Chennai

In the unadorned train compartment where I have my assigned upper berth, I immediately begin brain storming new ways to evade the overwhelming stench coming from the four squatting restrooms nearby, where mixtures of day old piss with excrement from over-spiced samosas happen to drift just to my sleeping spot, and no one else’s.

Sleeper Class

Sleeper Class

The obvious way out is to hold my dirty plaid collared shirt upon my nostrils to mollify the smell, but this proves ineffective. I spread deodorant beneath my nose, then mosquito repellent, then a jaw of pure flower extract that I bought for four dollars at a local market. Apparently, four drops of it in a 100ml bottle of alcohol will give you the exact ingredients for Calvin Klein’s Eternity.

ChennaiII

But Eternity stands no chance against the toxicity coursing from those four bathrooms. I would rather inhale burning plastic, sniff it into my brain and possibly suffer some permanent loss of memory, than continue to bare that stench. Once the train really picks up speed, the smell weakens a bit, but only to taunt me with an ever more overpowering, odoriferous smell, re-energized by another relieved passenger’s contribution.

As my vision blurs I begin to see men like women, and women like men. Oh wait, it’s just a Hijra! She pats me on the knee in a gainly fashion. I know the drill, they tap you, you’re supposed to hand them at least five rupees, then they kiss the coin and say a namaste.

Just as I pull out a five rupee coin from my pocket, she pounds me on the shoulder, then smacks me on the face.

Am I bleeding? Was I just beat up by a woman or a man? I’ve heard some are eunuchs, that might make a difference.

Still in shock from this utter loss of manhood, I pull out even more change. She must have heard the other coins rattling inside my pocket. She moves to the next sucker and comely holds her hand in a kind namaste. When he refuses to pay her, we all laugh as she kicks him in the stomach.

Chennai Gate

Chennai Gate

When we arrive at the station early in the morning, and the other passengers begin infecting each other with their yawns, I squeeze on my dirty contacts and make out the name of the station: Egmore. The hell? I double-check my guidebook, but the station name isn’t there.

–This is the train to Bangalore? I ask a lean dark Indian with a small girl clutched in his left arm. Chennai, he tells me.

The one place every traveler I have met has told me not to go to. Chennai, says the guidebook, boring, skippable, do not waste your time in this shithole.

ChennaiV

On the beach I run into a kind Christian Tamil, a young isolated student who attends Madras University, which faces us from across Marine drive. As the other boys throw his sandals into the breaking waves and then toss sticks into his backside, he responds with a meek smile and continues to talk to me as if he’s not in incredible pain. Why not hit back? I ask. He tells me that Christ would not hit back.

ChennaiVI

We meet two Gujuratis in the construction business.

–Don’t the women swim? I ask them all, referring to the estrogen-absent waters.

–Women can swim too! Look! They point to an old woman with her feet in the water, her arms holding her pink sari just above her knees, the undertoe dragging sand against her shins.

–That’s not swimming.

ChennaiVII

As with Mumbai, the draw of the slums here isn’t so much in the squalid quarters of its inhabitants, but the close proximity of the slums with symbols of major affluence. Mumbai’s Dharvati slums lie directly across posh apartment complexes thirty stories in the air; Delhi’s slums encroach upon government buildings and great monuments. In Chennai, I visit slums of extreme dearth, located literally across the street from gigantic golf courses.

ChennaiVIII

Golf

Of Chennai, the guidebook says “the city still has many slums but is also developing dynamic new-town suburbs, a rash of air-conditioned shopping malls and some of the best restaurants in India.”

Let’s think about this word “but.” Why not because of, due to the fact, or with shocking indifference to these slums, or, at least, giving up any notion of responsibility over its inhabitants, the government of Chennai…etc.

South Indian coffee

South Indian coffee

On the bus out of Chennai, a frump in a sari puts her finger on the ipod I’m playing with, touches the side of my cheek with her right hand and rapaciously grabs my thigh with her left, then shoves my face into her cleavage. Though I’m not one to complain about this type of public indecency or promiscuity, I still struggle in her eerily strong arms, as the glass seashell on her necklace is digging into my forehead and it’s difficult to breath under her soppy breasts. She lets me go, laughs, and continues to grab my limbs, shoving my face into different folds of her body until I realize what’s happening and pay her twenty rupees to stop.

