I found a friendly, but basic guesthouse near the Taj Mahal. I only planned to stay one day there, but it wound up turning into nearly a week. The admission price to the Taj was extremely steep – a whopping 750 rupees. I debated whether or not to go, but then decided you can’t go to India and not see the Taj. So I went and it was breath-taking. If your not impressed by it, I think you would be hard pressed to find something that would.
Anyway, it was really hot in Agra at mid day it got up to a whopping 112 degrees! At night I would lay in bed consumed by sweet watching the fan above move at a snail-pace speed. Staring at it, I would try and will it to go faster, but to no avail. All it seemed to do was move hot air from outside, in.
Every evening I would go for a walk in Agra, all the while getting bombarded with merchants and beggars. Beggars with leprosy shoving half a limb in your face, gaunt and emaciated children holding babies – both strongly resembling those TV commercials for the charities asking for a dollar a week to save some starving child in Somalia or some other third world nation, but the worst were the mutilated children. It might not have been so bad if I did not know the origins of there injuries. You see in India, begging is big business, and children seem to be a cash cow in this industry, but children with deformities and mutilated bodies are by far the most prized commodity. Many parents even mutilate the own children pouring kerosene on them and burning their bodies to resemble that of a mutant, or cutting off limbs and mutilating the faces.
But the business goes far beyond that. It is not merely a one person or family vocation but there are whole organization dedicated to this profession. With hundreds of employees! The boss, better known as the "Beggarmaster," employs hundreds of beggars, mostly children, and in return they are looked after. This entails, a reserved place on the pavement, protection from cops (cops will be paid off to leave the specified beggar alone), theft prevention, food, shelter, and a cut of their day’s earnings. Beggarmasters even buy children with leprosy or who have been mutilated from families in need of money.This is why I never give to beggars in India – to encourage such repulsive behavior would be immoral.
Anyway, getting on with the story. I was walking down a street and receiving the usual accosting form the locals when a child, no more than eight, came up to me and stuck his hand in my face. His face was burnt so bad his skin had melted down his eyes giving his whole face a drooping, liquid look. His hand and arm looked like the texture of raisins. "10 rupee…. 10 rupee," he mumbled, moving his drooping face in one fluid motion – the skin so taut from the scaring it seemed to hurt for him to talk. I stood there for a minutes looking at him playing a number of scenarios in my head that could have led to such a horrific display at present. Upset I shut my eyes and shook my head "Na’, Na’…Chello! (no, no… go away)" I said waving my hand in dismissal.
But the child persisted (as they always do. Usually the fist word you learn in a country are "hi" and "thankyou," but in India it’s different. The words of necessity are no and go away). Tired from the days heat and the constant overload of the senses, my patience was worn thin. He followed me for a good block or so, magnetically pulling other beggars with his display of persistence, raising their hopes to get a cut from the foreigner’s pockets. I turned around to find a dozen starving and mutilated children accompanied by a few suffering severely from leprosy.
"CHELLOW…CHELLOW," I screamed in frustration, but they would not leave me be. So I turned and started to walk fast, then faster, darting in and out of alleyways. Soon I stopped and turned to look. They were gone, but I then realized, I was lost. ‘Shit’ I thought – sun is set and it will be dark soon. This ought to be interesting.
I aimlessly scurried through the labyrinth of allies and side streets, but to no avail. Nothing seemed even vaguely familiar and night would not make it any easier. With no street lights it would be like being going blind through a gauntlet of cow shit, beggar, muggers, merchants and every other raisin under the sun.
After about 20 minutes of this I entered another alleyway and was approached by a healthy man who stuck out his hand and demanded "Baheish!" This is a rude beggar I thought. So I said, "no," and walked away, but he came after me and cut me off in my tracks. I stopped and gave him a dirty look. He reach in his pocket and pulled out a little knife and pointed it at me and demanded again "Baheish!" Shaking my head in disbelief at my luck thus fair on this trip; I smiled and made a motion for my rucksack like I was going to give him his money. But instead I pulled out my knife which dwarfed his and in the best Aussie accent I could muster, quoted the famous line from Crocodile Dundee – "that ain’t a knife, this is a knife," and smiled with victory. (I had grown a bit too confident and cocky from my provisos conquests in India).
