Trivandrum train station platform.
I was reading waiting for the train to Varkala when the thing stopped
half meter in front of me. My eyes landed on some monstrously deformed
feet made up of different sized meat bubbles with no space in between
each other. Immediately my eyes flew to the thing's head which was a plantation
of the same growths. It took no more than half a second for me to glue
my eyes well deep into my book, feeling dizzy.
Whatever happens, don't look away from your book!!! Please, take that thing
away from me!
When it was at a safe distance
from me, I ventured my eyes to encounter this shape and reassure myself
on its existence. His entire body was a formless heap of meat bubbles.
A white woman arrived to the platform carrying her heavy luggage. The
thing stopped right beside her. She panicked and moved to different spots
along the platform, discreetly running away from it. That's the wrong
thing to do because what IT wants is for you to notice and acknowledge
him so you cannot pretend he doesn't exist.
I kept an eye on it from
the corner of my eye pretending to be stuck in my book.
You see deformed, leprous,
cripples, mutilated beggars all over India and you build a psychological-emotional-moral
shield against them. This was the worst I'd seen so far and the strongest
feeling I had, to my own disgust, was "I cannot bear the sight of
that thing near me".
Everyone has their deformed beggar story to tell. There was this English
bloke who, on a train trip, encountered a beggar who held an asking hand
out to him. He had a hole through his chest and you could see his heart
pounding in the middle. He decided he definitely needed some help.
Play in three acts on the roof of a hotel. There is first an introduction
to the art of Katakhali in which a narrator announces the main different
expressions represented such as anger, fight, coming, sucking the honey
from the lotus flower, desire, elephant, astonishment, etc.
There's three tabla musicians on one side and a singer on the other throughout
the performance. The actor, disguised in a very complicated and difficult
costume, all colors and bells and mirrors, jewelry, a wide and short skirt
of infinite convolutions and a turban. His make up matches the rest. Red
face with white designs and eyes, eyebrows and mouth strongly stressed
He represents the different expressions with a few jumps, lots of flowery
arm and hands movements and mainly, the infinite range of face muscle
movement possibilities. Eyes, eyebrows and mouth move in unthinkable ways.
The first act is King Whatsit
visiting neighboring town and getting crazy with desire for the married
princess. He's the bad one and the most complicated figure aesthetically
and acting wise. Typical green face with huge red mouth, black eyes, white
wrinkly fan shape paper sticking out all around his face, 5 tiers gold
and red cake type of conic hat on his head. The dress makes him four times
his real volume with a 2m. Diameter superconvoluted skirt sticking out.
The Princess -who is a bloke- , quite simply made up, doesn't move at
all. She only puts one or two disgusted faces and moves her hand every
now and then to indicate "I don't want you". There's no talk
at all. The bad King jumps and smiles evil smiles and moves hands and
eyes in anticipation of what is to come. The Princess escapes his advances.
The only sounds emitted are the King repeating incessantly something like
"aaaaaaaaaaaw wright!" in all possible lengths and cadences,
intonations and volumes.
Second act. The Princess tells
her husband, he gets very angry, she convinces him to kill the King.
Third act. The King enters
the alcove of the Princess, who is sleeping, his mouth dribbling. He reaches
for her body under the covers and fondles it greedily. She wakes up: It's
her husband!!! (he was awaiting him)
Fight follows, with costumes entangling and making the fight quite acrobatic,
finally the King dies by waist strangling, tongue sticking out and copious
thick red blood streaming from between his enormous fangs.
This nice simple story happens
in the space of two hours with deafening drums and songs wailing and paralyzing
real travelers' scene"
By now the difference between tourist and real traveler has become unclear
to me. If I were bad I would say they both do the same things and go to
the same places in the end. But on the other hand tourists go for shorter
time and with lots of money while travelers for much longer with sometimes
no money at all. Travelers don't go to places that, though they're fun,
they can't afford and are therefore labeled uncool. Tourists don't go
to cheap though interesting rougher places they can't cope with and are
therefore labeled as the third world experience not up to their standards.
Tourists go to the same places as other tourists competing for fun and
consumerist experiences with an exotic flair. Travelers go to the same
places as other travelers competing for cheaper and cooler experiences
that will leave a deeper mark on their skin.
