Welcome to Carolyn Cowan Online; Designer, photographer, teacher, mother, counsellor and bodypainter.
Archive for March, 2010
As I write I am sitting in Delhi Airport. A 5 hour drive to get here which was fairly uneventful beyond the usual camels all going the wrong way down the motorway, trucks with no lights looming out of the dark, stray dogs everywhere and the small fires lit by the truck driver who all huddle in small groups wrapped up in filthy shawls against the chill spring morning.
I had to get up at 4.30am to be ready to leave. The usual platoon of staff were all up, too, hoping for tips. I know all their life stories, how much they earn, what they send to their families, how much they would like in tips… I confess I find it irritating rather than endearing, so just to wind them up I gave the tips all in one bundle to the hotelier to pass on. I know he will, I just do not feel like Lady Bountiful so early in the day.
By 8.30am I was awake and hungry. We still had a 100 or so kilometers to go and I asked the driver to stop somewhere. He knows I like bhuria chai (good chai) so he pulled over to a famous truckers stop where they are renowned for their parathas.
Of course all the customers stop in mid mouthful as I glide past and head for their divine toilet. How long can I really hold my breath for? And can I pee standing….? Minutes, and yes, of course I can.
Sitting at a rickety table under an acacia tree on a crooked plastic chair I arranged myself. Water was brought in a lovely red plastic jug, black with grime and the table was diligently wiped with a cloth that musty have just given the toilet a once over. Squirrels tried mating under my table and the sparrows were having such fun.
The driver was thrilled that I took it all in my stride and personally wiped down the newly delivered, wet, greasy plate. Once it was gleaming it was mine. The obligatory swarm of flies had discovered his bare arm and all waited there, patiently, knowing that food was on it’s way. A couple of mangy curs came and hung out, too, great long black nipples dangling from their exhausted bellies. One of the dogs had lost the ability to pull in it’s tongue and it just lolled there dribbling, hoping that the site would induce me to give up and throw my breakfast at her. But I held fast. Declining the fly ridden chutney I just went straight for the most delicious paratha, dripping in fresh ghee, filled with hot potato and sliced chilli. It was delicious and I was transported away from the roadside cafe with the endless flies and sounds of horns into a culinary bliss which did also require constant waving with my hands to stop my food being engulfed in flies.
I got up from the table feeling so very much better. Only one dog had the patience to wait till the end and I threw her my crust.
I do love India….
I came to shop and I confess to having been somewhat reticent until today. Not entirely financial withholding as everything here takes hours. Time is not always mine and the best laid plans often go awry off the bat. The last few days have seen my open-mindedness swell to exquisite proportions as I expand to allow for Muslim Demonstrations, Suicides int he street, arrests of politicians and credit cards being switched off.
Today it was the turn of the banks to slide my day into disorder. My first attempt to shop after my morning chai was thwarted by the bank closing down all my cards. I stood in a shop handing over one after the other until I have to give up. I returned to the hotel with not enough cash for a cup of tea and waited for the bank to open in London. Charm personified, mine, got things opened up again and I headed back out, this time into the nether reaches of Jaipur where, strangely, I have never been before. All army barracks, mess halls, smart soldiers and tree lined shady avenues with pavements. Quite bizzarre, but then lots about this trip has been odd. I feel as though nothing exists until I arrive to see it!
We, my delightful driver and I, were on our way to meet a Charity Bus that drives to a different temple each day to sell spiritual accessories. This day was the main Shiva Temple.
