I have sat in all manner of vehicules since arriving here, and the imminent danger that each of them presents on a constant basis has got me thinking deeply about what it is that I like about being here.
I think I have finally realised; it is the extreme proximity of life and death at every moment.
There is no “nanny state”. It is all unfolding in real time right in front, like a huge cinema screen, all the time. Any journey is fraught with the possibility of instant death, and what is wild is how one accepts it, or at least I do. (I have heard tales of traveller arriving at in Indian Airport, taking one look around and taking the next plane back. ) It sounds melodramatic, I know, but as I travelled around yesterday I saw nothing more that I usually see, but that was still an endless roll of deeply moving moments made up of things like an old man sitting on the roadside under a torn black umbrella making chai for the stainless steel wallahs behind him. He has probably sat there for all his life.
I asked my driver how long he had been driving for. He thought he was in his forties, and had started when he was 20. I asked if he liked driving. He did not. The answer left such a huge space in the conversation.
A man sped past on a scooter. He wore a helmet with no chin strap, none of them do, and behind him, helmetless, were his wife and two kids. She had a child asleep in her arms and was wearing a sari.
On the craziest, busiest roundabout in Jaipur a crazy man dropped his trousers for a shit right in the middle of all the screeching traffic.
A drunk passed out amongst the rooting pigs and dogs in the dirt of the side of the road, traffic narrowly missing him, business goes on as usual. Women step over him to do their grocery shopping.
The bank kept blocking my credit cards over the past two days and I have had to call them repeatedly to get them unblocked. Although there are private phone booths, I stopped at the first STD place I saw. The phone was on a counter outside. I sat in the scorching sun next to an open drain and called the bank whilst trying to block out thoughts of Dengue Fever and Malaria and the overwhelming smell of piss. There was a one armed beggar out cold on the street beside me and the bank were insisting I give out my credit card number so I could properly identify myself. It was great, a crowd were already gathered and I was refusing to give her the number in front of all the people and she was getting crosser until I finally told her where I was. We settled on a series of questions to ascertain my identity, but whilst this was going on a cow walked up to the grain shop next door. It stood and waited. The sun was behind and the huge shadow of its horns on the pavement was wonderful. The shop owner put a pile of corn grindings on the ground and the cow licked it up, very slowly, savouring every moment. Such a change from its’ usual fare of plastic bags and rubbish. The beggar woke up and immediatly went back to begging. I hung up the phone and taking my life in my hands, crossed the busy main road back to the car.
Crossing the road is an experience of such intensity that few things can rival it. No one will stop, especially not for a slightly pneumatic western woman. I have to start walking into the 35 mph traffic coming directly towards me and weave my way across, heart pumping, skirts wrapped tightly around legs in the desperate hope of not getting dragged away by the lopsided bus screaming its way towards me. Arriving at the other side is always a moment of thanks for another day.
And in all of that beauty and foulness I feel alive and present to the moment. I am not cuccooned in the safety of an unreal existence that seeks to keep me insecure and running away from reality at every moment. I have to take responsability here, at every turn, and each time I come I love it more and more.