… my driver “Lucky”…
Following a 20 minute “shotgun” tour of the Jaipur observatory, my driver “Lucky” takes me on a stomach wrenching roller coaster ride through the streets of the town trying to get me to the bus station before my bus departs for Pushkar.
Lucky zooms down the road cutting in and out of traffic. He is not the only one, but he has little regard for my safety, much less his own. It is not uncommon for him to cut off larger vehicles – strictly forbidden in the laws that regulate the Indian traffic “pecking order.” But he knows I’m in a rush and is working hard for that 10 Rupee (.22 cent) tip.
I try to convince him in vain to slow down. But he cannot hear me over the wailing of the engines and ever-constant horn honking to include his own. My eyes dart about the traffic: Big bus. So full of passengers that 15 or so sit on the roof while they plod through traffic. Really old guy driving a bicycle rickshaw. He pulls a woman and her daughter. They both wear brightly colored saris. The mother is in bright orange, her arms smothered in gold bracelets. And not the yellow 14k western style gold. She wears the softer, higher gold content 22k or 24k gold. We’re talking King Tut colored gold. Her daughter looks like a smaller thinner clone of her mother and wears a bright pink sari. Her skin is smooth and dark and she is quite beautiful. The old man pulling them has a long white beard and wears a white loin cloth reminiscent of the type worn by Gandhi. He looks like he is about to die at any moment.
Large plops of soft green cow piles litter the road like a minefield. I chuckle inside, “The cow should have had the bottled water.” I pray that Lucky will avoid them so that his tires will not cake the back of my legs with liquid green cow spray. To the side of the road, a pig tries to escape the heat by emerging himself in the gutter against the curb. The gutter serves as the toilet for any man strong enough to stand, a place to throw any and all trash, and as the local drinking source for all of the dogs, cats, pigs, cows, and other animals that run around the streets with wanton abandon. The pig will make quick work of the waste of the other animals once darkness sets in.
Each night following the watching of the sunset as the tourists are driven off by the swarms of mosquitoes, they are treated to a swine show as they head to local cafes and restaurants. The pigs come out from the mud holes and “cool places” and literally clean the streets of all fecal mater whether it be cow, elephant, camel, dog, or human. Last night I saw the 3 piglets of one sow devouring a “Pampers” brand plastic diaper with what looked like a can of Dennison’s chili inside. I chuckle to myself, “Baby should have had the bottled water.”
In an effort to sustain the Holy Cows that roam the roads freely, many pious Hindus drop off “food” for them along the curbside. In reality it is trash; plastic bags filled with the remains of dinner and baby diapers. One book that I am now reading describes that the cows eat the plastic bags along with their contents and in turn die a slow painful death as their intestines become clogged and entwined with plastic grocery bags.
A popular spot on the side of the road has attracted the trash of many of the faithful and has now become a trash bag dam. The water, urine, human and animal waste that flows down the gutter now pools up behind this man-made dam. A large “lagoon” has now formed that brims up to the curb line and extends well into the road. The smell is incredible. It instantly brings back memories of the Spring of 1994. I remember visiting the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office as part of a University Criminal Justice course that I was taking.
Several weeks earlier, the Northridge earthquake had killed dozens. One homeless woman was crushed under a freeway overpass that she was sleeping under. The 120 tons of cement sealed her body in a mud coffin and preserved it from the elements. Her body stewed in its own juices for 3 or 4 weeks until this piece of cement was moved. Unfortunately, her body was not discovered for several days as it was flat and impacted into the mud. By the time her smell alerted the authorities, she was dripping in maggots. I remember seeing her face and chest writhe in motion as the little animals that resembled pieces of rice crawled and ate. The stench was as if a green wall of poisonous gas had hit you head on and overwhelmed you. The smell was almost as bad as this lagoon that we were now racing past.
Just along the curbside, only a few meters away, locals haggle over the prices of bananas at a mobile produce stand. A few feet over, a man and woman munch on deep fried breads in blissful peace. I fight the gag reflex as lucky cuts into oncoming traffic to avoid the cesspool.
A day earlier I had seen a back hoe is “excavating” another trash pile that had clogged another gutter line. I couldn’t believe that the smell could be worse, but uncovering the “dam” I thought they might find a dead body it stunk so bad. True to my nature, I took a photo. It was not the smell, the water hazard, or the unsightliness of it that has spurred action, it is the specter of Dengue that has caused this dam to be broken down. We read in the paper that the number of Dengue fever cases have exceeded 3,000, one thousand cases in the capital city of Delhi alone. I look down at all the red dots on my feet and scratch the bites that I have on my arms and a sweat breaks out over my body.
We come to a red light and I realize that even though there are only 2 lanes in our direction, there are no less than 5 vehicles lined up at the light jockeying for position. I don’t even know why they bother to paint lines on the street. I look around, we are completely surrounded. Two rickshaws (motorcycle) in front of us, a large city bus on the right (passengers on roof), a truck behind us, horse-drawn cart to our left pulling vegetables, and bicycles on either side. The light hasn’t been green for ½ second when every horn goes off simultaneously. We are instantly engulfed in a cloud of blue smoke. The bus exhaust is aimed right at us and I hold my breath while Lucky races the engine and lets out the clutch. “Pop!” I hear a small explosion from behind us.
… less than standing room only…
Lucky begins to push our now disabled rickshaw to the side of the road as every car behind us is honking without quarter. I hold my ears and wonder what is wrong. As soon as we are safely to the side and the traffic passes, I ask Lucky, “What’s wrong?” He smiles sheepishly at me, bobbles his head from side to side, grabs a water bottle and shouts, “Two minutes!” He then runs across the road disappearing around the corner. The Lonely Planet Guidebook describes the Indian side to side head wobble as meaning, “Yes, no, maybe,” or “I don’t know.” Great. My bus leaves in less than ½ hour and I haven’t even gone to the hotel to collect my luggage and friends. We were supposed to have Chai at noon. I sit by the side of the road and watch the circus as it plays out around me.
