dave's blog

Finding Passage in India

I just finished reading E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. This novel has helped me to understand many of my experiences in India; of why I see "poor India... where everything was placed wrong." And how "there seem[s] no reserve of tranquility to draw upon in India. Either none, or tranquility seem[s] to swallow up everything..."

But if I search deeper I find that perhaps the problem is not India, perhaps it is me: "This pose of 'seeing India' which had seduced him... was only a form of ruling India." The West expects the Rest to wait upon us, our slaves to rush to our every whim.

[What the book conveys] is Forster's growing skepticism in the wake of the First World War about modern civilization's ability to solve on its own the immense new problems it had created - to deal with for instance, the heavily armed nation states and empires that fought each other and pre-modern peoples for control of the world, enlisted scientists and historians as well as artists in their conflicts, and, whether totalitarian or democratic, demanded the subjugation of individual conscience to the allegedly higher needs of the body-politic.

A Passage to India is however not primarily about West/Non-West relations, rather about how things are not as they appear. It is so very easy for us to deceive ourselves. We devise ways to justify our wants and to manipulate others to achieve our ends. But the whole thing happens on a level that is almost sub-conscious. We must ever strive to unearth our malicious tendencies, to climb the superficial barriers that we create. Many of these barriers are between ourselves and those people different from us. It is "us" and "them". But if we only take the effort to question our assumptions, and put our wants on hold, we can bridge the divide.

Experiences, not character divided them; they were not dissimilar as humans go; indeed, when compared to the people who stood nearest to them in point of space they became practically identical.

I'm finding that really it takes very little to begin to break down this barrier. Simply asking a rickshaw walla his good name and asking about his family is enough to move mountains. "One kind action was with him always a channel for another, and soon the torrent of hospitality gushed forth."

I struggle with being in a position of colonial supremacy while needing to find ways to overthrow it. And in the 21st century it is not just the lingering British colonialism that I'm talking about; it's the West's cultural and economic colonialism over 2/3rds of the world. And some days I think my presence here only serves to reinforce it.

And then unrelated to the main themes of the book I noticed this quote that really speaks to one of my pet peeves:

[T]he conversation had become unreal since Christianity had entered it. Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the national anthem, but objected when it attempted to influence his life.

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Time is slipping

A few days ago - I can't seem to keep track of the flow of time, even though I bought a watch to help me out - we got up at 4 in the morning to take a train from Mumbai to Goa. Upon arriving at the platform we discovered that we'd been upgraded to first class. There's one car for 8 people with two bathrooms. This is a far cry from my last journey in sleeper class (The lowest class with beds).

As we entered our cabin we were greeted by our fellow passangers: Professor A. A. Kazi who introduced himself as the Chairman of the Cancer Aid & Research Foundation and his assistant. Let me tell you these two just might be the biggest jerks we've met in India to date. We were assigned to the upper beds, and these two had the lower. After the train got moving they requested that we move up so that they could rest. I was more than happy to oblige; after waking up at 4am I was wanting some extra Zzzzs too. However they did not rest. They called up three of their co-workers from 3AC to join them in the 1st class berth. So now there are 5 people down below, with Deb & I trapped on the upper bunks, and I don't have a hope of sleeping.

When the conductor came in to collect tickets he said that the extra people needed to move back to their assigned seats, but the professor made some excuse about how they needed to conduct a business meeting. The conductor returned several times trying to convince the extras to move back to 3AC, "If you want to ride in 1st class you need to pay for 1st class". After which Prof. Kazi began threatening him. "I know the Station Master in Mumbai, I can have you fired! Do you want to be out of a job?". At which point the conductor apologized profusely. I thought he almost might start kissing the Professor's feet.

If this was a business meeting, I'm not sure how their organization survives. But it soon became clear as throughout our journey they suggested several times that we should donate to their organization, or even work for their organization. Right. Like we would consider it after seeing the way this guy acts. If I was one of his subordinates, I'd be looking to see how I can get out before he turns a similar trick on me.

