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My "I Hate India Day"

INDIA | Friday, 10 September 2010 | Views [640]

I knew it was coming.   Apparently everyone gets them from time to time.  It usually is a culmination of days and events, not just a single day.  Today was that ‘last straw’ day.  I tried to be non-judgemental in my description of Varanasi – this is really a “I Hate Varanasi Day”.  However, there comes a point where you just want to smack someone. 

Describing and photographing the medieval lanes and shops does not capture the smells nor the noise.  I had imagined the worst situation I possibly could, having been raised on a farm and then going on to raise pigs, I thought I had imagined the worst.  But a farm has cow shit smell where the cows are, pig smell where the pigs are, etc.  Here it is all mixed up together, good and bad: manure, human urine, incense, sour milk (they make their own yogurt on the street), rotting garbage, body odour, spices, cooking, grease.  Add 40C heat and there you have it.

 They worship cows, but for pity sake do they have to rule the town? Traffic goes around or comes to a stop because of a huge bull in the middle of the street, chewing cud.  Some lanes are totally blocked because of a cow lying down.  I had no problem giving them a smack (gasp) to move over.  If they really worshipped the cow they would put them in nice pasture somewhere to eat grass rather than cardboard and garbage.

cow blocking lane   

There were as many dogs as there are cows.  Not one dog looked healthy.  They had mange, huge chunks of hair missing; some had open sores the size of a goose egg, and I’m sure fleas.  During the day they lie about and look ever so placid, but at night, particularly in the wee hours of the morning, when we were going to watch the sunrise over the Ganga and catching the 5:30 train, they were absolutely fearful.  They bark and growl and sort of lunge toward you.  Walking to catch a tuktuk to the train even had Len jump back a few times.  If I ever come back to Varanasi, I’m bringing some burdizzo (google it), and do this town and country a favour.  The only cat we saw was dead in the alley. 

The noise is stupid!  Not only is there a lot of noise, it is stupid noise.  The horns are so shrill they make your ears hurt.  Some even play a silly tune, in a nerve wracking shrill tone.  I can understand tooting your horn if you are going to pass someone or as a warning that you are coming up quickly on them so they move over.  Here, they are forever trying to pass the guy in front of them.  It seems to be a contest as to who is ahead of the pack.  There is no head of the pack, because the pack never ends. 

We were caught in a total grid lock – no doubt some rich family blocking the entire road with their huge TATA SUV with the fat father of the family (fat is a sign of wealth and they display their obesity proudly) standing by scratching his balls (literally) while mama takes her bloody sweet time getting in, smiling smugly at the ‘low quality’ people.  Yes, we heard that exact term.  Anyway, this old man is trying to take advantage of the grid lock and cross the street with his bicycle.  No one is making headway, anyway.  The tuktuk he cut in front of layed on his horn for the entire time the old guy was crossing. What the hell is your problem?  You are sitting there, not moving, enough with the horn already. Next time, we bring one of those air horns they use at hockey games and give them a shot back.  Side note:  all men scratch / pick at their balls here.

They drive on the left side of the road here, so they sort of pass on the right, as the pedestrians and push carts tend to stay totally left.  But everyone is trying to pass everyone, even if they are going the exact same speed, so they tend to hog the right lane, just in case they can sneak by the guy in front of them, with 20,000 motorbikes, tuktuks, rickshaws and pedestrians coming toward them.  And of course, lay on the horn the entire time. Imagine hundreds of tuktuks, big trucks (their horns are LOUD), bicycle rickshaws all going constantly. I’m sure most people have some sort of hearing impairment due to this constant barrage; there is no escape from it, except to go into the stinking lanes!  Either your ears get it or your nose gets it.  Side note: even the bicycle rickshaws have horns rigged to their wheel, some squawk the entire time the wheel turns.

I had a case of Delhi belly from the second day in Varansi, which kept me room bound for a day, with my 10 cm spider in the bathroom.....  Every traveller gets it from time to time, so I bucked up and took my grapefruit seed extract, packed my toilet paper and went to the toilet every chance I passed a toilet, of which this city sorely lacks.  I had been very careful to drink only bottled water, asked at the restaurants if they used filtered water for drinking and washing veggies, and washed my hands prior to eating.  The shits never went away (sorry for being graphic).  Len & Michaela remembered a lovely little roof top restaurant that caught the breeze from the water and was very clean.  They brought me there to eat as even they commented we had not gotten a good meal yet.  I told them I needed something simple and bland – when your stomach is dodgy, bland is best.  The food not bland, but was delicious, the place was clean, and the smiley Nepali boy a delight.  I began to feel a bit better.  Unfortunately for Len & Michaela this was where I wanted to eat for the next 2 days.  We finally came to the conclusion that with all the filth there is NO way to keep the flies off the food, the plates, and the cooking utensils.  As well, we would see them rinse the plates in regular water then immediately put our food on it. The constant stink had worked its way into my intestines, I’m sure, and that is what caused my ailment.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

