Saturday, November 3, 2007

Enter Rajasthan

Midnight debut on indian rails.
Waiting at track no. 10, our train to Ajmer on the Ahmedabad line has no hurry to arrive timely either. The platform is crowded and people sit everywhere, waiting for whenever it will arrive with a glare of acceptance in their eyes. We adapt to this in the same relaxed manner, not annoyed by it as we would be back home. What gives. At least there is entertainment on the other side when an arriving train dumps litter onto the tracks, prompting many rats to crawl from any hole between the rocks and steel rails. No square meter without a rat, we reckoned. Not just any rat, but big fat ones with bald, greasy spots on them. Old Delhi train station rats gotta eat too, y'know. You can see certain clans fighting each other for the food and the big ones take it all while the smaller younger rats can only have the scraps of the scraps. Meanwhile, little kids or adults of the lowest caste carelessly walk along down the tracks, looking for waste plastic bottles to collect. Rats neither scared of them, but likewise they not of them. Life in the gutter has its own ecosystem of natural respect, how unreal that might sound.

Oh, if you're male and you need to go to the toilet for a #1, just hop on the tracks like the numerous Indian males and do your thing right there. Perhaps on a rat's nest if you're brave/dumb enough. We don't feel the urge to try these track toilets on the spot.

Train does arrive an hour later, despite vaguely head wigging officials referring to more waiting time. We stumble with our gear into the train and found the right sleeper wagon at first try. It's really not difficult looking for your wagon number, as long as you look on the printed lists before, which are hanged on the platform board.
In the night train, life transforms into a huddled sit on bed bunks with many foreign and local passengers, no seating spot unused. Flashing past the numerous suburbs of Delhi, the smoggy dust gives everything a red brownish gloom. Even way past midnight, life is very much awake with shantytown houses lit and many small factories doing their nightshift, filled with working souls. We share our bunk spot with a Korean couple and a Spanish couple, both on their way to the holy town of Pushkar. Across us sit a Rajasthani family, one generation big. While they seem modestly poor and do not seem to come from the city, the females of the family are all spotlessly dressed in colorful and shiny sari dresses, gowns and longish shawls. They vacantly stare at us foreigners, half listening in to our travel-like introductions to one another. It's as if the family looks on from an invisible yet marked social sideline, as they do not interact with us beyond eye contact. Especially the younger females of the family, in their late teens , maybe early twenties, keep looking to us longer when the rest of the family has turned their attention elsewhere.

Slowly but surely, everybody around starts falling asleep on the steady rhythm of the tracks while me and the Spanish woman stay awake longer to talk some more, scribbling some thoughts and being the nite owls we confess to be. The Rajasthani girls fall asleep in crouched positions that they seem used to, but that would give us instant cramps. One has her knees pulled up to her chest while sharing the bunk with her sister, who uses a square carton box as pillow. With sari's drawn over their shoulders and half covering their faces, they graciously lie there. It's a humble and endearing view and I peek at it with a certain voyeuristic shame, cos I can't take my eyes their pose. Some of the older men of the family come around to silently take care of the women by covering them with patched blankets.
Snoring sounds, muffled chatter and laughter fills the wagon while we roll on, down south to the vast dry lands of Rajasthan. From time to time trains screech by, temporarily waking some in a shock, or the sound of the train blowing it's horn while the rhythms of the tracks *kadengkadeng and so forth* continue.

I guess I better get some sleep too.

Early morning arrival into Ajmer. Every cart pusher, riskha driver or bus shark wants to take us to Pushkar, but we keep on saying *nahi, abhi nahi* (no, not now). And so we stayed in Ajmer since a few days, where we still are.

