Just another day in India

David has been told off three times this week. (By people other than me, I mean.)

We were standing in the blissful cool of the air-conditioned ATM booth, waiting for someone to finish their transaction. In Jaisalmer we had used an ATM where they could fit 10 people crammed in close proximity in one of these booths (they know no personal space when it comes to queuing). But in Pushkar, a security man emerged from a side panelled door (you wouldn’t know it was there) to say ‘Only one person’.

David gave him his look and said ‘I am only one person’.

The man repeated it, we pretended we didn’t know what he was saying, because we were enjoying the temperature and we knew we weren’t going to mug the other person.

The security man just left from whence he came. Some security man he is!

Later that day, we walked along the ghats which surround the holy lake of Pushkar. Photography is prohibited. Even though David wasn’t taking pictures, a local man started shouting at him just because he had a large camera round his neck.

What they mean is, don’t take pictures of people bathing in the ghats. Fair enough. After all, it’s a sacred site. Hindus should try to make a pilgrimage here at least once in their life.

But plenty of people, Indians included, continue to use their mobile phones to take selfies all the time and they weren’t being told off, even in the busiest areas.

You also have to take off your shoes and, as we were making a circuit of the lake, we carried ours with us. When we sat to enjoy the view, David put his shoes on the floor. Horror of horrors, it was on what must have been the first step of the sacred bit.

Three men in matching T-shirts were marching along carrying a large bin. They picked up David’s shoes and were about to put them in the bin. Luckily we got them back pretty quickly, apologising for our error.

The men marched on to where an elderly lady was sitting. They literally grabbed the flip-flops off her feet, threw them into their ‘sin bin’, shouting and making a fuss. I couldn’t believe how rude they were, particularly to an older lady who had clearly meant no harm.

***

Our guest house in Jaipur has an open kitchen. I use the term loosely. It’s a simple area for preparing simple meals.

Shelves are metal, the kind you would use in your garage. The cupboards are like old grey metal lockers, with the appearance of an old filing cabinet.

The cage-like structure around the rooftop is designed to keep monkeys out.

Breakfast time is always interesting. We try to keep it simple. It goes like this:

Fried eggs, just one piece of toast, please. Black tea. Cold milk separately.

‘Porridge milk’ (as per the menu). Black coffee. No sugar.

The chef, wearing a small black pork pie hat, gets to work. The fried eggs are done straight away, and then left to sit behind him. Not on anything to keep it warm.

The toast is put in a grubby toaster.

The tea is produced. Cold milk, please.

The eggs and toast (three slices) are brought to the table. Butter and cold milk, please.

The chef gets distracted while heating a pan of milk for the ‘porridge milk’ and it has burned, so he throws it out and starts again. But he has run out of milk and shouts down through the central atrium to the floors below for more milk.

David is wondering if he will ever get his coffee. There is a kettle in our room but there is no kettle in the kitchen. The second burner on his two-burner gas hob goes on. Water is heated, and he adds a tiny sachet of Nescafe coffee into it.

Finally, David gets his coffee. And eventually the porridge is delivered. And I get the milk for my tea.

David asks for sugar. No sugar in the coffee, sir, no sugar.

Can I have some sugar? (It’s for the porridge.)

I have given up waiting for butter and have eaten the toast.

A mouse scurries from the kitchen in through the open doors of Room 306.

A woman in a sari arrives to do the washing up. There is a small sink in the corner in which a surprising number of plates (from last night’s dinner) have been soaking. She puts them on the floor to sort them out. And she washes the dishes by hand in cold water with no Fairy Liquid (or Indian equivalent).

They are left to drain on an equally grubby low table next to the (unlidded) bin.

A mouse (is it the same one?) runs around the dusty plant pots (containing faded artificial flowers) behind us.

The man who has helped serve breakfast is also the receptionist. He helps himself to the rest of the coffee in the pan and a piece of toast. Tables and chairs are left where they are, not lined up neatly after use.

We can hear the high-pitched hum of the electricity, the traffic from the main road is not too prominent, and the goat in the courtyard below (tied to a tree but otherwise friendly and well looked after) is bleating. She has fabric tied around her udder presumably to catch milk or stop other goats from helping themselves, sort of a milk nappy.

The courtyard is already awake with the sounds of children playing and mothers washing stainless steel dishes.

Yup, it’s just another day in India.

***

We posted another parcel home the other day. (See previous blog post about the joys of sending parcels from India.)

While we waited for our parcel to be sewn up in muslin, we sat on a step opposite enjoying watching daily life unfold in this small non-touristy side street.

The young man next to the sewing shop was preparing his shop for business. He had lively chanting Indian music which he would occasionally happily join in with. As everyone in India seems to do, he was using a small brush to sweep away the rubbish from outside his shop, leaving it either in his neighbour’s territory to the side, further in to the middle of the street, or into the drainage channel at the kerbside.