But the response I had expected (the turn tail and run) from him was not there. Instead he had a smirk of confidence and was no longer looking at me, but past me at something behind me. I turned and saw 5 more men all with knives – around me! "Well, didn’t see that one coming," I thought. "BAHEISH, BAHEISH," he demanded once more with an air of confidence. "Dat too" he said, pointing to my knife. I was weighing my options and narrowed it down to three choices and outcomes. I could:
A. Give him my money and my knife, leaving me defenseless, and broke. Thus if, after they had both, they required more of me I would have no chance in fending them off. With my knife I at least had a prayer.
B. Take my chances and fight my way out of this. But this didn’t seem likely to be successful given that the numbers were not on my side.
C. Give them some money and keep the knife. Just in case it came down to that.
I chose the latter.
I reached in to the outer pocket of my rucksak where I keep pocket changed for rickshaws. And handed over 60 rupees. His lips winced tightly and his face seemed to morph almost instantaneously into pure rage. "GIVE ME ALL BAHEISH!!!!!" He yelled.
I lifted my shoulders and turned my palms to the sky as if to say that was all I had. He lunged for me and ripped my rucksack off my shoulder. Spilling the contents on to the floor, he bent down and searched throw the scattered items frantically while the others looked on in anticipation.
But all he found was two books, half a roll of TP, press ID, unsent postcards, one bandana and a melted tube of chap-stick. He then, more angry and frustrated, began to search my rucksack itself, throwing out old receipts and scratch paper with e-mails scribbled on them. I began to get nervous. I had a lot of money in my rucksack, but it was in a hidden compartment I had made for it. Would he find it?
Then he stood up with my bag and angrily throw it to the ground. Then came so close to me I could feel his breath on my face. He stuck his knife in my face and then yanked my knife out of my hands. ‘There goes that idea,’ I thought. He then began repeatedly yelling "BAHEISH, BAHEISH" as he patted me down and searched my pockets, but to no avail. Then he stopped at my waist feeling my belt. ‘Oh fuck,’ I thought, ‘he found it’ (I wear a belt that looks and functions as a normal belt but on the inside there is a zipper and a hidden compartment for money and travelers cheques.) He began to undo my belt. And whipped it off me so swiftly that I stumbled to keep my balance.
He eyed the zipper with anticipation and opened the pocket . His companions drew a breath in unison and silence set in. His eyes got big and I knew I could kiss that money good-bye. He waved above his head triumphantly four one-hundred US dollar bills. His friends ran over to him, each jumping to grab the money and look at it, overcome with joy of there conquest. I was completely ignored.
I took the opportunity and grabbed my rucksack and throw what I could back inside and bolted down the alleyway running the labyrinth once more, with no idea were I was going. I ran for what seemed forever. Lungs burning, legs shaking, and out of breath I stopped and turned around to see if they were still there – no, thank God. But I was still lost and now $400 and 60rs poorer than when I started.
All the light that had been there was now gone it was pitch black and I was alone and desperate. I frantically looked around for anything familiar, but to no avail. I collapsed to the ground near tears. But, blinking hard I fought them off. I sat there in the dirty alleyway blinking. Then closed my eyes and thought. I tried to retrace my steps but that was useless. I began to feel upset again and then gave myself the pep talk that had be come oh so common in India.
‘This is a small obstacle, you’re smart, strong, you can figure it out. You wanted to travel and knew what could happen. Suck it up. Don’t let them win. Stop being a little bitch, get off your ass and find your way home!’ And with that I stood up and began to walk toward a light in the far off distance.
Well to make a long story short I finally found my way back to my guesthouse – four hours later. Tired and angry, I flopped on my bed forgetting it was a hard wooden platform with a thin pad on it and smacked my head. I lay there in the sweltering heat. I was overcome with utter frustration and fury. India was starting to chip away at the strong, independent, tough girl persona I had for so long clung to with such vigor.
