Donít Mess Around With Beez: The India Adventure Tour Diaryas- Chapter Two

The last time we checked in with Beez and his wife CC on their current inexplicable trip to the furthest reaches of India, they were attempting to leave the bustling, chaotic metropolis of Delhi and head south to "Varinasi", looking for a place to live for the next several months. We re-join Beez at the train stationÖ

Friday, Oct. 24th, 2003

Our trip to Varinasi started with us finding the train. We booked first class tickets to see what it is like, although the little man who sold me the tickets indicated it was the same as second class, just more expensive. We got on the train and we were the ONLY people in first class, a whole train car to ourselves. Later, someone informed us that first class travel is for maharajahs and presidents of very large companies.

We had a fabulously relaxing journey.

When we arrived in Varinasi, CC almost started a riot at the taxi stand. I was asking how much it was to go to the Hotel Surya, and the taxi driver indicated that it cost 50 rupees. Meanwhile, CC spoke to a different taxi driver. She comes over to us and says "this guy will do it for 20". Our first taxi driver quickly lowered his price to 20 rupees, and then suddenly eight other drivers jumped in and started arguing intensely about it. I think we broke the etiquette of haggling by referring to another driverís lower price, but then not taking the man who offered the lower price. We stood there for 10 minutes while they screamed it out. We later found out that the cab drivers would earn 300 rupees in commission if they drove us to the Hotel Surya and this was the reason the fight broke out. CC has turned out to be the serious negotiator on this trip. (you guys are fucking cheap! Isnít 20 rupees like under a dollar?!? Ė ed)

The Hotel Surya is amazing. It has a courtyard in the middle of the hotel, with a restaurant where you can eat outside, at candle lit tables with waiters in white shirts and black bowties. The menu appears to serve western food, but their version of veggie-lasagna was more like gravy on half baked lasagna noodles with green beans, so we only ate the Indian fare.

One evening, at said restaurant, a 37 year old, beautiful Japanese woman was sitting by herself. She started to laugh as we interacted with the waiter and then excused herself for listening into our conversation. I invited her to sit with us for a drink, which then turned into a six hour discussion about her life.

She came to Varinasi with her motherís dead ashes and the glove of her dead friend. Varinasi is the holiest place in India and if you die here, you do not have to repeat the cycles of birth and death. She went to the river for the holiest of ceremonies and drank from the Ganges. Given that it is full of dead bodies, people bathing and washing their clothes, ashes of the dead, and random garbage, this is quite a feat.

She had just come from Kashmir and while on the bus from Kashmir to Varinasi, "someone touched my pussy, so I stood up on the seat and punched him in the face".

Her husband lives in Australia and she is traveling around India with $300US. She has a website where people send her money to continue her travels. She currently does not have any money and is living on credit. Her auto-rickshaw driver not only drives her around for free, but he lends her money. She is an insomniac. Between our first beer and our second beer, she excused herself and indicated that she wanted to change into an outfit that she had bought in the Kashmir but couldnít wear anywhere. She came back with a Punjabi dress and shawl. The dress had sparkly rhinestones which matched her 10 diamond earrings (5 per ear), her shoulders were bare, and it looked like she should be going to a Vegas nightclub. It would be the equivalent of wearing a bikini for dinner at the Hilton.

After all of this she drops this bomb:

"I need to go to Goa for Christmas and New Years. I am into S and M. I will make a party and earn some money. I am bisexual. Not everyone understands S and M, you must find what is good for the person; whips, tying up, dripping candles".

Her name was Luna. (was her last name Tick? Ė ed)

Okay, not everyone in India is here to run missionaries or orphanages.

On Tuesday, we went down to the Ghats (the Ghats are the steps from a Buddhist temple which lead into the Ganges river).. We are supposed to be meeting Nicky, a friend from Vancouver, who is studying Hindi at the Hindi University. As we wait, an old man climbed out of a decrepit old metal box about 2 cubic feet. He asked me if I would like a haircut: 25 rupees. Letís do it. Corrina canít stay with me as she is going to find our friend, but Iím on the steps in a public space getting a haircut, I mean how much trouble can you get into?

