Shopping and Thanjavur

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November 23rd 2007
Published: November 23rd 2007
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At last, in Thanjavur, I've found a town I can cope with. Urban India has been getting me down. The constant traffic noise and attendant dust, the horns, squealing brakes, seething road traffic, where somehow adults, children, cows, sheep and goats, motor bike riders, cyclists and pedestrians all contrive to co-exist is exhausting. I manage to block it out most of the time, but I imagine that it's having an effect.

Constantly avoiding eye contact is exhausting. The aimiable eye contact with a stranger where you might even exchange a complicit smile, shrug or raised eyebrow over a shared experience, as you could in England, is impossible here. You're just asking to engage in attention which you may not want at all.

Avoiding appraoaches by stallholders, shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers is exhausting.

My low point came the other day in Mysore. I'd wanted to look round Devaraja market, justly famous for its colourful veg, spice and just-about-everything-else stalls. Shame I can't show you the pictures at the moment. The very second I got in I was approached by a young boy selling flutes. I ignored him as per advice, but he trailed me on and on and on for easily 15 minutes. His prices tumbled from 250 rupees to 50, and when he finally finally fell away another took his place. It got to the point I didn't dare stop and look at anything. And as for shopping for goods I might actually want (apart from water and postage stamps and so on, obviously), I've nearly given up. I'm just sick of 'no' never being taken for an answer, and with me it's been counter productive. I just don't buy.

But here, tourists are more of a rarity. This cyberpoint is one of the few places to have signeage in English, and my knowledge of Tamil script is non-existent. Almost nobody speaks any English at all, not even basic tourist pidgin, which is great, and I'll have to get Gwen to teach me a few stock phrases. Lunch was entirely by gesture, and was wonderful. Don't ask for the menu, there isn't one. Just rice chucked down on your banana leaf and helping after helping of sauces to dampen and liven it up. My bill only came to as much as 10 bob (50p to you youngsters) because they'd kindly run out and got bottled water for me, understanding that I was declining tap water. The man at the cyber cafe tried not to charge me earlier because although I'd had half an hour's usage, the system then crashed. it's only 25 p an hour in the first place.

Anyway, cooler now, and the temple will re-open soon. Wonderful place. More later.

Finally, people keep on asking me about the smells of India. Urban India's largely a not unpleasant smell of rotting vegetation - banana-ish I think. Wood smoke. Urine. Dust. Exhaust fumes. Cow dung. Stagnant water. Nothing like as bad as it sounds; I don't mind it. Anyone who's been to India got different ideas?


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