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Kerala

Kerala's backwaters

Kerala's backwaters

The first democratically elected Communist state is, as writers like Arundhati Roy continue to remind us, one of constant religious strife, one of hidden enmity against both the lower class and the lower caste, and, perhaps most surprising, the home of the largest pornographic industry in the world.

They move the boat with a gigantic stick of bamboo

They move the boat with a gigantic stick of bamboo

Kerala has become the richest state in India thanks to a viable tourism industry, remittances from the Gulf, a high literacy rate, and being the source of many of the world’s raw materials. The straw of a coconut tree is taken through a machine that twists the sparse pieces around each other to form taut lines of rope. The shells collected along the backwaters are crushed into calcium and heated in large stone furnaces. All alongside the road rubber trees are being tapped for Goodyear, Coconut and banana farms extend for miles along the roads, plantations for tea and marijuana settle in the hills and plains.

I was not so successful

I was not so successful

The most beautiful part about these farms is that few of them are owned through foreign direct investment. Most are local farms, exporting on their own terms, engaging in the free market through direct ownership of their commodities.

Kathakari Theater

Kathakari Theater

And yet many are still bewildered as to how Kerala became such a success story. Could the Land Reform act, which redistributed all private land in the 1950s, have anything to do with it? But that’s too close to socialism, so we bang our heads looking for another explanation (see Keralan model of development )

KeralaIV

Kerala is a fine addition to my list of places to go when I retire, or, when I just get really get sick of the world.

Goa

Anjuna Beach

Anjuna Beach

The Kathans from the south of Hampi come to Goa to sell the handmade trinkets and bangles molded by their families in the villages. These former adivasis have become over-pressuring tourist touts, selling any kind of drug one can imagine, providing the hippies and backpackers with infinite distraction.

The touts here speak German, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Tamil, French, Spanish and Portuguese. But they mostly know the bad words; what would be inappropriate in any other country has become modern parlance for the Goan locals. They shout them at tourists to alert them and make conversation, picking them up from foul mouthed backpackers. They timorously shout shit, fuck, shize, panpcha. baka na, merde, madar chod.

Goa collects the profanity of the traveler, hides it in sand, lets the ocean waves carry it into a bleak and forgettable ocean.

Afghani Chicken

Afghani Chicken

The women selling bangles on the beach join me for a chai; one tells me her husband has a daily ritual of going out and playing with his friends, leaving her to find employment and support him and her child. As she is confessing that she cooks and cleans, the girls all quiet down when an Indian man comes to survey them. He shouts something and almost all of them run away.

I wonder if they are just trying to sell me bangles. Later, as we bargain for a price, she uses her troubling anecdotes to close: If you buy at this price, my husband get angry, beat me beat me!

I think they are just trying to sell me their bangles.

Kingfish cooked Indian Style (I have no idea what that means)

Kingfish cooked Indian Style (I have no idea what that means)

The beach is inhabited by these touts, along with the aged expats, who sit near the ocean from morning to night, iniquitously trying any drug the touts recommend or suggest. They stare at the ocean waters, listening to loud house music, as if they are at a Pink Floyd light show. Many have been here for years, some for over a decade. They lie on the beach and do not move when the waves crash on top of them; it is all a part of their trip.

Hills near Vagora

Hills near Vagator

I am kept up all night at a bar by a martial arts teacher high on LSD, tearing apart little bits of napkins onto his leg. I see reckless Israeli’s running into the hills, crazed out on ecstasy, tripping on every stump, never realizing how bruised and bleeding their bodies have become. After I tell a Scottish guy to be careful of the coconuts, that if one hits him on its way down there will be nothing but a convulsing carcass, he starts whacking at every palm tree he finds, trying to make them drop on his forehead. Because it would look cool.

“Cabron!” Someone shouts.

Mumbai

The sights from the train, welcoming me to Mumbai

The sights from the train, welcoming me to Mumbai

Scrubbing off layers of dirt can be addicting, once you start at it you simply find layers of aggregated dust formed upon every inch of skin, and if you are ever to finish such a fastidious project, you soon find that the patch of skin where you began has been coated with another layer of dust, waiting to be scrubbed.

Being in India makes any reasonably clean person feel like Sisyphus.

India Gate

India Gate

On the train to Mumbai, India’s CIA factbook statistics come alive, concretized in the masses of tenebrous shantytowns, prodigious slums and gated suburban housing. India contains 1/6 of the world’s population. Only 7-15% of that population works in formal employment. 70% is rural. At least 40 million have been displaced by big dams that generate little electricity and frequently fail to supply water to the villages that need it the most. These dams are almost uniformly funded by investment from western companies and the World Bank.

