2006 #13: Movies, Magnets and Unwell Snakes

We woke up to a day tinged with sadness, as this was our last day in Orchha. I went out to the balcony to do a nostalgic nosy-parker act over the edge and watched a boy going round the sweet-sellers selling recycled packaging. These are packets made out of newspaper, etc, and rather professionally put together if you ask me. I don’t know if people have machines somewhere or do this by hand, but I reckon it’s a great idea. I’ve collected a few of them now, at drapery shops, hardware stores, etc – I decided to abandon the ones served with oily food, for obvious reasons. Some of them are rather interesting to read. In one case I received a schedule for a tour of Egypt. Three nights in Cairo and a tour of Luxor anyone?

Another thing I love to see is the plates made out of leaves. These get pressed into a bowl shape and are held together at the bottom with a toothpick. When you’ve finished your food, you toss your plate on the street and the cows come along and do your dishes for you. Wonderful system. The Western world should be taking example from this. Photo of one here

After a little while of indulging in the art of couch potato, along came Paul’s friend Indu. He’s a tour guide in Orchha and nearby areas. He’d heard Paul was back in town and had got up at 4.30am to drive to Orchha from Kajuraho (about 150km) and get together with us. It was wonderful to see him as all sorts of people had been trying to get hold of him to let him know we were around, but he’d changed his phone number. We thought we were going to miss him – bummer! Eventually, by some miracle, he found out about out arrival and hot-footed into town just in time.

He put himself in charge of our morning and took us to a friend’s place for breakfast. A lady from Finland who has been around for a while and has established a school of yoga, reflexology, etc in Orchha. They call each other brother and sister and she growls at him and kisses him on the cheek at the same time. He takes it all with a pleased grin.

We all ended up in Maya’s kitchen putting together a breakfast fit for a king, with the help of a lovely young boy from somewhere nearby, and sat down on the floor to indulge. Quite an extensive menu for such short notice – spicy omelette, toast, an Indian sunday noodle dish, curd, a Finnish sweet dish which nobody could identify in English, etc. Shortly, along came two more guests – a couple of delightful young women from Holland, both teachers. A little while later, an Indian woman, also from nearby, joined us also. She does some sort of massage and has a shop nearby as well. Then another Indian guy popped in and threw himself into the fray. It turned into a lovely, spontaneous gathering and every person there was interesting and added greatly to the conversation. What rotten luck that we only discovered this fascinating lot on our last day in town. It was one of those times that could have easily gone all day long and into the night. Which I gathered from the conversation just before we left was precisely what was going to happen.

Of particular interest was the Indian guy’s life story. He was raised in a small jungle village and lived in a home that was less than pleasant, largely due to his father by the sound of things. Trains often stopped at his village and he’d watch them come and go and vow to himself that one day he would get on one of those trains and travel to somewhere else.

When he turned eleven, that’s exactly what he did. He jumped on a train and left town. He didn’t know where he was going because he’d never been out of his village before, but he didn’t let that get in the way. He ended up falling asleep on the train and at the last stop the train conductor woke him up to kick him off. He told the conductor his story and the conductor took pity on him and sent him off to his brother’s chai shop to work until he got on his feet.

After working there for a while, he met up with a doctor who came regularly for chai and they would often chat and practice English together. Months went by, then the doctor offered him a job as assistant in his general practice. He spent about seven years working for the doctor and putting himself through college. Then, with a pocket full of rupees, he went back to his village. He sat in a chai shop across the road from his house for a while, watching his family come and go. Then he went and approached his mother. She didn’t know who he was until he spoke, then she knew this was her son and promptly fainted. As it turned out, his father had died and his mother and sisters were probably struggling a fair bit. He built them a house to live in, then carried on with his travels. He’s since been all over the world, including New Zealand (he knew enough to call us ‘bluddy kiwis”) and worked in all sorts of situations and is now a yoga teacher. He’s a very cruisy type of guy who speaks beautiful English and has a marvellous sense of humour. And an amazing life story!

After reluctantly pulling ourselves away from Maya’s magic hospitality, we wandered back to check out of our guesthouse (well after checkout time, which cost us another day’s rent, but it was worth it). On the way we saw a dead snake on the road outside the tailor’s shop. I was rather fascinated – it was the first time I’d ever seen a real snake close up. It looked a bit like a kid’s rubber snake toy, except it’s head had been crushed by something or someone less than sympathetic to its kind. Later on I walked past it again and had another look at it, and an old guy across the road went “burrggghh” at me to make me jump. We both cracked up laughing – old he might be, but he still had plenty of kid left in him yet.

We spent most the afternoon and early evening packing and saying goodbyes to everyone. I made a little movie with the kids saying “Namaste” to my daughter Ayla, as Ayla and I had made one to say “Namaste” to Nilu from New Zealand. I watched the next-door neighbour chasing his calf around with assorted children, as the calf was not only a Houdini but also a very fast runner, and then I had to take assorted photos of him, calf, kids, kids and calf, kids, calf and him, etc. Rani gave me a beautiful necklace, Mokesh gave Paul some “Rattlesnake” magnets (the latest in groovy toys) to play with, Nilu cried, people gathered round the front of the restaurant and a flutist played beautiful music while cows meandered by peacefully, and the whole time was lovely while tinged with the sadness of knowing we wouldn’t see each other for at least another year.

Finally we pulled ourselves away and boarded Niru’s rickshaw, then set off down the road to Jhansi. We stopped along the way to have chai at Niru’s house and meet his beautiful new wife, then carried on to play out the usual masochistic performance at the railway station (sigh).

Once again, we had the correct platform sorted out, even to the extent our names were on the lists pinned on the board, then of course the “hang on a minute, you’re looking too comfortable” goblin turned up and the intercom started in on us. “Tadaaaaa!! Your attention please! Important announcement. Werhslhgdsla soigr hudfoim;g lkkjgosdsufewoinbh. Would all passengers on this train please board immediately on platform ioesghjroi ;jg, as your train is about to leave”. Naturally, the number they are quoting sounds exactly like your train number and you don’t know whether to run up and down stairs and platforms and check it out, risking missing the train if you are in the right place, or stay put and hope you’re just hearing it wrong. Of course, added to all this, is the train coming from the other direction containing a driver who really likes to sound his horn profusely during the most crucial wording of this really important announcement and you feel your teeth starting to clench and your hands curling into talons and you try to resist thoughts of throttling said driver. You then embark upon the generally unhelpful practice of asking twelve to twenty people around you which city they’re headed for, taking from this a mathematical average of how many indicate the same destination versus those who say otherwise and really look like they know what they’re talking about, and try not to let your brain turn into knotty soup. There should be a homeopathic remedy for this whole thing, perhaps named “Platform De-Stress” or “Train Be Calm”.

I don’t know why I haven’t learnt yet to just lapse into “it’ll turn out fine, it always does” mode, because we were on the right platform and our train was only twenty minutes late and before we knew it we were rolling our way back to Delhi.

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