Politics & Policy

Notes on India, Part IV

Let’s jump right into Part IV. (And for the previous installments, go here, here, and here.) There is a great, great variety of people in India. Seldom will you see a collection of people so diverse. You see people who look utterly primitive — like they could have been here 1,000 years ago. Two thousand years ago. Three thousand years ago. A simple wrap, a painted face — wizened, walking staff. And they may be waiting for the same bus as people who look like Wall Streeters. Remarkable.

I see many men — older men — with their beards dyed orange, or their hair dyed orange. I figure it must have some significance, probably religious. I ask an Indian-American friend about this. He says, “They’re crazy.”

#ad#Oh.

‐I remember being in Egypt, some years ago. And at one point, I said, “Jay, this is the first foreign travel you have ever done.” Sure, I had been all over Europe and other places. But only then did I feel that I was really experiencing foreign travel: because the language was in an alphabet other than mine, because the numerals were different, because the money notes were grimy and small, because I was uncertain of how to behave — because of everything. It was simply different, in Egypt (as opposed to, say, Copenhagen). (Hello, mermaid!)

I have this same feeling in India — and I’ll tell you when I particularly have it: In Udaipur, I see women with large hoops through their noses carrying huge bundles of sticks on their heads. Yes: “This is foreign travel.”

‐A note on commerce: Just as at home, shops of the same kind are side by side — by side. In Bharuch, I see shops selling harmoniums. (And not just selling them — they’re makin’ ’em, too.) What’s the word — that term in economics — for the close proximity of shops of the same kind (which, by some mysterious law, is advantageous for all)? I can’t remember just now. These travels leave me Googleless. (A word close to “clueless.”)

‐In Udaipur, and elsewhere, we see barbers outside trimming mustaches, shaving chins, and so on. A friend of mine astutely exclaims: “No overhead!”

‐A word about animals — one of the fun parts, for me, about being in India is being around so many animals. Animals constantly. This is rare in my experience. Actually, unprecedented. I have led a fairly city-slickin’ life.

But in India, even the cities are full of animals.

On the streets of villages, towns, and cities are both Democrats and Republicans — donkeys and elephants. But there are many more of the former. It’s sort of like the campus of an American university.

And there are lots of dogs — stray dogs, but not quite stray: just street dogs. They live in the streets. And them seem (relatively) well fed and content. They are also very, very peaceable. I don’t start at any of them. In my experience, stray dogs are often surly. These ones are friendly, or rather, indifferent. They “could care less.” They’re just lazin’, living the life of Riley. I see just one dog get his ire up. He’s in Jodhpur, and he chases off a boar, noisily and aggressively. Don’t know what his beef with the boar was.

Oh, yes, the boars, or pigs. I’m not sure of the distinction. In Jodhpur, I see boars — they must be boars, because they are so unattractive — roaming the streets, with hair on their backs: kind of like a horse’s mane. They travel in little troupes. And, like so many other beings in India, they seem content.

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My hosts in Bharuch have a reposeful garden, and — at the right time of day — it is stuffed with peacocks. Both male ones and female ones, and — curse of nature — the males are infinitely more attractive. (Not true of people, as we know.) What a joy to see peacocks, just living their lives. The peacock is the national bird, by the way. We may associate it with Iran — the Peacock Throne and all that. But the peacock is the Indian eagle.

On the subject of birds: What a joy it is to have a flock of parrots fly with you, as you travel by SUV through Rajasthan. What a joy it is to see parrots elsewhere, too — in hollows of trees, for example. When you’re me, you think of a parrot as a bird kept in a cage by a little old lady. The parrots in India aren’t cracker-wanting Pollys.

#ad#In the Rajasthani outback, some “deer” are pointed out to me, and they look, frankly, like little horses — not sure what they are, precisely. “Deer” will do, in a loose way.

And camels, lots of camels. Both in herds (is that the word?) and alone, often pulling a cart. There is much, much camel transportation in India. We hear a lot about the Indian economic explosion, and the technological boom and so on. Well, maybe . . . No, definitely. Those things are happening. But India is a very big and diverse country. And there is a lot — a lot — of camel transportation.

I like to watch camels walk: They are stately, dignified — proud, but not in an arrogant way. They carry themselves as royals.

And I delight in seeing goats. There are lots of goats in towns and cities, and they come either in herds (flocks?) or as singles. But I like seeing them in mountains. They climb and cavort agilely. They are amazing athletes. They are graceful as they trip terrain that for others is impassable. Goats don’t get enough credit. In fact, they have a bad press.

And monkeys, many, many wonderful monkeys. I have several monkey experiences. But let me give you my favorite: At the famed Jain temple at Ranakpur, I see a bunch of younguns, playing together. What a marvelous sight.

And later, in the Gujarati village of Dantali, I will see many more monkeys, also playing. I watch for a while a mother with her baby. I don’t think I could tire of watching monkeys monkeying around. One particular: I like the way they run along a ledge — loping gracefully, but determined. No-nonsense. Much as I may love monkeys, people who live here do not. They are nuisances, harming crops and other things.

I wish the monkeys could refrain from offending humans.

Oh, yeah: What do you do when you need to shoo off monkeys? I’m given a tip by experts: You lean down, as though to pick up a rock. You don’t have to do so — the mere act of leaning down will make the monkeys vamoose. There must be a term for this in psychology, or some other branch of learning.

There are buffalo, sheep — and cows. Sacred cows. They are everywhere, on every highway and in every alley. And they seem very, very content. Why shouldn’t they? They will all die of old age. (In point of fact, cows are content-seeming everywhere — whether they will be led to the slaughter or not.) On an early-morning walk in Jodhpur, I witness a man offering food to a cow, and then praying. “This is foreign travel.”

I’ll tell you a fun story: An Indian-American friend of mine once knew an Indian who came to America, for an extended period. This guy was a vegetarian Hindu, but, in the States, he started eating hamburgers and steaks. Asked to explain himself, he said, “I figure only Indian cows are sacred.”

‐If you read about Udaipur (in Rajasthan), you’ll see the term “wedding-cakey.” Udaipur is a wedding-cakey place, with its beautiful white ornate palaces. The Monsoon Palace, up on the mountain? The site — or a site — of Octopussy, one of the best Bond movies (quite possibly my favorite).

And at the City Palace, I see an exhibit about a recent royal, who needed a wheelchair. Polio. Of course, I think of our 32nd president.

‐Another note about Udaipur? I see a school, either an elementary school or a preschool, called “Blooming Buds.” Wonderful. And there are similar names, at schools elsewhere: e.g., Little Hearts.

‐Along the road, I pick up a packet of biscuits. Written on the package is “Less taxes = more biscuits.” Oh, lower taxation means a lot of good things, my friends.

Speaking of friends: I hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday, for more Notes on India.

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