Monday, November 30, 2009

Khan vs Salita

Amir Khan, the WBA light welterweight world champion, will fight against Dmitriy Salita this Saturday. Khan is from Bolton, England and is Muslim. Salita was born in Ukraine and now lives in Brooklyn, New York; Salita is Jewish.

It's important to remember that this is not a holy war; it's a boxing match. It's a boxing match between two rising fighters, who both need this win to reach the next level. With a win, Khan could move on to fight bigger names and garner worldwide attention. If Salita wins, he'll hold a belt and have the right to control his destiny.

But, with tensions between Muslims and Jews, this contest always has the possibility of fostering too much emotion among supporters of both men. It's shouldn't though. There's nothing wrong with backing your guy, and I'll be rooting hard for Salita, but not at the expense of the other guy's religion or ethnicity. There's something in boxing where, if a guy from your background knocks out someone from another group, many feel that suddenly your group is better than the other. That's not the case. It's perfectly acceptable to have pride when a member from your group triumphs, but a boxing match doesn't speak to a greater hierarchy of races, religions, or ethnicities.

And if you're Jewish or Muslim and still don't get it, just remember, after the final bell has rung, Khan and Salita will hug and they will congratulate each other on a tough fight. Just keep that in mind.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fading Dreams

I laughed when teams fired their offensive coordinators even before the first regular season kickoff took place. Then the Bills followed the pattern. I've always scorned franchise who fire their coaches mid-season. Then the Bills cast aside Dick Jauron.

It's been a disappointing season, no doubt. We had playoff aspirations and, thus far, they haven't materialized. Trent Edwards seems to collapse after returning from injury. Terrell Owens hasn't produce as expected. But Jauron should have been given the chance to finish the season. If he had gone 4-3, he would have pulled off the team's fourth straight 7-9. While that isn't progress, it's certainly better than where the Bills were before his arrival. And where the team seems headed now.

However, the Perry Fewell-led Bills beat the Dolphins today. That makes up for a lot. It might be too early to dream of possible playoff scenarios should the team win out and finish 9-7. But that was a big game that will leave Bills fans smiling for a little while.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kids Run Things

Children are our most precious resource. Or at least that's how we treat these mini morons. In the old days, and here I'm talking about the 1990s, children were left alone. They had to figure things out on their own. We're better for it now. But the kids today get everything handed to them. On long car rides, we had to listen to countless hours of Barbra Streissand and Neil Diamond. The hours were countless because we'd always get lost. Nowadays, these kids have their own personal DVD players and they can time their moves to the amount of time the trip will take according to the GPS system.

But progress has made these snot-drippers soft and stupid. They don't know how to get to their houses, they don't know their phone numbers. They don't remember other shit, because when they forget, they can just google it.

Have you ever had a conversation with one of these human monstrosities? Not only are they dumb, but they're socially-inept. If a child tells you they hate you and you tell them to shut the fuck up before punching them in the face, suddenly you're the bad guy. But if a real person tells you they hate you and you react in the same way, you were simply standing up for yourself. Which is it America? It's time to treat these freeloading stinkbombs like people so they don't turn out to be pampered out-of-touch D-list celebrities.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Message to the Gentiles

There has been a recent trend among the gentiles where they give thanks on the fourth Thursday of November and then go on a killing spree on Friday. Usually their murderous tirades occur at various WalMarts or other stores offering Black Friday sales.

I am asking, no begging and pleading, for the gentiles to show some patience, kindness, and compassion when entering a retail establishment as it opens its doors early Friday morning. If people fall in your rush to snatch a half-priced toaster intended for your mother-in-law, please stop your charge and help them rise to their feet. Instead of, you know, trampling them to death to save a few dollars.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Failure of the Indian State

One fairly accurate method of judging the effectiveness of a state involves determining whether or not it can keep its public space free of garbage. If a government cannot even clean up its nation's garbage, it is a good indication of wider failure.

The random street in any Indian city- that doesn't possess an overly capable local administration- is lined with rubbish. The Mayor of Agra, Anjula Singh Mahaur, was criticized in the October 29 issue of Kolkata's The Telegraph for prancing on the catwalk with her celebrity friends as her promise to clean up her city's filth went unfulfilled. The article states that, "Tourist guides say the foreigners cover their noses when they see open drains and choked sewers" while visiting the city's most well-known monument, the Taj Mahal. But the aesthetic and aromatic standards of foreigners are not the point. The health of Agra's citizens, who are confronted by these unsanitary conditions year-round, should be the real concern of Mayor Mahaur.

Fareed Zakaria argued in his 2007 book, The Post American World, that India, as is the case with the United States, is a weak state, but a strong society. Bureaucratic inefficiency and political corruption have stunted India's ability to tackle the nation's many socio-economic troubles. India is, however, an ancient society, with a prolific history that has influenced our world. In addition, despite moments of tragic exception, India has been a place of tolerance for its many religions, tribes, and ethnicities.

I was asked by an NGO working with the health of pregnant women in rural Uttar Pradesh as to my opinion of India's democracy. I replied with tempered politeness, "It works, I guess." I then thought for a second knowing my audience expected more and added, "But it seems there is a scandal on television and in the papers every day." That answer was greeted with a roaring laugh of resignation. The most recent scandal involves former Jharkhand Chief Minister, Madhu Koda. Koda, who has been accused of money laundering an unconsciously vast sum, vows his innocence. But to believe him, you must accept the premise that thousands of people are in on a conspiracy to take down a former chief minister.

