Sunday, 22 March 2009

Life in India

I slept badly last night. Never mind - I got up, browsed the internet for a bit, then washed the floor. The mop handle broke because the kid next door had bent it and weakened it, so I had to do half the floor doubled over - but my back survived. I sat down with a cup of hot water (I'm out of milk for tea) and then some representatives from a temple came and demanded money after thrusting a brochure (written in Malayalam) under my nose. Now, finally, I sit down again, turn my laptop on the write this, and the power goes out! It's one of those days.

Walking home yesterday, a bloke stopped me. It transpired he was a friend of Gordon, an English guy I vaguely know, and introduced himself as Dharma from Samudra. He asked me what I was doing here in Kovalam so I told him about SISP.  Then he offered me a lift for the last 500m on his scooter and I accepted, feeling it would be rude not to. "Ah, so I now know where you live!" he smirked, which made me feel somewhat uneasy. He wanted to know where my wife was. I said I was divorced and he wanted to know why. I told him to mind his own business.  He told me he was married but it wasn't so great because he was "half gay". I said categorically I wasn't. Then he went on to offer me "sexy women", no questions asked, no one need know. I said firmly I wasn't interested. So what did I want, just tell him, it would just be between him and me. I basically told him where to get off but then he started talking about sex with boys during which he cast aspersions about a local white guy I know pretty well. I found this very disconcerting to say the very least. The trouble was, the stuff he was telling me was believable and he even implicated himself.  He could, of course, just be lying, knowing that it would attack my fundamental moral beliefs.  He told me that Indian culture was completely different to European, and that sex with kids was acceptable here, and not to judge. He said the boys were around the age of 13 and that they enjoyed it. I didn't want to hear any more and virtually shut the door on him.  But what can I do? I have vowed to be ever-vigilant to the possibility that the white guy in question might be abusing kids - I can only observe and listen.

One of the young women I know has a daughter of 6. The woman herself turns out to be 18 though I thought she was older. My jaw dropped in disbelief when she told me this but she went and got her supervisor whose English is better and she confirmed it, saying that the girl had been raped at the age of 12. The man had had mental problems apparently, as if that justified it. It was all very matter of fact.

In Trivandrum, waiting in the bus for it to set off for Kovalam, a woman came on, begging. I'd seen her earlier. Her feet were crippled, twisted completely under so that she actually "walked" on what would normally be the tops of her feet. Her heels were actually pointing upwards, if you can imagine it.

Also in Trivandrum I passed an old guy who was hobbling. When I looked down I saw that one lower leg was the size of a tree trunk and was all pitted and scabby. It looked unreal, as if it was made of plastic. He wasn't so much hobbling as dragging this huge weight along, and presumably couldn't afford to have his leg amputated.

I went to the birthday party of the daughter of teacher Treesa last weekend. That was fun! But I live in complete luxury in comparison to their home which was very humble with its packed dirt floor and coconut leaf roof. There was an old TV in the corner, tuned to women's cricket, India v Australia, with a purple picture because the tube was blown. There was an old guy who just stared at the party proceedings and turned out to be Treesa's father. I was pleased that I shook his hand, and he smiled, when it was time to go. He died on Thursday. 52 - younger than me, with a heart problem. On the day after there was a kind of wake outside his home on a scruffy piece of land. Many people were there - we'd taken about 20 people from SISP alone. He was brought out in an open chipboard coffin and placed under a tarpaulin awning. I noticed his shoes were brand new and unworn. The whole area stank of a mixture of fish, open sewers, squalour and cheap air-freshener but for everyone it was a dignified ending of this man's life. He was placed on a pyre a short while later but we left before that, after paying our respects.

Early in the week a deity came and visited us! A shed, constructed from palm leaves, bamboo poles and hands of bananas, was laboriously built at the front of my house specially for the occasion. Oh, and fresh, stinking cow muck was smeared on the ground. There were many other such constructions up and down the road. The god and her entourage arrived at about 7pm and spent about 20 minutes here before moving on. It was represented by a rectangular piece of sculpted metal, probably brass, onto which petals were thrown, water was splashed, and gifts were offered. The main character doing all the dramatic offerings was noticeably obese and flabby. There was lots of banging of drums and honking of ... well I'm not quite sure what they'd be called. A bit like a huge valve-less clarinet. And then there was the dreadful sound of women ululating. Firecrackers were set off lethally close to the crowd, with glowing embers raining down on people. To me it was all ridiculous but hey, this is India! What's "normal" here?

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