While on the subject of water, they consider the Ganga a Goddess, therefore, they whole heartedly believe the water is always pure.  It doesn’t matter that there are something like 32 sewage stations in Varanasi dumping raw sewage into it, with a total of 600 towns and villages doing the same, the dead bodies – whether they burned entirely or not – being dumped into it (apparently one can see body parts floating downstream), the holy men and kids under 5 are not burned but simply weighted and dumped, as well as water buffalo lounging around in it, people heaving their garbage out the windows into it.  The healthy fecal matter content is something like 500 parts per litre; the Ganga has 1.5 million parts per litre!    They sip it and consider it good luck and health; it makes me wonder if they sprinkle it on food as well.

  garbage in Varanasi

I mentioned the 5:30 train.  This was actually the day that I lost it.  Now I had not been feeling well and not sleeping well – the room was hot, the mattress was hard (not firm – HARD) so I decided to spring for A/C the final night in order to get a good night’s sleep for the 4:00 AM wake up.  The power continually goes out and the voltage sucks.  As a result the A/C would shut down and beep a warning until I shut the breaker, wait 3 minutes then turn it back on.  After 3 times of this, I simply left the breaker off.  I’m beginning to not be a happy camper. 

4:00 AM.  Off we go to find a tuktuk.  The stupid busy street during the day looked like the day after an atomic bomb.  There was garbage all over the place; all the shops had the roller shutters down, no street lights, no shop lights, only the faintest of pre-dawn light, casting a ghostly shadow and not a soul to be found.  All it needed was the playground swing creaking in the wind and the freaky yellow ride-em duck that always survives the blast in the movies.  Eerie!  We walk down to the Main Ghat.  Already the morning Puja has begun so there were tuktuks. We got a great relaxing ride with a 34 year old fellow who has 4 kids.  Hardly any traffic, nice ride, nice chat, 60 rupees.  I saw 2 roadside vendors open, at 4:30 AM, selling belt buckles.  Weird... there must be a hot demand for belt buckles at 4:30 in the morning.

The driver drops us on the street at the entrance to the train station, because to actually take us up to the station door will cost him 10 rupees.  No problem, we can walk the 100 meters.  We enter the station and look up at the arrival & departure board.  Our train is delayed by 5 hours!  Ok, quick decision, let’s go back to the hotel, catch a few more winks, then return.  We catch another tuktuk, agree on 60 rupees and go back. 

This bugger pulls over and motions for us to get out and we don’t even know where we are.  We say “Main Ghat”.  He motions up the street.  Len has a look and sure enough we were on the right street but about a ½ km away from our destination.  We tell him “Main Ghat”.  While he is telling us that vehicles are not allowed further up this street a f***ing bus goes by!!  Michaela and I were ready to tell him to take us the full way or no pay.  Len didn’t want the hassle – they get so bloody belligerent sometimes, so I really don’t blame Len.  He just wanted to go back to sleep for a couple hours.

Fine.  We walk, carrying all our backpacks.  Just as we got to the lane that would take us back to the hotel and I’m thinking “only a couple more minutes” I fell.  I’m not sure what happened, but we think it was a combination of shit on my shoes, that brick sticking up about 8 cm, and being off balance with the weight of my backpack.  Before I knew it I was on my back with Len shouting “Don’t touch her. Get back” he reminded me of Charlton Heston in ‘The Planet of the Apes’.  “Get your paws off me, you filthy animals”.  The locals were trying to lift me up, pulling on my arms, while my bags were still all attached.  I realized I may actually be hurt badly, so took a quick scan of myself to see if anything was amiss.  Head, neck, back all seemed ok.  Good.  I could feel scrapes on my lower right leg, a bruise on my right hip and shoulder, the palms of my hands hurt like hell and my left elbow area was really sore.  Len & Michaela took my bags off, while I was still on the ground, and helped me up.  I hurt like hell, but I could see the absolute fear in Len’s eyes while he kept asking if I was ok.  I’m fine; I’m fine, let’s just go back to the hotel so I can clean up.  Len chivalrously carried my bags the remainder of the way, for which I was very glad, because I hurt – but I didn’t want to worry him anymore than I knew he was.

Back at the hotel I needed to tend to the scrapes on my leg - I did fall on a cow shit, garbage infested lane and infection for even a mosquito bite can be very serious.  All I wanted was a shower.  There was not enough pressure to force the water up to the shower head – there was every other day!  So I start to fill a bucket with water (no hot water, remember) and soap up.  After about 10 minutes there was, maybe, ¼ of a bucket.  I used what there was to rinse off then sat on the bed and cried.  Here I was hurting like hell, full of cow shit and there is no water to even clean myself up.  I put iodine on the scrapes (thank you, Ed) and began to test for anything major – such as a broken arm.  It REALLY hurt.  Having satisfied myself that it was just a good whack to the funny bone (I’d like to whack the guy who gave it that name) I tried to sleep, having already paid for the A/C that didn’t work.

