Kids in Jaipur
I’m sitting in Singapore airport as a I write this, and the city’s clinical atmosphere bears stark contrast to the contents of this blog. Although muggy outside, my feet are cold thanks to the over zealous air-conditioning; next to me, a ‘Harrods’ mini-store sells over priced cookies and handbags and an attractive and well dressed Chinese couple are drinking cocktails at the bar in front of me (it’s 10am). This blog is about India, a place where the price of one of those cocktails is the equivalent of a month’s wages. Singapore is the cleanest city in the world, everything works and I know there will be no ill effects from scoffing down a tempting smelling Subway from next door to the Harrods. However, Singapore, again with glaring disparity to India, is as bland and soulless as one of those people you meet who class their interests as ‘going shopping on a Saturday and then snuggling up with a take away to the X-factor’. So bland, in fact, (save for a delightful Singapore Sling in Raffles hotel with some friends), after asking a taxi driver what’s fun to do here he sat for a full minute in quiet contemplation before throwing the Universal Studios’ theme park out as an option, laced with a questioning upward inflection, indicating that he knew full well that he was scraping the barrel. He followed this by saying it’s not worth the small fortune it costs to get in anyway.
Back to the point though, this blog is about India, a country of great contrast and limitless fascination. This wonderful country’s virtues could fill pages. However, so too could its most interesting quirks, and this blog is about one of those. It permeates every aspect of Indian life (often literally), it’s unavoidable and always there, it’s a topic that often rears its ugly head during any conversation about travelling around the country and if you’re not a fan of it, you should probably stop reading now:
Following on from where Johno left off in the last blog, as we left Jaipur, the weather was typical; overcast, muggy and hot. The kind of weather which meant your brow would instantly bead with sweat as soon as the car stopped, giving you the air of an overweight gentleman who has just ascended an average length flight of stairs. We headed due south on the road to Mumbai, sometimes bouncing on unpaved roads, dodging Rickshaws, cows and atrocious driving, sometimes on new dual carriageways, dodging rickshaws, cows and atrocious drivers and sometimes through towns, dodging motor rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, cows, bicycles, cows, people, fruit stalls, bicycles, kids, beggars, cows, dogs, rubbish heaps - all of the aforementioned relieving themselves in said rubbish heaps - huge trucks, cows and, of course, atrocious driving.
Lush green fruit fields lined the side of the road and old women sat under umbrellas holding up identical bowls of fruit, hoping to lure drivers to make a purchase with them instead of their friend selling exactly the same bowl five metres down, or her friend another five metres further. We selected one for no particular reason and purchased a guava each, still covered in mud from the fields. I tried to eat it whilst driving, covering myself in juice but succeeding in getting the odd lump into my mouth. I commented about how hard it is to eat when you can’t look at what you’re doing, and Leigh responded by saying he had thrown his out ages ago after he found it was full wasps eggs. I thanked him for informing me of this after watching me blindly dig in.
We made good time heading south on the road to Mumbai, actually finding a road that resembled a motorway which meant we could get some speed up. Indians are tremendously quick to capitalise on any situation. When a western farmer has a motorway built through their land they see the business equivalent of a hooded character approaching clutching a scythe, clearly with no designs on using it to help with the harvest. When an Indian farmer sees a motorway built, he notices newly laid, lush green grass in the central reservation to graze his cows on, regardless of the cars speeding by at 120kph.
Speeding along faster than we had been for months, it suddenly hit me.
Broken down… again!
That grinding feeling of my stomach telling me ‘Paul, prepare yourself, not all is well in the world of your insides’. India’s fledgling motorway system (which consists of this 100km stretch of road), smooth as it is and reservation cows not withstanding, massively lacks service stations, or off ramps of any kind for that matter. Unable to stop, I held on for a bit longer, eventually finding an off ramp and stopping at a farmer’s shop in the middle of no where. He had no toilet. In India, it appears only the rich have toilets, for everyone else there’s you, a little bucket of water and the side of the road. Not being a fan of the verge loo, behind a cow shed was the next best thing.
