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[For the month of April I’ll be writing a series of posts on my first family trip to India in ’95. I was fourteen. I was there for five weeks. I saw a lot. This is the first installment…]
So how did India look through my fourteen-year-old eyes?
Well to give you the truest answer, I can’t really start until the plane touched down in Delhi. And hey, look at that, the seatbelt sign is off. So here we go…
…October ’95 in Delhi. It’s one of the nicest times to visit to India, as there’s zero rain, the sun is bright, and the temperature climbs to twenty-eight degrees every day. This didn’t mean “short short” weather (since slutty shorts would draw its share of gasps in conservative India), but it was over-sized t-shirts and slim-fit jeans all the way, yahoo!
…We circled around the luggage belt at 1am, my senses now awash with all things “India”. The mugginess of the terminal was the one that hit me fast, right in the spot where my dampened “Vegas” t-shirt clung to my bony shoulder blades.
Once we had our piles of luggage, it was time to find my uncle who was waiting with his caravan. There was eleven of us to accomodate: my family of five (my older brother had not made the trip), my grandmother, my aunt and her family of four, and finally my other uncle, the family’s remaining bachelor. But if this trip was as successful as we hoped, he wouldn’t be a bachelor for long…
…We hauled our luggage to the parking lot, where I took my first deep breath of Indian air. The air I have to say…was interesting. It smelled a little smoky, but not in that delicious barbecue way. It smelled like last year’s burning of a sacrifical goat, mixed with an eighteen-wheeler’s fresh exhaust. It was still a relief from the muggy terminal, so I breathed in and out with all my might. Only later would I know that this Indian air was in fact some pretty harsh pollution. So harsh that after multiple hours on the road, you’d finish the day with a nose full of blackened “crusties”. I don’t believe this happens anymore (at least it didn’t on my visit in 2006), but for 1995, it was the trip of the blackish boogers…
…My Indian uncle waved from the pair of cream-coloured vans. He was the owner of a driving/tourist company, so he and a fellow driver would take us to his home in the village. My siblings and my mother piled into the back of the van, four of us crammed onto a single bench. And that’s how the journey began, with my brother’s left leg resting nicely on my lap…
…Before we could even get to the supposed “highway” (read: two-lane road with lots of trucks and cows), we had to drive our way through downtown Delhi. And this was an amazing sight. The streets were lined with incredible shops and restaurants (some of which were still sitting open for business), and off in the distance I could spot the “India Gate”. To me the gate appeared just as grand as the “Arc de Triomphe” which I had seen in my geography books. I asked my dad why we were driving past…there was so much to see. My father assured me we’d be stopping at Delhi near the end of our trip, to visit some cousins and take in the sights.
I was mildly appeased as my neck leaned awkwardly against the bouncing van. Six more hours and we’d be at the village…
…At approximately 5am I jolted into consciousness. The left of my face was shiny with drool, and as I peered out the window I could see that we were sitting at a rest stop. We’d be stopping for some tea and a light morning snack, announced my mother. It was still very dark outside, and my appetite had not yet recovered from the strange foiled-packages claiming to be food on the airplane (“But mom, that’s not what fruit salad normally looks like…”).
I did however need to use the bathroom. For this my mother’s face became professional, as she stuffed a roll of toilet paper into my bag, explaining something very important: “The toilets at these rest-stops…are in the ground. It’s perfectly normal, just make sure you’re squatting straight, so it doesn’t run down your leg.”
This may not have been a shocking concern for a “normal” teen who’s done her share of camping, but you’ve met me right? Right.
Without getting into (too many) details, I squatted there for a good ten minutes, far too nervous to pee. I was half-afraid that a snake would leap from the hole in the ground, and half-afraid that this “toilet” had recently seen a lot of action, an imagery complete with “poo fumes” floating up my bottom.
I finally managed a trickle and bolted, hoping I could sweat out all my pee for the remainder of the trip…
…For the next three hours of driving, amidst all the honking, passing cows and dangerous levels of fog, we finally puttered our way down a long dirt road. The sun was shining bright by now, lighting our way to another dirt road, splitting up a field of vegetation.
A final turn later and a big iron gate was before us. It opened from inside, revealing a brown solid path, that led to a looming tree. Chained to the tree was a big black cow, flies buzzing fast around its head. To the right was a tiny barn, sitting next to a stone-cut house. There in the doorway stood a wide-eyed aunt, and my equally wide-eyed cousins, ranging from the ages of thirteen to two.
I was so intrigued by these Indian versions of me. Would we have a lot in common? Were we almost the same besides geography? I wasn’t sure, but I was now in the heart of a Punjabi village, and the Indian vacation had officially begun..
[Oh, and here is the next installment]
The only foreign country I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting was Mexico–I crossed the river from El Paso to Juarez, on foot. And I loved it, even the worst of it–such a fascinating culture!
As for India, I’ve always had a romanticized view of it. In my imagination, it is a land of jungles, ancient temples, beautiful dark women, meditating shamans, ragas, fierce warriors, majestic tigers–a tropical paradise.
This is why I am frustrated by the reality of it. I know it still has those wonderful things, but that it’s also spoiled by urbanization and Westernization–damage left by the goddamned British Empire.