Setting aside politicians and garbage for the moment, the failure of the Indian state had disastrous results late last November. Mumbai, the country's largest city, fell victim to a terrorist attack as ten armed gunmen stormed its shores, frequented its populated areas, and killed indiscriminately on 26/11. The police acted ineptly, powerless to stop any of the devastation until the terrorists were too tired to continue killing. The Mumbai police could not keep its citizens safe. That is the ultimate test for any state and, when it mattered most, India's institutions failed. (International Edition)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Going Rogue: An Excerpt

Sarah Palin's book has changed my life. I now believe what she believes. Here's the excerpt that did the trick:

"When it comes to a woman's body, I support a culture of life, while soldiers fight for our freedom, there are many threats to our freedoms and liberties, the terrorists and abortion doctors, so that's why I am for a culture of life. Let me be clear, I do not support killing abortion doctors. Gee gosh, that's fanatical and wrong. I am for a culture of life and I am against anyone who might well be against that one of my values, if they are terrorists who kill our soldiers in Iraq or abortion doctors, those people need to face punishments. Do you want terrorists coming to your PTA meetings and determining the after school programs of your children? We must support a culture of life."
Palin, Sarah. Going Rogue. 2009. pg. 237.

That excerpt, located in a chapter about Palin's foreign policy towards Russia, is my new bible.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What Are You Wearing?

In India, I saw people who wore the weirdest clothes. These people must have been insane to go out in public in those threads. Did they think everyone in the world is blind?

Who are these people? They weren't the Indians wearing salwar kameezes, kurtas, or saris. Those are all quite fashionable looks and hey, they've stood the test of time.

No. You can find these monstrocities throughout India, but they tend to congregate in the Paharganj slums of Delhi. It's the clothes that many of the foreigners wear. The worst ones seem to be localized to the Main Bazaar (what I've called the worst street in India). The foreigners there aren't "going native." "Going native" can often be as offensive as the name suggests, but done properly, can be a respectful gesture to a host society.

However, these foreigners aren't "going native." They wear clothes that they think are Indian, not clothes that Indians actually wear. There are sarongs that look like the pants version of that new blanket that comes with sleeves. I saw an older woman wearing a hat that looked like a fez on steroids. In my travels throughout India, I can safely say she was displaying the only one of those in the country. Unless there was another foreinger stupid enough to do so. There were plenty of long-flowing and tight-fitting hippie clothes from the 1960s- not simply stylistically but also, probably, in actuality as well. You could see the most bizarre tattoos. And then there were the dreads. White people with dreads. Old white people with dreads. I wonder if they wore jheri curls in the '80s.

It took every bit of my being not to walk up to these people and just start screaming, "What the fuck are you doing?" And if they mention that their style has something to do with India, I'd have a prepared answer that would involve beating them to death. Gandhi would have wanted it that way. Believe me.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Terrified in America

I come back to America and people are scared shitless. The Right is scared of Obama. The Left is scared of the Right's fright.

It's all bullshit. This is the most powerful country in the world. Look at the eyes of an Indian teenager when you tell him you're from America. His face fills with delight. It's like explaining that you're from a world of endless chicken curry and handjobs.

Our society is strong. Our economy is strong. You have to be a fucking gymnast to avoid stepping on sleeping homeless people in India. They don't even call them "homeless people" over there; they're just "people." There's too many of them. If you've got a place to live, they call you a "house person."

So the next time you find yourself worrying about the direction of America or the status of the economy, shut the fuck up you perspective-lacking bastard.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In America

I tried to get my pictures developed from CVS, but it was gone. It's not a liquor store. It felt like I was in a bad after-school special about how you can't go home again. So I went to the other CVS, which is now just the CVS. After picking up my pictures, the guy, who was dressed in tatoos and exhibited a gritty voice complimented me on my pictures, although, when I saw them, a lot didn't come out well at all.

I never realized that beef was so difficult to digest. They still have that annoying Geico commerical with the bowling on tv. I've spent most of my time catching up on episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and boxing. On Demand is a great thing. So is hot water!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back Home

The journey started with a taxi ride to Indira Gandhi Airport (the Reagan National of Indian airports). Predictably, the guy swerved, sped, and broke with nauseating frequency. At one point, I had to pee so bad, despite peeing twice within the hour already, that I asked him pull over so I could go on the side of the road. The trip should have been 45 minutes, but it took over an hour because of traffic. That, despite the fact that the driver went 95 (kilometers an hour) in a 40 zone.

The airport was a different world. I ordered two slices of pizza for a total of 180 rupees. Everyone spoke clear and fluent English. I saw that the prices for the duty free shops were in dollars, which embarrassed me.

On the plane, my seat was scheduled to be next to a small woman and her daughter. She asked me to move because she was with a child (who was like 8 years old, c'mon). I agreed. She said that a staff member would move me up to an open seat in the front. At first I thought it would be to the front of coach, one seat in front of us. But the three seats directly in front of us were soon filled. I allowed myself to get excited. Maybe 'the front' means first class! A 14 and half hour trip in first class!

Maybe I forgot who I was. I ended up sitting in the middle section of coach's first row (I hate the first row of coach), between two giant Indian men, who wrestled me for the arm rests the entire journey. They couldn't give me one arm rest, those assholes! The guy to my right was a real jerk. He wore a scratchy wool sport coat that draped over the arm rest. He constantly elbowed me in the bicep and never apologized. At one point, my hand was on the arm rest and plopped his elbow right on it. I had to squeeze my fingers from out between his arm and the arm rest. My revenge was not telling him that the little white sheet that they put on the head rests had found a new home velcroed to his wool jacket.

