Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Carrying a Bottomless Bucket

They've got camels in Jaipur.  Working-stiff camels.

I finally got out to see a little of the city after two days spent trying to get my equilibrium back cooped up in the hotel.

I don't think my balance has been restored.  Two hours was all I could handle.  Not even.  I was in no mood for being hustled, hastled, pointed in a different direction.  My stomach hurt, it was too hot and I was generally what you might call miserable.

When the fourth camel passed me on the street and I realized that I could almost care less I thought, "I'm done."

I came back to the hotel and promptly started looking up tickets to get me back to Delhi and then onto the states as soon as possible.  Never mind that I am scheduled to leave India in a week.  Six and a half short days away. I want to go home now.

It's no secret to anyone who travels to India that it can turn a person bitter.  You meet fellow travelers all the time who have come to hate everything about this maddening country.  Some of them have been here for 3 day, others for 3 months, some have made it 3 years.  It's always been easy to see how the transformation from India-lover to India-hater could happen, but I didn't think it would happen to me.

And, it hasn't.  Yet.

I still have a tiny bit of reserve left that allows me to step back and to get perspective.  In fact, if I could look at myself the way I sometimes follow my alter ego in a dream, I would be amused by the way my bad mood is affecting my interactions with India and it's people.

This morning, when I went out, I got an auto-rickshaw.  The guy wanted to charge me a 100 rupees when I knew the fare should be 50.  I under bid the going rate and said I'd pay 30. We settled on the fare it should have been in the first place, 50.  Plus, I said very firmly to the driver, "I'm just going to the City Palace.  You will not stop anywhere else.  Understood?"

We went straight to the pink palace; when I arrived, there were still a few minutes left before the place opened, so I  ventured a gander in a shop.  The owner started pulling out this, that, and the other thing, "See Miss, look at this, Miss, look here....".

I very clearly and sternly laid down the law, "I can look on my own." No one spoke to me again.

Ever since I left Santiniketan I've had little patience for drivers and salespeople.  When I arrived in Siliguri two weeks ago on the night train, I exited the station to people pestering to take me up to Darjeeling.  I was tired and I asked the first kid who got close, "How much?"

"100 rupees."

"100 rupees.  To Darjeeling?"

"Yes.  Yes.  100 rupees."

As we got to the Range Rover, the kid tried to sell me the two seats next to the driver for 300 rupees.  I'd have more room with two seats.

I said, "NO, we agreed on 100 rupees."

"Ok. Ok. 100 rupees."

I sat alone in the middle bench of the range rover for half an hour while the kid tried to rustle up more customers.  Eventually a family of 8 arrived and a boss type man tried to get me to move to the back of the car, the bad seats, to give the family the good seats.  I said, "No, I've been here for quiet a while.  I will not move."

Boss man told me that the car had already been booked and I'd have to get out.  I said, "No, you had no customers when I arrived and I've been here for half an hour.  I will not move."

The family piled in, despite the rude American, which I'm sure they'd all decided I was, and we all sat sweating like sardines in a very hot tin can.  Another half hour went by.  Yet another customer was found so that every square inch of seat was now filled with sweating, hostile customers less than eager to make the 5 hour journey up to Darjeeling smushed together.  Then the little guy who'd hustled me into the car in the first place came around to collect his money.  When he got to me he said, "150 rupees," which, to be fair is what he'd asked from everyone else.

But, it was not what we had agreed upon.

"No.  You said 100 rupees."

"No ma'am.  150 rupees.  Government price."

"We discussed it three times.  100 rupees."

"No ma'am.  150 rupees."

"I'd be happy to pay 150 rupees, if that is what you had said in the beginning, but that is not what we agreed on."

"150 rupees. Pay now."

I didn't care that I had a car full of sweating, equally tired Indian people crammed into the car along with me.  I was not letting the kid get away with it.

"Like I said, I'd be happy to pay 150 rupees, but as we talked about three times, you said the fare was 100 rupees."

He opened the door, telling me I had to get out.

"You find me another ride and I'll get out.  But it is your job.  You pulled me over here."

The kid pointed to another car across the way that was only partially full.  The extra room was tempting enough to get me out of the claustrophobic tin can.  Though I didn't know if the half empty car would take me.

"Ok. You will have to get my bag down."  My suitcase had already been secured on the top of the vehicle.

I got out of the car and a very official looking man came over and asked what the problem was.  I explained that I'd been promised a fare of 100 rupees and now was being charged 150.  The official looking man glanced over at the kid who'd pulled me in, and then kicked me out of, his car.  The kid looked nervous.  He started talking in Bengali.

As soon as my bag hit the pavement another driver of a jeep down the queue came over and asked me if I needed a ride to Darjeeling.  I said, "How much?"

"150 rupees."

"Great," I said, loud and clear right in front of both the kid and the official looking man.  I wanted to make sure that everyone understood, this was not about 50 rupees (1 buck), this was about principles.  As I walked away, the official looking man gave me what I can only describe as an extremely admiring look.