The next day I went out window-shopping at all the marvelous marble shops in Agra (Agra is world famous for its marble art). Anyway, I came across a little shop and the owner stated to talk to me. Normally I would have just walked away, but his English had a touch of California accent to it and I was curious. We talked and it turns out he used to live in Berkeley. We exchanged stories about Telegraph (a street in Berkeley made famous in the 60s). We went into his shop and looked over an array of things. He of course showed me the expensive stuff, to which I baulked and said, "Listen mate, I may be American, but that don’t mean I am rich". I winded up buying a silver ring with the star of India stone for a friend back home in Chico.
I put on the ring and went back to my accommodations. I had planned to leave the next day and had not made it yet to the train station to buy my ticket and had so many things still to do. Normally I go to the train station myself instead of going to an agent who charges commission. But since I was running behind schedule I conceded and asked the guy at the guest-house to get the ticket for me. I also don’t like to tell the place where I am staying when I am leaving. Because at one guesthouse I stayed at the guests would set up a train or bus ticket with the lodging and almost every time they would wind up being horribly sick the next day – thus unable to travel. Therefore having to pay one more night’s stay and pay a doctor that the lodging got a kick back from for giving him the business.
But I had grown to like the people that worked there and thought that I was safe, – how wrong I was. I asked him how many rupees it would cost at the train station. He replied 180 and then I enquired about the price with commission, he said an extra 5 rupees. I paid him and went out to run some errands. That night I woke up hotter than normal, my skin felt like it was on fire, my head was spinning I sat up and was over come with nausea. I barely made it into my wash bucket. I sat there throwing up all the contents of that night’s dinner at the guesthouse and when that was done with, began dry heaving. My head pounded and my stomach was in knots, making sound that were not encouraging.
I had to go, and now! I didn’t have time to run to the bathroom down the hall. I stood up shaking yanked done my pants in an urgent manner and let loose in the wash bucket already partly full from vomitus. For the next four hours this rotation of excrement continued. My head felt like it was in a vice and someone was drilling a screw between my eyes and then pounding a hammer into the sides of my temples. I was in hell. I was shaking and couldn’t stand to save my life. My strength had gone and I was weak and becoming delirious. Finally, when I had no more left in my digestive tract, I crawled back to my bed but was unable to pull my self up onto it. I sat there in near tears, wanting death to come and end this miserable suffering (like I said I became delirious).
The sun soon rose and made the room even hotter than before. I retreated under the bed to the cool concrete in the shadow below. I laid there in the fetal position, sweating profusely, shaking uncontrollably. Overcome with fever my brain started to betray me and I began to hallucinate. Like a troll under his bridge, I refused to abandon the cool sanctuary. I looked at my watch – 7:32am. My train was due in a little less than 9 hours. I had still not packed and was supposed to attend a bride viewing at 1:30. I lay there staring at my bucket of bile cursing the guesthouse and my stupidity for trusting them.
I rolled over and inch my way to my bag and pulled out my med kit. Took my temp and lay there with the thermometer sticking out of my mouth, waiting. 102 – "great," I thought sarcastically. I crawled over to the side of my bed again and reached up and felt around for my water bottle. I found it and began to gulp it down. No sooner did it enter my mouth that it came right back up. I was seriously dehydrated, my mouth was parched and there was a dried mucus membrane around my lips. I remembered a German I met in Verinasei who had been in a similar state and now I knew what he must have felt like.
I tried to swallow some Dranimeen but that came up as well. Then I just flopped over and sprawled out on the floor. And waited for death to come. Like I said my mind was not right and delirium was taking over. I passed out only to be awoken at 1 o’clock by a banging at the door. "Madam…madam, your visitor is here to pick you up." Wiping the crusted puke from my chin I rolled out from under the bed and said in a cracking voice, "I will be out in a minute." I was still in dire straights, but determined to not let them "win".
