The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Mar 25, 2009

Trippy Hippy

Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, I took a bus trip from Kathmandu to Delhi. It was in the midst of the blistering Indian summer and the rattletrap I rode was not air-conditioned. I found myself sitting by an American backpacker by the name of Michelle Katz, denizen of St Louis. Our conversation proceeded in fits and starts over the first five hours of the journey. The Terai reeled and baked in the heat.

Me: "You're American?"
MK: "Yes. From St Lewis."
Me: "Shouldn't that be Saint Looey?"
MK: "We pronounce it Saint Lewis."
Me: "But I thought L-o-u-i-s was French?"
MK: "Yeah, but we pronounce it Saint Lewis."

I snorted at this show of ignorance. She gave me a dirty look. Clearly, we hadn't gotten off with the best of starts.

MK: "Wow, it's hot."
Me: "Just wait, it will soon be hotter."

(Silence for half an hour during which MK drank steadily out of her water-bottle.)

MK: "I've no water left. When are we stopping?"
Me: "I don't know."
MK: "Man, can it get any hotter than this?"
Me: "Yes. As a matter of fact, this is not even really hot. It's, what, 40 degrees? We have heat-waves when the temperature goes up to 45. It's all to do with deforestation and the flat land. The other day, seven people died of heatstroke. You want to avoid heatstroke. Drink water. But the water here is not safe, so maybe Limca?"

At this point, I noticed that her eyes had glazed over, and her tongue was hanging out, so I faltered to a stop. I offered her a candy, which she eyed with a revolted expression.

Me: "You know, I could have flown to Delhi."
MK: "So why didn't you?"
Me: "I wanted to see the country."
MK: "You're crazy!"
Me: (smugly) "Yes."

A while later.

Me: "Do you like Indian music?"
MK: "No."
Me: "No?"

(Lata Mangeshkar was wailing loudly out of the bus's beaten up speakers at that point. She didn't let up till we arrived in Delhi.)

Me: "It's very poetic. This song, for instance, is all about some people who stole her veil. If you don't believe her, ask the policeman."
MK: "What policeman?"
Me: (vaguely) "The one in the bazar."

Clearly, Pakeezah didn't hold much interest for this intrepid adventurer from the Show-Me State.

Me: "Have you visited any Indian villages?"
MK: "Yes."
Me: "Were they nice?"
MK: "Yes."
Me: "You know, people are generally quite welcoming, but in some villages it's like your Wild West, this place is not big enough for the two of us, and all that. They don't like outsiders."

(I had only that day read in the paper about a bunch of upper-class thugs who had beaten up a bunch of lower-caste labourers somewhere in Bihar.)

MK: "When is this bus going to stop?"
Me: "I don't know."
MK: "Could you ask the driver?"
Me: "Sure."

The driver didn't pay me any attention. None of the other passengers looked remotely interested either. MK looked at me in wonder.

MK: "You asked him in English?"
Me: "I don't speak Hindi."
MK: "But I could have asked him in English!"
Me: "Yes."

I offered her the candy again, but she was too drained by the heat and my cavalier attitude to respond. The bus stopped in the middle of a desolate village. There was a hand-pump towards which rushed half the passengers. One man pumped for the others while they soaked their shirts and heads and gulped down gallons of water. When it was my turn, the man who was pumping announced that he was going to drink now. So I pumped for him. MK approached me gingerly.

MK: "Is that safe to drink?"
Me: "I don't know."
MK: "I'll drink it anyway."

She drank a bit. The water was incredibly cool and refreshing, and before my eyes she bloomed and began to smile.

MK: "Wow, that was great."

In a few seconds, the water evaporated off her head and shirt and she began to steam up. She drank some more water, but the effect was lost.

MK: "Man, oh man, it's so hot."
ME: "You know, it's only going to get hotter than this."
MK: (hysterically) "Don't keep saying that! Don't say that!"

When I got back on the bus, I noticed she had moved her things to another seat. She wouldn't look at me. So I stretched out across the seats and bounced and slept and shook my bones by myself all the way to Delhi.


Space Bar said...


but you understood songs from pakeezah but couldn't speak hindi to the driver? (i'm a quibbler.)

Fëanor said...

sure! i had studied hindi in school, but had had no opportunity to speak it without being mercilessly teased by the kids, so i didn't speak it. :-)

Guru said...

Oh no, I don't like the ending. In the swelter of the midsummer, there should have been some sizzle!
This reminded of my own encounter with an lone American girl traveling on an Indian train. She was really taken in by some ashram where she hoped to energise the latent force of her chakras. She seemed to have gone through much pain (she was vague about it). A lone pretty traveller hoping for nirvana in India - I dread what became of her. There are daily reports of tourists being harassed and much worse!

Fëanor said...

What! Are you saying I was harassing this lone tourist?

V Ramesh said...

how long ago was this ? wow, you could remember so much including her full name

Fëanor said...

Shortly after I turned 18. As for names, my mind is cluttered with them.

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