The International Writers Magazine: Indian Journey: Face to
face with Indian lifestyles
Dog Story in Tamil Nadu, Southern India 1982
Hungry and tired
we shuffle without enthusiam into the Vegetarian Restaurant on Madurai
A prominent sign declares: Persons suffering from infectious
and contagious diseases will not be served here.
the last thing I want to eat.
A sign on the station offers:
Trolleys for hire R1.50
For carrying sick people R4.00
For carrying dead people R6.00
Out in the chaotic street we are looking for directions to the Ten Pillars.
You cant ask Is this the way to the Ten Pillars because
Indians like to please theyll always say yes. So I say
Where are the Ten Pillars?
So he says, naturally: In Ten Pillar Street.
Indians will always say yes.
"Do you sell tea?"
"Do you sell coffee?"
"OK, one tea and one coffee please."
We are given two hot chocolates. Its very infuriating.
It must be a Hindu thing. Like the head wobbling which means yes
or no or maybe. It means what you want it to
The goal of life according to Hinduism is two-fold:
Abhyudaya and Nihsreyasa
Abhyudaya is aram (dharma), porul (artha) and inbam (kama. In the reverse
order it is sense joy, refined by well gotten wealth and regulated
Nihsreyasa is the attainment of moska deliverance from all sorrow, doubt
Tiruvalluvar has in his immortal work "tirukkural" stressed
the importance of the path of abhyudaya in order to slip naturally into
the state of nihsreyasa which brings about total spiritual emancipation.
(Tiruvalluvar the Tamil yogi the evolved soul.)
Well that makes everything crystal clear.
this matriarchal society Indian men are like little boys gaining
support from each other at every opportunity. If you attack them
in any way or if you lose your temper, (Get out of my personal
space!!) they all hold hands, encircle you and giggle. A crowd
of mainly young men gathers around you every time you stop anywhere,
particularly in rural areas. They want to help or sell you something
usually both. Linda screams with indignation on max: Theyre
all dancing around like a bunch of bloody Indians!
The children endlessly scream: WUDIZYERNEM?! You say:
My name is Stewart, and they scream WUDIZYERNEM?!
Or they greet you with Good morning! in the afternoon
and Good afternoon! in the morning. Or yell Hello!
Pen?! Or poke sticks at you through the open train windows.
locals fight like animals to get onto overcrowded trains and then
demurely move up and make space for each other once they have a
seat! Eight seated on a bench for four. Piles of luggage and people
sitting on it between the seats. 23 people to a carriage. More in
the corridor and on the roof and hanging off the sides.
Tamil Train © Stewart Hughes 2004
Weve had three
train journeys to get to Madurai. Every English-speaking person we meet
on the trains talks to us. Indians are like one enormous family. Our
fat Brahmin neighbour with bare torso and white dhoti tells us gleefully
about a dead body missing its brains. Suicide. He tried to drag his
wife with him under the train but she jumped away in time. They said
he was unhappy because of poverty. I think he fell off the roof.
These people are so selfish! says our Brahmin friend, as
our train is delayed.
Where are you coming from? he continues, with the usual
Are you married?
They always ask if we are married and are always surprised to hear that
we have lived together for several years but are not married and have
no intention of marrying. This is very radical to their way of thinking.
Do you have issue?
Do we have what?
Do you have issue?
Oh, you mean children? No we dont have any children.
He had an arranged marriage at the age of 21 and insists that arranged
marriages are a good thing and that you can make any marriage a happy
one if you both work at it. I agree with him that relationships are
about compromise. After three children his wife is now sterilised, something
the Government promotes heavily to little apparent effect. We have a
long and deep discussion about God.
Let me finish, he says to me, a fervid disbeliever, as I
try to put in my two-pennorth.
God is superpower, you will see him some time in your life. He
will come to you. All religions have some good, some bad. Hindu caste
system bad. Well we agree on the last point.
Climbing with difficulty
over endless recumbent bodies I make my way to the carriage toilet.
This one is a squat job, consisting of a hole in the floor and two foot
pads. Down the hole you can see the railway sleepers ambling past. There
is shit all over the floor and even shit in the wash hand basin four
feet off the floor. Id have loved to have seen the guy perched
up there with the train rocking violently. Thats talent. The locals
dont seem to understand that you shit down the hole.
On the bright side theres less spitting here in the south. When
we do see one we award them our Gob of the week award!
Where can we get away from in-your-face Indians for a while? I know,
in a National Park, there wont be any there. We head off towards
Point Calimere Nature Sanctuary on the east coast. We spend another
two days on a train to get there, arriving at the end of the line, Kodikkarai
station, at midnight. Oh well another night sleeping of the floor of
an infested waiting room.
The next morning we walk two miles to see the pink flamingos. Theres
not an Indian in sight; our first escape from people in two months.
Yippee! Absolute bliss. Except for the rabid dog. Its following
us barking and growling incessantly. Jesus were trying to see
the bloody flamingos and this damned dog is driving them further and
further out into the lake. And frightening us. I know nothing about
dogs, particularly feral Indian ones, but read once that if you stare
.. This dog is scaring me but its him or the flamingos
and I want to see the flaming flamingos. I turn and with trepidation
give the dog my famous Sam the Eagle (from the Muppets) glare. Im
petrified. Lindas cowering well behind me poised to sprint. The
dog stops in its tracks, stops barking and looks at me with alarm. Suddenly
it wimpers and runs off tail between its legs back the way it came.
Well Ill be buggered!
Hughes 1 - Rabid Dog nil.
Whod be a dog in Southern India? Vegetarian Southern India? No
wonder they look so, well, dog-eared and beaten.
We go to see the flamingos again in the afternoon as the sun goes down.
We hope they might take off but they dont. Pink wings, pink bills
and pink legs (just like mine.) In a pink sunset. Beautiful.
On the fringes of the park a man walks up and down a rocking pivoted
ladder that pumps water from a well. Clever. Bare-breasted women work
on the salt pans. We stay at the Forest Rest House where the beds are
made of woven plastic shopping bags.
Heading the next day for Madras we have a five hour wait in Mayam station.
Despite our 2nd class tickets we scurry for the peaceful oasis of the
1st class Waiting Room. Linda tries to nap on the elegant Victorian
painted wickerwork recliner. Its full of bed bugs. Todays
last straw. In a fury she marches into the Station Masters Office
complaining loudly. I skulk in a corner hoping he doesnt ask to
see our non-existent 1st Class tickets.
Its a disgrace. Ive been bitten
Madam I will have this matter attended to immediately, he
says wobbling his head. Yes, no, maybe?
He strides down the platform to summon the Assistant Station Master.
Together they inspect the offending furniture and by lifting one end
and dropping it heavily, create a shower of scurrying bugs. The Assistant
Station Master pompously goes to summon the Station Maintenance Manager
who duly arrives with a flunky bearing a pump sprayer full of a noxious
petrol based insect killer. India bureaucracy in action its
a beautiful thing to observe.
The smell of petrol fumes is now so bad in the First Class Waiting Room
we find ourselves back on the crowded platform. A sign says: Dabur Chyawanprash (with ashtawarg) for general disabilities chest
I think we might need him shortly. Or maybe one of those 4 rupee trolleys
for sick people.
Hinduism has taught me one thing: you need a lot of patience in India.
Its not about them, its about you, whats in your head.
When you lose it for the final time and die of a heart attack theyll
be happily standing around you in a circle holding hands and giggling.
India 1 - Hughes nil.
© Stewart Hughes November 2004
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