He whipped his display cabinet to get the dust off and used newspaper and water to clean the glass frontage. Then he threw the newspaper into the road.

The sewing man paused to have a chai from a small paper cup, which he casually threw into the street afterwards.

This is just what happens here.

The water delivery man arrives in a battered old van. He puts one blue barrel on someone’s doorstep and removes the empty one. Cows pass by, mingling as they do with motorbikes and pedestrians.

We were sitting on someone’s business doorstep. A man comes and stands next to us. He brings up a load of sputum (a great guttural sound which brings it from the pit of the stomach, surely) and spits on the street right next to me. (A tuk-tuk driver spat the other day, making me swerve in the back seat to avoid collision.)

Once our parcel was sewn up, the man offered to take us to the nearest post office. Why not, we thought. So we hopped on his motorbike, all three of us, parcel balanced on the handlebars, not a helmet in sight, David holding on at the back for all he was worth. Any of the bumps or potholes could have sent him flying.

At the post office, not only do they not have pens, marker pens or duck tape, they also don’t have queuing systems or courtesy.

Two young women just walk in front of us, which starts our sarcastic comments from behind. I am sure they understand English – most Indian women their age do.

Once we have dealt with the man behind the counter, we say thank you. He doesn’t look up. He doesn’t say a word. He just continues to look down at some paperwork and with that we walk away, David muttering ‘Pleasure doing business with you.’

A couple of days later, our sarcasm reaches new heights when beggar children are in our face before we have even got out of a tuk-tuk. We had arrived at a temple and a couple of scruffy children had their hands out, demanding ‘money’ and ‘chocolate’. It must be the first words they learn.

No, sorry, it’s not your day, we say. Go to school. Get a good job. We talk and talk at them, but continue to say no. They are persistent and irritating and we tell them so, short of saying ‘fuck off’ which, sorry to say, they sometimes drive you to.

Today, one young girl, who could only have been five or six, came up to our tuk-tuk in very heavy traffic and asked for money. She nagged for a few minutes until the traffic moved – and then she moved down the queue. She was unaccompanied.

***

We have taken to driving the relatively short distances between towns in Rajasthan.

On the journey from Jaisalmer to Pushkar we needed a stopping-off point, so we chose Osian, on the grounds that it had temples which on TripAdvisor are getting five stars. The fact that they are not on the itinerary of the main tourist routes tells you something.

It was very much a locals’ place, which in some ways was refreshing, admittedly. But there is really one one hotel in the town and that was where we stayed. Nothing wrong with the room but there was no wifi. Coping without wifi for 24 hours was a true test indeed! Luckily we didn’t have to make any urgent bookings for further travel.

We looked around for any cafes with wifi and found nothing.

We visited the temples. The main one was remarkably spoiled, by cages for queuing systems, cables for electricity, and ragged fabric for shade.

Elsewhere, next to an ancient site with a ‘protected monument’ sign next to it, was sprawling rubbish.

Anyway, taking a car can be quite relaxed, if you ignore the craziness of other Indian drivers.

An example being:

Picture four lanes heading in the same direction. They are all your side of the road. In the UK you would have (from left to right): hard shoulder, slow lane, middle lane, fast lane.

Here, at one point this is what we had (from left to right):

Motorbike coming towards us, us ‘undertaking’ a lorry, large lorry, car overtaking.

I enjoy the signs we pass, misspellings everywhere… Dormetri, Resturent… Biffe and Neight College… And signs for places like Hotel Decent… Terminal Cum Pumping Station… A town called Dudu…

One young man has three children on his motorbike, they all look like they are under five. We pass a few lorries and tractors which are so laden with hay that they just look like super-sized haystacks with wheels. Surely they couldn’t have fitted on one more straw without the vehicle collapsing.

Despite the evident basic way of life in the villages we pass through, the children always look so smart in their brown and beige uniforms and everywhere are red signs for ‘Airtel 4G, the smartphone network’. They stand out because they are not yet faded or covered in dust.

***

Another way of Indian life that we have noticed in Jaipur are the joys of their plumbing system. We have to walk through what we fondly call Piss Alley to get to our guest house. Our room here has the whiff of wee from its toilet at all hours. David tells me that it is because they have no S bends. The mistake on the first night was closing the toilet door. The smell in the morning is then even more concentrated.

S bends. It’s not rocket science, is it? Funnily enough though, they can do that. They have a space programme but they have not yet worked out sorting out toilets, electricity, water and rubbish for those on earth.

And finally, an area of growing frustration for us is finding ATMs that work. Many hotels and businesses only accept cash. And yet only about one in four ATM attempts are successful. We go round in circles trying to find one that works.

Sometimes one card works but the other doesn’t. Today, only one transaction in four attempts was successful. It drives us up the wall.

Ah, we were right. We love India!

Next stop, Dehradun.

(Sorry, again – no pictures – wifi too weak – another frustration!)

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