I made up my mind to go to Delhi and to keep my appointment for the bride viewing. I poured my water bottle into a bandana and wiped the evidence of last night’s dance of my digestional tracked away. Pulled up my matted hair and put on a pair of clean paints all the while still on the floor. I had not yet managed to stand. I squirted some toothpaste in my mouth and then spit it out into the wash bucket I caught a whiff of the smell from it and began to dry-heve once more. It finally stooped and I collapsed again to the floor, exhausted from the performance.
My head was killing me it was the worst head ache I had ever had – even worse then the migraines I used to get as a kid that sent me screaming and crying for my Ma. But my Ma was not here now and I was all alone and in horrible shape with no-one to help and no hope in sight. I finally gathered up the strength to stand and swayed heavily. Once I did, I fell back on the bed sitting there starring at the door. ‘Its soooo far away,’ I thought. ‘How can I make it, it is such a long distance?’ (a total of 5 feet maybe 6 at the most).
I sat there in a heap of sweat and delirium. I finally stood and stumbled over to my camera bag. I tried to lift it but it didn’t even leave the ground. I stood there staring at it trying to will it to rise. But of course it just lay there disobediently. I then picked up my day rucksack and struggled to lift it to my shoulder (at most it weighs 3 pounds). I unlocked the door and was attacked by the light of day. I withered in its harshness and blocked the light from my eyes with my arm.
"Madam, you are not looking well are you ok?" " What do you think" I snapped and stumbled past him to the front desk where my friend was waiting. "Geeze Meg, are you sick – you look ill," he said. " Ya, I have a little bug," I lied. "You sure you’re ok? I will understand if you can’t come – so will my family – it’s ok." ‘God I must really look like shit,’ I thought. "No I am fine. Sorry to keep you waiting."
We left the guesthouse and sped off to meet his family, where again I was greeted with questions of my health. I seriously need to find a mirror. We piled in to the white Ambassidor car – the air conditioning was a saving grace form the heat of the day. The drive to the prospective bride’s house was hell on wheels. Zigzagging around cows and corners played a torturous game with my already incapacitated equilibrium. My body kept bringing up bits and peaces of vomitus and I was forced to swallow them back down. I did not want to hural all over their nice white car.
After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at our destination. I stepped out of the cool car I had so quickly acclimatized to, only to be attacked by the intense heat of midday Agra. We met with the bride’s family but without the bride and they discussed and bartered over a dowry amount. All the while we were fed nibblies and drinks. I did not want to be rude so I ate them, but just a few minutes later had to excuses myself to the bathroom to bring it back up.
This ceremony continued for over an hour. They would bring food I would eat it and then a couple minutes later say, "hi," to the masticated remnants that lay in the toilet. " Hello chapatie, nice to see you again lassie," I said in my delirious state of mind. The families must have thought I was shooting up in the bathroom or something. I did not know how much longer I could hold out.
Finally the prospective wife was brought out dressed to the nines, in henna, silk, gold and flowers galore. She was in the room for a total of three minutes and then left. The family gave an approving nod and then discussed more about the dowery. I was at my wit’s end. I wanted out and NOW!!! ‘Please, god no more food,’ I mouthed to myself, but it just kept coming. And I just kept going…. to say hello again.
Finally it was over and we said our good-byes and left. They invited me back to their house for dinner I almost threw up at the thought. I politely declined and said I had a train to catch. They dropped me off back at the shabby guesthouse I was staying at. I still had to pack and somehow get my bags (that I was still unable to lift) to the train station. I stepped in my room and was attacked by the smell of last nights excrements from my digestive tract. And all that was left in me came instantaneously flying out. I began another episode of dry- heaving that once again left me exhausted and on the brick of passing out.
I told my self I could shut my eyes and rest just for a few minutes then I had to pack. But a couple of minutes turned in to a couple hours and I awoke and hour before my train was supposed to depart. ‘Oh shit,’ I thought, and stood up too fast only to be thrown back down by my equilibrium. ‘Gotta pack, gotta go.’ I kept repeating this mantra ’till I accomplished the task at hand. I took off the ring I had bought for my friend only to discover a dark green circle around my finger. "God dammit," I shouted, "will this shit never end… Ripped off again. Cheated once more for the umteenth-billion time," I mouthed, the blood boiling in my veins from fever and fury.