Irene Cabay wounded

8:30 Len wakes me up and says we had best head off for something to eat before going back to the train station.  5:30 train is 5 hours delayed, therefore 10:30 and now the streets are busier and we needed more time to get there.  Back we go to the Lotus Restaurant – thank you young Nepali boy for remembering what I liked for breakfast J -  Then catch another tuktuk.  We discussed at breakfast how that dodgy bugger gotten away with dumping us nowhere near our destination and we decided that we were not going to haggle with them.  We would tell them our destination, and when we get there, give them 60 rupees (the standard fare) and that’s the end of it. 

The tuktuk we got needed to stop for petrol – they never seem to have enough, they sit on their arses all day or sleep in the tuktuk all day, but the minute you want to hire one, he needs petrol!!  So we pull in and he gets .64 litres!!  Point 64!!  Then to top it off, a minute later he wants to stop for paan – chewing tobacco.  NOOO!! we have a train to catch!!  As I said, they sit and sleep all day in their tuktuk, but the minute you want one, he suddenly wants his tobacco fix.  He was obviously pissed off and starts to drive like a lunatic.  When we get close to the train station, traffic is at a standstill.  Remember how I said that if they drive you right up to the station doors they have to pay 10 rupees?  The train station, in their brain fart mentality, has now caused traffic to come to a complete standstill on the street in front of the station.  Rather than pay the 10 rupees, drivers let off and pick up passengers on the street.  Most people have luggage of some kind, even if it is a sack of their earthly possessions on their head, so this is a rather slow process.   We told him we’d walk the remainder, at least pedestrians stand a chance of making progress.  We gave him 60 rupees and he had a fit.  He wanted more.  The ironic thing is this is exactly the scam they pull on unknowing tourists.  They hurriedly get the client into the tuktuk and take off.  When they get to the destination, the client is generally fleeced for 4 times more than the actual fare.  We simply did the opposite, we didn’t agree on a price, but we had exact change ready for what we knew was the going rate.  Finally a cop smacked his tuktuk and told him to leave us alone.

In the train station, the arrival & departure board now says the train will be delayed, another 3 hours, 13:00.  Thankfully they have a foreigners lounge.  It is a mid-size office with couches and chairs, and A/C J, as well as a fellow to book tickets and answer inquiries.  Nothing fancy by any means, but considering there are NO chairs or benches in the main building, and everyone lies about like the holocaust, this was luxury. 

We decided to go for a bite to eat, as we had a 4 hour ride ahead of us – if on time – and now was a good time to prevent being too hungry on the train.  There was a small canteen on the second floor.  A young Japanese fellow, who was going to the same destination, offered to watch our big bags while we took our day packs to go eat.  The meal was nothing special, but filled the gap.  There were a bunch of people lounging about a mezzanine just outside the canteen doors.  As soon as we left the canteen and started down the steps, this little girl comes zipping in front of me with her hand out, begging.  A moment before I saw her happily playing in the mezzanine, but now here is a westerner who may give her money.  Now remember, my arm is really sore despite Len fashioning a sling from my scarf and getting pain killers from the pharmacy, I’m still a bit off balance and being very careful on the stairs – they are never even and have a tendancy to have dirt stuck to them making them un-flat as well.  This little urchin popped right in front of me on the steps.  I damn near tripped over her.  I told her – in my outside voice – BUGGER OFF.  I’m not sure if she understood the words or she understood the tone and the delivery, but she buggered off – fast.  I swear at this point I was ready to kick her.

Now you may think that is really mean of me, and where has all this compassion teaching gone from His Holines?  I’ll tell you where.  Just the day before, we were walking near the Main Ghat.  As you might have guessed, it is kind of a busy place; a perfect hangout for beggars because of all the tourists.  Also Len’s friend, from Varanasi, said they are well provided for by the government and only beg from tourists.  This lady comes up to me motioning for food with that pathetic look on her face. They are expressionless until they are begging.  Now the funny thing is, right there in front of us, not a meter away, the Brahman had massive pots of rice and were feeding the poor people.  I motioned for her to go there.  She sheepishly slid away.  Then this other woman with a skinny baby, looking about 6 months old, does the same thing.  By this time we are about 10 meters away from the food line.  I told her to go there for food.  No.  ‘Baby....milk...’    Michaela offered her a banana, which she refused, if you were really hungry I think you’d take the banana, right? Even babies eat bananas.  The baby was really skinny, but we heard that they will either borrow a kid to beg or they will deliberately starve their own kid –business is business.  Either way, the government provides for them and obviously the Brahman, too.  She followed us for about 15 minutes, clutching at me.  She never once asked a local for money or food – we passed a few with milk, as we have seen them shoo them away in no- uncertain tones.  We’ve even had vendors shoo them away from us, clearly in an admonishing tone.