It's one of the contradictions of India.  Many many people here want to hustle you, but the same people also admire the hell out of you when you don't allow yourself to be hustled.

Like my bicycle rickshaw man who brought me back home today from the City Palace.  We'd bargained on a fare before I even got into the rig.  He'd said, "100".

I'd said, "50".

He said, "100".

I walked away.

 He said, "Ok, 50."

When we arrived at the hotel he tried to make it 100.  I said, absolutely no smile or leeway in my voice, "No.  50 rupee." I even made him give me change from a 100 rupee note.  As he gave me the change, I could swear he smiled, as if to say, "I gotta admire the tough broad."

India is a shifter, a shaper, a sculptor of souls.  It opens hearts, it expands minds, and it toughens skins.  The trick is to know when the work is done.  Leave too soon and your surface is only scratched.  Leave too late and you become hard.

I have one week left.  One week.  I know that I can stick it out.  And, as my dear goddess of a friend, Tina, says,  "You just know some magic is going to sneak in at the last minute, no?"

I do know India is capable of delivering magic, even in the darkest of times.  I'm not so sure that I have the ability or even the desire anymore to take in the magic.

But perhaps this is the final lesson India has to teach me during this three month crash course in...... what? Metaphysical soul searching? Finding center in a sea of crazy?  Focusing on the moment because if you focus on the big picture, you will go insane?

Yes.  Maybe this is India's final exam.  Instead of fleeing when it feels unbearable, am I supposed to find the stillness once again?  The quiet in myself?  I've been in a state of discomfort and dis-ease before on this trip.  Only I've never ever wanted to give up and go home.  This is a new level of disquiet, a much higher peak to climb to find peace.

I think there is strength in going home early, too.  There is the self-validation that comes with saying, "I've had enough and I'm a big girl who gets to say it's time to get back to the familiar."

What, pray tell, is India asking me to do?

I'm realizing that for all my talk of eschewing gurus, I've taken one.  I have, for the last three months, been India's faithful disciple.

In this book I'm reading of Sufi stories, there's one about a guy who went to a guru.  The guy begged the guru to take him as his disciple.  The guru said he would on one condition: the guy could not ask a single question.  The guy said, "Oh, that's easy.  Done.  Not a single question."

"Great," said the guru.  "Let's go to the well and get some water."

"Great," said the guy.

The guru then proceeded to pick up a pail that had no bottom.  All the way down to the well the guy was just itching to ask the guru why he had a pail with no bottom and how in the world they were going to gather water with a pail with no bottom.  But he resisted.

When they got to the well the guru attached the well to the rope and lowered the pail into the well and pulled it up.  Of course, water went into the pail and then immediately right back out.  The guru just kept lowering the bucket, making chit chat with the guy, and raising the bucket which was always empty.  Eventually the guru told the guy to take a turn drawing water from the well.

This was the final straw.  The guy couldn't take it anymore and said, "What are you saying?  There's no bottom to the bucket?  How can we gather water with a bucket with no bottom?"

As you might imagine, the deal was off.  The guru was no longer interested in taking the guy on as a disciple.  The guru told the guy that he had one job and one job only, to never ask a question and he clearly couldn't do his job.

Seems if a guru wants you to do something ridiculous, even seemingly idiotic, that's his prerogative.  He's doing it to teach some great life lesson to his disciple and the disciple is meant to humble himself by accepting his tasks and succumbing to the higher wisdom of his master.

So.  I've decided to go to the well and draw water with my bottomless bucket.  I'm not asking any questions.  I will stay the course.

I'll be in Jaipur one more day.  I may leave the hotel.  I may treat it like a holiday in the tropics and hang out by the pool all day.  On Saturday I will go to Agra so that I can wake up Sunday and see the Taj Mahal at sunrise.  I'll hire a car.  Oh, yes I will.  I will hire a car and that car will take me in it's pod of air-conditioned bliss from the door of my homestay to the Taj and back again.

Hey, I said I wouldn't ask questions, I didn't say I'd continuously keep banging my head against the wall, which in this case is fighting for the right taxi fare, letting myself be swamped with relentless requests to look at this and to buy that, and getting dizzy in the sweltering heat. I will allow myself to be what I am, really, a spoiled, by Indian standards~rich, American tourist.

Then I will go to Delhi on Monday to stay with Chandana who is visiting family and I will reconnect with other friends that I've made over the last three months.

Then I will go home.

To Seattle.

Because it will be time.


auntiemao said...

Just remember: you NEVER agreed not to ask questions. See you soon and hooray for that!....xo....

Kirstin said...

I can't wait for your return but I'm glad to hear you've decided to finish your journey as planned. Enjoy the hired car to the Taj. It'd be a shamed to have some hastle steal away the Wonder's beauty or your comfort. xoxo