6th September 1985
Paradise Lodge, Hyderabad
Hearty of the City (sic)
Flight: Delhi to Bombay
Train: Bombay to Hyderabad
It was the first time I deliberately paid baksheesh. However, for 40/- it secured a sleeping berth on the Minar Express. Fourteen hours of unreserved travel would have been sheer hell if I hadn’t slept above it all.
One extra carriage would probably have totally eased the discomfort of those squatting, crouching and almost sitting in the walking, standing and entering spaces. I have never seen Indians grumble about their enforced agony. Westerners, mainly Brits, yes … loudly and imperiously. This rarely releases comfort but it does help to let off steam when the locomotive at the head of the train doesn’t … and there’s never an explanation.
“Other than to amuse himself, why should a man pretend to know where he’s going or to understand what he sees?“
– William Least-Heat Moon
Life here is pure theatre. A tug at my trouser cuff and looking down is a monkey looking up at me. The marionette seller, curb dweller in Jaipur: 30 rupees … No … 25 rupees … No thank you … 10 rupees … How many times? Piss off! … 3 rupees only … Loud laughter from us both, and I still didn’t buy.
The boy in front of the fruit juice stand, stroking his chin as I stroke my beard. I pick my nose, he picks his. I get wax out of my ear and scratch my bum. He attacks his orifices too. We both laugh and the mimicry display is over.
The two hours of Western living aboard the Air India flight 104 was most acceptable. A toilet with loo paper and oh so clean! Lunch – Indian vegetarian but with strong, real, coffee and a triangle of Swiss cheese to fit in the bread roll. It was still another mindless, sitting stoically, form of comfort, but oh, what comfort!
I can’t recall the last public transport I’ve used with padded and gently cushioned seats. The private bus from Jaipur to Agra was slightly more expensive, but who cares if there’s legroom? My physical frame, while still dwarfing most Indians, at least resembles theirs in that I can now count my ribs if I wish to. There is little flesh to pad those wooden seats and backrests which seek out every nerve ending in order to numb them.
How do Indians put up with it? Furthermore, with their queue-jumping, mad scrambling and scrumming rush to grab those seats, men and women alike, but not so much the old and feeble, seem to relish the agony. It’s either their religion(s) or they’re in training to become a fakir for when or if they need to change their earning situation.
That shouldn’t apply at the airport. We all queue at the X-ray baggage check in, which includes a body frisk, for a boarding pass, a security check, for the airport bus out to our 747 and finally for the explosives (and drugs?) sniffer. Yes we all queue, but Indians head the lines. We westerners continue to lounge in the luxury of moulded plastic bench seats.
It’s been quite noticeable for the few hours in Bombay and now here with limited contact in Hyderabad, that there’s less hassle. The general enquiries necessary to find a bus or hotel room have all been politely answered. The use of a phone, the eating of a thali (late because I dozed off for the evening), and the purchase of some hard yet juicy pears from the late night street market opposite the hotel – apples, each big enough for a single meal, pomegranates and pears are all that are on sale at the twenty gas lit stalls, have all been mental and physical exercises up north.
Here seems straightforward. No activity is out of the ordinary just because I’m the only white stranger in town. The beggars were a bit more persistent earlier, but although my presence here is noted, it is not remarkable or remarked upon.
A pleasant space.