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

A few weeks ago, Beez and his  wife CC were embarking on another long train ride through darkest India, leaving "Varinasi", and heading to "Chennai". We have no idea where these places are Ė all we know is they are somewhere on that dripping stalactite- peninsula known as IndiaÖ

Our 40-hour train trip from Varinasi was surprisingly uneventful. We sat and faced a family from Varinasi (mother, son, daughter and grandson) who apparently did not speak any English. We had to sleep for two nights on the train, in bunk beds, the Indian family within "grabbing distance" of us. After the first night, we awoke to witness the Indian grandson (age 4) sitting quietly, staring out the window, as if the passing scenery was an action movie. The boy did not have any toys to keep him entertained, yet he was never bored, never cried for attention, nor rarely bothered his family.

At the 30-hour mark, the train conductor noticed that the family did not have enough pillows. Someone had taken them. This caused quite a stir amongst the family, as theft is actually quite rare. The son (age mid 20ís) was carrying a wad of 100 rupees about 3 inches thick. They became nervous about their "money bag". (Ah ha!! Iím not the only totally paranoid person in India!) He kept this money in a built-in pocket in his undershirt, but they decided that the shirt needed more protection. As they frantically discussed sewing the shirt shut, Corrina came up with another solution for them. She reached into her bag and brought out some duct tape. She slapped it on his undershirt, pushing lightly on his rotund belly, and voila, the money was safe. After this moment, the family really warmed up to us and started to explain in broken English (up to this point they had indicated they did not speak ANY English) that the family was traveling to Chennai to visit their father who had just had a heart attack.

(This was not Corrinaís first Product endorsement momentÖ earlier in that week, we were visiting a Buddhist temple. We were in the town of Sarnath which is famous because Buddha made his first speech there [which means that the temple is a very important pilgrimage site]. There is a sign that clearly states, "no speaking in the temple". A monk is sitting chanting in the corner of the temple. Suddenly, I hear Corrina talking to the Monk. Quickly, I look at Corrina to give her the "hey no talking in the temple" look. The monk gestures that he has a very sore throat, which will effect his chanting later that evening. Corrina reaches into her bag, pulls out a "Ricola" cough drop from Germany and they start to have a conversation about Buddhism. Meanwhile, Iím thinking "hey what about no talking?" and Corrina is thinking "hey maybe I can make some money in an advertisement for Ricola".

When we got to Chennai, it was hot. So hot, that I am constantly sweating. We have just arrived in time for the national Indian holiday called "Diwali". It is a celebration of light. It seems to be a holiday as big as Christmas in North America. There are signs everywhere and articles in the newspapers about extravagant parties and "top 10 gifts for Diwali". But there is a rather dark side to the festival of lightsÖ "crackers", as in firecrackers. Every house and every teenager and every child seems to be in a 3-day competition to make the most noise possible. As we walk down the street, out of nowhere a firecracker (much louder than our firecrackers) goes off at random. It is like we have arrived in some crazy war zone where there are "cracker" land mines everywhere. Every time one goes off, we jump as if we are suddenly under gunfire. It is extremely stressful. Add some stink to the sweat. A few times, we have been so close to the "crackers" that our ears were ringing. It was worse than a Smugglers concert without earplugs.

During our few days in Chennai, weíre supposed to meet up with the family of our friend, "Senthil". His sister lives in Chennai. She is a gynecologist. Her whole family (husband, father-in-law) are doctors.

We contact her on Thursday, the day before the Diwali celebrations begin and speak with her on her cell phone. She is working, but will call me back later that night. Over the next two days, nothing happens. Corrina and I are concerned that we have imposed on their family (imagine if your brotherís friend from some other country showed up on Christmas morning!) On the other hand, we know that applying North American logic to any situation in India is futile. Three days later, we discover that Senthilís sister has not been ignoring us. In fact, she has been at her hospital for the entire 3 days straight due to emergency births. Despite this grueling schedule, she calls us and graciously offers to pick us up at the hotel on Sunday. We are not sure what this means entirely (are we going for tea? Are we meeting for an hour? Are we going to their house for the day?) When they show up on Sunday, they arrive with Senthilsí father, (Mr Subbaiah), sister (Kurthiga), nieces (Sumeeta and Pria) and their driver. We spent eight hours together with their family as they brought us back to their house, fed us, and helped us figure out how to get oil paints for Corrina.