The sale of emergency contraceptives increases by 50% every month.

The Beach

The Beach

In Mumbai, 53% of the population lives in slums, but unlike Delhi, the casual traveler could venture throughout the city without ever having to face the real faces behind this harrowing statistic. The slums here are segregated into blocks mostly in central and northern Mumbai.

I visit Dhavari slums with a guide from an educational NGO. It is the largest slums in the world, sandwiched between two railways; it is the heart of Mumbai, as the shape of the slum from a birds-eye view appears in the shape of a heart.

Dhavari in Blue

Dhavari in Blue

Rent here ranges from $25 to $4 a month. At more than one million people per square mile, that adds up to some prime real estate. According to Mike Davis, the slums began when the French began erecting walls and sewer systems around the poorest areas of their colonies to keep sickness away, as germs had yet to be discovered.

MumbaiXIII

Now Dhavari is a 21st Century stain, a heart-shaped hole in the Universe where mankind’s soul has been substituted for cheap leather, clay, plastic, tin, aluminum, and other raw materials that the toxic factories of Dhavarti produce. Here, the leather for Gucci bags are made for about sixty rupees apiece, just a bit more than one U.S. dollar.

MumbaiXIV

The incredibly small, smoky stone-walled factories make the world of Charles Dickens look like a British tea party. The men here work hard for a few years, die of poisoning or lung cancer, and are replaced all too effortlessly from the convenient surplus population of 2.5 million slumdogs. The superfluous, supernumerary people who drop like lemmings.

This is called the informal sector.

Slums near the sewer

Slums near the sewer

The residences are even more appalling. By day, children play atop mountains of garbage, unzipping their pants and excreting whenever and wherever nature chooses to call. At night, these same streets are a malaise of moving death, invaded by hoards of gigantic rats at the bottom, while at eye level the smoke from the lit cotton of the pottery kilns blind the residents in thick black clouds.

dharavi-slum-in-mumbai-001

To walk through Dhavari is to recall the story of the three little pigs, as you pass small houses with the smell of animal feces, each built of straw, tin or brick.

And the big bad wolf comes in many guises. He is in the government of Mumbai, who blithely rezone Dhavari a bit more each year, forcing residents out and jam-packing the people into every tighter quarters. He is in the foreign banks, who fund gigantic machines to help produce larger quantities of raw material, only to garrote the slum dwellers by keeping them infinitely in debt. He is in the slum lords who refuse formal housing contracts for their diminutive family rooms, and, when the rent goes unpaid, are known to dip cats in lighter fluid and set them aflame, letting them run through the houses where everything easily catches fire.

Dhavarti is one out of an estimated 2,000 slums in Mumbai. Just south of the slums, real estate is more expensive than in Manhatten, and the wealthy live in lofty thirty story condos made with glossy contemporary architecture. But on the rooftop of the slums, among the piles of garbage and the toxic fumes spewing out from the factories, I cannot help but notice an aberration: satellite televisions upon the tin, hollow rooftops. This is Mumbai, I remind myself.

Let them eat Bollywood.

Victoria Station

Victoria Station

In a pensive mood I take the train to Central Mumbai station, perhaps to visit the Samos shopping mall for a taste of air-conditioning, perhaps to wander in whatever direction the stars see fit to guide me for the night. When I arrive the streets are dark and full of silhouettes, but the Mumbai skyline is too bright to see any stars. Tonight the moon becomes my alabaster; I follow it with no reservations.

MumbaiXII

I pace upon the shadowed streets for nearly an hour, gigantic bats flying above me and stray dogs howling all around me. I imbibe the smoked corn from a street stall. Suddenly a hand grabs me, it is soft but punches me and I see that it is a girl in a red sari, her face divinely made up in matching blush. Sir, sir, she says, smiling. I begin to assess my surroundings. Dozens of demure women in brightly colored saris line the street, smiling towards the passing cars and Indian men. Some are more slattern, they wave at the men from the window sills, from every street corner, from every block and down every alleyway, cooing, grabbing at my belt.

Oh, the red light.

The Street of a Thousand

The Street of a Thousand

As with all of India, it is the amount of people that leaves me particularly disturbed. The streets filled with these sex workers seems to never end, like a funhouse where you believe yourself walking down a long hallway, only to find that you’ve been on a conveyor belt. I walk purposefully, expecting the lines of Indian women to end, and soon I am convinced I have gone in circles, but no, I am on the same street. There are thousands of them.

