The India Adventure Tour Diaries – Chapter 9

 

The last time we checked in with Beez and his wife CC they were staggering out of a week and a half of silence and separation. Together again, it was almost time to release their lips from the supple tit of mother Inja…

Leaving Pondicherry

After our 10 day Vipassana silence retreat, we quickly grabbed a taxi back to our apartment in Pondicherry. Well, we quickly got into the cab… it was actually a 3 hour trip. It is amazing that for the price of a cab ride to the airport in Vancouver, you can hire a cab in India for almost the whole day. As we got closer to Pondicherry, we started to wonder how things worked out for our friends, Netty and Phil. We decided to lend our apartment to this hilarious British couple because we obviously didn’t need it. It was odd that we lent our apartment to them, considering how we met them. Before the Vipassana silence course, we had gone out for breakfast at the Coramendal restaurant, a touristy place, right on the Bay of Bengal, that served a tasty breakfast of idli (like a rice ball the size and shape of a large clam) and masala dosai (a thin pancake filled with curry potatoes). Quite often, Corrina and I would start conversations with other tourists at this restaurant. Most tourists who came to Pondicherry only visited for 2-3 days, so compared to them, we were the Carl Sagans of Pondicherry (Huh?? You were good at astronomy?! – ed).

One day, we noticed this British couple sitting beside us: Phil, a tall skinny British young man, and his breakfast companion Nettie, a muscular, black British woman with an enormous smile and even bigger… laugh. They were having a great time, making jokes at each others expense, which we later found out was a constant part of their daily routine. As they went to leave, Richard Martin,  a kind waiter, who could be found smiling 18 hours a day at the restaurant, came running up to their table and told them, in broken English, their 100 rupee note was a counterfeit. As they played with the note, I couldn’t resist. I wandered over and asked if I could see the phony bill. I mean the note was only worth $2, only in India does this seem possible.
           

With this introduction, we sat down to learn more about their lives. Phil and Nettie are a married couple traveling around India after they were booted out of Vancouver. They had sold all of their possessions in England and immigrated to Vancouver in the summer of 2003, but when Nettie was offered a job as a teacher, the immigration board refused to allow it; quite a pity for Canada in my opinion. They would have been great Canadians; racially tolerant, hard working and very funny. What more do you need to be Canadian? They decided to trade in their dreams of a lifetime in Canada to a year traveling around India.

Surprisingly, Canada wasn´t the only place where they have been kicked out!. They were also tossed out  of the local ashram hotel. When Phil told me about this, I was excited to hear what had happened. Was it a drunken party? Wild orgy on the staircase? Preaching Christianity?  The Ashram hotel does not allow “non-devotees” to book a room for more than 1-2 days, as the management wants the flexibility to kick out non-believers like Phil and Nettie. Unfortunately, Phil and Nettie didn’t know about this system. After their first night, they decided to extend their stay. They go to the front desk and say,

 “Alright good chappies, I’ll be takin´ the room for two weeks”.

“Oh kind sir! Oh no sir! That is not possible, you can stay for one more day, perhaps two”.

“I need a place for two weeks, is the room available or not?”

“Oh kind sir! You can come down to the desk each morning and I will tell you if the room is available”

“That´s madness!¨ Phil responded exasperatedly.

The front desk clerk looked up at him and said , “I’m sorry you will have to find other arrangements, please leave this hotel immediately, you have no right to be so rude with me¨.

So despite knowing that they were counterfeiters and shit disturbers, we knew they were fabulous people. In fact, they were such amazing people that not once during our 10 day meditation did it occur to me that I should be worried about the things we had left in our apartment in their trust, and as expected when we returned there were no problems.

 

Contacts

After getting our apartment back, we started to prepare to leave Pondicherry. According to philosopher/physicist/world traveler Dr. Chris Archer, it takes 3 months to feel at home in a new place. As we packed up our bags to leave Pondicherry, we felt like we were “leaving home”. Our deluxe 3 bedroom apartment on the Bay of Bengal was an oasis in the midst of the anarchy and our cultural isolation. But the siren of the next Smugglers tour began ringing in my ears and it was time to start the journey of packing up our bags in India and getting to the Smugglers gig in Toronto in the next 21 days.