After almost a month
in Koh Pha-gnan a strange feeling I've been having since I got to Thailand
starts to take shape. There was something strange about other travelers
here and their behavior which I couldn't quite grasp and I was conscious
of being different. But what was it? There's obviously a high percentage
of average young fun-loving tourists here on a short holiday. I'm not
talking about those. I'm talking about the travelers. They are not the
same travelers. as in India. Not that they are more or less valid, it's
not that. They are alive, active (to certain extent, heat allowing), expressive,
talkative, cheery, jolly, communicative, having a good time. Travelers.
in India aren't like that. It was such a usual view to see a traveler
walking aimlessly in no particular place at all, his appearance not being
taken care of, his eyes blank fixed in some unknown point of infinity
or of his mind... Like walking zombies, maybe blanking out the world around
them which they had chosen as a holiday. A world that becomes too much
and the mind needs guarding to survive.
When you meet people traveling you don't really make friends, you are
on some trip together or on the same trip; there's a particular kind of
bond and complicity on that.
Throughout Asia we have
seen great suffering of many kinds which has troubled us deeply. One that
has managed to amuse us though is the plight of the small mopeds that
comprise a large part of the continent's transport solution. How they
manage to bear the loads that their riders bestow upon them we do not
know! Whole Indian families ride a small 2-stroke Honda. We got accustomed
to seeing Ma, Pa and 2-3 children speeding through traffic as if this
were the most natural thing in the world (which for them it is).
Another astounding feat
was the passenger on the back grasping a 38" television set. Various farm
animals and pieces of furniture make their way across the countryside
The Vietnamese have impressed
us the most so far: We saw a fully-grown Sow strapped to the back of one,
but best of all was the rider weaving through the Hanoi streets who had
an upright Fridge-Freezer balanced on the back of his seat (it wasn't
even strapped or tied on with anything).
Of how I was hypnotized for hours by a bunch of Tibetan monkeys debugging
each other and fighting for each other's bugs on the nearby roofs. Searching
each other's super hairy bodies fast and methodically on the sun. Such
funny creatures! A tiny one was destroying a whole bunch of flowers. He
ate them all. Another one climbed up the terrace and stole the sugar pot
and he ate it all fast and greedily on the big table watching out for
any mates wanting to steal it from him. The owner's expert catapult ended
it all. ji ji ji!
Indians are very very friendly and seem to be insatiably curious. I must
have met hundreds in my few months in India just from having people walk
up to me, shake my hand and ask "your good name sah?" which is inevitably
followed by the next standard question "and you are from?" If it is a
group of Indians you then shake all of their hands in turn and carry on
your way. It becomes predictable.
Laying on the ground one night gazing at the starlit sky a guy pops into
my peripheral from above, "your good name sah?"
Another removed his clothes, slowly waded out into the sea where Yolanda
and I are swimming, extends his hand, "hello sah" he says, and so it goes
on. I toyed with the idea of taking on various exotic or comical identities
but in the end hadn't the heart to mess with them because they come across
as being so genuinely intrigued.
Point of Reference
In every town visited, a point of reference is established straight away
by intuition? survival instinct? It all gravitates around it. Be it a
cafe, a hotel, etc. Establishing a portable security quickly.
Although there is still great unemployment in India, statistics to be
improved on by job sharing, or so it seems! Take for example, a Bus journey:
You start in a travel agency to get a long distance bus from one town
to another. You only really need one person to sell you the ticket but
you'll find that the owner, his partner-associate, his 2 younger nephews,
a chair-wallah and sometimes a kid runner standing outside all have some
part to play in the transaction.
You're then passed on to the "get the foreign passenger to the bus" crew,
usually a few adolescent aged boys who herd you a couple of streets to
a waiting car driver (along with his 2 mates) who drives you the final
stretch to the actual bus. At the bus it get worse. There is usually a
whole crowd of baggage wallahs all-desperate to load your rucksack onto
the roof of the bus. Then you're handed on to the "get the foreign passenger
on to the bus" people, a group of about half-dozen who all want to inspect
your ticket confer with each other then not really say anything.
Finally there is the Bus Driver, and oddly there is only actually the
one, which is a little bit disconcerting when you know that there is a
16-hour drive through the night ahead.