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09/04/2013

Imli-ji in Madhya Pradesh - Part 3

To conclude, what made our trip in quite untraveled Madhya Pradesh – who has heard of it? – very pleasant is that we discovered I could actually speak Hindi! 

I started by throwing in a few words to the herd of rickshaw wallahs jumping on us at Gwalior train station. Till there nothing too unusual… But then in the car, while the driver was chatting restlessly to impress us with his tourist guide skills, both my parents, in turn, told me one: “I don’t know what is happening I understand less and less English?” and the other: “They really have a strong accent in Madhya Pradesh don’t they? I don’t understand a word he says.” The driver had been going on and on in Hindi and I had been ‘ha-ha-ing” all along to encourage him! So here I was, able to kind of understand Hindi!! (With the valuable help of the English words sliding in here and there ;) ) 

 

And guess what? We had a very chatty driver the day we spent 10 hours in the car… Ah, dear Ravi, who hated Muslims and truck drivers, and who almost threw us in a river. He kept calling “Imli-ji” (“ji” being a mark of respect) to make sure he had my attention.

The ultimate was the lesson I got on how I should hurry up with my marriage and kid plans because if I waited more the age gap would be too big and all. My Hindi was not good enough to explain that in my case I can’t first fix a date and then look for a husband to fit in the plan… 

 

On a more serious note, throwing in some Hindi with everybody opened a lot of doors and got me a lot of nice smile!!  

 

Great trip!

08/28/2013

F... me I'm famous!

 Something funny happened in Gwalior… As I was strolling around the fort, on Independence day, some local reporter spotted me and asked to take a picture of me. I was in a good mood so I agreed to the same! I was even so “nice” that he got bolder and gave me his Indian flag, then moved me twenty meters so as to have the fort in the background. All the while dozens of people were clicking dozens of pictures… 

And here is the result:

 

india,looks,photos,gwalior,delirious delhi

india,looks,photos,gwalior,delirious delhi

Dave Prager described in Delirious Delhi this whole tourist picture thing perfectly (in my opinion) so I will just quote him here: 

 

“ There's a middle-class India that thrives far beyond Saket Citywalk Mall, we learned, and many of them are just as interested in their narion's attractions as we are. And as they'd come to Delhi from around the region, these domestic tourists had the same goals that we foreign tourists did: they wanted to take pictures of things they can't see at home.

But while our list includes sidewalk tailors and roadside shrines, their list includes Western tourists like us. So as we'd rest in the shade at the Red Fort or Jama Masjid, it wasn't usual for a mother to place a baby in our lap and a father to take a picture. [...]


At first we were offended by all this unwanted attention. We wondered how people could be so rude as to take pictures of us as if we had been posed there by the Ministry of Tourism. Jenny initially made sport of teasing the men who approached her, agreeing to 'take a picture' and then pulling out her own camera and snapping shot after shot of the baffled men until they left her alone. Sometimes we'd scowl and chastise people who approached us with their cameras at the ready. 

 

But as time went on, and our own photo album swelled with pictures of vegetable vendors, wandering saddhus and streetside omelette makers, we realized how hypocritical we were being. If we found the people around us to be fascinating, beautiful and photo-worthy - subjecting them to the sudden blink of our black lens and then disappearing without so much as a moment of eye contact - it was disingenuous not to accept ourselves as objects of equal interest. We vowed to happily accept photo requests from that moment onward, putting broad grins on our faces while anybody who pleased put their arms around our shoulders and stared into the cameras. [...]

 

After some time, we realized that it was much nicer when people asked permission to take our photo as opposed to when they attempted paparazzi-style photos from far. Which taught us that we owed our own photographic subjects the same consideration. Instead of suddenly stopping, snapping and speeding off, we began requesting permission for pictures and then thanking our subjects and showing them the output on the screen. Not only did that make our interactions with people more satisfying, but our photos got better as well.” 

08/20/2013

IndianSamourai in the Americas!

 In my opinion, there are two types of travelers: the backpackers and the suitcasers. In this category the Indians suitcaser distinguishes himself...

And this is what seven years in India did to me: a backpacker transformed into a suitcaser... And one that is a bit scared to travel out of India that too! 

 

The suitcaser like the order offered by the suitcase: one side for the winter stuff for Chile and the other side for the summer clothes for New York. Easy to pack! 

 

The suitcaser, especially the Indian suitcaser (but in fact it is a pleonasm since the vast majority of Indians are suitcasers by nature), naively believes that everywhere he will go and where his suitcase won't be able to roll, there will be someone to carry it for him. The suitcaser must then bite his lip and proudly refuse the help of his friends when there is no help to go down (and up) the Chilean metro stairs. Chile dammit!

The suitcaser thinks very selfishly that if development means he has to break his back with his luggage he wishes India doesn’t develop too fast... And he gets an idea of business: picking up unemployed people spending their days in the gym (it must exist no?) and let them grow their muscles by carrying suitcases!

In the United States the Indian suitcaser has anyways decided to take no trouble carrying around his suitcase: let's inject money in the economy and help taxi drivers make a living! You are a suitcaser or you are not... 