But the tables turned in our favour as they were only traveling half as far as us. So for about 5hrs Debbi & I had a first class cabin to ourselves. We even set up the ipod speakers and danced for a bit.

Upon arriving in Madgaon, we got a taxi for a decent rate to our hotel, which was really nice, and the people really friendly. We then went for dinner at a great little downstairs restaurant where we made friends with the manager - Micheal. He's trying to save up to get to the UK. He gave us his mobile number and told us to call if we ever got in a bind or needed advice.

The next day we got on a local bus to Palolem Beach which is excellent! It's the quintessential palm treed, white sand beach. We're staying in a little beach hut. If we sit on the veranda we can see the water, and we fall asleep to the waves at night. The food is great; we even found an organic restaurant.

So now time is slipping by.  I only know that it's Wednesday because I looked at my watch, but I have no idea how long it's been. We spend our days reading, or swimming, or riding scooters up the coast. Debbi wants us to stay here for a while, but I'm worried that I'll get antsy. So today I'll book us tickets for 3 or 4 days from now. Not quite sure where we'll go yet. Maybe Kerala.

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Mumbai (Bombay)

So we've made our way down to South India. About a week ago we flew from Delhi to Mumbai. For $55 a piece we flew on Indigo Air which is somewhat comparable to Westjet; they get stuff done, and on time. A far cry from the old guard Air India.

At my job with Advomatic we often work with some developers in India since there's always more work than we have people to do it. Yashesh Bhatia and his business partner Prakash live in Mumbai and Yash invited Debbi & I to stay with his family. This was a new thing for us, we hadn't yet stayed in someone elses home here in India. As with many homes in India (and anywhere in the non-West for that matter), this is an extended family home. The home takes up several floors of an apartment building. Yash and his wife Neha have a 3 year old boy; there's also his parents; sister in law; and at any given time there's between 2 and 6 other family members staying for extended periods. Plus 3 staff, so the house is a pretty busy place.

The Bhatia clan was very hospitable to us. They really bent over backwards to try and make us feel at home. Yash drew out these elaborate maps so we could find our way around the city, and whenever we walked through the doors we were always pulled to the dinner table for something to eat.

Mumbai is a pretty cool place too. Way nicer than Delhi: cleaner, fewer cows, all the rickshaw wallas use the meter, and far fewer touts. Our first night we walked around the suburbs a bit and checked out a Hare Krishna temple. On our first day we took the local train to downtown Bombay (which was a bit difficult since there's little English signage) where we walked and shopped and saw the sights (photos might not come for a while). We visited the National Gallery of Modern Art which had some really great stuff. The top floor is a half sphere, so it's really cool to walk around and hear your footsteps echo.

On day two we went to the planetarium and saw a movie about stars, planets and all things celestial. We then walked accross to the Nehru Centre where we saw another art exhibition (The artist copied several famous paintings and made their subjects "Indian") and an exhibition about Nehru, India's first Prime Minister.

Yash has been recovering from malaria for the last 2 weeks and has still been getting fevers.  2 days ago he went back to the doctor and got some more tests and found out that the reason he's not getting better is that he also has typhoid. Talk about bad luck.  So in the interests of aiding his recovery we decided that it would be time for us to move on. 

So we again took the local train downtown to purchase train tickets to Goa. We stood in line for at least an hour. In Queues in India you always have to watch for budgers. You've got to speak up otherwise you'll be in line for days.

We took the local train back to the 'burbs but this time it was rush hour. Canadian commuters have no idea what a full train is. Imagine a C-Train at it's fullest in downtown Calgary during rush hour. Now imagine the same train with twice as many people and you'll have an idea what a rush hour train is like in Mumbai. I'm not even exaggerating. We were one stop away from getting off and I was worried that at 4 ft from the exit I wouldn't be close enough to get off at our stop. But then all of a sudden I was expelled from the train as the 30 people in the 12 sqft next to the exit rushed off. As the train was pulling away I quickly grabbed on to the edge of the door of the ladies car and rode on the outside of the train to our stop. I was hoping that any authorities would give a foreigner a break. Not that it would be possible for anyone to check tickets anyway.