… you never know what you’ll see on the road in India – here a herd of buffalo walk down the center of the road…
Within moments, sensing that I am without guide, the beggars descend on me like vultures on a dead animal in the desert. The first to my side is a thin pregnant woman carrying a child of about 6 months. She looks like she is about to give birth tomorrow. I do the math in my head, 9 months less 6 months. Recovery time? Forget it. Wanna ride a bike?
The mother and child are so dirty that they look like they have not bathed in months. I take them to be homeless. She gives me the universal “feed me” sign, but I continue to look ahead and ignore them. She says something that sounds like “biscuit,” and points to her child and to her swollen belly. At this moment a terrible thought enters my head. A thought that is utterly Darwinian. “If you couldn’t feed the first kid, why did you have another?” I am disgusted with myself for thinking it, but what can I do. There are literally millions of starving here and I cannot feed them all. And then I think again, “Why DID you have another kid?” Safah would be proud.
Herein lays India’s problem: Too many people for the resources at hand.
The woman finally realized that I am not going to acknowledge her. To argue or say no seems to just encourage them. I gaze ahead expressionless. She grows tired and moves away. Next in line is a boy of about 14. There is no actual line but there is however a clear order to begging. Each knows who arrived first and their position in the virtual queue. They also know not to break the rules of the street:
- Wait your turn.
- Be ready with your pitch when your turn comes up.
- Hope the beggar in front of you is unlucky and there are Rupees for you when you get your chance to make a sale.
After a while he gives up and the third and forth take their turn. Some of the small children “cut” in line and tug at my pants leg but that always seems to be expected. Suddenly, they all disperse without warning. I look up and see Lucky running across the street carrying what appears to be a bottle of tea. He opens the gas cap and pours the liquid into the tank of our motorbike rickshaw. “What? You ran out of gas? You know we are in a hurry today. Why didn’t you fill up while you were waiting for me at the observatory?” He just smiles and bounces his head from shoulder to shoulder like a ping-pong ball. In no time we are back on the road. This time he is driving like a fury and I begin contemplating tipping him to slow down.
After narrowly missing a city bus head on, Lucky swerves back into the lanes of traffic that are actually going our direction. I’ve heard of passing or rural roads, but doing it in the city during full traffic astounds me. We come to an elephant lumbering along down the inside lane. Lucky cuts into oncoming traffic once again to pass. Now I can see that the lanes are split by a cement center divider ahead. A cow stands next to the divider munching on trash that has been discarded by passing cars. In a flash of steak and concrete, we barely manage to cut back to our side of traffic before dreadful consequences. Not to be outdone by a man-made barrier, Lucky begins passing on the outside shoulder.
My mind drifts as I enjoy the show of brilliant colors worn by the Indian ladies. When the honking is not so bad, I listen to the sounds of commerce and savor the smells of the cooking between the piles of trash and cow plops. I think of Lucky’s .22 cent tip. T.I.P.
TO ENSURE PROMPT SERVICE
Hmm… I’m sure there’s irony in there somewhere.
… there are all sorts of trafic jams in India…
I say goodbye to my friend Carol that I’ve spent the last 2 days with visiting The Amber Fort and the shopping bazaars of Jaipur. Rainer, Tanya, and I board Lucky’s rickshaw and head for the Jaipur bus station.
Upon arrival, we are besieged by vendors, beggars, and salesmen. The first to arrive carries a silver tea-pot in one hand and 5 tea cups suspended from the other hand, one cup hanging from each finger by its handle. “Chai! Chai! 5 Rupees Chai!” The Chai tea in India is about the same as in the Middle East. It has the same flavor and the same sticky sweetness. The only difference is that milk is added to the Chai here. To keep from killing off the tourist population, the milk is added and then the Chai is brought to a boil killing off any bacteria harbored within. I’ve talked to ExPats that have been drinking it for months without ill effect.
Several young boys, each with a bottle of cold water in either hand, compete for our attention. “Cold water, 12 rupees!” Several children tug at my pant legs, “Meesta, meesta. What country you from? England? USA?” A woman carrying a child approaches making the universal “feed me” sign. Two women shove bananas in our faces, “Banana! Banana!” But we are late and do not have time to shop until we find our bus. We can purchase bananas and water out the window once we have safely claimed our seats.
We look but do not see any numbers posted above the bus platforms. There are three lines of busses, about 8 per row. We are looking for bus platform 3. This gives us 6 possibilities. I see a man wearing what appears to be a uniform and ask him for directions:
Me: Sir, which is platform 3?
Man: You need banana?
Me: No thank you. Which is platform 3?
Man: You need banana?
Me: No thank you Sir, I need to find platform 3. Do you know where it is?
Man: You need water? You need. I get.
Me: No! I don’t want a banana!
Man: Yes! I have banana!
Me: Do you speak English?
Man: You need Chai? You need banana? You need, I get.
Argh! I march off in search of our platform. I spot a #1 above the last bus at the end of the row. I ask the driver of the bus two over and he confirms, “Pushkar.” Rainer is convinced he smells of Hash and considers waiting for the next bus. I only smell oil and gasoline and convince him to stay on board. We climb in and run into the Australian couple, Cliff & Tamala that Carrol and I met the day before in Amber. We talk all the way to Pushkar making the trip seem like 45 minutes instead of 4 hours. The smooth highway and good conversation tell me that I am about to turn a corner from Indian sensory overload to the relaxing vacation that I came for.
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