Finally, I was packed – it was sloppy, but it would do. I asked the rickshaw driver to help me with my bags. The guesthouse handed me an envelope with the ticket inside. They said, "You sure you want to go? You don’t look so good. Stay one more night and rest and we can even get a doctor for you." "No thanks, but I did leave you a little present in my room in the wash bucket for all your wonderful hospitality," I said with a smile. "Oh thank you mam most kind of you, we will cherish it always." ‘I bet you will,’ I thought.
I was off, but first I had a pit-stop to make. I told the rickshaw driver to stop at the place where I bought the ring. I entered the shop ready to do bodily harm. In my fever fury I had no tolerance to day for this shit.
"Hi madam, back so soon?"
"Listen you little shit, you see this?" I shoved my finger in his face. "Fucking green, you cheating mother fucker. This is not real silver. Real silver dose not make your hand look like you’ve been fingering Kermit the mother fucking frog!!"
"Mam, please, I am an honest businessman and…."
"HONEST!!! HONEST!! Then what the fuck do you call this?" And I shoved my finger a millimeter from his eye, causing him to flinch.
"Mam, maybe you are allergic to silver, your skin is…"
"My skin is allergic to silver? I can’t believe this shit. You rip me off and then tell me it’s my skin’s fault. The audacity of you people."
"But mam, it is 100% good silver. It is your skin and…"
"Hey fuck face, today is not the day to screw with me, if I am allergic to silver then why isn’t this green?" I removed another real silver ring I got in the states and shoved it in his face for examination. "See no green so now give me back my money you cheating son of a bitch"
"I am no cheater, I am good man. Maybe the ring was not polished right I will polish it for you and it will be ok…"
"Listen," I grabbed his hand with the ring in it and squeezed with all the strength I had,"you do not want to fuck with me TODAY! I have had the week from mother fucking hell. So take your shitty ring and shove it up your cheating ass and walk you scrawny cheating ass over to that contour and give me back my god damned MONEY!!!!!"
He went silent. I released my grip and he got the money. I left, still pissed as all hell. India was taking a serious toll on me this week. Got to the train station and opened my ticket to double check the time the train was going to arrive, and then I noticed it, the real price of the ticket – 82Rs (as apposed to the 185Rs I was charged)
"Ahhhhhhhg," I yelled in frustration, " not again." "I hate this fucking place everyone either tries to rob, cheat, grope or hustle you," I thought. I went to hire a porter (which at most should coast around 15 to 20Rs). "How much?" I said.
"130 rupees," he replied
"Is anyone in this god-forsaken country honest? Don’t insult my intelligence. I have been in India for a month now. I pay 15 rupees – that’s it"
I walked away. Steaming. I would drag the bags my damn self if I had to, but no way in hell was I being cheated one more time! He soon came running up to me. "50." I waved my hand in dismissal and kept walking. I got to my bags and he stood there looking at me and trying to barter. "35, but that is lowest," he stammered in pidgin English. "If that is lowest then…. NO! I said 15. No 15 rupees – no business." I pretended to start picking up my own bags and he stopped me.
"20," he said.
I was exhausted and desperate. I nodded my head and followed him to the platform. "Is this right platform?" I inquered. "Yes, yes." But I was not convinced. He set my bags down and left. I frantically searched for anyone who spoke English and asked them – most did not know. Then two people in a row told me it was three platforms over. ‘Shit, will this day ever end?’ And I once more began to look for a porter. I finally found one and negotiated a fair price. We scaled up and over and back down the three platforms. By the time we reached the right one I was ready to pass-out.
He made a hand signal for money. I said, "No not until the train arrives and my bags are put in the right seat." I handed him my ticket and he looked at it we had to walk farther down the platform. My body was beginning to give out and my mind was not far behind.
