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hither/thither A journal of my travels in 2008 I will be traveling to: New Zealand Costa Rica India East Africa

Love and Hate in the Dry Seasons.

INDIA | Monday, 14 April 2008 | Views [2559] | Comments [8]

A few days ago something happened.

I reached a melting point where I began to hate India.

I despised the way the place reeked of piss and rancid food and rotting trash and human waste. The trash thrown indiscriminately and in ridiculous amounts. I hated how it constantly sounds like Indians are angry, arguing, yelling (Are they?) I was sick of being stared at, gawked at, pointed to, touched, laughed at, called to and begged from. Tired of being shoved in lines, cut in front of, fed up with taking seven inefficient steps to get simple things like train tickets, boarding passes or permits; which still didn't secure whatever one was taking the steps to get.

Like any passionate relationship, I was finding all the flaws.

Please remember how I would have showered the country with superlatives of love and joy just the day prior. Well. No, that's not true. the day before the day prior...

Let me begin again: Once upon a time there was a boy who had an endless appetite, until he went to India and in just three weeks felt deathly ill twice.


After my recent run with insane temperatures that left me spinning in a sweat dampened rickety bed under the sound of a rusty spinning fan we were off on our overnight train to Guwahatin in Assam. All I could stomach that day was a Fanta, but it did give me the strength to push and shove my way to my un airconditioned seat and sit to stare blankly for the next twenty hours. That's when it started. I watched people shoving around the train Screaming abrasively at each other (they can't possible be that mad all the time, could they?) I watched adults and children alike wantonly throwing garbage out the windows. Hauck lugies (I mean, guttural hacking lugies. It's possible they dislodge these thick monsters from somewhere so deep within that we've yet to discover and give it a name. Wherever it is from, it's LOUD and sometimes takes an eternity to climb up.)

I won't go into detail about the unpleasant adventure of using a train squat toilet when you've been sick for two days but I will tell you this much, It's a very intricate process that involves supporting ones self on multiple walls while trying not to slide off the two, wet, stainless steel foot rests, not miss your target and sort of ballerina move to keep in motion with the train itself. Once that's complete there is getting the water from a faucet in front of you, which comes form a nozzle that you have to push and no bucket, so you have to cup it in the opposite hand while activating the faucet at the same time. This means un-hendging yourself from the security of the walls and create a whole new ballerina move. And let's just say this was an adventure I set out on so many occasions you may one day find yourself on a train headed North in India and find a placard erected in my memory.

But I digress... It began then.

Amidst the chaotic commotion of touts with strange cartoon voices who all seemed to be selling the same thing and screaming out it's name. So many touts selling the same thing! There were so many they would build up and maneuver around each other sending their Puri container caps swinging into our face, clapping their shoe shiner boards, screaming in our face. It continued into the night with the loud bickering and then being woken up by beggars (where those men? Wearing saris?) Then by a woman at two in the morning screaming at a man whose berth she had snuck into in the middle of the night and stolen. Then it went on the next day. We arrived an hour late, could not figure out the map, because, of course, NONE of the streets were labeled, and set out in the cauldronous afternoon heat to find a room. When we did I had to go straight to the bathroom (the equation of three days without food and still creating waste is still way beyond my comprehension...) which sent the suspicious reception into a fit on Carrie (is he staying here? Where is his passport? Why did he leave?) Then it exponentially grew when we tried to set up our upcoming travels at the train station. I went because I've learned that to get through the impossibly annoying times during travel it takes two trading between being calm and rational and freaking out.

