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The International Writers Magazine

A Complainer's Guide to Vomit, Hassle and Intrusion
Colin Todhunter

After having read this, you will not be blamed for thinking that some are inspired to write by their stream of consciousness, and I merely by a stream of vomit. Unfortunately, inspiration spews forth in many forms, often rearing its ugly head for all to see, whether discussed in the pages of a website or witnessed in the form of a horrible splattered mess at the roadside.

1: A Short Note on Vomit

Based on more than a few drunken episodes and bouts of dysentery over the years, I have developed my own personal theory of vomit. I’m thinking of going for a PhD on the topic. I am sure you will be delighted that I am sharing it with you. There is in fact a vomit law: something to do with the amount expelled being inversely proportionate to the quantity taken in. Any decent “vomiter” who has ever been drunk or has had dysentery will tell you this.
I have on occasion emitted buckets of vomit as a result of some hideous illness. And my last vomiting bout involving drink was many years ago. Old Monk rum was the culprit: or should I say, instant hangover (or instant vomit) in a bottle? Sometimes I wonder what on earth can I be vomiting: parts of my kidneys, brain or spleen? This is highly likely given that I have usually vomited every trace of substance within my digestive tract, yet it still pours forth. If it weren’t such an ugly substance, it would be beautiful to see: Niagara Falls would pale into insignificance (and you know just how many tourists flock to see them).
I reckon that by this stage I am almost hollow on the inside, having emitted nearly the entire contents of it over the years. I’m no longer the man of substance that I thought I once was. So I guess its time for me to fall apart - quite literally.

2: Delhi’s Main Bazaar

The Main Bazaar in Delhi: a street crowded with people, cows, cycle-rickshaws and Kashmiri shops selling anything from carpets to shawls to ornaments. As it is close to New Delhi railway station, and listed in the guidebooks, it is also full of westerners staying in cheap lodges.
My advice to any foreigner who walks along that street is to keep their eyes fixed firmly on the ground. This is for two reasons. First, it will help to avoid treading in the latest mess left by some urinating, defecating cow. There are estimated to be 36,000 cows in Delhi alone. Sometimes I get the impression they are all hanging out together on the Main Bazaar. Anyhow, the Delhi authorities are now clearing them from the city streets in an attempt to give it the appearance of an "international" city.
The second reason for gazing at the ground is to avoid making eye contact with people you do not wish to make eye contact with. They include Kashmiri shop owners and local drug sellers. Both types have become experts in the art of pestering foreigners. The drug sellers seem to appear from nowhere and walk alongside, whispering in your ear, "Hashish - good Manali". A non-response results in the type of substance being offered getting stronger - "Hashish… Cocaine… Heroin?" A non-response just encourages them; they probably think it is part of your negotiating or bargaining strategy. One way of dealing with the situation is by shouting, "I don’t want any of your damned drugs!" Everyone in earshot turns to look and the local drug seller disappears like a shot.
There is an alternative way of dealing with such people, however. The most common (and because of that, annoying) question asked of foreigners is the "Which country?" one. Usually the question arises from natural curiosity and after providing the answer, the questioner says "Good country" - it is always "good" regardless of the country’s name. It is a bit like the second most common question "What is your good name?" - it is always "good" as opposed to asking about your "bad" name or just plain ordinary name.
Drug sellers and others who latch onto foreigners with the intention of scamming them usually ask the "Which country?" thing as their opening gambit just to engage the foreigner. My favourite responses include "Provistan" or "Denland". The questioner then looks puzzled. To help him out I tell him that it is next to Finmark or Ireland. "Which island?" he will ask, and I'll tell him "No, Ireland". His confusion may persist for some minutes as the Ireland/island thing is continued, before he gives up and walks off with a look of bewilderment, not understanding that Ireland is a country, and having had his well rehearsed patter thrown into disarray from the outset.
But the shopkeepers can be more persistent. If you are looking at the floor someone will shout, "What are you looking for", when it is blatantly obvious to anyone with a pea for a brain that you are not looking for anything. If you happen to make the slightest eye contact with either the shop owner or the shop itself, or anything remotely connected with the shop owner or the shop then this can be fatal. “Why don’t you want to see inside my shop?” Looking is free", they say as they begin to race after you along the street. Apparently, uninvited hassle is also free. Such high pressure sales tactics usually backfire because the louder the shop owner’s voice and the more persistent he is, then the quicker the foreigner develops a trot to get away as fast as is humanly possible.
The best thing to do is to jump in a cycle rickshaw, thereby avoiding cow dung, drug sellers and intrusive shop owners in one fell swoop. Or, alternatively, just stay elsewhere when in Delhi.

3: What are you looking at!?
I have never quite got used to being stared at all of the time when in India. It is not just brief glances because I happen to stand out in a crowd, but unbroken gazes for minutes on end. Most of the time I just ignore them or have grown immune to it all so that I hardly notice. But on my cranky bad mood days, I notice it a lot - and it gets to me.
On those types of days, one of my tactics is to stare right back until the starer looks away. This can take anywhere between twenty seconds to three minutes. It is a bit of an endurance test and, if I am totally honest, quite a futile endeavour. If I manage to get the person to look away, he is usually at it once again within a matter of seconds of me looking away. Then I simply admit defeat, give up and end up feeling even crankier than I did at the outset.
But why do people stare for so long? OK, I'm foreign and I expect to be looked at, but to be stared at for minutes on end can be an unnerving experience, particularly when there may be half a dozen people doing it. I often wonder what is going through their minds. I would feel quite at ease if it were a mere glance that lasted a few seconds. I could then understand the mindset: "Oh, there is a foreigner - that's unusual to see" - but for three minutes non-stop by a group of people, and when you are eating your meal. I've not got two heads have I?
I know that nothing untoward is meant by it and is usually a symptom of natural curiosity. And compared to the British, Indians generally conduct themselves with an easier or a more gentile manner anyhow. So I know not to take offence. In the West, making prolonged eye contact (male to male) can often lead to the one doing the staring paying an unscheduled visit to the nearest accident and emergency department. In the good old UK there exists an undercurrent of aggression or menace lurking beneath the surface of many social settings.
So I guess that in India it is quite a pleasant change to be stared at - non-verbal communication with no intended malice. I think I can leave behind the UK what-are-you- looking-at-do-you-want-your-face-smashed-in type of stare and opt for the Indian is- everything-alright-you-look-different-what-do-you-need type of stare. Apart from all of this staring is a big thing in India anyway. It is a national past time and people do a lot more gazing at new things out of concern or mere curiosity that we do in the West.
The best option for me on one of my bad mood days is to be with a foreign woman because, almost inevitably, most of the stares will be directed toward her, thereby taking the “pressure” off me.
© Colin Todhunter January 2004

A Tale of Two Woman
Todhunter on love and the power of Old Monk
Chennai Hell Ride
Colin Todhunter on a dark road
Anyone For Chai
Todhnter covers the globe

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