Sunday, February 10, 2008

Heathcliff Hanger

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).


J said...

Hi there Pants... nice to hear from you again. It sounds like you had a really illuminating time... Will you find it hard to settle down again now, do you think?

Life in London is much the same. But you didn't really expect any different, did you?

Take care - looking forward to the next installment of Life of Pants.


That's So Pants said...

Hi J

Settle down? Not a chance. Next question?



Wisewebwoman said...

Travellin' Pants:
How good to get an update on your comings and goings. I learn much from your journey.
How good to observe the whole cycle of life on foreign soil and mull things over and come to your own answers in your own good time.
Lovely writing, BTW.

Reading the Signs said...

Withering Troughs? Pants, what can this signify? You are temporarily stationed at some organic farm, is my guess. I had to look up winnebago - discovered it meant a home you can drive around and it reminded me that I have always wanted one of those. When I speak of it to Mr. S he conjures up images from that film "About Schmidt" with Jack Nicholson. "Future of Pants" will put this right and I look forward to reading it.

I'm glad Barney is well and in good voice.

Reading the Signs said...

Hm - did my comment post? Just testing.

Reading the Signs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tai said...

I have loved every word of your travelogue. May I suggest toreador pants for Pants' next chapter? Sans bull, of course.

PS: "Vindaloo" must be one of life's better words.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Thank god you survived.

I love Winnebagos.

Reading the Signs said...

I have gone and tagged you again, Ms Pants. What can I say? Let it be a symbolic representation of the variable diet that is the substance of blogging.

Ms Baroque said...

Well that is all fascinating! Of course your literary ascendance will be due to the events of the last post, no doubt, greatness rubbing off etc - which, along with your newly-trimmed figure, leaves you pretty damn fit for the next stage, I reckon!

Btw, what if any ARE your writing plans these days? (Mine are to continue to try to find tge right ink for my printer, so I can print off the stuff I've already written. And to beat Andrew Shields at Scrabulous.)


That's So Pants said...

Hi everyone

Internet access a bit limited these days. I suppose I ought to get used to that. Nice to hear from you all.



Kris said...

Hi Ms Pants

Glad to hear of your experiences.

Believe me, you ain't missing anything here in Hackney!

R.H. said...

Is there a Harrods food hall in Delhi?

R.H. said...

Golly. No moderation.

Wow. (What to do with this new freedom?)

Here's a joke:

"Have you got that sarong?"

"What sarong?"

"Nothing sarong, what's sarong wid you?"

ha ha ha!


That's So Pants said...

Hi there Kris

Nice to hear from you. Glad I'm not missing anything.


Don't make me put the CM back on now will you. Good joke btw.



R.H. said...

Miss Baroque thinks you've landed in Australia already, but I know you haven't; I've been watching the tabloids: the scandal sheets.


R.H. said...

You are the Mata Hari of blogging

Woman of enormous mystery.


That's So Pants said...


No comment.