The plane ride went fast though. But I slept less than 2 hours. It would be a total of 36 hours from the point I woke up to when I could go to sleep for a while. I cleared customs quickly. The young agent had a heavy New Jersey accent and asked me some friendly questions about the trip with a smile on his face. The next flight home was easy. The toughest part of the journey home might have been the ride fromt he airport home with my mother at the wheel. it almost felt liek I was back in India, expect they continuously swerve for a reason.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Ankle

I climbed up the stairs to the hotel's rooftop restaurant in order to eat something. There, I met a young American couple. The guy was a Jew! They were very nice, getting an ace bandage for my blown up and bruised ankle. They also gave me some of their herbal lotion to put on it. In fact, they wrapped the ankle for me! I tried to give them some tips about India since they had just recently arrived.

The couple and I went into the Jama masjid, which is a huge concrete structure. Most of it is outside and even the part covered by a roof is not enclosed. Apparently, it can hold 25,000 people for prayers. Next, we walked, or more accurately, they walked and I stumbled, over to the Red Fort. It was closed and cost too much anyway, but it looked similar to the Red Fort in Agra from the outside.

From there we walked through parts of Old Delhi. It was just as chaotic as I had remembered. People come at you like a constant wave of darts in a narrow area of public space. Because of the ankle, I couldn't push off like I wanted to and bump into people. Instead, I made futile attempts to avoid the numerous passers-by. I kept getting knocked off balance. But we eventually made it to the metro, which took us back to Paharganj, home to the Main Bazaar, quite possibly the worst street in India. What a send off!

I've paid for the hotel and the coming taxi ride to the airport. I've eaten lunch. I have 80 rupees left. 20 of those will go to this internet place. So I will have 60. That may not be enough to eat dinner at a place that takes cash. My taxi leaves for the airport at 6pm. Maybe I'll eat at the airport if they take a credit card. Perhaps I'll gorge on chocolate and Sprite with that final 60 rupees. Maybe this should be a game show, Sixty Rupees in India: How will you spend it?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dehra Dun to Delhi

I ate at a fancy restaurant in Dehra Dun that accepted a credit card. I spent about $7! It's bathroom also had toilet paper. I noticed it when I went to pee in the middle of the dinner and forced myself to poop by the end. At the train station, there was a guy sitting next to me on a bench. All the other benches were empty. He seemed fairly distraught. He was also draped on top of me. His one hand stayed near my pocket the entire time, no matter which way I moved, as if it was magnetically drawn. A couple times I swatted his other hand away from my arm. Finally, I moved to another bench and he left a minute later, so I went back the original bench because it was more comfrotable.

I got off the train in Delhi at 5:30am and headed for the pre-paid auto-rickshaw stand. After paying only 70 rupees, I stepped off the curb. The pavement was far from flat and I misstepped. My ankle rolled and under the weight of my bag, I fell the the ground. But not before there was a loud "CRUNCH!" A few guys rushed to pick me up. After lifting me, I realized I couldn't put any pressure on that side. I sat down on the curb, anxiety filling up within me.

It's not sever, but it's worse than a mild sprain. I'm just thankful it didn't happen at the beginning of the trip.

I managed to get up after calming down and hobble towards a sea of rickshaws. No one would take me beause I had the pre-paid slip. Eventually a guy did and took me exactly where I wanted to go without trying to trick me. I gave him a tip of 10 rupees. I slowly limped towards the hotel and made my way in after waking someone up.

I asked for a room and when check out would be. He said noon today. I told him I couldn't do that. He told me if I check in at 7am, then I could check out at noon tomorrow and only pay for one day. I said that I'd wait for a half-hour until it was 7am. After a few minutes he told me I didn't have to wait. I jumped up to the 3rd floor (which they call the 2nd floor here, the ground floor is the first). After I was in the room for over 30 minutes, he knocked. I struggled to put some pants on and answer the door. Then he said I had to pay him 200 now and 500 tomorrow because I checked in early. I was actually polite in resisting and didn't have to pay.

I'm down to 1350 rupees. It will be 500 for the room. A sign says 250 for a taxi to the airport. That leaves me with 600. Looks like I'm going to make it. Especially since I can't walk anywhere to spend the money.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Winding Down

Without yet paying for this trip to an internet cafe, which will run me between 20 and 40 rupees depending on how long I stay online, I have 1510 rupees in cash. That has to last me until Tuesday night. The big money-grabbers will be the hotel room for one night in Delhi, the ride from the train station to the hotel, and from the hotel to the airport. Today I ate at an Indian fast food place, where all the rich hip kids hang out, because it took a credit card. I had a good meal that ran me over $5, one of the largest sums I've paid for a meal here. But I didn't lose any cash.

I checked out of the hotel at noon and my train doesn't leave until after 11pm. I visited the Ram Rai Darbar which looks like a Muslim tomb, but I think it's a Sikh one. Then I wandered through the crowded bazaars. It's easy to get lost on the curved streets that are packed more than your fat mother's stomach into her stretch pants. After the fast food joint, I went to the nearby park. I sat there and read. I thought about how sitting on a bench is the great equalizer. Occassionally, different men would sit far too close to me for the amount of room on the bench and start spitting. I was also visited by ear cleaners and shoe shiners. The ear cleaners offered one ear free and then only 10 rupees for both. I told them even if you offered me 100 rupees to clean my ears, I wouldn't do it!

I moved and watched a pick up cricket match. Pwhew, the fielders were terrible. I guess I shouldn't be so hard on kids. A boarding student from a hill station 300 KMs away started talking to me. We joked around about how his English was better than his favorite actor, Arnold (no one even attempts his last name here), the governor of California. The park was green with statues and plenty of people just relaxing. There was a little beggar boy cracking a whip and pretending to stab himself with a plastic red knife for my amusement. An old man, with his mouth caved in indicating that he had no teeth, sat on a bench listening to a group of 30-something year old men arguing. Eventually, the sun started to go down and I really had to pee (a-gain!), so I left.

