Pants pens sequel to Bronte classic
India is good for the figure, if not the digestive system. I thought I'd lost my money belt until I realised it was down around my knees. Not the best place for it but my spending money was unaffected. This was both a good and a bad thing. It meant, on the one hand that I'd plenty of buying power but also indicated I hadn't made progress in the gift department. But, thanks to the kindness and local knowledge of Delhi resident Ms A, I managed to gather a credible selection of presents on my final day. For a while there I thought I might have to sneak into Eumundi Markets for the mirrored bags and rhinestone elephants.
Given that I'm conflicted about shopping in general, my first hand experience of the grinding poverty of so many Indians further complicated the whole thing. Livelihoods depend on people like me buying local, handmade items which now exist because of tourism. I blame Lonely Planet since half of the shops and restaurants in the popular destinations like Pushkar display recommended by Lonely Planet signs. I have a problem with the whole bargaining thing too - life has to be too short to waste any of it haggling, surely.
I've learned something about myself. Don't get excited, it's a good deal less than spiritual. I've learned that my people skills, such as they are, are entirely artificial. It seems I've developed only enough to get me by for the eight or so hours necessary to hold down a job in a field where the ability to communicate effectively is vital. Just how important is it to be interested in other people - and by that I mean any random selection of people as opposed to people who are inherently interesting? Is one expected, for example to take an interest in pronouncements on life made by vain and vacuous twenty-somethings who no one has seen without make-up since they were nine? Is one obliged to feign rapt attentiveness as they struggle to obtain the vocabulary to state the obvious? I should always travel alone, I know that now.
Good thing I didn’t read my copy of Lonely Planet before I went. What a load of alarmist hog swill that is. I remained blissfully unaware that, as a firangi, I was imperilled every minute I was on the streets of Delhi. It’s a miracle that I wasn’t kidnapped by any number of auto-rickshaw drivers bent on ransoming me for the price of a carpet. I found saying ‘no’, albeit sometimes quite firmly, was an effective deterrent against acquiring goods and services I didn’t want. The only time I felt even vaguely at risk was on the crowded streets of Jaipur where I discovered myself daydreaming for long enough for a ghoulish shadow who might have been at home as an extra in The Thief of Baghdad to get a little too close to the bag where I’d deposited all my valuables, including my oversized money belt. He was easily dispatched by my best cold, hard Paddington stare.
I surprised myself by not succumbing to my characteristic squeamishness over the potent aromas created by open sewers and menageries of street animals. I didn’t gag, not even once. I was able to engage with and show respect to even the most horrifically disabled beggars. I didn’t give them any money though. It’s not that I bought into the crude and simplistic explanations that guides and guidebooks reel off, (begging rings are run by the mafia/child beggars all have degenerate, drug addicted parents/most of the disabilities are self-inflicted), it was more a policy decision on my part. I took the precaution of making a substantial charitable donation before I left so the ‘I have so much, they have so little’ issue wouldn’t arise. I take the view that my embarking on a guilt trip would benefit no one. I did, however, have a problem with turning my back on children. It’s quite common for kids to ask your name/want to shake hands/get you to take their picture. The advances of children in rags carry an expectation that money will change hands. So you’re friendly to the nicely dressed children because they don’t want anything from you and you snub children because they’re ragamuffins. It doesn’t feel right.
My month in India is over. I intend to take a little time to process the experience but I can certainly say right now, the best thing for me was just watching life happen. I could do with a lot more of that. Although there were obvious drawbacks when it came to buying the family presents, I did love it that I hardly saw even a shop, much less the vast tracts of warehouses dedicated to the transfer of consumer goods I’m used to. The long journeys in the charmingly decrepit local buses and trains were made pleasurable by the opportunity to observe an entire cycle of life. You saw crops growing and being tended, harvested, transported by ox or camel or on the heads of women in bright blue saris, laid out in the street for sale, bought, cooked, eaten and then shat out. It does one’s heart good.
Now House of Pants has morphed into Winnebago of Pants. That’s to say, it isn’t a real Winnebago – that would obviously be silly – rather a symbolic representation of the movable feast that is Future of Pants. For what it's worth, I am now quite cured of seeking pleasure in society.
What to do next… (Barney, will you shut the fuck up – I should have let them turn you into vindaloo).