urns that hold 4000 liters of Ganges water for Sawai Madho Singh II when he went to visit England. Diwan-e-aam with very nice paintings on the walls and ceilings. Maharani Palace which is now an armory museum. Odd to see weapons in a room with jeweled ceilings. Useful things in this room that will impress the Mathisens include a scissor dagger for expedient disemboweling, swords with handy pistol attachments, ivory carved back scratchers for when you're wearing chain mail, swords with rubies and emeralds inlaid and walking sticks that double as guns.

Out to Govind Dev Ji Temple. Pretty paintings on the walls and ceiling (see a pattern here?). Lots of devotees underfoot. Advised to watch the purse. Funny how not a single person was concerned about their purse in all the Buddhist temples we went to in Lanka.

So that's a few more knocked off the World Heritage List. Back to the hotel for a giant lamb kathi roll (the chutney here is so GREEN!) because I was missing BIL and Black Cobra. A rasmalai to make me happy. Spoke to Dad which, as usual, was a disaster. Lolled about the room for a bit, then off to oil massage for the sun burns and steam for the lungs. Both feeling better now.

Watching desi television with some random dating show and Salman Khan movies that Black Cobra would have liked. Cartoon Network has fun Hindi cartoons about Krishna and Bheem. Downloaded the pictures onto the laptop and cleaned them up a bit - all 491 of them. Will label them and put them up somewhere at some point. Or you could just come over for a foto viewing party.

Paranoid that there might be bed bugs since bitten all over. In a blue funk now.