I went into the McDonald's to pee. Although being white opens you up to potential scams, over-anxious rickshaw drivers, and touts, it comes with many privileges. I didn't purchase anything and wasn't asked. Instead, the bathroom attendant knocked on the door in an attempt to rush the man in there after I had been waiting for a while. Sometimes, people here will bend over backwards for you and it's a little uncomfortable. Indian adults will often yell at beggar children if they sense that a foreigner is beyond annoyed. Part of the reason is that some Indians I've talked to are conscious of the perception of their country to the outside. Even the poorest, dumbest, ugliest white person is treated with reverance. Believe me. I know.

After the man, who was wearing a dress jacket with a patch that said he was from a cadet school, left the bathroom, the attendent mopped it (as he did everytime someone left the bathroom) before I entered. And there it was. Perhaps the most beautiful sight my eyes have ever had the pleasure of gazing upon. Toilet paper.

Too bad I only had to pee.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Haridwar is a very holy city for Hindus. It's where the Ganges River spurts out of the mountains. I bought my train ticket from the second class booking line (they didn't have a "no class" booking line. Who am I Rodney Dangerfield?). It cost 23 rupees. I couldn't make out the ticket, so I asked an official where my train was located. He told me Platform 1. So I sat in a sleeper coach and asked another official if I was in the right spot and he gestured that I was. Later, a woman wearing a brown kameez, standing next a man in an official uniform, took my ticket. She said I had the wrong ticket. I started, "But two men told me..." I was cut off by the other man, who motioned that I was fine.

On the train, a man dressed in a woman's pink salwar kameez and bangles (not the Icky Woods kind), who wore a wad of ten rupees like a ring, demanded ten rupees from the young man next to me. He eventually obliged. When this character came to me, I said I didn't understand (which I didn't) and he left. Later, a beggar kid came and sat across from me, persistantly asking for food. I stared into his eyes. Strangely, they differed from the rest of him. They weren't pleading at all. Upon arriving at the Haridwar station, the sign was covered in drying clothes, so I had some trouble deciphering where I was.

I didn't stay in Haridwar long, only for a few hours. I walked to the Ganges Canal and the Ganges River, both magestic flourencent green. The canal was moving fast like it had a train to catch. I soon realized, as the wind kicked up, that the reason was because a storm was coming. I headed away from the water for cover. I found it under a tree just before it began to pour. After it stopped, I walked around a bit. Besides what I've already mentioned and habitating numerous Hindu pilgrims and exclusively veg food, not much distinguishes Haridwar from elsewhere in this area. Then it started to pour again and I took shelter with a bunch of cycle rickshaw drivers.

I decided to head back to Dehra Dun and discovered that the bus was my best bet. It put into perspective how bad that Mussoorie bus ride was. This one, which last a little over 2 hours, did not have the absurd climb of the Mussoorie trip, which I read elsewhere is actually 7,500 feet up (I said 6,500 yesterday). But it was a rough trip nonetheless. All bus rides in India are.

I deboarded at the bus stand 5 KM away from my hotel by the train station. I tried to figure out how to get to my hotel. I had to ask a lot of different people. A couple of guys wanted me to walk 2 KM to Tampur train station and take the train to Dehra Dun. They wouldn't tell me how to go to the Dehra Dun train station otherwise. Often, I ask for directions to a place over 5 KM, the person will not allow me to walk. Not that I wanted to this time. But I wanted a better option. Finally, I found a blue shared autorickshaw that's popular here and made the journey for 10 rupees.

I wasn't feeling well, so I ordered room service. The cash countdown has begun and it will be a close call as to whether or not I have to withdraw more and lose the ATM fee again. I ordered chicken curry (even pointed to it on the menu), which was 65 rupees. I was brought a dish and after eating two pieces, realized that there was no way this was worth 65 rupees; there was way too much food. I was brought karahi chicken (full) worth 240 rupees, not chicken curry worth 65. I asked about it, then made a big stink about it. They still wanted to charge me for the two pieces I ate, but I told them it wasn't my mistake, it was theirs. I got my way and my chicken curry, with only 2 pieces and very little meat on either one.

Friday, November 13, 2009


While walking through the bazaar in Dehra Dun, a guy ran into my elbow with his motorcycle. He was smiling and I was pretty upset. Then, still looking at me, he ran right into another motorcycle. "See, you're not looking!" I screamed and pointed. He wasn't smiling anymore.

Mussoorie is a hill station 6,500 feet above sea level. Higher than Denver. The ride from Dehra Dun, at about 2,200 feet, takes about an hour up the mountain. The rapid rise was fine. That it was in an Indian bus was fine. But that and the combination of repeated hairpin turns forced me to within inches of throwing up. The warm saliva filled my mouthand I repeatedly swallowed it down. At one point, I gave a violent and noisy dry heave. Fortunately, I didn'thave anything in my system and we had arrived at that precise moment.

But for the ride up (and later down), Mussourie is the perfect spot to spend the day. It's cool (or cold to most). You can see the mountains rolling for miles. I even snuck a peak at the Himilayas, way off in the distance. The closer mountains and clouds conspired to cover most of the snow drenched mountain, so I only got a taste, but it was a drop that I won't soon forget. The rest of Mussoorie is a hilly walk through curious stalls, restaurants, and hotels. At one point, my elbow got hit by the passenger-side mirror of a car.

The Danish guy, a tall blonde hair affable fellow, and I walked around the entire mountain on Camel Back Road. Through our journey from Dehra Dun to Musoorie and back, we learned that we have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to India. I can cross a street with far more eaze than he can. He can eat anything here and not get sick (pizza is my downfall). I was hardly cold, while he was battling it despite his layers. That bus ride, some how, was no problem for him, while I spent the trip in the fetal position practicing my mother's techniques of focusing on my abdominal breathing. It worked for a while, but there wasa guy standing next to my seat with his ass in my face, making it tough to breathe, let alone focus on it.