The women must think of me as an object of fun, for they begin to call from the windows and streets, some grabbing my hands while others crack jokes and point at the traveler who has somehow wandered so far off the beaten path, into their effete world of Johns, drugs and human trafficking. Just as I begin to see an end to the trail of women, a Muslim man in a white robe screams American! and I flee towards the nearest intersection, followed closely by a gang of ruffians.

Is it my accent? The backpack I carry? The Ipod bulging from my pocket?

When I sense them just behind me I turn to my trusty last resort: appearing so incredibly drunk, that to do me any harm would not actually cause me any harm, and therefore defeat the purpose of harming me.

I stagger, do my best John Belushi impression, gaze at them in a simple stupor. They say something in Hindi and leave me in the road.

Shiva and Pavarti

Shiva and Pavarti

Where the red light district ends, night markets fill the streets, and at midnight they are filled with bodies sleeping on the curbs, families under green mosquito nets. After half an hour wandering through the labyrinthine alleyways, another gang of boys are following me.

What am I so worried about? Could it be that they just want to say hello? Am I totally absurd for fleeing from every gang of men who take an active interest in a traveler?

I look back, see them with their arms crossed, advancing quickly now, and I, craven as ever, flee again, so thoughtlessly this time that my foot ends up lodged in someone’s blue tarp rooftop. I am again lost, on the edge of a shanty town. The boys fall down laughing as I attempt to repair the makeshift rooftop.

Shiva

Shiva

I spend a week in Mumbai, in utter exhaustion.

Udaipur

Udaipur

“Be bewitched by this fairy-tale city,” the guidebook says, “where ocre-shaded hills encircle the whimsical, snow-whit lake palace.”

“Marvel at beautiful Udaipur, then wander beyond into the Aravalli hills.”

“Watermarked by whimsy and splendour, the Venice of the East holds stage as one of India’s truly seductive cities.”

Uncanny.

UdaipurII

To escape the touts I dash between two pillars of rock engraved with cartoonish elephants. I am followed by four children who throw stones at a pack of street dogs, and emerge finally onto a ghat bordering a luscious green lake. Only ten days before the lake was nothing more than a crater in the earth, now there is a tide upon the river that blows with the wind, as green as a field of long grass.

The stairs into the water are wide and the stone planks shift when I burden them with my weight. At the edge of the lake, women in orange dress smack large black paddles against wet clothes. A man bathes in his black boxer-briefs, his hands creamy with soap. Stalkes of long grass stick out from the thick green water and a group of young boys play in the lake, tumbling over a black inner-tube. I talk with a gang of young boys, we joke together until an old woman comes and yells at them in Hindi.

UdaipurIV

“Very funny sir, I see you, very funny sir” a teenage Indian boy says, he looks like an older version of the children, his blue-plaid shirt and whitening pants are nearly identical to the other Indians. He introduces himself as Bari, and the boy has a kind face, but even after the innocuous introductions I still find it difficult to shake off that presumption of suspicion that so encases the traveler into a mind-bubble, equainimous to whatever the locals recommend or suggest.

You go to school? I ask, intending to ask more questions than answer.

Yes, first year sir.

You live in this city?

No, my home, he stuttered it out, East.

We find his village together on a map, of Kashmir, he points to a dot where the railroad intersects. Near there, sir, he says.

Electricity?

Yes.

A moment passes where no expectations seemed to reappear, we comfortably listen to the laughter of the other teenagers struggling for the inner-tube. Bari tells me that everything coming from Bollywood now is vulgar, not Hindu culture.

“You mean language? Language vulgar?”

“No sir, girl. Girl vulgar.” This is true, there has been kissing in two recent Hindi films.

The man bathing had already dried himself off, another group of women have come to gossip near the water. A child swims on the ghat with his black trousers still on. Another boy in white underwear makes an angel in the green water, his back floating upon a Styrofoam case, perhaps found in the garbage disposal just beside the water, where rabid hounds and cows came to feast.

A boat ride to the sacred temples on the lake runs somewhere around sixty USD. If you want to eat dinner or get coffee, you’re looking at least $120. The man running my three dollar motel room is, in his spare time, a factory worker for Versace.

