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Published: April 20th 2006
Finished! The twelve weeks of my placement draw to a close tomorrow! I've made a lot of very good friends here, whom I'm unlikely to see again for a long time, and I'm really going to miss them all. But I'm definitely ready to move on from here and am really looking forward the next month's travels. I don't know what I'll do without Baby though, cooking me three delicious meals a day and brewing her special blend of chai for me! After a final cup of it tomorrow morning, I'll say my final goodbyes and then catch a local bus over the mountains and board the overnight train to Agra. If there are no delays, I'll reach there just before 5am on Saturday, find a hostel to dump my pack, and then head back out to watch the sun rise over the Taj Mahal!...
I'm fully aware that travel stories are never quite as interesting as the traveller supposes they are, so I've tried not to test your patience with too many blog entries during my time here! =P For this reason, there are lots
of aspects to life here that I haven't written about at all. I
don't really have a 'theme' for this final Paratwada entry, so I'll try and just single out a few of these things to tell you about.
Those of you who know me well know that I'm not usually much of a fan of shopping. I'm always bemused by people who go on a holiday to 'relax' and then spend their days shopping. What the...?!
I can't think of a more physically and emotionally draining way to spend a few hours. =/ But grocery shopping here is a totally different experience - more of an adrenaline-sport than a tedious chore. I often accompany Sujal on Thursday, (Paratwada's market day), to help carry all the groceries home. We usually go in the evening, to avoid the blistering heat of the day. Needless to say, what seems like the entire population of Paratwada has had the same bright idea, completely filling the narrow streets & dusty lanes.
It's hard to adequately describe the true craziness of the traffic at these times, and the fatalistic nonchalance with which the locals walk and ride through it! I've gotten more used to it now but I still can't help wincing when a truck barrels
past, just inches from the bike. Or when we barely slow down for blind intersections, swerving through the chaos in the middle, using the horn so often it sounds like we're sending distress calls in Morse code. It's the only way to drive though. You simply don't find any hesitant or complacent drivers on the road here; I guess natural selection weeded them out generations ago.
I think that if you wanted to recreate, elsewhere, just one minute of riding down the main market street here, you'd have to hire an army of Hollywood's best stunt drivers and give them months to choreograph the constant series of near-collisions and close calls. Even then, it'd be hard to coordinate the serene wandering of the cows, or the way the suicidal pigs dash madly in and out of the traffic. You'll just have to come and try it for yourselves some time - it'll beat any roller-coaster you've ever been on. =P Clutching armfuls of groceries, (and once the office computer!), on the ride home adds a whole new level...
At any rate, once we've safely reached the market, (and to be fair, I haven't seen a single serious accident
since I've been here), we wander through the stalls looking for the freshest vegetables. Quite often, we have to step aside for the marauding cows, who sneak around the stalls with surprising stealth, ('stealth' not being a concept I've ever associated with cows before). They seem to be able to instinctively sense when a shop-keeper has his attention elsewhere, immediately snuffling down a handful of juicy tomatoes or eggplants. In witnessing the responses of the irate shopkeepers, I've discovered that the sacred status of the cows isn't enough to protect them from some fairly hefty whacks!
A visit to the butchers, for my weekly serving of 'non-veg', (as it always seems to be referred to here), is equally interesting. The most common meat is 'mutton' (actually goat), and at any one time the butchers will have at least half-a-dozen carcasses hung up on hooks around a big room. Flies swarm over everything - the carcasses (usually so recently slaughtered the muscles are still twitching), the piled heads, bowls of congealing blood and lines of chopped hooves, (delicacies I've never made the effort to sample). As in the vegetable markets, you just tell the butcher (or shop-keeper) how much you
want, and he keeps adding bits of chopped meat & bone (or vegetables) to a simple set of scales until that weight is reached. To give you an idea of how cheaply I've been living here, a kilogram of: mutton is $3, potatoes or carrots is $0.30, and tomatoes is $0.40.
Apart from the excitement of my shopping trips, another thing I look forward to is the delivery of 'The Hitavada' each day. This is an English-language newspaper covering stories from the local level to the world stage. I've really enjoyed both the diverse range of stories presented and also the antiquated style of English in which they're often written up. Despite three months of reading stories about India's democratic system, I have to admit I'm still baffled by its layers of complexity. I have gained a better appreciation for some of its peculiarities though, (with headlines such as "Female parliamentarian attempts self-immolation" and "BJP mass hunger strike enters eleventh day"). Other headlines that have caught my eye range from the bizarre ("Girl married to dog to ward off evil eye"), to the disturbing ("Village lives in fear of prowling tiger; 5 dead"), the truly
disturbing ("Paris Hilton to
The groom's party nears the church... finally
You can just make out the jukebox, the groom on the horse, the crowd of men (and watching women) and a few cars patiently queuing behind them.
play Mother Theresa in new Bollywood film"), and many of very dubious newsworthiness. Two headlines in the latter category, which appeared side by side in a recent edition, declared some truly startling revelations: "Sprinkler nozzle stolen" and "VCD stolen from house"! (Although, to be fair, the full stories revealed that not just one sprinkler nozzle, but five
, had been stolen and that the VCD was worth almost $30
In other news... I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding here a couple of months back. Jitu assured me that, as it was a Christian wedding, it would be "just like a normal Western wedding". In many ways it was, although I've never been to an Australian wedding at which the groom rocks up on a horse, preceded by an ancient jukebox on wheels (blasting the latest Bollywood tunes) and a shady-looking character setting off huge firecrackers (with absolutely no warning to passersby). The groom was surrounded by a big crowd of male relatives and friends, and every 50m or so they'd pause, crank up the music, and then the crowd of guys would dance like crazy people for a few minutes, before moving a little further down
the road, and repeating the process. I wondered how how long they'd been on the road for. Judging by the expression on the groom's face, I'd say it had been a while.
Speaking of weddings, Baby recently decided that it was time for her eldest son, Nilesh, to get married. So she's been scouting out potential brides since, and thinks she's found a suitable match. Some time in the next couple of weeks, the two families will meet. Nilesh and the girl might not even get a chance to speak directly to each other, and definitely won't have any time alone together, but after that one meeting they'll have to make up their minds whether to accept the match or not! Everyone expects that the second meeting between the families will be to start ironing out wedding plans and dowry arrangements. A very different system to my idea of how 'normal' marriage works, but the low divorce rate here discourages one from criticising arranged marriages too quickly.
I was also lucky enough to get the chance to make a quick visit to the Ellora caves, when I accompanied Jitu on a work trip to Aurangabad, (an overnight bus
journey to the south-west of here). At Ellora, there are over thirty caves carved into the side of a stone ridge - some Hindu, some Buddhist and the others Jain. The enormous Kailasa Temple (Hindu) was the most impressive - the largest monolithic structure in the world! Life-size carved elephants, enormous panels covered in intricate carving, dark incense-smoky temples, countless archways and shadowy passageways… Amazing. Closer to home, I also enjoyed an afternoon exploring the Jain temple complex at Muktagiri, (very close to Paratwada).
I'll leave it there for now, and get back to writing up some notes for my UWA work experience report. =/ Thank you all for your emails and messages over the last 12 weeks - your contact has made the time pass a lot quicker than it would have otherwise! I'll work hard to keep in touch, and try to put up a couple of blogs, as I move around the northwest of India over the next three and a half weeks. Then it will be back to Thailand, just in time to register for classes at Rangsit University!
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