We went back to Dehra Dun in a shared taxi. The elevation change was the problem this time. We had walked so much in that high elevation without taking the time to get adjusted. Even the Danish guy struggled with the journey back down. But we both seemed to recover quickly afterward.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Amritsar to Dehra Dun

As usual, there were a few little kids on the train, screaming their cute little heads off. I was in the top bunk of a 3AC sleeper and the nice man across from me, the father of one of the yelling children, was snoring like a cartoon character. I did manage some sleep though.

Back in Amritsar last night, I was walking on Lawrence Road. There was a young Indian woman looking at me and smiling. I was looking at her and smiling. We were having a little moment. She was with her mother buying something from a vendor, who stored his goods on one of those old wooden horse carts. As I walked closer, our eyes still locked, I saw that the cart was very close to a car and knew I had to maneuver my way through the impass suavely. However, I didn't see the wooden handle jutting out like a nunchuk, stationed at groin level. "Oh!" is the closest written translation to the noise that came out of my mouth as I walked into the handle groin first. I keeled over at the waste. She and her mother were sympathetic. I quickly got back up, muttered something about not seeing it, and walked off in embarrassed laughter.

After checking out the hotel at noon, I peed 6 times before boarding the train at about 9:30pm. I peed another 3 times on the train. I had lunch today with a Danish guy. He said he'd never seen someone drink an entire liter of water in one meal. I've done that maybe 5 times in India, not including the times I came close. Maybe that's the culprit.

Dehra Dun, the capital of Uttarakhand, is kind of gray. Maybe because it's cloudy, but maybe because everything is just kind of drab. The roads are quite crowded, which is always frustrating. You're inches from walking in the open sewer and a motorcycle comes up behind you and honks for you to get out of the way. But I heard the rest of Uttarrakhand is beautiful. Dehra Dun is a little over 2200 feet above sea level. It hasn't been hot during the day and I expect it to be freezing at night.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

More About Amritsar

Amritsar is 30KM away from the border with Pakistan. I don't know what that is in inches. It's 60KM from Lahore, Pakistan. It's located in Punjab, in the northwest of India. For the past few days, the mornings here have been really cold. It seems like people here wake up late and go to sleep early, based on store timings, perhaps because of the cold. It's still hot at noon though.

I've only seen a handful of Muslims here. When the country was partitioned in 1947, India and Pakistan became independent states, Punjab was also split. Muslims from east Punjab migrated to the west and Hindus, Sikhs, and (the small number of) Christians went in the opposite direction. Because of the heightened communal tensions of the time, the movement resulted in a devastating number of deaths. That's why you mainly see Sikhs and Hindus in Amritsar today. In honor of the Sikh religion, I haven't shaved or trimmed my beard since being here. Also, because the fucking bathroom didn't have a mirror!

Amritsar is famous for its fish fry. I had it from a place over on Lawrence, last night. It was a stand that stands out (pun!) from it's fancy surroundings. The server/cook was a middle aged man with a cool demeanor, his shoulders parallel to the ground, scruff on his face, and wearing a sweater vest. He didn't attempt to speak English. He stood there with a benign stone face throughout our entire encounter. Until after I finished my meal and paid. I smiled, rubbed my belly, and said, "Good. Good. Very good!" It looked like the corners of his lips were trying to run off of his face his smile was so big. For lunch today I had it again from a place called Bubby Chicken Corner on Cooper. Bubby Chicken Corner: Chicken like Grandma used to make (Especially if your grandmother is a Jew from Amritsar, which she almost certainly isn't). It's not a great slogan.

I checked out of the hotel today. I'm headed for Dehra Dun. Check out time was noon and it was already there. I searched to see if I had left anything behind. I lifted the sheet that was covering me through the cold nights and the tv remote went flying and shattered into pieces. "Shit!" I scrambled to put the pieces together. Miraculously, I managed and the remote even worked! 7 seconds later, there was a knock on the door. I opened it. "Sir, checking out?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Loose Ends

There are always things that I forget to write and then lament for the rest of the day. Here are some of them from the past week or so.

In Lucknow, my hotel room had a squat (or Indian) toilet. Fortunately, I was in Hardoi for much of that time. There are advantages to the squat toilet, even if it is unfamiliar to some. There's no seat to sit on, so you won't get crabs. I found that the poop comes out easier when you're squatting. It's good exercize. The bad thing is, I found that while most of the poop comes out easier, it's more difficult to get that last burst out.

In Allahabad, Lucknow, and here in Amritsar, I've stayed near the train station. The horns are so loud and run throughout the night. But strangely they rarely wake me up. You get used to sleeping through noise in India.

There was a line in the Kite Runner that read "Life is not a Hindi movie." I said that! And before I read it.

A few days ago, my watch inexplicably starting telling me the days of the week in Spanish.

If I stop mentioning a problem, don't assmue it went away. My shoes have continued to cut through the spot just above my heel. In fact, I noticed that both sides have giant blood blisters. I think I just got used to the pain.

I'd say I have to pee 90% of the time here in India because of all the water I drink. You just kinda get used to the feeling. Plus, being a man and in India, I can go just about anywhere! In other body liquid related news, I have so much mucus and plegm in my nose and throat that sometimes when I try to speak, I choke on it.

The CM of Delhi, who's in some hot water right now, is Sheila Dikshit. Hahaha, Dikshit.