The train arrived and the porter showed the ticket to the tie-tee. But he pointed down toward where we had just come from. Tthen the tei-tee looked at me and signalled the car that was standing behind him. I sighed in relief. We entered a compartment with airconditioning and the cleanest car I had seen thus far. All of the occupants were well-dressed. ‘Pretty nice for second class,’ I thought. I was shown my seat and paid the porter and he left. I crashed down in the chair with exhaustion and went to sleep. But of course, that is not where it ends. Oh no, that would be too easy a train ride and we all know trains in India hate Meg with a passion. Well this one topped them all. No more than 20 minutes later I was woken up by the tei-tee wanting to see my ticket.
"You already saw my ticket," I grumbled half-awake.
"Ticket," he demanded.
So I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it to him.
"This second class – 5 cars down. You want stay here in first, you give me 200 Rs."
And with that I cracked. The lying cheating son of a bitch had purposefully ushered me into the cabin to squeeze money out of the foreigner. I had more than I could take and lost it like I never have before in all my life.
I stood up on the seat hysterically screaming at the man with a car filled of Indians and one Aussie looking on.
"TODAY IS NOT THE DAY TO FUCK WITH ME. YOU THINK I AM GOING TO PAY YOU? YOU GOT ANOTHER THING COMING, YOU LYING, CHEETING FUCK! YOU WANT ME TO MOVE? YOU GET SOMEONE TO CARRY MY BAGS AND MOVE THEM FOR ME. LIKE HELL I AM GOING TO GIVE YOUR ASS MONEY."
"No, you carry. Your mistake."
"MY MISTAKE!? MY MISTAKE?" I was on the verge of tears. I started to blink, but it didn’t help. This time the flood gates were open and I couldn’t stop it." FUCK YOU! AND FUCK INDIA." I had lost it. Not the smartest thing to say in a car filled with Indians. And with this, a yelling match between me and the whole car ensued. One guy came out of his seat and got right in my face yelling
"YOU SAY FUCK INDIA, I AM NOT STUPID I CAN UNDERSTAND. I SPEAK ENGLISH. FUCKYOU!"
"LISTEN YOU ASSHOLE, YOU DON’T WANT TO GET INTO IT RIGHT NOW WITH ME, NOT TODAY!"
"YOU THNK INDIANS ARE STUPID. WE KNOW WHAT YOU SAY. YOU HATE INDIA SO MUCH – LEAVE. LEAVE RIGHT NOW. I WILL HELP THROW YOU AND YOUR BAGS OFF THE TRAIN."
The train was moving at break-neck speed and a picture of the two men I saw thrown from another train flashed back into my mind. The Aussie was trying to calm everyone down, but had no success due to the intensity of the situation. People were screaming things at me left and right. But I was so out of it I did not grasp the severity of the situation. I just kept giving it right back. Then the man yelled.
"GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM," and gave me a shove.
"That’s just what I plan to do as soon as I get to Delhi! Get out of this, BEGGER RIDDEN, WOMAN HERASSING, PEOPLE CHEATING, FOREIGNER HUSLING, GOD FORSAKEN COUNTRY!"
And with that he hit me across the face. I did not feel it due to the hysteria or adrenaline or both. I was about to retaliate when the Aussie jumped in and grabbed me. I was hysterical. I could no longer control myself; the weeks of built up frustration in India came flooding out in a sea of tears and rage. The Aussie grabbed my bags and ushered me toward the second class car. As I was walking, people were shouting horrible things at me and a man reached out and grabbed my arm I could not defend my self because I had my hands full with my other bag.
"What country?" he demanded. I cussed at him is Spanish. "What did you say?" he barked. "If you’re so smart and you can speak English figure it out." With that he slapped me and spat in my face. The Aussie ran back and retrieved me from my harassers and hustled me out of the car. As soon as I was out, the reality of what had just transpired hit me like a ton of bricks. I stood there balling like a little bitch, hating myself for being so stupid, for crying, for being weak, for letting my emotion win.
I was a mixture of so many feelings, it hurt. The Aussie looked at me and wiped the spit from my face with his sleeve. "Come on lets find your seat," he whispered in an almost inaudible voice. We struggled with my bags down the narrow ailes in the over stuffed cars and finally we reached where I was supposed to be.