Still, I hope I someday get to see it. After all, there’s never been a paradise, anywhere in this world. And I am reminded to accept this, in the first line from an Indian chant I regularly sing, especially while driving: “Asato Maa Sadgamaya” (Lead me from the unreal to the real).
Ha ha in 8th grade IDK HOW THE FACT CAME UP, but it was noted, that the Gangas River was THE MOST POLLUTED river in all of the world. To this fact, my class full of white people’s heads turned to me in Unison.
Oooooooooo there ain’t no place like a hole in the ground. That must have been an experience and a half.
I’m already enjoying the posts I can’t wait to hear more!!!!
Alright, another Romi saga!
I’m already loving this new adventure. By the way, I discovered black boogers when I lived in Guatemala and Mexico. To me, both countries smelled like bus exhaust.
Ive always been terrified that while camping, rats will leap out and bite my arse while I take a dump in the outhouse.
Very nice details. You have an incredible memory. The way you describe things makes the reader experience it! I even smelled the poop fumes! Oh…and the truck fumes. I even have a bad taste from the thought of airplane food in the 90’s. I also have black crunchy boogers in my nose, How the hell?
Oh, this is sooo exciting, I’ve always wanted to go to India, I can’t wait to hear all the adventures. Sweet, vicarious living!
Anyways, worst place I ever peed was in Italy. Do you know the majority of Europe doesn’t believe in toilet seats? Yeah, dude. And that’s like MCDONALDS, which is a frikkin’ spa compared to some others which are yes, a hole in the ground.
At the Colliseum, I know for a fact that I walked into the men’s bathroom, whichever one it was. I walked into one, saw a hole in the ground (but with a plastic base complete with a very clear ‘foot goes here’ structure, how odd), and thought “oh shit, mens!” But the other was identical! Why were there two?? And where did I pee?? I never could tell which was the mens or womens 😦
Many questions… Many, many questions. Did you report this via diary circa 1995? If not, you have a hell of a memory. Good note-taking.
And happy birthday kid.
Happy Birthday to youuu
You live in a zooo
Violets are red
And roses are blue
I did a little remix. Happy Birthday beautiful girl.
oh! i cant wait to read more. I can just imagine the cows.
like always, it’s a pleasure to visit you.
it’s a long time from my last visit.
i design some houses in greece on the beach, in an island and i have not internet there. when i come home, i must renew my sites (i have over 30 now) (the architecture laws, normatives and rules), go to see my son, my friends and relatives. on the next beach works an english architect from atkins, with tom wright as chief project, so i’m very proud to build next the greatest architect in the world, but i must do my best for this.
anyway, i’ll try not to forget my friends, and, axiomatic, you are one of them.
i hope to hear from you soon,
Scott: hey there, thanks for that awesome comment 🙂 And by the way your romanticized view of India was just magnificent, I could actually picture it! It’s not exactly the India I saw though, but a couple elements were there I think 😉
PS: you seemed really informed and I think that the first chance you get, you should go! There’s a lot of great things to see, and treasured places that haven’t all been spoiled by urbanization, just do some research and then go for it! 🙂
Shweta: hahaha…what the hell!?!? Did they think that you work for the sanitization dept. or something??? Go clean up the Ganges Shweta! 😉
Anja: yup, there were at least a couple “hole in the ground” occasions on that trip, but luckily in my trip in 2006 I managed to find toilets in every place 😉
sammy25: I’m glad you’re enjoying them, there’s some more on the way in a bit 😉
omegaradium: yeah I guess you could call it a saga…five weeks in any country outside your own is enough for a saga I think 😉
bluesuit12: OH MY GOSH you’ve had black boogers too!??! I wasn’t sure if it was exclusive to India, but I’m so glad I’m not the only one! 😉
Kerplar: yes, rats biting my arse when I’m defenseless is a big fear too, but snake a bit more ’cause of the venom I think….oh dear, I am gonna have a nightmare tonight, haha 😉
Justin: oh my gosh, I am so sorry you have bad airplane food breath AND black boogers because of me! Send my apologies to your wife, haha 😉
Emerald: WHAT THE FRICK DUDE!?!?!? Okay, because I’m all naive and stuff, I always just assumed that things like “hole in the ground” toilets only would exist in third world (or previously third world) countries, never imagining that things like hole-toilets could exist in Europe, and Rome of all places?!?!? But it’s Rome……..that is an awful experience, I hope the Collesium has upgraded since then… 😦
bronson: thanks for the birthday wishes B5! 🙂 And there was no diary or journal in existence (not then or now), so it’s all these leftover memories that stick around, my brain is full of this crap, haha…
Will: awww Will….you’re a sweetie and I loved your birthday wish, THANK YOU 🙂
maleesha: I’m glad I could give you imagery of cows, that’s what this blog’s all about, haha 😉
danimihalache: thank you so much for the lovely comment! I loved hearing about your architectural background and experiences, seems like you have a really cool life and work, and I’m honoured you consider me a friend 🙂
Wow, that sounds like quite the adventure. Can’t wait to read the rest.
Wow – I can imagine how humiliating that hole in the ground must have been to a teenage girl. I hope the pollution over there has gotten better too. Well, I have to go read the other installments now. **whoosh**
[…] « Voyage to India: Welcome to the Village… Voyage to India: Scooters and Bazaars… April 12, 2009 [For the month of April I’ll […]
[…] [This post is another in my series of my first family trip to India in ’95. Here is the first installment] […]