We're now in Goa, but I'll leave that for a later post.

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back to delhi

After a few days in Jaipur, Byron and I went off on a camel trek together. We took an overnight AC bus to Jodhpur (By far my best bus experience so far, but AC is too cold). As we were booking our trip we met 2 guys from Victoria who had just come from a camel trip deeper into the desert and they told us horror stories of how bad it hurt: "I broke my nose once; ridding a camel hurt more." But they said that it was worth it, so we carried on.

From Jodhpur we took a 1hr local bus to Osian where we met our guide Namm. There was a 1-hump camel for each of us. Byron and I rode in front of the humps while Namm and his younger brother rode in the rear. It wasn't half as bad as what the guys from Victoria described. I'm guessing they didn't have saddles.

It was a 6km ride to Namm's house which was our base camp. The only other buildings in the vicinity are a few huts, one of which we stayed in. Over the next 24hrs we made 3 treks into the surrounding desert and to local villages. I think we spent about 11 hrs on camel back. We saw antelope, goats, sheep, a fox, and at least 20 species of birds including peacocks and a kingfisher. The people here grow mostly millet or castor or raise sheep and goats. It was a blast.

Byron, Dave and camels
our host's grandmother
look waaaaay up
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more photos

I've just uploaded some more photos. There's some from Rishikesh, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Camel riding, and Delhi. This brings us totally up to date.

Deb & Dave
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Touring Jaipur

Yesterday we decided to do something a bit different and we went on a guided city tour. The 9 hour full day tours are run by the regional government tourism office and are supposed to hit 11 sites.

First we rode past a few government buildings and other random highlights. I'm not really sure what we were seeing. The speakers for the back half of the bus didn't work.

Our first stop was a Hindu temple. "20 minutes only. And the bus waits for no one." So in we trot in and make one quick rotation. There were statues of various Hindu gods about, and oddly enough, also of St. Peter, St. Thomas, and St. Aquinas. Strange.

Then in through the old city walls we went. This is what's known as The Pink City. In my mind I was picturing tulip pink, and there was some of that, but most buildings are much closer to terracotta than pink. We visited the observatory and saw instruments created by a maharajah that had 12 wives and 6 fingers on each hand. This included several sundials, moondials, dials for each astrological sign, and other star measuring devices. There was also a huge sundial (a modern construction I suspect) that is accurate to within 2 seconds.

Next to the city palace which contained a few museums of royal artifacts, weapons, and clothing.

Back to the bus. We discover that some of the sites are only drivebys as we zoomed past the Lake Palace. I got one quick shot out the window. And onwards we went to one of forts north of the city. This particular one houses the worlds largest canon. It shoots 34km and takes several elephants to move. Yet another example of an emporer's fascination with falices and war.

On to another fort that had a nice view of the city, or at least as far as you can see through the smog. Here we ate lunch lounging in a room where maharajah's once ate.

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The road to Jaipur

So a few days ago we took a 12hr overnight "deluxe" sleeper bus from Haridwar to Jaipur.  I'm not really quite sure what was deluxe about the bus.  I would have called it 3rd class.  Especially the part where we took a detour down coblestone and dirt roads at high speeds.  At one point a large quantity of tree mater flew into our compartment due to the driver's facination with the edge of the road.  But in the end we arrived safely, and made it to a hotel without being gouged by the rickshaw drivers. 

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One thing I've learned so far about India is that it takes a longer time to do just about anything (except go through a couple litres of water).  This also goes for the internet: the computers are old, the connection is spotty at times, and some of the computers are so infected with baddies that all I'm willing to do is to read the news.  But I finally found a decently fast computer that's healthy with a good conection.  It's costing me a whole 50 ru / hour though ($1.25). Oh the predatory billing practices. 

So needless to say I've uploaded a hundred of our photos thus far (and I've only filed through half of them).  Now I need to find the time to title, tag, and organize them.  Don't hold your breath. 

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