2006 #12: In Which Centipedes Have Highways

I was regularly watching a woman who sells vegetables over the balcony of our guesthouse, and came to admire the way she could wield her long stick at the cows who came to check out her wares. I thought they were rather polite actually, sniffing each pile with great delicacy first, before attempting to help themselves. But they didn’t reckon on her clubbing abilities. She’d let out a great yell then baton them on the rump with a wonderful flourish and off they’d run, looking as surprised and embarrassed as a cow possibly can.

A day or two later, a young girl was sitting nearby with some flowers to sell to the temple-goers. She also had a bovine audience, but she just couldn’t deal to them in the same direct and effective way that the vegetable woman could and some of the flowers did indeed end up in some of the cow stomachs. Never mind, in a few years I expect she’ll have developed more talent in this direction.

There was also a young man of about seventeen who sold flowers and I watched his display skills with great admiration. He did a wonderful job of it and I’m sure in a different situation he would make an excellent interior decorator. Perhaps I should have suggested it to him – I’m sure he could really make it in New York.

Here’s a photo of some women on a pilgrimage to the Temple. They stared up at me with great curiosity. According to one of the guys at the guesthouse, these women would never have seen a foreigner before.

While Paul was still abed, I went for breakfast at the Ram Raja. Little Laxman (spelling?) who is about two or three years old, was crying about something or other, and he had men around him blowing up balloons, talking to him, trying to distract him in various ways and even one guy playing beautiful flute music to try and cheer him up. It was rather a lovely scene. Meanwhile his mother, who he was leaning all over trying to tell his very sad story to, was being terribly pragmatic and unsympathetic and I guess he just didn’t have enough blood or broken limbs on him to get through to her soft mother-heart. I had to chuckle to myself, as I myself have been the same way with my kids when I was busy and they were telling dramatic stories about how someone had just stepped on their pet flea or whatever.

A man came along with a women in tow, veil over her head and a rag tied around her finger. I’m not sure what the story was, but before long a crowd had gathered around and one of the old characters always hanging around the restaurant took the rag off and gave her some instructions. It was one of those times I wished I knew Hindi, because whatever he was saying was apparently quite humorous.

Another humorous part was the children trying to teach me how to count to ten in Hindi. I got as far as five and was quite proud of myself. Admittedly I could already count to three. Give me a break here – I’m getting old.

We walked up to the Chauta Bhuj (must get the spelling for all these words) and watched the langurs for a while, taking a few photos along the way. There were a lot of centipedes and they all looked very busy going round and round in circles. I don’t know where they thought they were going or what they were doing but they all seemed to think it was very important to get there. We had to be careful where we sat and one or two even walked over my hand when I was trying to take photos over the side of the stairway. It seemed we had bumped into rush hour on Centipede highway.

Later on we thought we’d take a stroll through some of the streets I’d never seen before. Paul reckoned some of them here and there looked a lot like Spanish streets. We got “hello hello hello” from kids, so many we actually started looking for an exit, when we got invited into the home of a man he vaguely knew to take chai. In the one room we entered I counted six kids and lost count of the adults milling and sitting about. I ended up in the courtyard out the other door with some women and was requested to meet and take photos of the mother, sister, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, etc and one rather spoiled puppy. My duty done as journalist/personal photographer, I stepped back inside to the mens world and had my chai. Yummy as usual. I must learn how to make that stuff as well as so many of the men here do. There were pictures plastered all over the walls – magazine pictures of gorgeous women mostly – and they didn’t have sarees on either! Men!

Again, slim Hindi versus slim English. Everyone runs out of conversation fairly quickly in this situation and you sit there smiling at the kids and the dog and drink your chai until you’ve finished. It is pretty cool though that you get to see their world and they get to see and stare at you for a while (generally fairly politely) and one way or another, I think we all give some form of inspiration to each other.

Evening time came and we went to the Ram Raja and popped out the other side to their back yard. Never before have I seen a back yard with a river and a palace in it. Rather a nice way to see the sun set, I must say. Paul’s friend Biru had a small bottle of 8PM whiskey, about the size of a hip flask or so, which he kindly shared with us and we whiled away a pleasant hour or two sipping on that and eating pakora.

Biru slipped off after a while, leaving us with the rest of the whiskey. It wasn’t that bottle that did the damage. It was the second bottle we managed to conjure up that did it. I’ll always have fond memories of that night – meandering our way home, saying goodnight to all our favourite cows and street dogs, all of whom did a fabulous job of hiding their snickers at these two foolish people walking slightly sideways under the streetlights, stepping with great and unneeded exaggeration over the cow pats.

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