 We still havenít been able to adjust to the Indian tradition of eating all food (including rice) with our hands, so we ate with a fork and spoon, while Mr. Subbaiah ate with his hands. We were surprised to realize that Corrina, myself and Mr. Subbaiah ate first, then Mrs. Subbaiah, Dr./Mrs. Kirthuga Devi and the cook ate together after we had finished eating and had left the table. Then after lunch, we were instructed we must have a nap! Now these are my kind of people! A compulsory nap after lunch even when you have visitors, I am definitely starting this practice when I have visitors over. (UhÖ havenít you been practicing this for the last ten years or so already?- ed) After our nap, Corrina played a game with the children that involved trying to be the quickest person to pick up ten scattered leaves. Meanwhile, I was inside of the house discussing our plans and our hopes for finding a place in Pondicherry. Senthilís father has a contact there and he promised to make some enquiries for us.

 

Here are some of the things we have learned about India:

Rule #1: Indians are hospitable.

One of the most difficult things for us to understand in India is this Indian tradition of hospitality. Everyone we have met has considered it their duty to look after our needs. The Subbaiah family was looking after us as if we were a member of their own family, simply because Senthil had requested it. Mr. Subbaiah was determined to assist us by giving us a contact in Pondicherry.

 

Rule #2: People need other people to get things done.

Many things are not as they seem, a guide (or a contact) is required at many steps to understand how to do things. It is difficult to let go of the "I must do this on my own" attitude. This is not true for just foreigners, but also for local people. The auto-rickshaw drivers seem to be illiterate, cannot read a map and occasionally do not understand English. In these cases, the auto-rickshaw driver asks another driver what direction to drive in, then every ten minutes, he will stop, we will show our map to some random stranger and they will tell the auto-rickshaw driver where to go. This is extremely strange, as we consider taxi drivers to be experts about every location in a city, but these drivers do not use any of our tools to find a location (English, maps, or addresses).

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 Rule #3: Never assume that by applying Western logic, you will be able to figure out where to go or the next course of action.

Now, as you can imagine, western logic is the only logic we currently possess, which basically means not allowing "logic" to eliminate any of our potential courses of action. For instance, Pondicherry is a large and famous city (pop. 800,000) on the Bay of Bengal. The Indian train system is extremely efficient and goes everywhere, and therefore the best way to go to Pondicherry must be by train. WRONG. The cheapest way to go to Pondicherry is by local bus (cost: 80 cents) but the bus is not good for tourists because your baggage is stored on top of the bus, stops every five minutes, and you need to make sure your bags donít get unloaded at each stop (which is probably unnecessary given the extreme honesty of the Indian people, but every Indian person we meet warns us of unsavoury characters who we should not trust)

So the best way to Pondicherry is by taxi, for 3 hours. Of course, we get overcharged for the trip because we did not ask Senthilís family for advice and the taxi that has been hired for us has to stop every five minutes so the driver can shut the hood of the car by jamming a small rock in locking mechanism, but we did find the best way to Pondicherry.

 

Rule #4: Everyone in India is concerned with spirituality.

Amazingly, my spiritual beliefs fit snuggly inside Hinduism and Buddhism. As far as I can tell, Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith can fit snuggly inside Hinduism also, if they could just drop the "it is a sin to worship other gods" trip. Everyone asks us two basic questions: "do you have any children?" (Corrina keeps saying "people are praying for us to have children all over India!) and "what religion are you? (my answer is that I am free to celebrate "om" without participating in any specific religion). Of course, Corrina is COMPLETELY free of all religion and spirituality, but we havenít broached the subject of atheism!

 

A Wave To The Holy Rollers by Beez

The Hindus believe that "God" can be represented by the sound "om". As far as I can tell, "Om" has incarnated itself into many gods (Shiva, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, the Jewish name for God I canít remember (Yeeheeah??) (Actually I think that word is from "Dukes Of Hazzard" but whatever. Ė ed) You can pray to any of these incarnations of "om" and a connection will exist to the life force. I have been contemplating the metaphor that God is a mountain. And we live in a village below the mountain. If we so desire, we may choose to climb the mountain and there are millions of paths. The most common paths have guides (spiritual leaders), maps (written documentation, Bible, Ramayana, Koran) and deeply worn trails that may be easier to follow, but still difficult to climb. Some paths are manned by crooks and scammers who claim to have an elevator! Sometimes the paths cross, people mistakenly run into each other and fight it out (holy wars). Those of us who are not striving for spiritual elevation, which includes myself, a dabbler in spirituality, fall into two categories. Those who sense that the mountain exists and decide to dance around it and those who are dancing facing the other direction and ignore or are unaware that it exists at all. The mountain does not have the power to give shade to the person facing the mountain (the worshipper) rather than the person turned away (the atheist) from the mountain, therefore the graces of "om" fall equally on each person. Nor does the mountain have the power to punish the individual; all punishments are self created, usually the pain of the conflict of the individual desire and the communal desire. People have the ability to live life peacefully and prosperously no matter which direction they are facing or which path they are on. The only difficulty is that if you are unaware of the magical mountain, you may create untrue beliefs about the source of your shade (perhaps you will believe that you create your own shade or that you expect the shade to be given to you because of your efforts) This can lead to extreme discomfort when you walk too far away from the mountain, the shade disappears and you spend all of your time trying to figure out how to "do" things differently where you are, instead of moving back closer to the source of the shade.

