01 September 2005

Chapter 5: Focus Your Mind to Natural Breasts

Dear Everybody-

India can be challenging to travel in, but it is made easier when you
simply invent a new language in which to describe your trials and
delights. We are lazy travellers, so we just adopted Amber, the
language of our travelling companion Amber Hammill. It is a
combination of Australian English and Amber's own inventions. A few
Bendy Camp- Yoga Class
Getting Bendy- doing yoga for a period of time
Balcotrex- a balcony
Carking it/Kaking it- one means to die, one to crap yourself, I can
never remember which is which.
Split Pants- having diaroeah. Comes from the Chinese pants little
kids wear that are split, allowing the wearer to just squat down
anywhere. I have never, ever discussed my bowels as much as I have
since entering this country. It is a constant marvel to me how an
entire part of the world wants my gastrointestinal tract to die.

Finally, when speaking Amber, you must remember this one grammatical
rule: all adjective noun combinations must be combined into one word.
Morning Yoga = Moga; Morning Beach Yoga = Mboga. You get the idea.

Why on earth am I explaining this to you? Becasue of the importance
of one concept: the division between Rindia and Findia.

Rindia is where we all think we want to go when we travel to India.
It's real India. We want to squat down in the dust with toothless old
men in turbans and try out some Hindi. We want to eat the people's
food: big plates of rice and dal (curried lentils), do yoga by the
side of the road and bathe in the Ganges. No, we won't mind if a dead
body floats by, it's part of being an open minded traveller. We don't
need hot water or sheets. Not here in Rindia we don't.

Findia is where we go when all that dirt-sitting and Hindi-talking and
bathing-with-dead-bodies becomes too much. Findia is where middle
class India hangs out: The Mall. The Pizza Hut. In Air conditioned
movie theaters. It's fake India. It sounds terrible, but it would be
dishonest to act like I made it all the way though Rindia. Oh no-
there were several stops in Findia, because with out it, one simply
might go insane. Plus, India is the combined efforts of both Rindia
and Findia. And if Indians eat at Pizza Hut, then judge away cruel
travelling world, because after a months of road side stands and fly
blown food stalls, I deserve a big fat deep dish pizza served by a man
in a uniform. Plus, it was tandori chicken flavor: mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Josh, Amber and I entered India at Sunauli, a dusty border post in the
middle of no where. Guy was waiting for his visa in Kathmandu and
would be joining us in a few days. Security was what one could call
lax. We accidentally walked by the immigration check, not recognizing
it for what it was since it was composed of three desks sitting under
an overhang. But after getting our passports duly stamped by three
guys who's job description seemed to include interrupting each other
so that sentences could not be finished, we were officially in India.
Buses in this part of the world are complete crap. Normally there
are about 800 people on a bus designed for 80, sitting on the roof, in
the aisle, on me. So we wanted to go to Goraktapur where there was a
rail line that would convey us in reserved seat comfort on smooth
steel tracks to Varanasi, our destination. We crammed in a jeep
designed to hold six that had 13 people in it and made a push for the
train station. We arrived and succeeded it getting tickets for a
train. Indian Rail is the worlds largest rail network, and also the
world's largest employer with something like 3.5 million employees.
It's literally what holds this huge country together. However, while
at times it is amazing, sometimes it is amazing for the wrong reasons.
Our journey to Varanasi took not five hours, nor six, nor even eight,
but ELEVEN hours to traverse 180 kilometers. I can bicycle faster
than that. But we did enjoy the many snacks we were able to buy en
route, since the train stopped every 5 feet, including samosas, pakora,
some sort of dried salted lentil snack and cup after cup of super
sweet chai.

We arrived in Varanasi in the wee hours, and went a looking for a
guesthouse. Planning ahead is not our thing. Varanasi is a
warren of tiny alleyways and streets that all crisscross each other
and run in a muddled hoard towards the Ganges River. It was hopeless
to attempt this ourself. And just when we were getting desperate, out
of the night appeared the Guesthouse Guru. Missing a front tooth,
dressed in an orange skirt and a brown cotton shirt, with beads and
flowers dangling from our neck and carrying a walking stick, he was a
vision to behold. He marched us to our guesthouse, talking the entire
way, sometimes in Hindi, sometimes in English, sometimes chanting. He
told be I was a bad person and my karma was all wrong. Amber shouted
from the back that I was not, but he had already closed his eyes and
was humming what sounded like the theme song to "I Dream of Jeannie".
We passed dogs and holy cows sleeping in the streets, and went down
long dark alleys and past candle lit shrines, and then all the sudden,
we arrived at our guesthouse. I think even the guru was surprised.
And maybe he was right. Maybe my karma is bad, because when we got to
the guest house I forgot to give him any money for helping us.