A quick note on train stations in India: They are less 'stations' so much as puzzles or wrecks. First there is one line where you get the paper to fill out (Sometimes not, sometimes you have to walk up to any of the random windows with twelve people pushed against it, stick your hand in the same hole of them are reaching through and hope to pull it out with the correct form in your hand.) Then there is the 'Enquiry' line where if you are a tourist you will most likely have to go to to find out the information to write on the form you just picked up. This line, like all the rest, is VERY long. I watched the clock this time and calculated a good six minute average per person in front of you, which is constant flux. It seems everyone has a friend or five whose place they are holding or changing places with, which means if there are five people in front of you there are probably ten to twenty in actuality. This group leads what resembles a 'line' until it reaches the window, here everyone presses as much as they can against the window with their papers stuck through the hole in the plexi glass. This happens for a few reasons. If you fill something out wrong you have to go back to the first line to get a new form and come back with it filled out correctly to the attendant who has already began helping the next person, and because there are certain people who don't bother waiting in the vein but rather go strait for the clot and shove their papers through the hole. all of this creates a comical wall of faces pressed against the glass from the opposite side. After the 'Enquiry' line, usually 45 minutes, comes the booking line, usually an hour. Carrie and I have found the easiest way to overcome some of this process is by one of us doing the form/enquiry part and the other waiting in the booking line, and therefore finishing the whole process in an hour or so. Unfortunately on this day I got in an exceptionally slow line. We waited two hours. I got to the window and it was break time. I'm feverish. I haven't eaten in three days. I'm dripping sweat. I feel like I’m going to pass out. Waves of nausea and stomach pains. I wait. I'm being stared at. Laughed at. The clock is going slower than physically possible. I'm SO close! the attendant gets back, takes his time, looks at me and says: "line three" I imagine what it would look like from the other side if my head exploded on the plexi glass. "What?" I ask. This is the day we learned there is a special line for tourists in the Guwahati train ticketing station. Actually, much like the ladies line which is for "Ladies and the physically handicapped, it's for Tourists, heart patients, elderly, college students and Tuberculosis patients. OF COURSE! And so we are at a new line. We wait sandwich between sweaty, gawky, shovey, tuberculosis patients waiting to clot at the window and shove our papers in with the rest becoming like a trapped octopus. I feel deathly and ache for a cold water. Carrie holds our spot and I set out. I walk all the way up to the end of the road and back. No water. I walk back up and down just in case. Nope. Then I see the little stand next to the ticketing station. A small fridge. When I get there, as is typical here, there are four or five people working the small booth that fits two. None of them will help me as I shove my way to the counter and hold out my ten rupees. I'm being pressed against the counter and shoved to the side. I hold tight and finally yell out, "Hey! I want mineral water!" Hands protruding from all around my face shaking money, practically, hitting me in the face. One of the men take my money and another comes out from the booth to open the fridge that holds one cold water. I try pushing through the people away from the counter, another man pushes in front of me and takes the water. I get to the guy and ask for my water. He's confused. 'I paid for a water. You gave it to someone else.' He shrugs. In the end I get a hot water that was sitting in the sun as a display.

When I return to the stuffy ticketing area, drinking my hot water and contemplating the risks of using a train station squat toilet I find Carrie in the same place in line. This process takes four hours. I use the toilet after all. We are both defeated. We walk through the heat to our hot hotel room and crash into the beds (with tickets in hand at least!) At two in the morning for some unknown reason, the reception instructs us we must close our windows. Carrie pleads. He's not having it. The cement room holds in our sweaty breaths until we wake at 5am to catch our train.

We hate India.

Our train for Jorhat leaves and after two days of laying (in my feverish bed, in the train berth, in the sauna of a room we just left) or sitting (Trains, rickshaws, share jeeps, busses) and standing in line the whole last day I find it impossibly uncomfortable. We exit the train in Jorahat for a rickshaw that takes us to the ferry terminal to go to the island of Majuhli, the UNESCO world heritage sight and largest river island in the world. Miraculously we get there in time and are led to the correct ferry. Soon two cars are crammed on the end and we are forced to go down into the rickety wooden boat with at least one hundred other passengers. We are packed in, standing, pressed against each other, sweat meeting like rivers. If I move I step on toes precariously jutting from sandals, bump into people who then bump into people. Our bags are on the floor where people are stepping on them, kids are poking them sitting on them, four adults squeeze the pads on the back of mine and seem to be discussing it. Of course everyone is starring at us, laughing etc. An hour later as it's stopping we ask 'Majhuli?' they all shake their heads yes. How could it have worked so easily you ask? It didn't. We were on the wrong side of the island. (Note to self: write both Lonely Planet AND Rough Guide that there are five ferries that all end up at different villages...) Luckily as we were walking up to the bus we meet Paran. Who apparently just fell from heaven to guide us (Do I smell Unlikely Angel two, Dolly? eh?) 'I will help you' He says and leads us to a small half bus that we somehow cram ourselves into arching our backs, bending our knees and lowering our heads so we can stand. The bus is so incredibly packed that in order to get off the bus, a handful of people who are hanging on to the outside of the bus have to let go, four or five people have to get out and the person exiting has to squeeze between people sometimes literally pulling their own leg at the same time. I'm instantly dripping sweat. I haven't eaten still besides a fanta and handful of cookies and two biscuits with peanut butter earlier in the day. And then the gods touched the earth in the form of Paran. 'Don't worry. I will help you, come with me.' The money collector on the bus doesn't speak English and feeling uncomfortable taunts us and rips us off. Paran tells us we'll have to take a taxi twenty kilometers from the last bus stop. If we come to his house he will call someone and see what he can do. He is centering me from having a panic attack. Someone is asking him to ask us something: 'How much is the time difference to the USA?' I tell them. 'He wanted to know if it's true that when it's day in India it is night in the USA.' It's a grown man asking.