He stashed away my bags for me on the above rack. Embarrassed, I had managed to fight off the tears but they where ready and waiting at the helm. "Thank you," I said in cracked voice, "you must think I am a nut or something, eh?" He shook his head and said, "Don’t worry about it – I understand completely." ‘Oh, if only you really did," I thought. He smiled and left. After he was out of sight the floodgates openned again – uncontrollably. I tried to make them stop but they just wouldn’t. I felt so alone, so depressed, so defeated I had made up my mind. As soon as I get to Delhi I am catching the first fight home. I had had all I could take. India had won.
I sat there staring out into oblivion watching the lights in the night whiz by in lines of brilliant colors and shapes. My vision blurred by the water in my eyes making the lights take on a new shape of brilliance. Then I blinked them back to their original shape. I sat there for a while thinking and blinking.
I tried my normal self pep-talk, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears this time. It just didn’t work.
‘God Meg, if only your friends could see you know. You… the strong one. Independent. The pillar that everyone leans on. You have crumbled. They would laugh if they saw you sitting here crying like a little bitch. Defeated. For God’s sakes Meg, you’re a fire-fighter – get a hold of yourself. If the guys at work saw this they would be laughing their asses off too. So now what? Go crawling home to Mama like a little baby. Give up and pack it in so easily. God, I thought you were better then that. Guess not. ‘
I sat there hating my prejudice thoughts and my defeated attitude. I tried willing them away, but was no match for my emotions. ‘Well for God’s sakes woman, pull yourself together. At least stop your childish crying.’ I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled the broken air in quick congruent puffs and closed my eyes. The whole car was staring at me, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care anymore at all. My compassion had left. And it seemed never to be found again. I started to calm down. The adrenaline was wearing off and my face started to throb from where I had been hit. For the first time I noticed the taste of blood. I licked my lips. My tongue found the salty open wound. I touched it with my finger and the stinging pain made me wince. My eyes still were watering, but not from the pain of my injuries.
I took off my sunglasses from my head and stared at my self in them. Observing my swollen face for the first time. I put them over my eyes even though it was night to hide my shameful tears. I was going home. But the thought did not bring me any joy. Quite the contrary – it made me angrier with myself. Despair, desperation and depression had set up camp and showed no signs of vacating the premises any time soon. No matter what I did, I could not shake the mood I was in. A feeling of being at the bottom of the abyss and having the world throw its trash at you. Drowning you in it. Suffocating your "Self." You claw at the sides of your prison, but the walls are too steep – your fingers bleed, salty. You die suffocated by the world’s garbage. And you, you had no shovel for such a job. Merely a spoon and a dream.
The train pulled into Delhi and the Aussie came running back. Out of breath, he laboredly said, "Better wait here for a while. I will come and find ya when it’s safe. If not, you’ll be walk’n into WWIII. I’ll get a taxi and come and help you with your bags."
"No, I am fine. I have troubled you enough already, but thanks." I felt horrible for getting him tangled up in my web of problems.
"Hey mate, it’s all right. I understand. No worries. But I will have to insist on seeing you to the taxi."
"Fine," I conceded.
And with a jolt, the train finally came to its final destination. Delhi. The car quickly unloaded and soon after, true to his word, the Aussie came back. We took the scenic root to the waiting taxi to avoid the angry mob waiting at the main exit.
The taxi growled into the city well after midnight. Along the road sleeping shantytowns polluted both sides of the highway, ready to spread onto the asphalt artery. Only the threat of the many-wheeled juggernauts thundering up and down restrained the tattered lives behind the verges.
We exchanged small talk and I politely entertained his questions. However, my thoughts were not on his inquiries about job, and country. They were far away from such, what seemed at the time, trivial things.
Headlights picked out late-shift workers and beggars, tired ghosts tracing a careful path between the traffic and the open sewer. The taxi finally reached the main bazaar. "Well this is me," I said as cheerful as I could
"Here let me help you."
"No, I feel bad enough as it is already."