Udaipur

Auspiciously, I come across three young British Indian girls, North London posh, just as I am about to march up a three mile hill ridden with mosquitos and wild monkeys. I find their circumstances so different from mine, so unapologeticly disengaged. Their fathers have organized their entire trips for them; they have hired a driver for four days to whisk them from monument to monument in a fully air-conditioned van, while their tour guide, Bobby, delivers them to each “sacred sight,” taking care of any other amenity for them, from feeding the beggers to where to shit.

“We have been looking so hard for other young people to meet.”

I find this hard to believe, as I am burdened constantly by the amount of white young tourists, the herd that I have come to think alike.

“For instance, at our hotel there is only old people.”

I was going to add rich.

I agree to spend the day with them, perhaps providing some entertainment and American color between their cell phone calls, text messages and replays of Rahman songs from Slumdog Millionaire.
JaipurIV

As we visit the Gujurati heavy temples devoted to Hare Krishna, then the five hundred year-old cone-shaped temples devoted to the Brahman[s Lord Shiva, the girls seem genuinely troubled by the street children. As they are approached by gangs of bedraggled urchins, they quickly tell me that they have just come from an expeditious volunteer project with an English-education NGO, and about how good it felt to do volunteer work.

In much of Thailand, temples, welfare offices and generous families are constantly providing food and indecent housing for no cost to the individual, so giving away cash always seems like providing an unearned surplus. How wrong was I to assume that things are the same in Thailand as they are  in India, which is supposedly a socialist, non-aligned country. Bobby attempts to put it in perspective.

“What happens to the street children?” the girls ask with glimmers of hope in their eyes.

“Nothing, they just survive or die.”

“The government?”

“Takes their money and hopes they die.”

“The NGOs?” I ask

“NGOs!” Bobby slams his fist on the radiator with such sudden passion that the girls jump out of their seats, and for once, put away their incessant text-messaging. “Corrupt! Corrupt!” Bobby spits out, as if he has repeated it so many times before the words have gained some chant-worthy, sacrosanct magic. “You must not believe they care.” he says.

Shocked, that glimmer lost, one of the girls says at last “Well, our NGO helps them.” As urchins knock on the tinted car window, the young girls holding infants withered from marasmus.

UdaipurI

Jaipur

Sixteen hours to Jaipur, sleeper class, I lie on the upper berth of a crowded train, my arm suspended at head level like a crane. I easily grasp onto passing soft drinks, samosas, or the heads of children with sticky fingers. Outside the train, the sunset is straddling the horizon. I see rice fields and farms, a line of trees, electrical towers that look like steel angels in the dark.

AMERICAN HOT AND FRESHSWEET

GOOD TIMES PARTNER

ESCAPE TO ITALY

FINGER LICKING GOOD

Feelin' the love

Feelin' the love

Spotted on the Amalfi Coast: Jackie & Aristotle Onassis, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, Vladimir Lenin, Bridgette Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Graham Greene, Humphrey Bogart, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Richard Wagner, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra… …and delicious hazelnut flavors.

The first night in Jaipur, the capital of Rajastan, a fuse blows at my five dollar hotel. We move to another room and that fuse blows out. The next day we relocate to another hotel for three dollars a night. It is ridden with ants, spiders, pleas, mosquitos, cockroaches. The mattress is a cot on wooden planks. It reminds me of living in Las Vegas. We wake up with new places to scratch. This is called Budget Travel.

JaipurXIX

On the street, past midnight, I feed a cow rotis. A man in a white turban and thick mustache takes my hand, says: “Good luck feed cow.”

“Good luck?”

“Yes, because cow is God.”

“Oh, of course.”

“You no feed street children. No good luck. Only feed cow. Cow is God. Not feed children. Feed cow.”

“Because cow—”

“It is God.”

“God.”

I feed God another Roti.

Jaipur

I read Arundhati Roy, writing about India in 2001: “More than 400 million of our people are illiterate and live in absolute poverty, over 600 million lack even basic sanitation and over 200 million have no drinking water.” She tells me there]s no such thing as an authentic Indian. She tells me that every Indian is a minority. She tells me that if you look hard enough, you can find Coca Cola in the Vedas. She seems to greatly dislike Indira Ghandi.

I am very grateful to be traveling around India with a woman, without her many idiosyncrasies would be lost. Everywhere, men follow her, with their eyes, their steps, their hands, and occasionally, with their lips, though none have been reciprocated for their desire. In the Guide it warns that “Indians are known for harassing women in Western style clothing”. This begs the question of what the guide means when it says “harassing.”