We’d been on the road for 5 months at this point, and these rumblings become part of life in these parts of the world. It could have come from the guava, the Bombay mix I had earlier or simply by touching something dirty; in India its almost impossible to differentiate. However, after we found the only service station on the road and I had been three more times and used up every napkin on each table in the restaurant (or more accurately the waiter had tactically removed all the spare napkins on the tables when he got my game), I started to worry that this wasn’t just the normal case of the trots. However, I self-medicated myself with my usual bottle of coke, banking on its bacteria killing abilities. Back on the road, my stomach started to feel as though somebody had tied it in a knot and was slowly wringing it out, pushing everything up or down. Nausea overcame me and I informed the lads that we needed to stop. I then informed them with my more urgency, a few choice words and a very loud NOW!
The side of the road was standard for India, years worth of un-cleared rubbish piled up around small bushes and everything was covered in an oily slime that smelt like it was 80% sewage. A small shop was open, I asked them if they had a toilet, they looked at me blankly, wobbled their head and started to call for other family members. I’d been through this process numerous times here, it’s part of the Indian desire to be helpful, something that seems almost innate to all citizens. Three or four family members, old and young would be called out from the house to communicate with you, coming to the eventual conclusion that none of them can speak my language, I can’t speak theirs and they don’t understand what I want. Generally a highly endearing feature of Indian life, a game involving apologetic smiles and often a generous offer of some sort of hospitality follows.
However, in the literal sense, I did not have the time.
I ran around the corner to some bush and threw up. Flat coke and stomach acids burnt the inside of my nose as I dry wretched the last of my failed ‘coke cure’. Out of the corner of my eye I could see four rickshaw drivers, nonchalantly sitting on their machines and observing this man from this strange vehicle empty his stomach on a bush. This sight was short lived, because as soon as I had finished, the wringing sensation was pressing downward, so down too came my shorts and I turned the oily verge slime something more like 85% sewage. The audience just sat and stared and I noted this down in my head as one of my life’s low points. But it got lower; I saw that what was being rung out of me was not normal poo, or even normal liquid poo for that matter. It was green slime, marbled with a considerable amount of blood. This I knew to be a bad sign and hopped into the cab and told the lads in detail.
We needed a hotel, or at least I did, and quickly. We quickly found one, but as part of some local rule, they didn’t accept foreigners. Puzzled, I used their facilities and we found another. The same thing happened and we moved on. This started to get irritating after the 6th hotel, and it dawned on me that I had run out of toilet paper at what can only decently be explained as ‘completely the wrong moment’. I shouted for Johno and Leigh, but what came out sounded more like a pathetic squeak. Apparently this was all I could muster and in my head it was all their fault that I had no paper. I use some initiative, leaving my favourite boxers (now ruined) and made my way back to the cab. It was dark by now and the smooth road had turned very Indian again, each pot hole and bump became agony, I had developed a fever and was shivering and thoroughly miserable. We found one more hotel but it was hugely expensive. They agreed to accept us, but it was way out of our budget. We moved on (after I took a trip to the men’s, realised too late that the paper problem had yet to be resolved and not in a state to care much, my day turned a lot worse) but I soon cracked. Things were bad, I lay up in the back of the cab, shivering, cramping and covered in my own shit, wishing I had a bed, my Mum, a shower, toilet paper, a hug; I realised I would pay any amount of money right now to get out of this bloody car and we headed to the hotel. Leaving the boys to sort out registering I had to run to the room again. I had nothing left in me so I had a shower and curled up in the foetal position on the bed, forgetting that normal people should clothe themselves after a shower. Leigh and Johno must have come in and covered me up, and I recall snippets of their conversation as they discussed what to do. They called my friend, Ellie, who was working as a doctor in the north of the country to get her advice. She said it sounded like I had dysentery, I needed re-hydrating quickly, prescribed some antibiotics and the wonder-drug paracetamol, but said I should be alright.
That day and evening I must have gone to the toilet over 25 times, but within a few hours my fever had gone down and I started to actually sleep and the antibiotics had some sort of effect. I woke up, naked, wrapped in a towel with a large patch of green on the white bed sheet. I felt like utter crap, I was sweating, I hurt all over and I had shit the bed; not one of my best mornings admittedly, but I figured it was worse for Leigh, who had lost the rock-paper-scissors game with Johno the night before:
He had to share the bed with me.