We spent two weeks in Varanasi, taking a Hindi class and going to
bendy camp. Hindi was great to learn, and the best things we got out
of class were handy phrases for use on the street, such as 'Don't eat
my brain', which means shut up and leave me alone already, and also
'Don't sit on my head" which means quit crowding me. Both are in
heavy rotation in my limited Hindi vocabulary. Yoga was the best
though- I have never been so flexible in my life. A lot of it seems
like mumbo jumbo (such as "this posture cures asthma and
diabetes"...riiiiiight), but our Yogi was great. Ram lead us down the
path of bendiness with humor and good grace, and a hilarious command
of English which made concentrating in class difficult. A typical
class command (with translation):

"OK now, more more more, and enough, but more, and remember take it
easy make it easy. Now, dead body pose, focus your mind to natural
breasts (breaths). Focusing your mind to natural breasts, slowly
slowly, come on your side (roll over), now come slowly slowly on your
feet (stand up) and now it's no problem (good job). Let's do the sun
salutation, why not?"

It's hard to concentrate on natural breasts when someone asks you to
come on your feet. Why not? is Ram's response to all questions or
queries, and it is infectious. Ram invited us to his home twice while
we were staying in Varanasi, where we met his beautiful wife and
little daughters, and even took us to a parade honoring their local

Staying in one place so long in India really let's you get to know
some of the people, including my friend Rajish, with who I helped pick
out his brother's new wife, and Dep, who was very interested in the
concept of "night wife, morning friend" and wanted to know all about
how to woo western women. My advice was to start brushing his teeth

After two weeks in Varanasi it was time to move on, so after a 40 hour
train ride, we arrived in Chennai (also called Madras- this is all
very confusing). The first afternoon we were there we walked down to
the beach and put our feet in the ocean for the first time since this
same ocean tried to kill us in December. Take that ocean! Madras is
really cool in a "crumbling-empire-in-the-tropics" kind of way. The
food was good, and this is where we saw our first Indian movie. It
was a story about unrequited love among college friends, or something.
Since it was in Tamil, one of the 18 official languages of India, it was incomprehensible
After spending a considerable amount of time studying Hindi, we went
directly to a place where no one speaks Hindi at all. Nice work us.
The subtlety of the plot might have been lost, but the four dance
scenes and the awesome use of English were not, including such
quotable quotes such as "Don't be crazy Sharm! Buuumba blas thsed
niunsd ....." and "humko sdnat sintalsd it's all her fault and any
humkororbasda can see it!". From Madras we made a move for the beach
at Mamalapurnam (also called Mahabalipurnam- sigh.), where we spent
several days being astonished to find the place where all the French
go in India. Mahabalipurnam is only two hours from Pondicherry, a
former French colony.

After beaching, we went to Pondicherry, a strange anomaly by the sea:
French India. Everynight was a feast of all things French, at Indian
prices, while walking around the preserved French quarter during the
day. You know you have entered the twilight zone when taxi drivers
stop calling out "Hello! Sir! You go in my taxi!" and start singing
"Bonjour Monseur! Mon voiture blah blah!". All the hotels in Pondy
fall into two categories: dilapidated, or ashram. Ashram= religious
living. We chose dilapidated, and regretted the choice. So, the next
day we chose ashram, and gritted our teeth for some clean living. The
list of rules at check in included no drinking, smoking, chewing gum
or talking loudly after 9pm, No visitors, the front gates close at 10
pm, if you're not inside well then: you'll rue the day you decided to
flaunt the rules. But it was clean and quiet and right on the ocean
and cheap. So I enjoyed three nights at hotel d'crazy, part of the
Sri Aurobindo ashram. The ashram was founded by two people, an
Indian guy name Sri Aurobindo, and a French woman who called herself
"The Mother". There are quotes all over the place from "the mother"
and we all started pondering as we went though our daily lives "What
would The Mother say about this?". Hung in our room was a huge
portrait of the two, looking stern and industrious. I was going to
make them some party hats and stick them to the picture but thought
getting kicked out was a definite possibility.

We needed to head up north to meet some some friends, and Guy and
Amber would be going further south, so we had to say good bye. Which
was hard after spending so much time with two people, inventing a
language, crossing from China to India, riding flatulent horses etc.
So we decided to have our good bye feast at Pizza Hut, which because
it is such a novelty in India, looks like some sort of EuroBistro with
paintings on the walls and proper glassware and good service. Yes,
shut up people, I don't want to hear complaining and grumbling about
being in India and eating at pizza hut. And the next morning, after
weeping and some gnashing of teeth, we separated. Breaking up is hard
to do.

And this is where we must separate as well: I think I own the Internet
cafe now I have spent so much time here, and you have lost precious
minutes from your life that you can never retrieve. Whhhahahhahaaaa...
next time: touristhan, theatrical aggression on the Indo-Pak border,
and calling emergency with Findira. I know you just cant wait....
Hope all is well with you: email me! It's getting lonely out here.

Yours in the mountains of north India, hanging out with all of Israel
which seems to be here on holiday,