I miss friends and family, sure, blah blah blah. I miss the NFL, NBA, Taco Bell, Slurpees, boxing, and the Daily Show. One week to go.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Bordering Pakistan

I visited the Golden Temple once more and was able to get inside this time. It is decorated in gold and chandaliers. The first floor was so crowded. A fat guy lost his balance and his heel ended up on my big toe (remember, no shoes). I was given a forearm in the back by several old ladies. I tried to pray, but that's a tough task when you're getting roughed up. The second floor harbors the Sikh holy book. Seeing it is one of those moments where electricity runs through you. The top floor was largely in the open, but had something else holy indoors. I don't know what that was. On my out of the complex, a Sikh man who had been living in Los Angeles came up to me. I could actually understand his accent! But he was so soft-spoken, I couldn't really hear him. He told me that he's come back to India indefinitely because America is too rush rush. India is more peaceful for him. We all have our own definitions of peace.

Later, I went to the Attari (India)/Wagha (Pakistan) border. The rickshaw ride out there was a teeth chattering one, but the roads were still better than in Baltimore. At the border, they have a ceremony every day. It's like a college football rally. Except the stakes are war. Indians on one side, Pakistanis on another, chanting for their side. Then, the gaudily adorned soldiers do a bunch of high stepping and then goose step up to the border and puff up their chests in an act of machismo. It was very weird. I couldn't tell if this was a productive way to let off steam or an excercise that could exacorbate tensions. I met a Korean woman, who studied in America, there and she said, perhaps North and South should have a ceremony like this.

For dinner, the Korean woman and I ordered two dishes to share. One was fish curry. The other was brain curry. Mutton brain curry to be exact. Brains are salty.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Golden Temple

I saw the Golden Temple, the holiest building in the Sikh religion, through the arches of the clock tower last night. My eyes ballooned. Today, I went inside the complex. The temple is gold plated ans surrounded by a mini lake on three sides that has fish. It was moving to see people of all religions bend down to worship it once they walked through the arch.

You must take off your shoes and cover your head before entering the complex. You also wash your hands and face in the sinks to the side of the entrance. There's a puddle of water that you step in to wash your feet before gazing on the Golden Temple. To the left is the dining hall. I stood in line with the hoards of others waiting to enter one of the rooms. Once in, it was a mad rush to sit on one the rows of rugs. We sat cross-legged (at one point my feet were sore from being pressed against the marble floor, so I shifted position and a young boy told me to to change back). We held out our hands to receive chapatis and our plate so that volunteers could slop on the various veg fare. I actually ate a good bit of it, but they gave me seconds and I barely put a dent in that. When I carried my plate down, everyone was giving me dirty looks.

The young boy sitting next to me, dressed in a red sweatshirt, completed with hood, was very nice. I gestured that I was full, which he took to mean my stomach was hurt. Anyway, he walked me down to the drop off point, where we left our plates. He made sure I was alright, guiding me through the masses.

Next, I walked around the reflecting pool to find a long queue, dozens wide, hundreds long, to enter the temple itself. So, I'll go back another time. I saw the Sikh museum, which has plenty of portraits of Sikh martyrs. After the Golden Temple, I visited the nearby Jallianwala Bagh, a park dedicated to Sikhs who were massacred there in 1919 by the British. Now I don't want to be disrespectful, but the Sikhs seem to be the Detroit Lions when it comes to fighting wars.

Over the past week, I've been asked about American sexual habits quite a bit. The perception here is that you'd be hard pressed to find a woman in America who wears a skirt that covers her upper thighs. Some people I've talked to think that America's public space is covered with people having sex. I know Humpty once got busy in a Burger King bathroom, but that was a long time ago and it's important to remember that Humpty isn't real, he's the alter-ego of Digable Planets frontman, Shock G. And plus, that was just a song.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Air is Visible

That's been the main problem with Amritsar, the dirty air. Now, I've been in India for 5 and half weeks this trip. I've spent nearly 3 months of my life in India. For me to comment on the pollution at this point, you know it's bad. There is a constant haze over Amritsar. My eyes watered several times, something that has rarely happened to me due to pollution (the movies Schindler's List and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry are different stories). It was virtually unb(air)able. Pun!

Last night, I ventured through some of the old city. Today, I walked around the posh part of Amritsar, Lawrence Road. As everywhere here, the traffic fills every inch of the road/sidewalk. I yelled at one guy, "Hey this is a sidewalk, not a sidebicycle!" He couldn't here me over the rattling of autorickshaws. There seems to be less garbage and only a trickle of beggars here. Today I had lunch at Burger King. Not the Burger King, just some restaurant that jacked the name. I sat down and two Indian girls, probably from the nearby women's college, said hello to me. When I said hello back, they both giggled. That might not sound like much, but I was so taken aback that an Indian woman would initiate any interaction with me, I was nearly left speechless. Women here don't even like when you talk to them, let alone say something to you first.

Some famous looking people I'e seen in India:
The Indian Craig Stadler
The Indian Don Sutton (or at least an Indian guy with Don Sutton's hair)
The Indian Ghostface Killah
The giant Indian Stephen Spielberg
The Indian Sadam Hussein
The Indian Larry King (may have actually been Larry King)

Things I'm worried about when I go home:
-That I'll drive on the wrong side of the road
-That I'll swerve in and out of lanes without regard
-That I'll forego utensils and only eat food with my right hand
-That my stomach will do flips when I eat a cheeseburger
-That I'll hock loogies all over the place
-That I'll mutter bad things about people to their faces in English, thinking they can't understand me

Friday, November 06, 2009

Lucknow to Amritsar... Eventually

The younger son of my friend's extended family and his friends were a little rude to a small group of young guys from villages when we traveled from Hardoi to Lucknow yesterday (which seems like a month ago now). They woke them up and made them squish together and exiled them to the top bunks of the train. One villager, an older man, sat there calmly and with a rare sense of dignity. At one point his eyes shifted towards mine and there was an overwhelming goodness in them. Both sets of eyes quickly darted away after that moment.