 

If the packing according to the division of the suitcase denotes a sense of planning, the Indian suitcaser has actually none. India has taught him that: it is useless to plan anything since there is always something unexpected that is going to happen and change everything; and now he loves this! And this is yet another illustration of the Indian paradox: it is impossible to plan a week-end more than twenty-four hours before but the whole life is pretty much planned at birth (at this age you will get your first job, at this age you will earn that much, at this age you will get married, at this age you will have your first kid etc.).

But let's get back to our business. To properly pack a suitcase, a "normal" suitcaser would start by checking the weather... Except that you never need to in India! Especially in Mumbai where it is nice and warm eight months of the year and rain and warm the rest... The suitcaser thus hallucinates when his Danish friends check the weather three times per day... And dress accordingly to the forecasts! At the cost of freezing their asses in shorts early morning because the smartphone said it would be sunny sometime in the day! Ah those Danes! 

 

But there is more! The Indian suitcaser falls from the sky when he gets an email two weeks before departure to rent a car upon arrival. We'll see when we get there won’t we? And I am not telling you his reaction when he receives an email to rent a car to go shopping during the last week of the holiday. He sincerely believes it is a joke... 

 

The Indian suitcaser takes things to another level altogether as far as his non-planification skills are concerned by making others change their plans at the last minute. If you leave him alone too long with a bottle of pisco (Chilean alcohol) and local people who talk about penguins, it is likely that you will end up spending an hour on the phone with the local airline and pay a bomb to change airline tickets for him to... go see the pengouins!! Consequently you will also have to spend two hours on a boat and then drive for another two hour in Tierra del Fuego to stare for half an hour at ten King Penguins (the only lazy bums who (luckily for us) have not gone fishing with the others)! 

IndianSamourai,backpacker,suitcaser,Chile,New York,pengouins

 The suitcaser takes a first slap when, after three flights of nine hours, two flights of two hours, a four-hour car ride (eventually rented upon arrival), nine and a half hours of jetlag, thirty degrees less, a complete gap between the Mumbai hustle bustle and the Patagonia emptiness, his Danish friends take (drag) him for a trekking.They are not the least scared at the idea of slogging on snow, rocks and ice! No water? We will drink from the streams! It doesn’t matter if we have no bottle to carry the water in-between streams... 

No food (lunch had been gleefully zapped)? No problem, the Danish backpacker always has a bland and ugly cracker to satiate himself... A cracker for the love of God! This is the first time that the Indian suitcaser is so happy to be working for a company that manufactures chocolate bars, some of which have been unexpectedly dropped in the office in his last day! The Indian suitcaser, who usually doesn’t eat them, is also very happy to have picked some up keeping in mind the airplane food. He was saved from starvation! 

 

The suitcaser takes a second slap the aftermath of the first trekking which was followed by a nine-hour trek. Which he ended by night, half-dead from fatigue, hunger, thirst, cold, one knee gone and a big toe turned blue, and feeling lower than the ground: he doesn’t understand how his Danish friends are still galloping around like goats. He thinks that his lifestyle in Mumbai must really be bad... (well bad no but unhealthy certainly!)... It is a fact that he doesn’t cycle every day to the office and he doesn’t feed on crackers... As a matter of fact he spends most of the day his ass on a chair (office chair, car chair) – and his (irregular) sessions of yoga at the office seem really pale next to the daily workouts at the gym of his friends –and regularly gulps down butter chicken and happy hours three times per week... Then inevitably he suffers when he has to climb miradors... The Indian suitcaser takes good resolutions he knows that he will not follow... 

IndianSamourai,backpacker,suitcaser,Chile,New York,pengouins

 On the other hand the Indian suitcaser is completely at ease in New York, especially during the heat wave. He sweats, there is noise, traffic and fellow Indians – he is happy to use his broken Hindi with taxi drivers! 

He hallucinates a little when he goes shopping. We are far from the ten brand of clothes imported in India or the two SLR cameras available... 

 

In New York, the Indian suitcaser’s feet hurt very bad. Ah! Feet are made for walking? He rediscovers sidewalks... 

 

The Indian suitcaser in New York wonders if he actually doesn’t come from Saudi Arabia: it seems to him that all the girls are walking around half-naked. What is the morals brigade doing?! Especially at the Jay-Z concert... Huge fake boops completely uncovered except for the nipples and asses uncovered by tiny shorts (which also fail to cover, quite often, cellulite). 

IndianSamourai,backpacker,suitcaser,Chile,New York,pengouins

 The Indian suitcaser has spent an excellent holiday at the other end of his world! It couldn’t have been more disorientating... With the deserted pampa of South Chile, asados, the classy wedding of his very close friend in Santiago, pisco, walks in New York, the beers on the Hudson river, and especially his Erasmus friends of eight years ago... It's okay if some of them are planning freak Danish backpackers : the Chilean and American suitcasers who do everything last minute make up for it! 

And so what if in the end he had to say goodbye to his suitcase of... Indian quality!