Paran and his mother who does not speak English take us to their modest but beautifully decorated, well kept, family home. His father rises from a plastic lawn chair out front and greats us with an honest, beautiful brown smile. His two sisters bring us chai tea and biscuits and a chocolate snack while various cousins and children peak from behind a curtain and watch us with wide eyes, occasionally running off and screaming in Hindi that we are going to steal them. We learn that Paran is an engineer student in Jorahat home for this weekends festival and his sister's wedding. He is honored to host us he tells us, and wants photos and e-mails (are we on myspace? It is a small world...) we talk for a while and find out he's only left the state of Assam once to go to Bangalore for vacation- but he hopes to travel one day. He calls a taxi making sure we don't pay more than 400 rupees. The whole family walks to the taxi and gives us farewells and waves. The driver is playing a Bengali-English Rap rock band. And the day replays in my head in a whole new light. Snippets of movement from outside the train sliding by: Fluorescent sari's trailing like smoke from beautiful women walking on the edge of symmetrical rice fields. Huge strangely shaped cattle bathed in gray mud. A man smoking sits on top of a cow with a pink umbrella watching us watch him from the train. Women on the edges of brown ponds pounding at bright colored cloth . I suddenly understood the laughing, the staring. How bland we must be in our white skins! so proper! Never wanting to touch one another. We don't even know how to properly taunt each other. We are no fun. We can't even find humor in ourselves, big and awkward and overly clean. We are afraid of eye contact even!

So tonight- on Majuli island, as I walked through a night lit bright by half a gibbons moon and flashing with fireflies I fall back in love! Even now while laying on a bed under which the largest cockroach I have ever seen cowers away from me and a spider the size of a small child’s hand clings to the bed and will most likely eat me in the night I am in love. Even earlier when I beat a hissing cockroach that even Carrie will admit was the size of a mans thumb, from Carrie's shoe I was in love. There is a magic in the mess. Some strange beauty in the chaos.

I am finding my place.

And at the sametime finding that ones place is not always constant or defined like a puzzle piece, but rather in constant flux and vague like a drawing that when held up is one image and when turned upside down becomes something vastly different.



I LOOOOVE THIS!!! It's so beautiful Richard. And funny - because I can picture your face and body when all these things happen to you. I wish I could see it when the people laugh at you. Can't wait to read more!
Love you, Tiff

  Tiff Apr 19, 2008 6:05 AM


havent been to india yet but ive been where you were. i can picture you vividly throughout your tale. love hearing about it. love you, kevin

  kevin willis Apr 21, 2008 1:42 AM


good god - 3 feverish days on fanta? you have the strength, tenacity and patience of a #7 plastic bottle (as does your saintly traveling partner). I'm horrified. I wish you were here so i could IV some kimchee and BBQ into your veins. (I did have a good laugh though). I just got your Costa Rica postcard. Made me sad I didn't get to see you while you were here. Hurry back!

  joj Apr 24, 2008 10:25 AM


It is everything I have heard about india and ever imagined.......beyond comprehension while you are in the moment.....be a sponge

  galen Apr 24, 2008 9:36 PM


I guess thats why INDIA is unique, Hoping to go one day there :)

  Mark Aug 1, 2009 4:21 AM


It was refreshing to read your journal. We arrived home 5 days ago. We were supposed to go to Borneo on the way home and arrive back today but we just couldn't go any longer and changed our flights home. India is like having your first child, no amount of reading or pictures can prepare you for it. You just stare and stare and wonder how it got there.
I am pretty easy going but India took it's toll on me. We actually ended our trip because like yourself I was sick,,,again,,,,and nothing could prevent the bile from rising in my throat everytime I heard a man or a woman or well just any resident clearing their passages yet again. A billion people doing this at once was killing me. The things that I had gotten used to after a few days just came crashing around me and no amount of 'it's just part of the culture' could persuade me that the smell, the laughing at us, the trash levels and the toileting habits were excusable anymore. The imbalance in India is, well I suppose part of the impact but I sure felt that home was just an amazing place all of a sudden. I thought that everybody should experience India at least once in their life but it is overwhelming and maybe if you have an iron stomach, spend a few weeks there at a time. India is probably best served in small courses. Maybe we allowed just a tad long for the hate to set in.

  Julie Nov 11, 2009 2:30 AM


oh man : i am indian by the curse of god . indians are real demons. i want to leave india or die. indians has no conciousness. they are dirty animals.
i think i am only human in india.

please anybody help me .
please get me out of here either i will suicide.

  indian Apr 18, 2010 6:56 PM


@indian . LMAO dude I totally agree... India is a great nation, rich in culture and art that has completely been destroyed not by foreigners or
bandits but by its own people. Me being Indian by origin not by the school of thought. Indians are born with a cheap mentality, the Indian movies that you guys get to see is precisely the way indian`s think. Many Indian movies
have made a complete mockery of people like me and this indian guys who has posted. India is great , but Indians are cheap ass basterds 99% of them. They think an actor can really jump off planes take more than 10 bullets and still live, and fight against a whole school of Shaolin Monks.
What the British use to call Pariah truly has dominated our nation.

THIS Explains it ALL!! Enjoy laughing.

  Bharath Aug 13, 2012 3:03 AM

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