I was walking to my train's intended platform when I spotted a familiar face. It was that same older man. Both of our faces lit up when we recognized each other. We shook hands, the first of 3 or 4 times. He didn't speak English, which made for a difficult conversation. I told him I was going to Amritsar at 4 (char). He mistook that for platform 4. I told him platform 7 (sot) and tried to explain that I was leaving at 4. He kept telling me I needed to hurry because the train to Amritsar was leaving soon. However, there were at least 3 trains to Amritsar leaving within a couple hours of each other and I had a reserved ticket (probably an unknown luxury to this man) for a later one. We shook hands for the final time waved good bye and walked away smiling.

The train was 2 hours late. My seat area was piled with little children. They were more receptive to me than the little girl in my friend's family, but still not enthralled with me. The last few days have been a bit of a hit to my pride when it comes to small children liking me. This trip, I went in a 3AC car, meaning there are 3 bunks stacked on top of each other. When I take an overnight trip, I go 2AC, for shorter trips, I travel in the low-budget sleeper cars. I shouldn't complain, because traveling 3AC is a privilege here, but there was very little space and by the time I woke up, my body was cramped all over.

We had been traveling for 14 of the proposed 17 hours when the train stopped. I was told by other passengers that it was a train strike. But after looking it up online, the train's path fell victim to people protesting the anti-Sikh violent riots of 1984. My train was not the one stopped by the protestors, but the route was. I followed a Hindu couple with a baby boy and a Sikh couple with two small children out of the train. We were stranded in a place called Doraha. I'll need to look up its location at some point. Doraha was quite literally a dusty town. At least from the train station to the bus stand, it was characterized by run-down strip mall-like stalls on either side of the dusty road.

Then the two families and myself, all headed to Amritsar, stormed one bus. At one point, I was stitched into the seat, my little knees pasted to the seat in front, my arched back pressed against my seat back, and both sided slammed into my seatmates. A Hindi movie was blaring. The we got off the bus. I asked sardonically the husband of the young couple, "What happened, a bus strike?" He explained straight-faced that we needed to change buses. On the next bus, my big bag was shoved underneath my feet, so that I was curled up in a ball for much of the trip.

Well, 1pm, about 4 hours after we left the train, we arrived in Amritsar. The young Hindu couple, who I felt were a little arrogant towards me (and probably in general. He's a successful business man with a wife and child and he's very young. She speaks English really well and holds a bit of a sense of entitlement.), were still so helpful. My first impression of Amritsar is that I've never seen air that dark.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"Real India"

I visited the extended family of a high school friend in Hardoi from Tuesday night until this morning (it's 11:30am here). Hardoi is a 2 hour train ride from Lucknow. The trip to Hardoi was bookmarked by those 2 2 hour journeys, filled with the younger son's train buddies. The younger son is in his mid-20s (but he and his firend haven't outgrown gay jokes). Both trains were jammed packed (for me, not for an Indian person), between 5-7 people for a bench that comfortably seats 3. The first trip, my cheek (and every other male's in the car) was stroked by a shemale.

To a person unfamiliar with India, you might not be able to tell Hardoi and Lucknow apart, save for the tourist-friendly businesses in Lucknow. But the father of the family assured me that Hardoi was "real India." Part of that was the all veg diet that I endured throughout my stay there. The food was actually really good, even for a person who eats 3 veggies a year like me. I spent the day with the father and the eldest son. They clearly planned their day around showing me different places, but it wasn't far from a typical day, I'd imagine. Lots of hanging around different places. They did have to repeat my relationship to the family and my situation every time they met up with somebody. I saw the school in their former home village that the father helped build. I saw the NGO that helps pregnant women in rural areas that the elder son works for. In fact, I was the guest of honor at their meeting. They took photos of the event! That also happened to me in China, although this was not nearly to the same degree of fanfare, but it always makes me battle my own humility.

I drank so much chai in that day in a half. I just kept being fed veg food. You can't refuse. There were some things I just couldn't eat at the expense of the host's feelings, but better to eat only a little than eat more throw it up I figured. I also prayed at the most famous Hindu temple in Hardoi, the Rama-I-wish-remembered.

The flat, which the father owns, houses the entire family. The father, mother, two sons, daughter, the eldest son's wife and daughter, and the wife's mother-in-law. It's a modest size, especially for all those family members, compared to an American sense of space. But they get along, at least for that day and half. There was honestly no sign of anyone getting in anyone else's way. In terms of gender roles, if it were an American household, it might seem rigid and even archaic. But it's impossible to truly compare. I will explain, but you mustn't judge. The women cooked, cleaned, and served. Mainly only the daughter and the eldest son's wife. The men were served first and sometimes we completed our meal before a woman joined us (not me though, as I'm a painfully slow eater) and sometimes they would join in the middle. The women certainly talked to me, but language was the issue. If they spoke English, I didn't hear it. The level of English varied greatly between family members. Some would ask me things in Hindi and I would stare and smile stupidly.

I must say that quickly I became unconcerned about offending the family over a misunderstanding in terms of gender. It just wasn't an issue. The eldest son's daughter was a year and half old and cried immediately upon spotting me. There's a couple that rents from the family and lives upstairs; their 2 and half year old daughter also staring wailing when she saw me. So the first evening was filled with two crying girls whenever I tried to smile at them. The elder one warmed up to me that night. The other never really did, although he did calmly wave at me a few times.

