19 March 2008

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh... Hampi...

If you close your eyes and try to imagine India, I think your faculties of contrivance are likely to conjure a place very like Hampi, where I landed yesterday. Keep your eyes closed. Now, ask someone to go into your pantry and open every box, unscrew every jar, expose to the air every grain, condiment, meal, and spice. Ask someone to open the refrigerator, dump all the produce onto the floor, and stomp on it. Wait a few days. Have all your friends bring over their dogs, children, and grandparents, and invite them to relieve themselves freely. Find a CD of high-pitched, whiny music, and play it at maximum volume in the cheapest available stereo (make sure you bash the speaker a bit first). Ask the dogs to bark, the children to beg, and the grandparents to chatter. Still have your eyes closed? Good--now you know what India generally smells and sounds like. But you still have that lovely image of rivers meandering under a blue sky and high, yellow sun; forests of palm trees swaying gently in the breeze, their swaying like a dance to the horizon, back and forth; rolling hills; red soil; rice fields a magical shade of green; and the landscape dotted with small, tidy villages, their colorful women, layabout men, excited children, and listless cows. And that *is* Hampi. But, keeping that image, increase the people tenfold, then tenfold again; in fact, just fill your field of vision with people. Make those cute villages endless, not-so-cute towns, filling every available low place with tin-roofed shacks, gaudy little temples, communal water basins, street food shops, and random other shops. Pour in a liberal amount of autorickshaws and giant, lumbering buses gaudier than the temples. Obscure your view with dust and smog. Scatter trash on sides of roads, centers of fields, and basically everywhere else where there isn't trash already. Had enough? You may now open your eyes and ask the dogs, etc. to leave.

That beautiful India we started with is still under there somewhere, but you have to accept the rest of India layered on top of it if you want to *see* India--arguably, the crowded feculence I so flippantly describe is also beautiful, if chaotic: a beautiful, moving expression of a dynamic humanity. But let's not be too sentimental, shall we? I've been searching for metaphors by which to describe India today, because it was very hot, and my higher brain functions took a holiday. Anyway, here's what I came up with: a golden sewer, clogged with filth. So, the heart of India is gold, but like an untended sewer, the heart's been befouled and corrupted. Clean away the grime, though, or see past it, and the gold shines as ever. Hmm, I am not entirely satisfied with this image. "Sewer" isn't a nice word, after all, and I wouldn't want to imply that, though gold, India is essentially a civilization-size waste disposal system (though it could certainly use one of those).

I left Pondicherry on the morning of St. Patrick's Day and arrived in India's IT capital, Bangalore, in the afternoon. I have never heard anything good said about Bangalore, but I have nothing bad to say against the place. I was only there for an afternoon, after all, and I spent it, I have to admit, at a movie theater watching the implausibly ahistorical "10,000 B.C." Do I need another period here? Kajori? After, I took a sleeper class train to Hampi. This was an experiment, because sleeper class is non-A/C. It was fine! And SO cheap! Yesterday and today, I've been spending half my time lazing in my hotel's I don't know what to call it, relaxation area? with fantastic view, by the way, and the first I've seen in India not bursting at the seams with people, and half my time hiking around the monuments of this ancient Hindi capital beneath a pitiless Indian sun (I even got a little burned today). Please--Google "Hampi" and check out the lovely scenery, the strange rock formations (hill upon hill of high-piled boulders), the typically romantic ruins. Etc. Experience it with me. Because, like most of India, I strain at the description. Words are inadequate. But Hampi is a wonder. Hampi is a sight! Hampi is a relief.

1 comment:

kajori said...

Yes, another period, please! So, are you carrying back a little piece of Hampi with you?