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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Stilted Instincts

You would probably say I asked for it, if I gave you the chance. If memory serves me correctly, I very specifically remember asking for it, on several occasions; perhaps I was prompted by several bouts with fidgetiness or boredom or an inability to let rest the tooth-studded motor that bellows from a region somewhere between my heart and mind.

My requests might have gone something like this:
"I want a challenge. I want this to be difficult. I want to have my back against a wall, and have to find a way out, find some drive, and I want to be scared."

"Australia is too easy, too much like America....this was not supposed to be a vacation for me"

Well, its most certainly been a challenge, and I've most certainly been scared. From the moment I arrived.

It was less of an arrived than a crash-landed actually. And it stung of the same stupidity as the ringing and singing of a mosquito, smashing as hard as it possibly could into the closest and brightest light source in sight. From a dark distance back, the mosquito had trained its eyes on this very light, yet somewhere along its course, it forgot to slow down and evaluate its position, let alone consider what it would do when it arrived, so violently and tortuously so, at the object of its pursuit.

So, to recap how i got to india in the first place...... Thailand ended splendid (I say this with the most fobby indian accent you can imagine). A jaunt into the cheese of the jungles of north thailand was blessed by the presence of a group of eventually warm Irish blokes, some of whom had the bad habi of carrying boars for broads, an italian with a goofy grin, a pair of swedish pastry girls, and most importantly, the most lasting Thai in my memory, MOONG. Moong, whose slowpaced walking reinvented Igor, Eric, and my renditions of Bob Marley into "Noooo vhiskeeee moooong daaaaiiiieee, no whisky moong die" was DOPE(y). Upon this tangle with Thailand's jungle country, our two day trek and its tumbling guides bathed us in waterfalls, took us on a tortured elephant ride (torture for both the elephant family and myself), swirled us through whitewater rafting currents, sunk us in bilge bamboo boats, and drenched us in a village reaching through the sky toward an altitude that provided refuge above the clouds from all the persecution they faced below. Very well may have been the best conclusion to a grueling hike I have ever experienced.

Our emergence, via side car swerving, eventually left us in Bangkok, where an innocent night of family reunions (with Igor's cousin) ended with an unexpected visit from our old old friend.. TEQUILA (ta dentadada ta da....tequila) except the trumpets were far more cacophonos than the original in this cover. A bottle and some dancing, and next thing i know, im deposited in front of a fried bug stall, tongue prancing with pin-pricking cockaroach limbs. PHHHITHOOOEEEEYYY! But igor wanted the whole bag. As we continue to pish away in hopes that night will last just long enough to bring us to our 2.40am flight, Igor disappears in Bangkok International, drunken eric wallows in the disintegration of his vacation, I manage to severely disappoint some traditional sikh hymm singers (gianijis) with my newly dreadlocked (yes dreadlocked!) hair. We do not board the flight without a scuffle at the airport security checkpoint (belligerence is the best when inappropriate and mischevious), a visit to the smokey cocoon wing of the airport, and an unhappy visit to the m&m stall without any money. Scrolling through the pictures of igor sprawled out on the curb, tangled in his bags, before we got on the plane left us all surprised as to how they were even going to let us on the plane. At which point, Igor and Eric intelligently (or incapacitatedly) passed out, but I, oh no, not I. I asked for a free scotch before we even took off to help with my coming hangover and to help me sleep all the way to india. She brought me two, and then some, and I, alone, danced up and down the plane half way to India, staring at peoples fluttering eyes as they slept, waking stewardesses from their trance for ill-fated conversation, and wondering in some dumbfounded self-concious way why no one would wake up to talk to me, and why no one like my new hairstyle.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Mumbai, jack-in-the-crack of dawn, welcomed by Swapnil, our local friend who we met in berkeley. I dont know if we could have made it home without him. In fact, im sure we would not have, especially considering the home was his office. Only a hallucinogenic delerium and some south indian food could postpone our taking leave of the world for a few hours of much needed sleep, ironically, alongside the workstations of his dilligent and much more sober employees.

Our next few days in Mumbai were highlighted by food: some long awaited kebabs, and street-side chaat that turned erics stomach inside-out. Swapnil was very good to us, but we really spent the bulk of the time adjusting, getting sick, and recovering. His Indian hospitality was overwhelming.

