Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Mount Abu

That’s it for a month. Always the way, I was just beginning to get a feeling for the place, come across people who have things to say that I’ve never heard before, in ways I’ve never heard them said before, and yet I recognise them, I don’t understand them but I know what they are - and I have to leave.
It started a long time ago. Brother in law and me at the table after supper, bottle of whisky, and after an hour or so it arrived out of the haze as a notion that BiL’s family sort of owned in a kind of a way the Palace Train in Rajasthan and that we were going to do a tour, a sort of Rajput progress like a medieval monarch’s court, Pritviraj III or one of the more luxurious Plantagenets; except none of us are remotely Rajput or medieval, even BiL, who is by I think what we now call heritage a Brahmin from Mylapore, though otherwise a medical man from Seattle. Fairly soon after this conversation it was impressed upon us by the cold light of day and BiL’s sister, who still lives in Mylapore and lacks the romantic imagination of the exile, that the family had no connection whatsoever with the Palace Train, and we’d have to pay for those manifest pleasures though, as she also pointed out (she has a degree in economics as well as a Pujah room dedicated to the Lord Shiva), we couldn’t possibly afford it. So then it was to be a more modest tour of Rajasthan, with the close Mylapore relations, which suited us fine. But when it came to the final arrangements, through Anthony Ratnaraj of Thomas Cook of Chennai, it turned out that the in-laws would be on pilgrimage in Vanarasi, and Uma and Ravi and family would be holidaying in Tuscany, and we would be going to Rajasthan with four, not to put too fine a point on it, Americans. Only one of whom, BiL, would be in any remote way Indian, and another of whom would be my sister, and the other two I know nothing about at all except that they live in Baja California and make balsamic vinegar from their own grapes - commercially I think.
Now I have to say that even before our joint invasion of foreign lands and the bombing in Delhi, (which anyway seems to be a local matter for which nobody can blame even Bush and Blair), this was not quite what we had in mind. It’s not the risk of kidnap or explosion, which is remote. It’s the... you know what it is...
...sitting having breakfast in a hotel in Malawi in the sixties. The kids were very little, the sun was on the lake, there was some sort of parliamentary conference on, and there were about forty Malawian parliamentarians in suits. It was all calm and civilised. Then a family of Americans came in, and sat against one wall. I remember looking up and there was the American father, eating toast with his mouth open, looking around him, sort of stony faced, chewing, studying, and I suddenly felt like what it must be to be an animal in a zoo...
So it was that that I had hoped to avoid. Like I suppose most tourists, I always want to blend into the native background, be ethnic and demotic and witty and knowledgeable in twenty different dialects - which only makes my demeanour as an unbending witless farangi all the more obvious [variations of the word farangi, deriving from the Frank during the crusades, go as far east as Islam, certainly to Malaya].
Anyway, I’ll take notes and hope to be back round the beginning of December.
Keep on moving outwards.