So when this kid pops out of nowhere, almost tripping me and wanting money – BUGGER OFF!!

Back in the foreigner lounge the only seats available were by the door.  There were scores of men, unashamedly and blatantly gawking at us.  I’m not sure if we felt like celebrities or animals in a zoo.  One little girl came peeking into the window at us, motioning for food.  We had some bananas that were going a bit mushy and we decided it best not to bring on the train, so Len offered them to the girl.  She refused.  You see how “hungry” they are? It’s all about scamming money from the westerners. 

begger kid at train station   

I know I have almost defended the garbage situation.  They DO clean it up.  However, it is the lowest of caste that clean it up.  Because they are the lowest of caste, anyone above that caste seems to throw everything in the street almost in spite, against the cleaners.  Maybe at one time it didn’t matter so much, the cows, goats and dogs ate the scrapes; but, today, there is an extraordinary amount of paan packets.  They buy these one-shot packets, and then pitch the packet in the street.  No animal will eat a foil packet.  They are constantly sucking on paan, therefore there is a lot of paan packets.

 Shortly after the garbage men scoop up the garbage (and shit) they throw water on the ground in an attempt to clean it more, but all it does is create slime and filling every depression with slimy water.  Returning to the guest house one evening, with the power out, I stepped in one of these depressions: avoid able in the day but totally obscured in darkness.  I couldn’t wait to get back to the guest house to wash the slime off my foot and sandal, wishing I had Dettol....

We have joked that scientist have been searching for the missing link, when all they have to do is come to India, with Varanasi being the center of this missing link theory.  They have NO etiquette and are almost animal-like.  I know that sounds very racist and harsh, but there is no way to describe it to make one fully understand.  You have to experience it.   They will sit with their feet on the table in a restaurant, they burp forcibly loud, they clear their throats with that awful inward snort - not just once, but for an entire session at the internet cafe, they have no regard for a queue, they will come right up to you and stare at you like you are from another planet, yet if you smile at them and say hello or Namaste they don’t ever change their expression to even acknowledge that you have greeted them.  Zombies.  They pick their noses, up to the first knuckle, while talking to you.  They spit volumes of blood red paan, anywhere and everywhere.    I had no idea one could hold that much spittle in one’s mouth.  They talk to you will volumes of paan in their mouth, jutting their jaw out to keep it all in.  They scratch & pick their balls.  On the train, the fellow in the facing seat was half reclined with one foot up on the seat, scratching away.  Gross!  Personally I think it has a lot to do with bathing in the Ganga.

  

When our train finally arrived, 9 hours late, we were standing on the platform where our carriage was to stop only to have it stop 6 carriages down.  Everyone was hurrying to get on board, as the train was terribly late and we all knew it was not going to linger.  I started making my way down the platform and as I said earlier, they have no etiquette and will stand a gawk (one can imagine a blank cartoon bubble over their heads with a flashing cursor waiting for input) having me try to manoeuvre around them.  ENOUGH!!  I realized I’m a good 6 inches taller than they are, I weigh at least 80 pounds more than they do with both my backpacks, with the big pack on my back and the small pack on my front, I am about the size of a cow.  I walked straight forward and fast.  I felt like the cow thrower on the front of the train.  I could feel them bouncing off me.  I didn’t care.  They obviously don’t respect the politeness I have tried to bestow on them. 

We got on the train and Len had to tell one sneaky bugger to get out of our seat.  He obviously thought he could commandeer it and no one would challenge him. They really can be belligerent.  We all had a long, rough day and were in no mood to play.  The other fellow was half reclining on the seat and although it was obvious that we, and 100 other people were hurrying to board the train, he refused to move.  When we got our bags all placed, Len simply threw himself onto the seat.  The reclining man quickly pulled his feet in; a split second before Len came crashing down. 

This may be the holiest of holy cities in all of India, but I found it to be the most unfriendly and rude.  I’m sure my state of health lowered my tolerance and after 4 days enough was enough.  I commend Mother Teresa for her work in Kolkata; she really must have been a saint to do the work she did in this kind of environment, but even she had doubts about God’s role in this madness.  A marauding invader may have levelled the city 200 years ago; another marauder would do well to repeat the action today.

Author's Note 2011: In my own defense of being in a nasty mood at the original writing of this blog - my dodgy stomache turned out to be shigella, which finally got treated by a doctor in Darjeeling.  3 weeks later, in Pelling, my arm began to swell and it was discovered that I had actually broken it in the fall. 

 

 

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