We decided to mail home all of the things we didn’t want to carry for the last few weeks in India. If you want to mail a package to Canada, you take your stuff to a mailing service that will build a cardboard box for your things. They sew the box shut, wrapping it in a linen cloth. While I was in line for this service, the proprietor introduced me to a distinguished Indian gentleman standing beside me. He was an eye doctor who worked close by. He noticed that my glasses were extremely ugly and asked me if I intended to buy contact lenses while I was in India. He told me that it would cost $30 for the eye test and a bunch of disposable lenses. I thought, “Hey good idea, cheap contacts!”

Early the next day, I ventured out to find him. As I approached his “office” I realized that he worked at the local Pondicherry general hospital, a building reminiscent of a 1950’s east german apartment block: grey, industrial, boxy, and dirty. Ah, what the hell, must be a good place to get cheap contacts, you don’t have to pay for the fancy showcase windows! I cautiously entered the building. There were hundreds of people sitting everywhere. Entire families camped out on floors. As I looked down at each person, I saw terribly sick people, broken arms untreated, crying children, nursing mothers. I thought to myself that the first floor must be for emergencies or something, the “routine eye check up” part must be on the second floor. As I walked up the stairs, I saw the same scenes. I started to worry. “Why have I entered into a building concentrated with terrible diseases? Fuck… Am I going to catch the hoochy koochy flu? FUCK. Oooo... FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!” I pushed on, looking for “Eye Care, room 309”. As I turned the corner, I saw his office.  It was the same scene, 30-40 people sitting around waiting and wailing, with bandages on their eyes, appearing to be in quite a bit of pain. Puss and blood was everywhere. I saw a line up where I was supposed to register for my appointment. I couldn’t do it. It just didn’t seem morally correct to take a place in line considering that people who really needed the help would have to wait, so I could get some cheap contacts. I ran out of the hospital, thankful to breathe the “fresh” air.

 

Crazy Gig! Yacht Boys and Billionaires.


 On our last few nights, we decided to say goodbye to our only friend left in Auroville. Don came to India to work for the Canadian government on a grant to promote organic farming. Apparently, the Canadian government has a budget to assist third world countries like India, BUT 90% of the money must be spent on paying Canadians to work! So his 6 months of work was useless because there were no further resources to actually help farmers execute these organic farming techniques.  When we first met him, on Christmas eve, he was quite frustrated and looking forward to doing some actual organic farming in Auroville. At our “going away” dinner, he brought along a friend he had met in Auroville, a handsome young man from Nanaimo who regaled us through the night with his outrageous stories. When he turned 18, he decided to go to Miami, unsure of what to do with himself. He had heard that it was easy to get work on “yachts”, so he took his meager sailing experience, whipped up a reasonable looking resume and started going from yacht to yacht offering his services. Finally scoring his first job, he joined the international community of vagabond yacht workers, a shadowy black market economy of unknown nationality. He had spent the last 5 years working for billionaires as their cleaning staff, waiting staff, and yacht maintenance. He said these billionaires would often leave the yacht for the crew to take to the next port of interest. Basically, the billionaire would fly to the south of France and they would have to take the yacht from Miami to Cannes, meanwhile they were able to raid the fridge and liquor cabinet, eating and drinking in style. Nice life. At one point, he worked for a Russian mobster who was cooking up ridiculously illegal international financial scams worth millions of dollars. I guess these guys are so beyond the law, they didn’t care that the staff overheard their criminal conversations.

He didn’t have a very high opinion of the billionaires, he considered most of them exceedingly boring, but worse still were their offspring. They would come onto the yacht, rudely boss around the yacht staff and complain about everything. Aren’t  you glad you don’t have these problems!
            In some way, many tourists have a similar problem. They come to a country like India and complain because the food is spicier than at home, or the streets are dirtier or the restaurant is run less inefficiently. They can go on for hours telling you how they would improve things, of course, not understanding in the least how the economy works nor realizing how privileged you must be to even experience such a discomfort!