"Don’t be silly." And with that he huffed my bag on his shoulder and waited for my lead.
"Well, guess I don’t have a choice."
"Nope." He smiled.
We walked down the narrow allyway and I finally spotted the place.
"Kinda shabby, eh?"
"That’s how I like them, shabby, but cheap." I grinned.
I was shown my room. The cracked plaster walls left remnants on the rims of the floor of white and yellow memories of what used to be. The water stained ceiling bowed center resembled that of a giant Buddha belly.
"300 rupees," barked the man
"Listen, I pay one hundred or I am going to the place next door. Now do ya want my money or not?" I snapped not in the mood to haggle.
We set down our bags and I walked the Aussie to the door.
"How long ya stay’n?" he inquired.
"I am going back home tomorrow," I said with a forced smile.
"Well, that’s too bad. It was nice meeting ya." And stuck out his hand.
"Ya, and thanks again for the help." And I stuck mine out too and shook his.
"Bye," he waved as he left
"Bye," I whispered.
And with that, I flopped on the hard bed and lay staring at the flicking fluorescent light above, until sleep finally came.
The next day I went out looking for a ticket office to see about a flight home. As evening came the power cuts started, and generators from all the shops crowding the streets were turned on filling the road with the polluted smell of exhaust. I had been in and out of ticketing offices all day, but for some reason couldn’t bring myself to buy one.
I was still horribly sick and had to constantly go to the bathroom. I grew tired and went back to my room. I lay there, looking at the water stain on the ceiling, making animals out of the patterns. Was I really ready to go home?
Well to cut this tremendously long story short, I am still in India. What changed my mind? Tenacity. Some call it stubbornness when they disagree with my objective, but in the same breath say it is determination when it suits their purpous. But I prefer tenacious. It has got me this far and I am sure will carry me the rest of the way.
Brains will only get you so far (especially in a place like India) and luck always runs out. But tenacity is as reliable as the person that possesses it. And I have never quit anything in my life, so why start now? The past few days in Delhi with its 13 million plus population has been (well as a Kiwi friend of mine would put it) full-on. But I seem to be in better health (almost 75% anyway) and in turn, in a better state of mind.
I remember a professor told me once that prejudice is not formed through experience, but through conditioning. His logic was that if a man was prejudiced against a certain race – let’s say black -because he had been jumped as a child, would he also be prejudiced against all women if they had been the culprits? Probably not. I pride myself in being a person free from prejudice, but was tested to my limits these past weeks in India. How easy it would be to hate all Indians because of what has happened to me. But that would be the weaker man’s path. The stronger and wiser man would look at the bigger picture.
There are a billion people in India and to judge them all by the action of such a minute fraction of the population would be not only wrong, but unjust aswell. I try to remember the family in Khashrho I stayed with, and how many others there are just like them. Yes, at times it is hard to keep the slate clean, free from past experiences. I am not saying to forget, but rather to learn. Learn from your mistakes and make them part of your strength. That is the only way to keep from suffering a pessimistic melt down as I did.
Ya, I was muged. Ya, I was cheated. And yes, I was lied to and beaten. But so what? Shit happen to every one. And if we all throw in the towel every time an obstacle was thrown our way, wehre would we get in life? Not far. Not far at all. And if attaining one’s dream were so easy, it wouldn’t be a dream in the first place. We would already have it. No, I think it is a little simpler than that. Sometimes it seems that the goal is the most inportant treasure. It seems to be coveted relentlessly. But what we sometimes miss is the journey along the way. The journey, more often than not, becomes what makes us who we are, forms us in mind, body, and soul. And isn’t the "Self" the most important treasure of all?
I look back at my life and have no regrets. Sound like a lie? I have no regrets because all that has happened to me and all the decisions I have made have shaped me into being who I am today – both the good and the bad. And the person I am today I like! Hell, I downright love! So what is there to regret? Nothing. So I leave you with this. Follow your dreams no matter how obscure they may be or what people may think. Remember this is YOUR life so live it well. And take the obstacles that may come your way as bumps in the journey of following your bliss. After all life is never a smooth ride.
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