By moving up the mountain, one can get an appreciation for how the whole area is put together. By developing a higher understanding of your surroundings, choosing your direction becomes more clear and certain. Because no matter how high we climb the mountain, we are needed in the village. This return to the village is not a lapse in spirituality, indeed, it is itsí essence. There is an ashram in Pondicherry that developed around the teachings of the guru "Sri Aurobindo". His beliefs are that yoga training and modern science can assist the spiritual seeker to progress into a divine being, but unlike previous teachers, the divine person must live amongst humanity, not apart.

Hey, If we donít want to climb the mountain, at least we can wave!

OK, OK, we are in India, how could I miss out on contemplating the higher purpose. (Stay out of the sun, Beez. Ėed)

The small print: the reverse could also be true, there is no mountain and false beliefs about shade from a mountain which doesnít exist is causing you pain, leaving us with a deadlock. Just another example that we cannot trust the intellectual mind to sort out spiritual matters!)

Okay, now back to our originally scheduled program:

 

Interesting observations about India:

  1. Rock and Roll?

    There is no rock and roll in India, the only "strokes" known here are in motorcycle engines and the only "white stripes" are running horizontally across peopleís foreheads. Iíve yet to find a single person who knows anything about rock and roll and no one has even heard of punk rock. When I tell them I play bass guitar, they say, "oh, you are a master of the bass guitar?" and I give them a little head wobble which indicates "yes, of course". Somehow, I donít think that they would understand that my mastery is more legwork then finger work!

  2. Moped road safety?

    There are signs that say, "Helmet or HELL MET?" Oddly, only one in 1000 people will be wearing a helmet and if a father is driving with mother on back with baby in her arms, only the father will have a helmet. I have also seen a mother and 3 children, ages between 2 and 4 on a moped. Now you might be thinking, correctly, if a mother is riding a moped with two hands on the handlebars, who is holding onto the children? It is amazing how resourceful the children are, they sit patiently holding onto each other. They do not seem scared. Imagine how perplexed this same mother would be if she were in North America and she couldnít get a ride in a car with someone because they didnít have 3 baby seats.

  3. Meat me in India?

    Vegetarianism is the norm in Southern India, if you want to eat meat, it is considered "non-veg".

  4. SCAM?

    Anyone seems to be allowed to write "government approved agency" on their signs. Perhaps this indicates that they are paying taxes, it certainly is not a guarantee of any legitimacy.

     

  5. No Room At The Inn?

    There is a very popular chain of restaurants called "Hotel Savara Bhavan" which does not have any rooms for sleeping; it is only a chain of restaurants.

  6. Booze who?

    There are many shops called "Wine Shops". Corrina and I went to buy some. They told us, "sorry sir, we donít sell wine, only hard liquor".

  7. Queer Eye For The Hindu Guy?

In North America, there is a common perception that if you can tell that a person is gay, you have "gaydar". But in India, the boys and teenagers are so affectionate with each other (walking down the street holding hands, arms around each other as they walk, standing on the beach with one behind the other hugging each other) I think it would be a challenge to even the most perceptive Gaydar-ic (one who has the power of gaydar???). You might be thinking, uh Beez, those guys ARE gay. I mean all of those arranged marriages, tough spiritual practices etc, whatís a boy suppose to do? But I do not think this is the case; being a homosexual in the Indian culture is extremely frowned upon and sexual contact between heterosexuals (even hand holding) is frowned upon. I think they are just friendly!

Our next installment will feature more about our lives in Pondicherry, as we settle down in our home base. And if things havenít gotten weird enough, I am going on a four day and four night course to learn about the Utopian society called "Auroville" on the outside of Pondicherry next week. Corrina has decided to stay in Pondicherry to work on her paintings. Will they feed me? Will they love bomb me? Will they bore me? Will anyone like Rock and Roll? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

To revisit Chapter One, click here, chapter two, click here, chapter four, here, or go back to the Smugglers homepage.