The 50 year old, fit, vibrant hairdresser was wearing only a cloth wrapped around his body. He had a pleasant smile and all of his teeth. He laid a reasonably clean cloth on the step and started to cut my hair. He was in a squat position all around me at all times; at points he was right in my lap. My glasses were off, and while I was sitting there some young guy split with my ľ full water bottle. This made me a little apprehensive (is someone going to run off with my glasses?) As the haircutter finished my hair cut (including shaving my face with a "new" blade), he starts to rub my head. I assumed this is still part of the haircut. He rubs my eyes and makes a pulling motion on my eyelids. Iím thinking "scam?" He continues rubbing my arms and pulling my fingers. Iím thinking "oh maybe because he knows this should cost 10 rupees, he is throwing In a little massage at the end?" Then he asked me to lie down on my front. This involved laying my face on his not so sterile cloth. The cloth stinks, like my hockey gear left too long in the bag, and he starts rubbing my back, my legs, and my butt. Suddenly I realize heís rubbing my wallet. "SCAM?" Then he rolled me over. I said "Please! Iíve got to go meet my wife!" He replied "No, no, no, do not worry, she is fine!" He then rubs my chest, my legs and then my money belt (damn money belt has me so paranoid ALL of the time). He finished the massage and I still amazingly have my wallet, my money belt and its contents and now with my new haircut (and soon to be mustache). I have a full-on Indian look.

He looked at me and said "250 rupees please".

That is 10 times what I had agreed to pay him for my haircut. I argued for a while, indicating I had no idea about the full-body massage. He looked at me and said "250 rupees please". I tried to haggle, but hey, the service is over. He looked at me and said "250 rupees please". We finally agreed to 200 rupees. I guess it is better to just hand over the money willingly than have it stolen. Corrina has decided she better not leave me alone any more!

It is fascinating to see the cycle of birth and death everywhere. In Paris, we were amazed to find out that they had garbage collection every morning, but who would believe that in India they have garbage collection every minute. Nothing goes to waste in India: the garbage is thrown into the streets, then somebody sweeps the garbage into piles continuously during the day. The cows which wander the streets with the swagger of Swartzenagger eat the garbage, then shit in the street. Then someone comes and collects the shits. Women in the fields then flatten the shits into small disks and leave them to dry in the sun, then the shits are collected and burned at little shops all over town to create special treats for the local people.

At one point Corrina and I had this conversation:

"Ooh, it smells like runny shitÖor is that sewage?"

"Or is that food?"

We didnít know.

The air is difficult to breathe in Varinasi because it is always a mixture of diesel, dust, burning shits, burning rubber tires, cooking food and extreme heat.

 

On the day we intend to leave for our 40 hour train ride from to Chennai, Corrina picked up a terrible cold. We agreed that it would be torture for her to continue traveling, but the next train to Chennai left in five days. Oh well, I guess we need to stay in stinky Varinasi for five more days. As Corrina rested, I decide I would like to try to walk around our hotel area. (what an incredible brainstorm Ėed)

I was assured the area was quite safe, as the police force lived in the area. I started walking, ignoring ll of the common attempts to get my attention: "taxi, auto-rickshaw, HELLOOOOOO, Silk Factory?" Then, a 50 year old man rides up to me on his bicycle and offers me a ride on the back of his bike. I found that quite amusing, and laughed. He had no front teeth and the ones he did were covered in red "betel" juice (many of the men chew on this strange substance that gives them a coffee buzz or something, but it seems to rot their teeth). I informed him that I have to walk to clear my mind and get some exercise; he says he will walk with me. All the while, I was hoping that I could talk to some Indian people, and this man spoke English very well, and seemed a genuinely kind soul. As we walked around, he informed me about his life, (Varinasi, 51, two kids, ex-tourist industry worker, name Mr. Khan). He told me has a young friend who would like to practice his English, would I like to meet him? I say "sure", with only a small moment of hesitation wondering what the hell am I getting myself into ("scam?")

He took me inside the home of his friend (Mr. Bhat, Kashmir, 28) who provided me with some black tea and peanuts (which of course is the classic "give the foreigner sleeping pills and steal his money" ploy, which raced through my mind). Mr Bhat indicated that native English speakers donít generally have the time to just sit and talk with him so he could practice his English. His home was built in 1811 and was originally used as a dancehall for British soldiers. Now, with a little imagination, it wouldnít look out of place as an artist residence (exposed brick, cement floors). (Nancy Berner, our real estate agent [and mother of Geoff Berner accordion player extraordinaire] would say "itís dramatic, needs a little TLC").

Mr. Khan took off and Mr. Bhat and I walked down a hot dusty dirt road, into the country side to a pond where the laundry people work. I could see this pond from the window of our hotel room and had intended to try to walk to it, but gave up on the idea as too complicated. Certainly, I would not have just strolled down a country lane without any houses, or lights and trees with hundreds of screaming birds by myself. (Huh? Maybe something was in those peanuts? Ėed) Yet, somehow, magically, I have arrived at my destination in a manner that is beyond reason. I guess I have arrived In India.