However, it was for entirely another reason that leaving mumbai was such a challenge. It was time to leave, in the way that a city riddled with 16 million people is hard to stomach for too long unless you're used to it, which eric and igor were most certainly not, and i dont even pretend to be able to swallow the horse-pill indian cities comfortably. We decided to get away to a hill resort, but getting there would take every ounce of energy the last few days hadn't already drained.

I liken our arrival in the hill station of Mathuran to the floppy grace one would expect from an ill-concieved attempt by a lanky individual at his first cartwheel. Neither he nor we should have dreamed of allowing our feet to leave the ground in favor of wobbling our hands, when already it was so clear that walking on our feet was stilted enough. It all began in one of mumbai's busiest train stations, where we ended up bouncing like little, feather-weight children trapped inside an unreasonably large sumo suit amongst a crowd hungry for space. With our 20 pound monkeys on our backs and two guitars, not to mention our other backpack-monkey's sagging at the waist where you might imagine a kangaroo pouch might hang if humans had them, we waddled like pregnant women in a futile effort to be one with the crowd. While we shuffled our feet and bumbled into things, everyone else used each other, and us, as stepping stones up to the train... before it even stopped moving. Infact, as the train passed by where we were waiting on the platform, dozens of grinning Mowgli-look alikes lept aboard the steaming train that already appeared as though it would burst at the seams. As we watched the jumping-bean spectacle, and some turn refried, we shuffled our feet in a feigning attempt to catch our train, mouth ajar, and terrified as to what we had gotten ourselves into. I, in particular, was scared because i was going to have to be so intimate with this for SOOO long. That i was going to have to reverse my instincts to even stay afloat in this country.

All the things that deterred me from india when i was younger, i knew i had conquered in my last trip here 4 years ago: the idea of wiping my ass with my hand and some water, the inevitable food poisoning, the lack of anything truly familiar, the inability to find beef, the bugs bugs bugs, all that stuff that comes when you lose the luxury of being in the worlds most prosperous country were acceptable to me. However, I thought i was going to exchange those comforts for a lifestyle that wasn't so hectic, not so numbed by a rat race, a life that knew how to relax. Now i realize that when there isn't enough of anything to go around (and i'm not talking about just food and money here), there is no room to relax, and that you have to carefully plan your stilted movements. I took this to mean that i had tolearn to reverse my instincts. I have to learn to berate people who overcharge me or hound me for my money in exchange for a meaningless service they offer, I have to learn to not apologize to every beggar for whom I dont have a coin jingling for, I have to learn that the Ashwin that can smile at everything in the world has to keep his eyes trained on his feet, watch his steps, so as to not trip over the long wooden appendages with which he know has to use to navigate this tight space. But I also have to make that my new and easy way of walking for the next few months. I have to avoid the pit I have been falling into this whole trip, that if i dont like something, i can always romanticize something on the horizon (a new country, the arrival of a new friend, whatever markers i dreamt up). India, it seems will be the ultimate test, if i can truly be content with were i am, irregardless of where exactly that may be... if i can find intrinsic happiness that colors every page of the world. It has been something I used to be proud of myself for achieving, and something i hoped to really cement on this trip. The process, needless to say, is ongoing.

Anyway, back to the story... our challenging journey would actually begin in an elbow-lashing stampede that finally landed us on a train in the right direction. There we stood, separated by only a few feet but surely an entire village of people, occasionally raising our eyebrows at each other perhaps to express our unspoken relief, exhaustion, and surprise, or perhaps just to shrug back the tears of sweat that were bleeding into our eyes. Though we thought we were close, it would take us another train to undo the overambition of our first express train, get us to our stop, at which point we were forced to abandon our dreams of taking the toy-train to the top of the mountain when we were informed that it was all but washed away by the monsoons. So, our alternative was a clench-eyed taxi ride right up the face of the mountain on a road slashed at by erosion and slippery crevices that seemed to invite certain death, Instant and Imminent and Impending Vehicular Death (IVD)! At what we thought was the top, we were hounded by "HOURSE!!, yooo wann rayd hoarse?" and a team of 8 hand drawn riksha men who eventually, and gruellingly carried us and our baggage up four kilometers more of mountain, poorly lit, things going bump in the night, and a road that at some points seemed so dark and void taht we had to institute role call to make sure we weren't being led to our macabre death.