If you have the time, the best way to travel is to choose one place in the country of your choice and just stay there. I have tried the “I must see everything” type of touring. “40 towns in 40 nights”. It always ends up the same, a long checklist of things I’ve seen. This is great for bragging rights but bad for depth of experience. Here is an example.

We became quite friendly with the aforementioned waiter, Richard Martin at the Hotel Coramendal. He is a handsome, 24 year old Christian (hence his non-Indian name). He appeared to be one of the happiest people I have ever met; constantly smiling and laughing; yet his life was very difficult. He worked from 6am to 10pm everyday, he was earning 2000 rupees per month (approx. $60). His sister had cancer so the family had huge hospital bills to pay off AND now that she has been cured, she is going to university to be a nurse. Richard’s father told him he must pay for her school tuition. He did get free room and board, but has trouble sleeping because he didn’t have a mosquito net and the other workers who slept in his room snore louder than a White Whale concert in an empty club in San Antonio.

 On our second to last night in Pondicherry, Richard wanted to go out for dinner with us. He came over to our house at 9pm, getting off work a little early. He gave us a gift, a small candle holder. We were shocked. Then we trundled off to a nice little Chinese restaurant around the corner. When the bill arrived, I tried to pay for it, yet he refused, vehemently. The bill was 500 rupees, a quarter of his monthly earnings. Corrina and I were taken aback at his generosity.

Our apartment in Pondicherry was adjacent to the residence of a high ranking Danish government official. He had “round the clock” security, basically two friendly old Indian men, who sat and watched the traffic go by. As soon as we moved in, they started doing services for us, helping us open our door, fixing our bikes, looking after our friends when we weren’t home. There was a third, younger security guard, but he only worked occasionally and basically ignored us, so we ignored him. We liked the other two very much, despite our inability to communicate in a shared language, so on our last night we gave Corrina`s bike to one of the guards whose daughter had just lost her bike in an accident and gave the other guard a little cash. As we returned to our apartment on our last night, the third security guard appeared. He had not even smiled at us for 4 months and suddenly he is at our door, asking me for a tip (baksheesh) for his “services”. This really annoyed me because I didn’t think that he deserved a tip. But, he can clearly see that we have given the other two guards something. I don’t want him to feel too bad, but on the other hand, if he wants a tip, he should provide some kind of  service.(though I guess he might consider the fact that no one broke into our house in 4 months his service). (This is extortion! Don’t give him a cent! – ed)

I told I’d think about it, slammed the door in his face and went to bed. At 6am we got up to leave, and there he was still waiting at the door! I loaded the bags into the taxi, and gave him a tiny tip, and off we went to Bombay! (Okay, it’s called Mumbai now, but I like the sound of Bombay better!)


Bombay was quite a surprise. It is a very modern city, sometimes even more expensive than Vancouver. We went for dinner at modern and hip restaurants that would not have been out of place in the swankest parts of town (the food, the clientele and the bill!) If Pondicherry was an entertainment desert, then Bombay is a garden of earthly delights. In the 4 days we were in Bombay, we attended a modern art gallery opening, an international film festival, a workshop-seminar on making films in India, ate at a chocolate only restaurant (featuring a desert which consisted of a chocolate brownie, chocolate ice cream, chocolate mouse, chocolate cake, a chocolate bar, and topped with chocolate sauce!) and saw two German Rock bands on a tour sponsored by the German embassy. I can’t believe we’ve been to two “embassy rock” gigs in 5 months (the other one was at the Canadian consulate in Berlin watching Smuggler Dave play with the Rodney Graham band). The Smugglers have to figure out how to cash in on this lucrative new touring market.

Following this whirlwind of entertainment, we whisked ourselves off to Udapir in the state of Rajasthan, for our last Indian tourist event. Back in chapter 5, we met three fabulous ladies in Auroville (Jordana and Marta from Spain, and Sita from Holland). We enjoyed their company so much that we agreed to meet again in Udaipur. There was only one hitch. Marta’s boyfriend Nick had also joined our Spanish princesses. I was concerned. Sometimes previously great people can turn very weird when there boyfriend-girlfriend-wife-husband-lover shows up.

