Wednesday, April 27, 2005

36. File Under: Additional Skills

Fig. 36-1: Pilot

I can now drive a camel. If that's not a marketable skill, then I have no idea what is.

Either way, this is certainly going on my resumé when I get home.

Fig. 36-2: Piloted

Thursday, April 21, 2005

35. Cute, Bored, and Dangerous

Fig. 35-1: Cute, Bored, and Dangerous

There are cows everywhere in India.

Short of being worshiped, as is their reputation, cows are more or less just left to their own devices—which is to say that they walk around, eat plastic bags and food scraps alike, sip at puddles, and generally go where they please and do as they like, within the bounds of society continuing to function in their presence. When they’re not sticking their noses in things, cows just tend to stand around, and in the process of doing so, manage—at least partially—to block the flow of both human and vehicle traffic.

While a cow in the road seems generally aggravating to drivers, the relationship is pretty much one of mutual indifference, as the organic nature of traffic simply assimilates the cow as yet another thing to navigate around, and the car’s large and threatening nature seems to be a sufficient deterrent to any act of frustration on the part of the cow.

Pedestrians, however, don’t have it quite as easy—while humans are clearly smarter than cows when it comes to the use of common walkways, there is a serious deficit in the human-to-cow size differential, and the placement of a large-enough cow in a small-enough old city street is enough to completely hold up traffic, not to mention that on occasion, cows will charge at people as they pass.
The fact that cows occasionally attack shouldn’t be blown out of proportion, however, as it’s far more common for people to hit cows than the other way around, and cows don’t tend to budge until a hand (at the very least) is raised.

Also, to do justice to the cow in this scenario, it is far more often that people jump skittishly out of a cow’s path than a cow will actually show any sort of aggression, though the implication in the public’s reaction to passing cows is that there is a very rational justification for this fear.

After watching this pageant play out over and over again, however, I got a firsthand lesson in what the hesitation was all about one hot afternoon in Udaipur, when I just barely managed to avoid the business end of a cow’s horns, as it saw fit to come charging after me for no discernable reason. This attempted charge was startling, and certainly vindicated the caution that I felt when passing random cows, but it was nowhere near as disarming as in Jaisalmer, when I absentmindedly turned from a sign that I was attempting to read, to run head-on into a cow that was just standing in the middle of the narrow street, attempting to mind its own business.

At first, I felt a little weird for having so blatantly hit one of these supposedly sacred animals, and perhaps even a little guilty after I had spent so much time questioning the intention of every passing cow, though I’ve since decided that it was simply my way of evening the score, despite the fact that this conclusion simply means that it’s now my turn to watch out for what the cows might do next.

Fig. 35-2: Cow on Cow Violence is the Saddest Kind of Violence

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

34. Waking Up Just to Go Back to Bed

Fig. 34-1: Indian Railways:
Good for Traveling—Bad for Sleeping

Though waking up early is rarely easy, there’s a certain comfort in getting out of bed to do something early in the morning, if you know full well that you’ll be able to return to bed at some point in the morning in order to resume sleeping.

Tasks that require this sort of half-hearted investment in being awake include—though are by no means limited to—taking someone to the airport to catch an early flight, waking up to let a pet out, or on some mornings, it might just be an important feature of a classic false start to the day. Traveling, however, requires the addition of certain things to the above list, such as waking up early to catch the afore mentioned flights, sleeping in thoroughly unfamiliar beds, and arriving in totally new towns at the crack of dawn by way of overnight train.

While the overnight train’s ability to conserve valuable travel resources—such as precious daylight hours and the cost of a night's lodging—is by far one of the most brilliant components of traveling in India, arrival times vary greatly, and train sleep is generally a rigorous undertaking. Waking in the predawn hours of the morning, then, only to be faced with the task of dealing with the cadre of overanxious hotel touts and pushy rickshaw drivers that lie just beyond the train door while still suffering the effects of a difficult night’s sleep, provides one of the singularly most daunting challenges of constant relocation.

No matter what the reason, when you wake up too early in your own bed, there is comfort in the fact that, although you must separate yourself from its familiarity, it’s always the same bed that you’ll be returning to whenever you accomplish whatever it was that you woke up to do. For all benefits of travel, the excitement of constant movement means that no matter how much one guesthouse might resemble the next, it’s never the same bed that you’re returning to when you do eventually arrive at your destination and get to go back to bed.

Fig. 34-2: You Can Never Sleep in the Same Bed Twice

    CONFIDENTIAL TO JECCA: I would like to apologize for using the picture in Fig. 34-2. The only justification that I can offer is that it's the only picture that I have of anyone sleeping. I would like to apologize for using the picture in Fig. 34-1. The only justification that I can offer is that it's the only picture that I have of anyone sleeping. Anyway, how is anyone going to know that it's actually you underneath that blanket?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

33. The Art of the Chase

Fig. 33-1: One Half of a Hopelessly Flawed Metaphor

Last week in Bombay, as I walked along a very nice part of town, just behind the famous Taj Mahal Hotel, though closer to where I was staying—the less renown, though just as well knownSalvation Army guest house, I saw a sparrow chasing a cockroach across the sidewalk the same way that an overexcited dog would chase a squirrel through a park. Though the action was more frenzied than your standard animal-chasing-animal routine—cockroaches don't so much scurry when moving across uneven marble as they wobble, and far from providing a smooth chase, sparrows are given to hopping instead of running—it was still worth stopping a moment to watch the drama play out.