The hill station, however, when we awoke was studded with a lovely family who mothered us when our mothers were so far away, stunning cliffs, and breath taking ridges. It goes without saying that we were not able to leave for a few days, as the journey to get the vacation was reason enough to take an extended break. A festival, a funeral procession, lakes, hikes, monkey junkies, and a game of cricket restored smiles to our faces and softness to our petrified minds. Many great conversations were had, a little sickness, but the fear slowly died down when the crowd did.

From there, eric and I split up to scope out goa (while igor intersected with his fathers business trip), spent some very slow hours on goas dramatic coast line, glimmered with colorfully spicey markets, glistened with salt water residue for two days on pristine beaches, and galoshed in a locals boat fishing at squealing at the dolphins. Goa was seasoned by Rajen and Igors arrival, conversation's profundity grew exponential though our numbers only grew linearly, and all in all, goa was a relaxing palm tree haven much like i bet most people imagine it to be.

We wound down the coast, many more random interactions, some tigers, (you'll have to forgive me for getting a little boring, im upset because for the last 30 minutes ive been writing only to recover what i've lost as a result of a computer crash), may more beaches through which we trampled on our own paths, played with our monkey families, and basked in each others company. Sometimes, i even got the feeling, when were sitting on a table conversing about all sorts of philosophical and convtroversial issues, that this must have been how the bolshevik thought parade or the beat movement or any sort of significant grass roots uprising started....

At some point, however, i decided that i had set out to learn some things, and it was tough to acheive them when everyone else had so much less time and therefore different priorities of seeing india. so, i decided to split up four days ago, head down to the very south of india while the boys romp around the backwaters and tiger reserve. I think my body reacted to the separation quite poorly.

On my sixteen hour journey toward a new, independent path, a very warm south indian family held the fort for only so long, but once they went to sleep, i was to spend the next 10 hours, all alone, wincing on the toilet, stomach turning inside out as my contorted body assumed quite a stilted pose in order to stretch the torso far back enough to remain above the poop receptacle poorly named a "western toilet" whilst my upper body and neck tried to land its own purged contents into the sink. All the while i sat wondering why i upgraded to the nicer air conditioned class if i was to spend the whole night on the toilet, rationing my limited supply of TP. In my discomfort and anger, i had much more creative musings about how i would describe it on the blog, but at the moment im tired of writing.

Im in varkala beach, escorted here by a couple of overly hospitable Keralites, almost to suffocating proportions. I am taking some yoga classes, which are alright, and i have been hanging around a restaurant that has allowed me to learn how to use their tandoor (basically and insertable indian style BBQ). I'm not allowed in the kitchen and i'm not learning so much, so i think im going to set out and try to do some things that ive been wanting to dedicate some time to for a while now. the time alone has been good so far, but i hope i have more to show for it when its all said and done....

blaaaaa...... no more


Blogger purplemisa said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:01 PM  
Blogger purplemisa said...

as my trip is quickly coming to an end thus yours is unfolding. as i have read your blogs ashwin i see you have maybe changed a bit...maybe not...but it sounds so...its so wonderful, and scary, how travel puts your own life and society, culture into perspective. one knows this when they begin to travel but nothing can really prepare you for it. anyways i hope your traveling on your own is going well. i didnt do it much but i know now that it is truly a really special way to travel. i send you the bestest of wishes and strength along your path...oh and also merry christmas and a happy new munch

3:01 PM  
Blogger Mitch said...

Helloooo Shwin! I was having a very boring day in front of a computer until I read every word of your three most recent entries (I'm finally caught up). I smiled, I laughed, I admired. I love every beautifully written detail about what your poor gastrointestinal tract is going through. Thanks for making my day.


12:51 PM  
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2:41 AM  
Blogger Sasha said...

ashwin! whats been going on????
i hope that you come home soon so we can have one of our famous debaucheries:)

4:09 PM  

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