All of the nervousness was for naught, as Nick turned out to be a fascinating fellow. He and I had a lot in common. One strange coincidence is that we both had built our own sensory deprivation tanks when we were teenagers and both had a deep admiration for John Lilly. (the inventor of the sensory depravation tank and inspiration for the movie “Altered States”).

Udaipur is a strange, romantic, desert city surrounded by mountains and ancient ruined palaces.  The movie “Octopussy” was filmed there and to celebrate this, at least 20 restaurants show Octopussy EVERY NIGHT!

One strange thing happened to Corrina and I. We went for breakfast on the rooftop of a hotel, which was deserted, except for our party of 6 (I was actually happy that it was deserted because I have a bizarre, subversive, disturbing, unique, annoying and constant phobia regarding seating difficulties for large groups) [actually ANY sized group, literally from two to twenty, and it’s never a problem – ed] After our fantastic breakfast without any seating issues whatsoever, the waiter-owner of the hotel, a tall skinny  40 year old Indian man with the compulsory mustache, asked us if we wanted to book massage with him. I guess he is a waiter-owner-masseuse. He suggested that we sign his guest book. The comments in the book were quite strange. “If I was a little more immodest, I would have taken off all of my clothes”. Uh oh… sounds like a Yoga teacher/hair dresser scene to me! We politely declined, but he continued to sell us.

He said “if you let me hold your hand, I can tell you things about your health”. Oh I see, waiter-owner-masseuse-psychic doctor!


He takes CC’s hand and after pressing on it in different places, with his long fingernail, which caused Corrina to yelp a number of times, he whispered in her ear “you have lumps on your breast” Corrina shook her head, considered giving him the finger, then got up and walked out. He held my hand and gave me the same pressed palm routine. When he finished he leaned forward and whispered into my ear “your left `egg` is bigger than the right”. Well, that was it. I no longer wished to discuss my balls in India. I know that I should have booked an appointment immediately, just for the sake of these diaries, but my reckless abandon had been worn down. And really, I’m not that eager to top my yoga instructor story.

 While in Udaipur, I discovered the pleasures of SMS texting on the cell phone, often coordinating our nightly dinners together by this method. After 5 days in Udaipur, we left our dear friends, physically. But we continued to SMS during our final few days in Jaipur. As we arrived at the airport in Delhi, I SMSed our dear friends, saying ”we are at the Delhi Airport, the Indian journey is over, it was great to meet you”. Ten minutes later, we received a SMS message in return: “I’m approaching the Delhi Airport, see you in 20 minutes!”  Wow, what an unexpected surprise. We checked in, went through security and found a dingy Indian coffee shop. After 30 minutes went by, we received another SMS message, ¨security won’t let me through as my flight doesn’t leave for 6 hours¨.  But CC and I couldn’t go back through security! Finally, after waving at Nick from 20 feet away, I decided to pull a classic Grant Lawrence. I just ignored all of the guards and walked over to where he was standing. The guards came running up to me and told me that I couldn’t go any further, so Nick and I stood talking to each other over a security barrier. I started to get nervous, sweaty and panicky, so I started to returned to our side of the airport. As I was about to leave, Nick said “Beezer! Do you want this book by Marshall McLuhan?”

“Sure, thanks”. Amazingly, no one checked or noticed that I had a book in my hands that I didn’t have before. Could have been a good scam!

As we sat in the Delhi airport we were surprised that things that had seemed so foreign to us when we arrived -the dirty streets, the ramshackle buildings, the surging humanity, people asleep on sidewalks- all seemed normal. In our short stay, we had really grown to love the kindness of the Indian people, the fabulous food, and simple lifestyle we were fortunate enough to experience. India taught us that there is so much more going on than the obvious physical world and at the same time, how important it is to be more aware of the natural world. The life-death cycle so close to the surface as bugs compete with cows to eat your banana peel.  It is still hard to comprehend that a billion people can keep a country together, particularly considering their extreme racial and religious differences. But I guess that is the magic of India. One of the most important lessons we learned is that most countries do not need to be feared. One of the original reasons why we decided to go to India was because we thought it would be too hard to go India when we were older, now we know that we were ignorant.