The city isn't very big by Indian means, but certainly bigger than many Dutch cities. People here stare at us more than in Delhi. Especially Rajasthani locals and gypsies, but they also leave foreigners alone more than in Delhi. They seem proud, yet kind and carry a certain humour in them with a little bite to it. Also the women here behave differently than their more introvert hindustani and muslim counterparts in making contact and are way more direct and open. Some younger females even jeer us in provoking and cheerful manner, which kinda makes you feel turning red.

oh, while Maarten lay asleep due to a slight Delhi belly, I had a bizarre nite few days ago.
I was out late for a walk on my own to find an internet cafe and suddenly heard some muzak and singing coming from a big courtyard. There was a double wedding ceremony going on with qawwali sufi style singing.
I was peacefully watching for a while until I got pulled in by the brother of one of the grooms and I was obliged to dance with them on Rajasthani folk disco, alongside tunes of reggaeton and brazilian samba. Pretty bizarre I tell you, as 300 folks all turned their heads to me, gazing at will, while guys taking faux-violent turns to dance with me (women were not dancing), people touching my blond curly hair, while I talked to them in broken Hindi since not many talked English. They finally did allow me to sit down after the disco system crashed when one of the switches blew. My luck. Iliyas, 23, spoke quite good English and I could have a better conversation with some while he translated. He got me some 5 star class wedding food too, tasty spicey stuff and cake baked sweets! yummy to my tummy. In all I stayed around for 1,5 hour, shook the hands of the grooms who I had feared to be angry at me to divert the attention away of their ceremony. But they didn't seem to mind that at all, possibly I was a welcome diversion.
Pity that Maarten missed this, also to film it as it was a genuinely inviting yet hectic experience, wow.

The next day I walked past a big palace just next to the centre and I asked the military guy guarding the gate what it was for. He said it was for big weddings for those who could afford it and no sooner than he said this, by pure coincidence of Murphy's law, I felt a hand tapping my shoulder. *Hey, you are from Belgium!* somebody shouted and it turned out to be one of the folks from the wedding night before, recognizing me. He wanted to invite me up to the palace, as the proper wedding would soon be in full swing. That of the previous night was *just* a party for the last night before the wedding. Oh. I kindly refused his offer, especially because Maarten again was not with me and also because the guard seemed very confused and was saying *you, no invite have, not go*. The guest still tried to haul me in, telling the guard it was ok, which made it more vague for all of us. I duly thanked and wisely wandered off. Well, wisely to avoid the chaos again. ;) Let's hope next time we can both crash a wedding and enjoy and film the whole thing together. Being a foreigner alone in such uninvited moments feels mighty bizarre though warming all the same.

On Monday, we are invited to the house of a Sangana family, a musical and painter family caste that music for the Mughuls 300 years ago. We might even stay there a few nights, according to the father of the house. Should be interesting. The father is said to have 20 special Rajasthani instruments which he and his family can all play. Our camera and microphone are happy to see and listen.

Halfway the week we will move to Pushkar, where we will then *live* for 19 days in Polly's guesthouse. (thanks for the help Nine, we spoke to Polly yesterday and he and his brother still remembered you!!). Polly is from Pushkar himself originally, unlike most hotel owners there, plus he has a lot of experience in contacting regional musicians and translating to Marwari (the Rajasthani language, which is closest to the Roma -gypsy- language) since the musicians hardly speak English nor Hindi even. He has aided similar music projects like ours before, so we're truly luck-struck with this. It will really help, since setting up contacts or tracking musicians down is otherwise near impossible before the start of the Camel Fair festival in 2 weeks.

Now we're really up to date blogwise. yup yup. :)

here some still shots of Delhi, from the video cam (not clips, mind you) :

Sikh people on pilgrimage

delhi from the autoriksha

banana wallah

don't wake sleeping dogs....

Wimpy, a vegetarian McDo of some sorts..the likeness.

baby monkey in hotel

trumpets galore!

marching on

waving man, happy!

builder man

eggman backs into middle of road without looking....

and the resulting crash.

henna making before Karwa Chauth

travel happy

asleep on cart


marco said...

Some beautiful writing there, my friend. Keep on keeping on. -- marco

SebCatLitter said...

cheers marco, keep the special japanese road instruments coming too ;)

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