Me: Everyone from George Harrison to Alanis Morissette (who sang “thank you, India” on her song “Thank U”) has been influenced by the culture of India. Now that you are back in the USA, did you have a Ravi Shankar moment?
Mark: Unfortunately, between running the gauntlet of driving to and from airports in Delhi, Pune, Chennai, and Bangalore, I didn't have time to get my 'zen' on. The closest thing I experienced to a Ravi Shankar moment is hearing a Sitar ringtone when hitching a totally impromptu elephant ride on the way to Agra (city of Taj Mahal).
|Mark, in red. Photo (I think) used by permission.|
We saw this old guy riding an elephant on the side of the road, and my boss decided it was a good idea to stop the van and ask him if we could take rides for a couple hundred rupees. After some serious Hindi negotiations, and against any better judgment whatsoever, I eagerly volunteered to hop on. Once onboard the elephant with my co-worker and this old guy, we were taken down a trail away from the road where several Indian families came out of the woods to point and laugh at us.
It was pretty harmless until we turned around and the elephant decided to take a dump. Apparently they don't much like things on their backs when going #2 because it started convulsing much like a dog who is trying to scratch a pesky flea on its back. Andy and I were about 5 seconds from getting tossed on our heads until the old driver pulls out a whip and started restoring a little order with the big guy; and started yelling something at us in Hindi. As we were trying to decipher his instructions, his Sitar ringtone from his cell phone goes off and the convulsing started again.
We somehow made it back to the road and my boss had this, “oh shit, I think I'm liable for these clowns” look on his face, and the adventure subsided. This was our first two hours on the subcontinent.
One of your pictures shows you and your group sharing an elaborate dinner. Did it bother you at all that merely steps from where you were feasting there existed abject poverty?
Not really, and that's the strangest thing. The dirt, lack of infrastructure, mass of humanity, and garbage were so prominent everywhere that we felt like we were mere voyeurs watching a surreal documentary. Most of our time was spent in a car, getting to and from each location in painstaking traffic (which included cars, trucks with 10 or more people riding, rickshaws with 6 or more people riding, motorcycles with up to a family of 5, dogs, pigs, monkeys, and cows).
To us it was overwhelming, but the locals of all classes seemed to be oblivious to the surroundings. They go about their day walking through the garbage with a certain peace and dignity. The dichotomy of the class environment seems to be lost on them. It makes the folks here in the U.S. pushing a class warfare agenda look foolish. If you want to see the real “haves and have-nots”, this is the place to look.
That being said, the Indian people are so proud of their culture that they want visitors to experience all the good and lavish things their land has to offer, with no sense of angst whatsoever.
There is a scene in Slumdog Millionaire where it shows the actors filling water bottles right out of the tap in the back of a restaurant. Did you ever burp and fear the onslaught of Delhi Belly?
We were warned ahead of time to make sure all waiters open the bottles of water in front of you, and we never had an issue. Personally, I stuck to bottles of 'King Fisher' beer at every meal to ensure I didn't get sick.
I’ve seen you successfully navigate a packed bar in order to get a twenty-five cent draft beer. How did that type of experience prepare you for the crowds?
It definitely helped me navigate the pick-pocketers at the Taj Mahal. Nothing like walking into a tiny, dark mosque doorway with 8 hands on your junk.
A few months ago, I ate chicken hearts. Glad I tried them, but once was enough. Ready to go back to India or was once enough?
To be honest, I couldn't wait to get back to the states and French kiss the clean concrete. I'm in no hurry to go back, but I would after a year or so. The next time I would like to stay in one city for at least a week. We spent most of our time on planes or driving to and from airports, so it was difficult to get more than a 'surface level' experience of each area. I'd like to go deeper, so I could possibly write my 'Within you, without you'*.
*That's on Sgt. Pepper's, Hot Fire, in case you didn't know.
I did know that. And “Thank U” is on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. (Okay, I had to Google that.)