It is both accepted and expected that dogs chase cats and cats chase mice, while birds are supposed to poke around in the grass, and wait for cats to pounce on them, so that they can effortlessly fly to the branches of some nearby tree. These relationships are all based on the idea of the chase, though they're ultimately centered on the all-important act of not getting caught.

In fact, these chases are so storied that they're clearly clichés at this point—and for good reason: it seems to be human nature to identify with the idea of things being just beyond our reach. Like the cat that goes sliding into the wall as the mouse stealthily slips into its hole, people seem to take comfort in the fact that whatever it is that they pursue is just beyond their reach—especially when they find themselves crashing into the wall as the chase comes to a conclusive end. The entire metaphor has a tendency to supply meaning to failure, and who doesn't like a little meaning in their failure?

Perhaps accounting for why this mini-drama involving the sparrow and the cockroach made me laugh so hard, or maybe just giving justification to why that this sort of chase will likely not go down in the annals of hallowed metaphor, is the fact that when this chase was over, the sparrow actually flew away with the cockroach clenched firmly in its beak.

Then again, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that sparrows are not that cute, and cockroaches are downright disgusting.

Fig. 33-2: Cat and Bird Defying Cliché

Friday, April 08, 2005

32. Having a Wrestle in the Shadow of Love

Fig. 32-1: Having a Lunchtime Wrestle

I didn't want to let this picture go to waste, and since it has outlasted its use as a placeholder in the previous post, I'm giving it's own post, though it's really nothing more than a picture post of Taj Mahal employees having a friendly lunchtime wrestle in the shadows of the world's greatest monument to love.

Just for the record: the guy on top in this picture (in white) dominated this matchup, though I had my money on the other guy.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

31. Reading Between the Recipes

Fig. 31-1: Meditation for Idiots (The dot is in the lower left corner)

Team India took cooking lessons last week in Udaipur, and while we all now know how to make masala chai, a nice chutney, samosas, palak pakora, malai kofta (see Fig. 31-2), dal fry, chapatti, and parathas, the real fun in the exercise came in the form of taking notes on the sage advice that our instructor dispensed as he taught us these delicious recipes in his kitchen. The notes, transcribed, are as follows:
    1. Spend 10 minutes a day, just sitting, staring at a spot on the wall (see Fig. 31-1) and praying to your god, and you will always look good/young, and never have to go to a doctor.
    2. Spinach is good for you—so good, in fact, that if you eat it, you will never have to go to the doctor.
    3. Squeezing one lemon and massaging it into your scalp will, in one week’s time, completely cure you of dandruff, thus eliminating any need to seek advice from a doctor.
    4. Freckles are a medical problem; rather than consulting a physician, this condition can be solved by drinking anis seeds seeped in hot water before going to bed.
    5. Though not pertaining directly to medical conditions, the following rhyme should nonetheless be minded: No College—No Knowledge, No Wife—No Life.
If I were going to pick a theme for these embedded lessons, it would have to something along the lines of How to Never Go to the Doctor, though if you asked a doctor what the theme was, he’d probably say that it was simply a recipe for Iatrophobia1.

Fig. 31-2: Mmm, Malai Kofta


    1. Iatrophobia: An abnormal and persistent fear of going to the doctor or of doctors.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

30. Say Yes

Fig. 30-1: The Famous Shot of the Famous Taj Mahal

We did our duty as tourists in this country, and it was thus that we found ourselves in Agra a couple of weeks ago, and while the Taj Mahal truly is beautiful (see Fig. 30-1), the constant flow of tourists seem to have spawned a strain of shop owners and rickshaw drivers that are thoroughly resistant to standard methods of refusal to their constant offers of good bargains that you are clearly not interested in.

In response to this stepping-up of their game, I determined that the internationally standard No refusal had been rendered useless, so in place of it, I started to reply with Yes to every single thing offered, as I continued walking straight ahead as if I had said No.

At first, nobody figured out how to respond to this new technique, though after doing this sucessfully for an entire day, some little kid delivered a bit of karma (in the form of a small rock) into my back as I walked away from him, after enthusiastically telling him that I wanted to look his selection of postcards, never once looking at him or breaking my stride as I walked past.

The thing is, I couldn't really get mad at him because that's exactly what my response to me would be if I were in his shoes. I just laughed and kept on walking, assuredly saying Yes to everything that everyone offered me the rest of the way back to our guesthouse.

Fig. 30-2: The North Indian Shopkeeper in His Natural Habitat

Friday, April 01, 2005

29. Hot! Hot! Hot!

Fig. 29-1: Tea + Milk + Sugar = Chai

Facts For the Traveller:
Properly boiled liquids are not as likely to get you sick, and thus preferable to lukewarm or cold liquids, but when a pot of chai is visibly steaming in the searing hot midmorning Rajasthan sun, it is also likely to burn your tongue.

This might seem obvious, but somehow it's a lesson that must be learned over and over again.

Fig. 29-2: A Little Teapot