It means men asking you for kisses, asking how many people you fuck and whether you use condoms or not. It means obscene stares from the young men around you and being followed by gangs of them while walking home at night. It means always being served last at restaurants. It means that when you order beer the waiter assumes you are only doing it for the men in the room. It means constant whistles, taunts, and arms and hands “accidentally” falling upon different parts of your skin. It means men standing near you with such propinquity as to peak down any portion of your body where the distance between the fabric and your skin might reveal the curve of a breast or thigh.

It also means getting to stand in separate, shorter, faster lines.

My fork is too small...

My fork is too small...

A Tuk Tuk driver drives drunk. The other drivers hate him; they attempt to run us off the road. He swears at them in English, in Hindi, in Spanish, calls them charlatans. His name is John Travolta. We visit a temple full of monkeys. The Hindu priests call it the Sun Temple, the touts call it the Monkey Temple. On the way are cobras, goats, cattle, monkeys. Again, they attack me:

What they saw

What they saw

What I saw

What I saw

Jaipur is a destination with a great observatory, humongous forts, the largest canon in the world, the greatest collection of silver objects, rare and precious stones, a rich cultural history of Kings, epic battles and reformist laws, an old city completely bathed in pink paint, and a gaudy theater house.

At a bar a man named Christopher delivers a jeremiad against Indian employment. He is a well off businessman, frustrated with the “chai culture” of Indian entrepreneurs. “What takes a day in the U.S. takes a week in Mexico, takes a month in Vietnam, takes a year in India.” Apparently he owns manufacturing companies throughout the third world. He tells me the venal labor laws in India disallow him from firing his workers when they do not show up for work, or when they harass his female workers, or when they deliver shipments incredibly late.

Rich, he buys all our drinks.

India is still consistently India. And Jaipur is a city full of Gods, Kings, monkeys, and street children. They work in groups, perhaps. I give rupees whenever I see Mani, a fifteen year old with a baby covered in flies. I like her because she always takes my money and never asks for more. She takes food when I buy it for her. The street children just take the food I buy for them and then toss obscene gestures at me that say in so many words: “fuck you, cheap America!”. Mani gets it, so I always give her money. This is called selfish giving.

All hail the priest of the Micee D's

All hail the priest of the Micee D's

I spend a five days in Jaipur, revising India with clarity and conscience, July 30th – August 2nd.

Amritsar

Recumbent pilgrims lie scattered on the white marble of the Golden Temple. They look identical: long dark beards, white turbans, aged soles of their feet. Here we are far from the anomic lifestyle of Seattle, the bathetic pathos of Seoul, here people must have touch, must express total equality even in their style of eating, must cover their heads in humbleness not only to an imaginary God, but to each other. In a state of quiescent repose, we face each other as beings of the same universe.

Golden Temple

Golden Temple

The gold surface of the temple is grandiose. One wonders who built it, in what conditions, etc. Ostentatious displays of wealth certainly arouse suspicions in any puritanical American. Even the deserts in Amritsar are marked with filigree; delicate real silver tops off my rice pudding and looks like tin foil.

I encroach upon the sacredness of yet another religion, as I turn my back on the temple, deliver a wad of flem backed up in my nasal passages by the pollution of the city. Apparently you’re not supposed to do that.

Free food at the Temple

Free food at the Temple

I rid myself of the tourist monuments like passing difficult excrement. To find myself in a new city, one must survey the perimeter, as a canine around his new home, before he cane take in the pleasure of the streets. As soon as I am released from the injunction to see the tourist sites, I walk in random directions, towards whatever seems exigent or within my proximity—a broken down building, a gathering of Indians around a well-lit street, a strange figure in the dark. Very often I simply float within the crowd, unthinking and unassuming flaneur, imbibing in the aura of the city and its people, retreating from certainty, trusting the void wherever it leads.

We chase the beaucratic fairy around the train station from one ticket counter to another, filling out forms, getting things stamped, carrying our luggage on our backs with the body-heat of the Indians in our nostrils. The bearucratic and taxonomic obsession with getting things right, perhaps instituted by the British, has been popularized among travelers of India by V.S. Naipaul, where, in one short story, his wife faints from exhaustion after running from one passport office to another. The denouement of our confusion and utter exhaustion is only to discover that there is no train left for Jaipur.