I tell Mr. Bhat that Iím working on removing my suspicious mind; trying to enjoy the playful Indian people. I have really wanted to get out of the damn hotel and start to talk to the people, but walking with my stupid money bag and my extreme sweat-soaked paranoia of putting my wife at risk has made it extremely difficult for me to just relax. My dear friend Steve Gillberry concluded that after 6 months in India, he did not feel the India people were dangerous or violent or crooks in anyway. This makes logical sense, given that Hindis have a strong belief in Karma. I think it is better to risk the embarrassment of losing all of my possessions, rather than the guaranteed humiliation of returning from India without ever trusting or meeting anyone. The tough part is to turn off the critical, suspicious mind, at least some of the time.

My discussions with Mr. Bhat veered off into the political arena, where I was surprised to learn that Mr. Bhat was fully aware that there were likely no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, nor had he ever believed there were, and he knew that Canada, France and Germany were fully opposed to the Iraq invasion and that the US decided to act without the authority of the UN. Earlier in the week, we were told that the peasants in the fields who were communally farming rice, although illiterate, were fully aware that global events (such as commodity trading and the IMF), effected how much they could receive for their rice. I had envisioned a simpler life, without any modern stresses, but obviously I was deluded.

We spent 5 days with Mr. Khan and Mr. Bhat. Mr. Khanís life is significantly more difficult than Mr. Bhatís, as Mr. Khan has two children and is currently "between jobs". Despite his tough life, he still maintains his strong sense of humour and his devotion to the Muslim religion. Despite his poverty, he is generous. Each day, he would buy me bananas and crackers. During our discussions, I learned that his daughter was unable to continue her education because their family could not afford the tuition. As the days went on, this bothered me, so on our fourth day of hanging out, I gave Mr. Khan a donation for his daughterís tuition. Mr. Khan exclaimed "I knew that you would help us."

And so it went. I got what I was looking for, he received what he was looking for, and we both got much more. It was not an exchange; it was two acts of giving.

I spent most of my time with Mr. Bhat. His English was quite good, he had a university degree and tried to get a master degree, but there were only 30 positions in the university, and 3000 applicants. He works at a Kashmiri silk and handicrafts showroom, "Trans-Asian Industries Expositions" (TIE) which has been closed for eight months. He is responsible for looking after the warehouse, managing the security people. He could have stayed in his hometown and worked for his fathersí medical supplies distribution company, but his dream is to travel, so he works for TIE, as they have offices in many countries around the world. I spent about 20 hours with Mr. Bhat and his kindness shone through everyday.

It is a Kashmiri tradition to give a small gift to a new friend, so on our first day of meeting he gave me a small "Santa Claus" ornament. He told me he thought that we would require this in December. He took us on walks to see the rural people living in small villages. He taught us about the Kashmir, which looks exactly like British Columbia with its mountain peaks and streams. On our 4th day together, Corrina and I decided we would like to get more Indian clothing. I had taken the big plunge with my Punjabi pajamas, (okay, now Iím a freak) and decided I needed a change in outfits. Corrina was also yearning to get a "salwar kameez", but she was very uncomfortable with the process. Mr. Bhat is not the salesman for the TIE, but we were curious to see what they sold. He took us into the warehouse and showed us the carpets and hand made dresses and silk scarves that they had. To show Corrina examples of what they sell, he pulled out 3-4 dresses. We were confused about the etiquette of the situation; would it be rude to tell Mr. Bhat that Corrina did not want any of the dresses? Should we be considerate and make a modest purchase as our way of thanking Mr. Bhat for all of his time? We decided not to buy anything, but Corrina and I felt awkward.

On our 4th day together, we decided to ask Mr. Bhat to take us shopping for our new clothes. But when we arrived at his house, he had gone out and purchased a new suit for me and had arranged with his neighbour, a Punjabi, retired railway man and his family, to give Corrina a new dress. They spent an hour dressing Corrina up, as if she was a doll. But still we hadnít given Mr. Bhat one gift, though it seemed everyday he came up with something for us. On our final day together, we decided that we would give him some Euros to help him when he arrived in Germany. He looked at the money, and told us he could not accept it. His intention was to treat us honourably as guests in his country, and that it was not the Kashmiri way to accept money as a gift. It was a very powerful gesture. So it appears that this section of our trip can be summed up as "Mr. Khan was not a con and Mr. Bhat could not be bought".

As we were heading off for the train station, we looked out of our taxiís window and saw Mr. Khan pissing on the side of the road (as everyone else does). He happened to look up at the same time and waved (that Mr. Khan is very coordinated!) Twenty minutes later, he arrived at the train platform with his brother. He was worried we may not be able to find our seat, so he came, bought us some apples for the trip, and we gave him a big hug good bye.

Next stop: Chennai.

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