There's so much to tell, but let's leave it at something mundane. from the train station, I was in the middle of two other guys on the younger son's motorcycle. My crotch against the guy in front's... well, you know, it was a tight squeeze. We're zipping through the hectic Hardoi traffic (hectic for America, not India). Then a 4th guy hopes on. No helmets of course, are you crazy? I was so numb, it was nothing. Just a trip from the train station to the house. And the final thing I'll say is that the family was so good to me. I was afraid of offending them at every turn, but they were just unimaginably nice. And I have some marriage offers.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Good and Bad Luck

Today, I saw the Bara Imambara from the outside. It cost 300 rupees to get in and I have never heard of it before this week. I also saw the Chota Imambara, but went inside (for 10 rupees). Both are tombs. The inside of the smaller one (chota) was ornamented in colorful pictures and scale-down models.

Last night I walked through the richer part of town. The main street in Lucknow is called MG Road after Gandhi. It's ironic that the poshest street in every Indian city is named after the minimalist Mahatma. To speak of "Two India's" is too simplistic, but the difference between the old city and the new part of town in many cities is striking. There are sidewalks, wide avenues, fancy stores, bright lights, and beggars in the newer part of Lucknow. What makes that area really nice are the numerous lit statues and (what I think are) government buildings, which are pleasing to the eye.

I've had some trouble with the hotel. The power kept going out one day (localized only to my room and then only my floor), the cable goes out at night, and today I found a lizard in my room. I told the hotel staff about it and they didn't understand the word lizard. So I said animal. They asked (in a curt dismissive tone) like a monkey? The name is Hotel Mayur, come for the lizards and power outages, stay for the rude guys at the reception desk.

As I've hinted at, there a fine line between standing up for yourself and drawing yourself into a cultural or linguistic misunderstanding. It is a line that I have been on both sides of. One of the points I've been trying to make is that India is not the stereotypical "spiritual place" that Westerners view it as. It is a country that is really probably several in one. Those places have problems like anywhere else. Many people spend each day trying to make it to the next. There's poverty. There's pollution. There's garbage. But perhaps I have gone too far sometimes in trying to disprove this stereotype of the West, which is so far from reality. This is a special place. There are tiny rewarding moments every time you walk out of the door. The key is to catch them through everything else being thrown around. India is a place that doesn't apologize for what it is. Nor should it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

In Lucknow

Lucknow be a lady tonight! It seems like I have good Lucknow. Ugh, terrible.

I'm reading the Kite Runner right now. I went for a stroll last evening and ran into a beautiful scene. Tons on kites marking the sky. I was surrounded by two mosques blaring out the call to prayers. It was sunset. The scene almost felt set up.

The walk took place through Lucknow's old city. Narrow alleys (not Varanasi-narrow though) and broad congested roads constitute this part of town. Coming from Kolkata, it's really a mini culture shock all over again. Animals have reappeared on the street (only in Kolkata are they not present in my experience). The roads are dusty. There are no sidewalks. It's a familiar Indian scene, but one that's very different than Kolkata.

I ate at Karim's Kabobs. Did you know that Karim is the grandson of Haji somebody or other. Even though it was a hole in the wall, the menu was in English (though the servers couldn't speak it), Muslim places won't have strange animals, and I figured if his grandfather made the Haj, those must be some pretty good kabobs. It was good. I got a slab small pile of meat (probably beef) and roti for 13 rupees (about 30 cents). My stomach has largely held up, but the shock of beef after 5 weeks made my bowel movement less pleasant.

Last internet place I bargained the guy down from 40 rupees an hour to 20. When I was finished he said, 25. He didn't get the 5 and he lost a customer. For lunch yesterday, I ordered chicken curry. I got paneer. By the time I realized (I thought maybe the chicken was hidden in the paneer), it was too late to send it back. Of course, the paneer was more than the chicken (not that paneer is usually more). Every place I go that isn't a usual spot for foreign travelers, I'm always worried it'll be another Mysore. I hope it's another Mangalore or Allahabad. Not sure about Lucknow yet.

One final note. There's a raging fire that's lasted a few days in Jaipur right now. Yesterday, someone was shot to death outside a Kolkata metro station (neither were anywhere near where I was in those places). Something similar happened 2 years ago when I was India. Bad news seemed to come to a place after I left. Watch out Lucknow!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Kolkata to Lucknow

Let me say that I've often come across affirmations of the Indian stereotype for hospitality. But it is just that, a stereotype, not a fixed rule. Many people have either been tremendously helpful, caring, and at least considerate. But those stories aren't as interesting in my mind.

The hotel receptionist told me that flag down a cab to Howrah train station and it would cost 60-70 rupees. I did just that and squeezed into an occupied cab. When we arrived at the station I asked how much. At this point I was willing to pay no more than 100. That was more than fair. The driver said, "Twenty." I blurted out, "That's all?" My shock must have sounded like anger because the driver repeated more forcefully, "Twenty." I gave him thirty and said, "Tip." He smiled.

While driving over the Howrah bridge, the driver lowered his head and put his hands together in prayer because we were over a holy river. Part of me thought that it was a very moving scene. But another part of me thought maybe he should lift his head and keep his eyes on the road since he was driving us over a bridge in India!

I couldn't find my train number anywhere at Howrah. Things started to get desperate. I shoved my way up almost all the way to the enquiry booth when I saw my train number and platform. I went to the train, but couldn't find my name anywhere on the passenger list. I sat down and waited for what was to come. Maybe they'd make me buy the ticket all over again, even though I had been billed for it. The ticket checker came and I explained everything to him. I had a confirmation email, which was cut off, and I had been billed for the ticket, but I never received an e-ticket. The guy listened patiently and then started searching for my name. I saw it on his list! I was in the right seat, but in the wrong car. The ticket checker was really nice.

I got to my seat which smelled like shit, literally. I braced for the 18 hour journey. There was still the slight threat of being kidnapped by Maoists. But I was so releaved, none of that mattered. Everything had worked out! And as it turned out, I wasn't kidnapped by Maoists. I'm in Lucknow now, but have only made the walk from the train station to the hotel across the street.