Notes on Encountering an Authentic Experience....
Udaipur Travel Blog› entry 47 of 47 › view all entries
This is my last day in the city and my overall experience has been, um, unique.
For two more days Ahmed has been my chauffeur and travel guide.
Two nights ago we were on his motorcycle on our way up to the
& the lower hills stretch out to the west like moon-dunes before our gaze. It is hazy this evening and the sun is an angry crimson orb, its perimeters melting into the thick air. The pinks and oranges like spray-paint held at a distance: a colour-cascade, revealing the swirls of air currents, as cool pockets high in the sky collide with the reflected heat of the land below.
Ahmed and I talked a little about my uneasiness, as we perched at the cliff edge watching eagles (or were they hawks?) swoop, catching the wind and riding it like a wave.
He accepted it, as always, graciously and in his own stride, and I am still not sure if he had ever even considered that there was a chance we might sleep together. On the way up to the palace, we drove past a new suburban development and he showed me a plot of land which showed the beginnings of a foundation and some rudimentary walls. This was the house he was building, which would be ready for whenever he chose to get married.
He assured me he was aware of my uneasiness, since I had turned down the trip to
& maybe I am conflating his intentions with my own prejudices against what I perceive of the sexism of the culture here. We talk openly, but I am still uneasy. Lately, he dines half dressed, chest bare, and invites himself into my room constantly. And I know this would not happen if I were an Indian girl, of course... and (god forbid) if I were Muslim! So how is it happening?
What are the particulars affecting possibility, here?
Yesterday we went to Ranakpur where a Jain temple from 1432 claims a venerable stage.
Elephants, dancing girls, Tirtanker thinkers, lions, flowers and foliage covering the length of the column and the entire temple, like a hymn; and the domed ceilings and vestibules with their glass-eyed icons are all narrating complex stories of hope and history, intricate as a loom weaving.
I was overpowered by the spiritual weight the building emanates; we had snuck in at a time when the temple was supposed to be open only to worshippers so that made it even more hypnotic--the incense and the flower offerings and the quiet chants of barefoot pilgrims praying...a fabric of other worldliness... I could be in a fantasy novel.
Later, after drawing a crowd, inside, when a group of Indian boys wanted to interview me for their video, I decided maybe I was desecrating the very sanctity I felt so strongly, so I slipped out of the temple entrance and I was handed a single, incredibly fragrant rose as a gift by one of the boys at the door.
After the temple (it was a 2.5 hour drive to get there and Ahmed had pulled a car out of his hat this time), we had little to do. There is no town nearby and so we watched the monkeys a bit, then took off down the road in search of a shady place to while away the time playing cards and talking. We found a huge banyan tree off the highway about a half hour later, and we perched on a large rock under its shade. It was idyllic. The tree was a magnificent but tragic rarity that reminds people more of what was missing, than of its incredible presence. Last remnant of an ancient forest, long since cut down.
From the tree's shade we overlooked a small flat plain (moist for the region and the season) which had been divided into pasture and farm land. Cattle and sheep grazed in the distance, and we shared the scene with three young farm-boys, playing under the generous shady protection the banyan offered from the desert sun.
A few games of zorba, a nap, and three hours later we head back to
& for all I know, he may even be used to this intimacy, having spent three and a half months traveling with that older American woman. I feel so fucking ungrateful for my doubts. He will not listen when I talk about paying for the stay; nor the food his mother (gray haired and Englishless) is always preparing, no matter what hour we choose to show up; nor for the bottles of mineral water that I have consumed in the 45 degree heat… and I "must try this," he slops goat liver curry into my rice bowl, ignoring whatever I say…. I must stay longer, not go to
Whatever the verb tense, the words of that Punjabi girl I met on the train to this city echo in my mind. How do women fit here? That’s what we talked about--a conversation I had longed for, over my six weeks in this country. We talked and talked that night, the topic vague and broad… and contradictory.
Now, I am asking myself how I fit here. I have done and learned more things here than I have been able to anywhere else, in no small part because of this uncertain intimacy I have struck up with an Indian Moslem family.
Living it has been simple and warm and their hospitality is overwhelming.
Thinking about it is complicated (understatement of the year)
On days when I bump into Ahmed’s father, for instance, I can see his pride in Ahmed’s accomplishments, even though, as a lawyer in this region, Ahmed shrugs off the taint of prestige that his degree and his accomplishments offer him.
But his father is not around much, and I get the feeling he is uneasy about the way his son had been behaving with his guests… though it would seem he is willing to accept Ahmed’s judgment on most matters, since he retired from the arms business.
So. “Here I am,” I am thinking: I have talked openly and frankly with this young Indian man, discussed taboo issues in a country where one never sees a man and a woman even holding hands in the street. And here he is. He has taken familiarities with my privacy which are sometimes almost offensive, even to my Western standards, and--at the same time as I like and respect him, at the same time as he has offered me this opportunity to see and do and live a side of “traveling” which is more than I could have ever hoped for or expected, here in India... at the same time as I face this: a truly new… an authentic experience of a part of the world so different from my own...
"“Here I am,” I find myself thinking: & God! I’d rather the anonymity of that uncomplicated three star hotel, eating unexpectedly bad food ordered to my room, watching how the world unfolds according to the BBC!
Sigh. Maybe I am much better at watching authenticity than living it?