Just a few years ago we gave up our jobs, seized the kids out of school, and exited left around the world for a year.
I spent the whole of my birthday in transit: Paghwara-Delhi-Jaipur. As well as the kids being made to keep a journal, I kept one as well, and just a few years later, I’m glad I did. Memory is very selective, and I think if you have an optimistic disposition you erase a lot of the negative events, you definitely expunge the mundane/uneventful, there’s only so much room we have in our brains. My journal informs me The Wife was being driven mad by the demands of the kids in the confines of the train, all I can tell you with factual evidence is The Girl was demanding Heinz baked beans instead of Indian food, and The Boy was being melodramatic, as usual, swallowing his malaria tablets. This melodramatic ritual involved; Stage 1: ‘pre-anxiety’. Stage 2: ‘mastication’ of Skittles (strong fruity sweats), not unlike the tribes in The Amazon with root vegetables, the only difference being the saliva was not supplied by his parents. Stage 3: ‘The Wrapping’ of the malaria tables, which was either one or two per day. Stage 4: ‘The Psych’, not unlike that of a major combatant about to do focused and forceful pugnacity on another, think boxing weigh-in, or Sumos. Stage 5: ‘The Swallow’ – This being by far the most traumatic stage for all involved, and believe me, we were all involved. I would lose patience quite quickly, normally I’m the patient one, but on these occasions a switch flicked in my reptilian brain and I resorted to being my dad. The Wife was more supportive, to a degree before, ‘Stop being a baby and swallow them,’ ‘I can’t, they won’t go down.’ ‘Chew the bloody things and swallow them then.’ This is what Psychologists call ‘flooding’ and before you contact ChildLine or the RSPCC, The Boy had the right to withdraw–unfortunately!
I highlight this event so you don’t think our jaunt was one long Disney film with show tunes. (Nothing would be as bad as The Israeli night bus to Dharamashala, but let’s not go there again.) I highlight it because although away from home we were thrown together in much closer proximity, and it follows that there were less places to escape each other. The journal also states The Wife exasperated at The Boy’s melodrama, ‘Right, let’s all go back to England!’ Maybe I should remember this, but…
Waiting for the connection in Delhi Station in the wee small hours of the morning, I’m desperately trying to distract The Girl from looking on the tracks, there are quite a few rats running up and down nonchalantly on their way to a Stephen King film audition, taking the rich pickings from the discarded rubbish. I’m trying to make sure she doesn’t see them by lecturing her about India in general. ‘Dad, you can shut up if you want, I’ve seen the rats, I’m not bothered.’ I suppose at 5.45am my lecture was a little obvious and incongruous.
We all love the trains in India. These are our first two journeys of many; the first train has the added adventure of a sleeper, which adds to the excitement for the kids. You are not allowed to call them first class any more, but the next class above this I suspect might be Nirvana with an endless supply of virgins, olives and Carlsberg. Imagine how disappointed you would be if you go to Islamic heaven and twenty-four top draw olives are brought forward on a silver platter for your delectation! Probably a relief if you are female and a virgin I suppose! Or do the women say, “I don’t want another man who doesn’t know what he’s doing, I had one of those down there?
Jaipur, part of the Golden triangle is what makes India such a special place to visit. The bustle is invigorating. My advice if you are on a tight time frame would be Rajasthan for a week and then fly down to Goa or Kerala to recuperate on a beach.
You can stay in a heritage hotel for little more than a guesthouse, and it is well worth the extra money. Ours had a swimming pool that never seemed to catch the sun, and unbelievable as it sounds, was bloody freezing–you soon cooled off. There is plenty to see in Jaipur and you can easy spend five days there. We did most things, as we hired a driver some days to get about. On one occasion there was a big protest against the lack of investment in the countryside and the relentless power cuts and poor sanitation, apparently worse out in the sticks! The uneducated have a propensity to stare at foreigners, at least this is how the educated Indians evaluated it. On this occasion we were visiting a temple and I was wearing a thin black plain cotton Dhoti Kurta (long dress like top and lose pyjama type bottoms), the ‘Indian’ Wife is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, the kids are dressed in European ware. In the temple a group of about twenty men started staring at me, I paid little heed, then as I left the Temple they all followed us, they were more intrigued by me putting my sandals back on. When I stopped to look at them, they all stopped in their tacks, like that game we played at primary school: Grandma’s footsteps. This happened all the way through the grounds and it was a bit disconcerting for all of us, even in broad daylight with lots of people about. The Wife told them to go away and they just gorped at her. I did the same, they all laughed as one! Then one of them touched her arse, cardinal error (–even I don’t attempt that unless I’ve poured half a bottle of wine into her), their women back home in the villages might be subservient, but the slap with onomatopoeiac sound effect suggested that The Wife might look Indian, but she was from a post-modern feminist world. It was a slightly awkward moment that I don’t think the groper will ever forget as his mates laughed at him. It is situations like this in broad daylight that you can see how women end up getting raped on buses in Delhi in The Modern India!
Ranthambhore is well worth a visit if you have the time and the inclination to see a tiger/s before they become extinct. The first morning (the first of the season) we went out on cantors (opened top single deck buses), with a slight unease that large hungry carnivorous felines, if they so desired, could easily jump on board for its ‘meals on wheels!’ After many hours of seeing no endangered animals – the guide and driver tying their best to find one, were just about to head back, when one idled along the track and passed the side of the bus, to then stop behind the bus and pick up the scent of deer on the wind. It haunched down and lay in ambush off the track for the yet unseen family of deer; mother, father, and baby. Patiently waiting until the last minute when the family disappeared behind the screen of a bush, only fifteen metres from the cantor. The whole bus gasped, there was no way the baby would be able to escape, then the mother and father darted back in the same direction they had approached, more dejected sounds emanated from the inside the bus. Then miraculously the baby shot out to our relief, but more so for all three deer involved. “Tigers are lazy animals,” extoled our guide, and on this evidence he was right. The Boy was disappointed, as he wanted a blood sacrifice.
On the second occasion we went out we did not see any tigers, but stopped to have a look at an old ruined temple. A few were concerned about becoming part of the top of the North Indian food-chain, but the guide allayed any fears, then on the way back we spied lots of villagers casually walking down the track. “Tigers never attack people, they have plenty of other food to eat,” the guide laconically tells us, and the strolling people would suggest again, he was right.
The Wife has ‘words’ with the guesthouse owner when we arrive back, not about the mouse that has just run across the canteen, Indians have a very relaxed view on rodents, but the fact they have sold us on staying with them by promising to fill the pool up for the kids. The kids think the pool will fill up in a few hours, by the next day the water is only half the way up the floor of the pool. This is all the encouragement we need to move on and not stay the extra night.
We are all excited to be getting the third class train; the seats are like park benches, but less comfortable. It is only a few hours journey and there is little better than watching the world go by in a foreign country, except for the children there is: first class – you’re not allowed to call it first class any longer!… and you’re not allowed to dislike spoilt middle-class children with a distorted view about ‘slumming it.’, if they’re your own! Back in Jaipur.
Ian M Pindar writes books, and about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a huge team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late. It will take you four hours to read, or about the time it takes to fill 8m2 of the deep end of a pool in Ranthambhore to a depth of 15cm approximately. http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=ian+m+pindar