Arriving there was unexpected. I had not thought about it. It was like arriving at a farm. Cows everywhere and piles of methi or fenugreek leaves that they are given to gain boons. The perfume of cow dung and fenugreek was great. We walked down a long wall past all the beast and methi hawkers. Along the wall were ranged all the Shiva Sadhus with their begging bowls and colourful clothes. Shiva, for those of you unfamiliar with him, is the God of Creation and Destruction. He governs addictions, depression, our inner demons and in perfect balance is a delightful being but he is also all our darkness manifested. The temple was an interesting display of his darkness. Thick sweet piles of incense buring all over the place, the floor was awash with swarms of flies, trees bark blackened by the endless smoke from the burnt offerings and the temple itself had two huge statues of Shiva Rampant, looking really scary. I covered my head and went in to see the Lingham and yoni being washed and prayed to. Shiva is worshipped with a symbol of an erect penis set in a female vagina and it is always washed with water and venerated with flowers and incense. The act of washing is continual and very serious, the intensity of whoever is taking part is quite something to witness. It was a darka nd excessive place. Rather lovely, as I like that kind of thing. Lots of longing and desire all mingled with the malas and curling smoke. Om the way out I had a Shiv Tilak painted in blood red on my forehead and it is there, still.
We finally found the bus parked in a layby on the main road in the full sun. Packed to the gills with books, malas, incense, beads, trinkets and puja kits it was great to sit on the floor inside whilst the man unpacked yard after yard of beautiful malas. All perfect, all lovely.
Lunch at the Anokhi Cafe was the usual parade of westerners in Jaipur and the food was delicious. Pasta, good pasta, in India is such a treat. From there to the Lucknow salesman who is charming and efficient. I spent a fortune in almost no time at all and then decided to go back tomorrow and pick it all up. I walked the 3 miles back to the hotel and was harrassed every step of the way. If not by salesmen, it was beggars, women, kids, monkeys, chai wallahs, rickshaw wallahs, dogs, fruit sellers, chappall wallahs, rickshaw drivers, skinny boys in tight trousers holding hands with each other…. the list is endless but it was fun and I arrived back feeling clear headed and very happy.
I am amazed how much slips out of the memory and the journey from Delhi Airport to Jaipur triggered an acute awareness of so much that I would experience in the next few days.
My first camel was waiting in the shade of an acacia tree, flicking it’s tail and chewing with beautiful almond eyes closed against the mid-day glare of the sun.
Looking down the embankment of the motorway with cars weaving all over the place, a jeep coming the wrong way towards us and a herd of goats waiting to cross I was suddenly held by the stillness of the water buffalo standing tethered beside a mud hut, the neatly stacked patties of dung in the corner, the brushed mud yard and the woman with the glittery veil miking her.
I lay down in the back of the cab and slept to the sound of endless horns, the shouts of vendors as we slowed to go through towns and villages, and the chattering around me when we were stopped by roadworks.
Arriving in Jaipur was so lovely. Strangely like coming home, and I found that aching longing to spend more time here. I have only a week this trip. a short burst of commerce which gives such an amazing insight into an aspect of how this amazing country functions. The steaming chai opening the deal, the whispered calculations between the men selling, the focus and determination that each side has to do the best deal possible and then the laughter and more chai when the deal is struck and it works all around, the dusty credit card machine that cranks out the receipt and the faithful receipt hand written and stapled together with such firm deliberation. The erotic charge of taking the money passes and I am free to leave and they are open and ready for the next customer. Lights are all turned off and newspapers opened, not to miss a moment of relaxation before the adrenalin rush fires up again.
I have had a day of commerce and come back feeling as though Jaipur froze whilst I was away. In my mind’s eye, progress had swept through the city and all tradition was gone, the sweeping arm of change had erased all that was familiar and known: the dust, the dogs, scrawny cows and bone thin farmers in their traditional camel skin shoes and huge madly wound turbans, their clothes a strange shade of pale blue from the whitener added to the river water washes. But it has not changed at all. Not a moment. The shops all have the same assistants, the same stock, all just a little dustier and they are a little more tired. The recession has trashed tourism and business needs a lift.
So the welcome I received all around Jaipur today was so delightful, from the Chai Wallah to the Chappal Wallah (shoe seller) it was all smiles, asking about my children and longing to know if my hair had grown again.
I am happy to be here. There is a burgeoning row of bags lying in the corner of my room all waiting to fulfil their karma and come to England.