That night I descend into a fever, is it the dreaded dengue? Ross River virus, I’m sweating but shivering with cold, the train trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal looms.
Cancellations hospital beds and things I don’t want to experience this trip. I take panadol and antibiotics and wait it out curled up in the fetal position, trying to get warm in 35degrees evening heat under a pile of blankets.
At midnight I wake for a pee and throw off the blankets, I feel bullet–proof, India tried but it can’t kill me; not yet anyway.
“We are living in hell” says the tuk tuk driver over his shoulder as he honked, swerved, skidded ducked and weaved our way through unbelievable traffic. Is it I’ve met the only honest person in the city?
I’d have to agree with him, 18 million people living in the worst smog and pollution on the planet, a rubbish tip amongst the ruins and the tourist attractions, dog piss and dust is everywhere.
The sun sets and rises each day in a yellow glow as the tuk tuks, stray dogs, beggars and stall owners go about their daily business of eking out a living.
It’s not all bad amongst the beggars, amputees, the cripples, and the dead laying on traffic islands; that serve as sanctuary for the homeless there’s splashes of colour and laughter.
A man rides upon a pile of bales of cloth high above the confusion. He laughs as I motion to him rubbing my thumb and forefinger together signaling “how much for a ride” his co-workers push and pull what must be a tonne and a half of bales stacked on a rickety wagon the British could have left behind.
Has no-one ever heard of tie downs or ropes in this country I wonder? He sits and enjoys the view the human bungee cord as the others unload and carry 100kg bales on their shoulders and backs down a myriad of alleyways to waiting merchants, all selling the same thing. “Kashmir Scarves sir!”
Everyone wants to sell me a fucking scarf, a cell-phone, jewelry or shoes that won’t fit; it’s ok in India to sell someone size 9 shoes, who asks for size 13 shoes after all a sale is a sale.
There’s jewelry for the fat ferangs and cellphones that “yes of course sir this will work in New Zealand” hmmmm yeah ok. A cellphone seems to be around three months wages for many, but so many people have cell phones glued to their ears.
The Tibetan village is all prayer wheels and high priced shops. I can’t help but think that I don’t really need a singing brass bowl or a mask to ward off evil spirits to hang on my wall back home.
We avoid the dogs that are everywhere and pack ourselves into the metro like so many sardines without the sauce. We’re heading for yet another market I’m over buying, warding off vendors and purveyors of scarves but I can rest tomorrow on the train north.
A thunder–storm erupts out of the dirty skies and Delhi grinds to a honking heaving halt. We pay to enter the market; Ferangs get to pay more to enter; but we’re guaranteed an area free of roving pesky street vendors.
In their place there’s a rabid Kashmir scarf vendor in every second store who’s convinced I need a scarf and when I decline, it seems that if I don’t want one scarf, I must need three or four and I’m hounded by a multitude of hungry scarf sellers.
“Sir Kashmir Scarf?”
“No thanks I don’t wear scarves”
“But these are the best quality genuine Kashmir scarves”
“Do I look like a girl to you? In my country only girls wear scarves?”
“Then sir you must buy a scarf for your wife!”
I don’t have a wife, I’m a homosexual, I’m thinking maybe that’ll fix em, but no that’d confuse them for a second and would only convince them that here indeed is a man who needs a bale of scarves….
My first mistake was making eye contact, the second engaging in polite conversation, I wonder if it’d be easier to indicate that I don’t know English perhaps I could feign being German?
Finally I get pissed off with the continual insistence that I need scarves, carved wooden toys and clay pots for drinking tea sniffing incense or just hanging on the wall.
Every Ferang needs scarves like junkies need drugs…
If the real poor were in some way directly benefiting from the sale of goods in markets such as these I wouldn’t mind, but the fact that I had to pay to get in here in the first place and pay more because I’m a Ferang means the money is going to someone other than a poor person.
If I can buy a sit down lunch for five dollars or a pair or shoes, pants, a shirt, or endless trinkets it means someone somewhere is being taken advantage of.
There can be no mistake, wearing a pair of Ray Bans is no reason that a street vendor won’t try to sell you another two pairs.
Wearing fabric shoes is no deterrent to the waifs throwing dog turds, so their employer can offer you a shoe shine and the fact that you’ve just jumped out of a rickshaw and paid the driver, doesn’t mean you don’t immediately require the services of a taxi to whisk you away somewhere else.
It’s difficult to explain to the trailing taxi drivers, tuk tuk drivers and rickshaw operators who follow us through markets, holding up traffic that we just enjoy walking. I get in the habit of smiling and making walking gestures with my right hand fingers on my open left palm.
Ainslie is visiting a slum whilst we are swanning around the market fording off the advances of rabid kashmir vendors. The family she meets lives in a shack with a dirt floor. An open sewer runs past the entrance that serves as a door; when the rain falls it floods and raw sewerage flows through the single room. House and Garden talks about good indoor outdoor flow, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind.
She returns distraught and full of stories of people living in water pipes, fires in slums and firemen taking bribes, to maybe get their hoses out as people homes burn around them.
On the train out of town the next day we pass mile after mile of slums, as the train crawls along, its horn blowing continually for perhaps an hour. It picks up pace and slums flick by at perhaps 80kph for another hour, all green and black stagnant water.
Emotional porn for the fat Ferangs sitting in the relative luxury of their three tier first class carriages. Over 40% of Delhi’s estimated 17 million or more live in slums like this.
I fall asleep at some point it’s the halfway point of our travels and dreams of home with all it’s green fields come to me, it cuts to a futuristic railway system with people packed like sardines in tiny capsules.
I wake briefly to the sound of music, the train’s horn blowing it’s constant warnings instead of the blaring of chanting from a neighborhood of mosques. As the train blends into the music I drift off once more and in a half waking state I see a pit open up.
Beneath me zombie like people dragging heavy loads walking aimlessly around and look up at me half alive. Splashes of color and filth, Saris and dirty working clothes, cheap labor supporting industry, cheap goods, cheap holidays, cheap food, cheap hotels all built on the backs of the underclass from whom we are insulated and protected from.
We’d be lost without them, human flesh ground to dust adding to the dirt, becoming the dirt, treated like dirt and as fertile as the dirt. The dirt that sprouts sustenance for industry and those who benefit from its fruits.
It’s too obvious to say that I saw India, but I saw more than that.
This is the industrial revolution played out, without protection, without a conscious and any seemingly any law. Everyone struggling to remain on the top of the heap. To be on the bottom is a fate worse than death.
I struggle with the constant markets selling the same shit, not to say it’s crap but I don’t need another scarf, another carved wooden god, another 100 pack of incense, this is all for the benefit of fat Ferangs.
Like the tours of the temples and shrines, how many shrines and temples do I really need to see?
I’m not Hindi, I’m not Buddhist, I’m not Muslim and I’m not sure I’m that much of a Christian, but everywhere I’m being asked to visit temples and shrines and holy places, take selfies and endless pictures to prove what?
That I feel like a spectator here? An intruder, just another passenger on a conveyor belt of consumerism, churning my way through the machine that is India, clunking banging grinding and smoking ….. about a pack a day.