November 21, 2010

A few minutes ago I bought some gums. 1.6 cents each. 0.16€ for 10. Alpenliebe are even cheaper. They sell gums individually, like cigarettes. I guess because people here don’t have enough money to buy the whole packet. I stopped at that particular shop because there was a lady at the cash register. You don’t see many women in the shops here. Her son confirmed that this is a sexist society, women usually stay home to cook and look after the kids.

These were busy days in Jaipur.

Yesterday I met with Vishal, one of the guys I met the first day. I jumped on his Royal Enfield and he took me to his friend’s house that was celebrating his wedding. Royal Enfields are chopper bikes that were brought to India from England; they haven’t been built in England for decades, in India they are very common. Next time I come to India I want to buy one and go back to Europe on a motorbike. This time I can’t do it because apparently as Italian you can only get a visa for Pakistan at the embassy of your own country (this since the floods in 2010 – but you should check your Foreign Affairs Ministry for updated info). I loved going around on the Royal Enfield. It’s not like on a rickshaw. Rickshaws are old coaches carried by bicycles, that sound like cool. But they have no dampers and on Indian roads they are very painful.

The wedding was probably at its 5th day. The bride comes from Agra, and they celebrated at their home the first 4 days, then they came to Jaipur to celebrate 3 more days with the family of the groom. The bride must be 28, the groom told me. He saw her for the first time on the first day of marriage, before that they had talked on the phone for 2 months. Every day. I haven’t seen the face of the bride for one second. It was covered by a veil the whole time. You could tell she was shy, and she was probably a bit scared because she left her family to move in with this new family where she doesn’t know anyone. Not even her husband. I hope they’ll be happy together. He seems fun and ok, a bit strict with children. He often travels for work, so he’s quite open-minded. He told me he ate all his fingernails this last month, because he was nervous. Not sure he’s doing the right thing.

We went to a temple to pray for a long and happy life for the new family, women only. I was the guest of honor, they called me all the time and posed for me (in particular the kids). At 9pm finally some food was served. I was starving. They usually dine at 10pm. Biriani rice, chapati (bread with lentils inside), and some curry vegetables. All delicious. They promised to paint the henna on my hands, but there was no time, shame. Before leaving I helped to prepare the “bedroom” (just a box-size room freshly painted, without matress because the bride should bring it). Flower garland and petals on a towel on the floor. It was their “golden night”. It’s very expensive to give a daughter or sister as bride. The family has to donate money and accessories as dowry. But then during the marriage it will be the husband to sustain the family. I brought 3 roses for the newly weds.

This morning I had an appointment with Vashal for breakfast. I arrived at 10.10. After two minutes of wait I left. I wasn’t too sorry I missed the meeting. But he found me a bit later. In the half hour I was alone I was stopped by 3 men. A commission guy while I was having breakfast with chickpea and bread (he admitted he gets 20% provision when he brings a tourist to a shop); a rickshaw driver and a biker. The first two alerted me on the scams you can get into here in Jaipur. It was today’s discussion subject. Maybe because it’s Sunday? I don’t know. The Lonely Planet mentions it too. Some people might offer you to start a stones business that is actually a scam (Jaipur is famous for stones and silver jewelry). When I got rid of the biker, the rickshaw driver came closer and asked if the guy had offered to take me to the old town where he was meeting some friends. These were the exact words the biker told me. They know too well all their tricks.

When Vishal found me on the street he took me to have a coffee at a friend’s. He owns a jewelry shop. Here we are, I thought, I’m trapped. But we didn’t speak about stones once. The friend was actually nice. The shop was closed, as every Sunday, but he does’t like to drink in front of his children so he spends here most of the time. He’s an alcoholic, I guess, he had two glasses of whiscky in half an hour. He has 4 sons and one daughter, the youngest, 9 years old. The oldest is 24. His wife died giving birth to the last one. Now he grows his children, alone. I don’t know how, if he spends his time in the shop, drinking. It’s a shame because he seems kind and peaceful.

The idea today was to go back to the newly weds and cook something with the bride, but I asked Vishal to excuse me. I didn’t want to go back and there were a few more things I wanted to see in town. I said goodbye to Vishal. All the time I spent with him I was kind of expecting him to ask to buy something, or to start a business, but no, he was totally uninteressed, he is a nice and cool guy. Loves movies. I felt a bit sorry to leave him, but I explained to him that I like to stay alone and get tired when spending too much time with others. He seemed to understand.

jaipur wind palace

After two lassi and a coffee I was on the road again, towards the old town, and of course someone else stops me. With the usual sentence. “Can I ask you something?”. I don’t know why I answered. I told him we get tired of talking to Indians because we have something else we want to do when traveling here, not just talking to locals. At the end I spent one hour with him. He offered me a chai. He said he stopped me because he saw me spitting (I hope I’ll give up this habit once I go back to Italy), because I spread a good energy (typical compliment), and he liked my smile. My smile with a large nose, crooked mouth and bulging chin? All right. Raj. He lives in Brighton, South of London by the sea. He trades in stones and silver. They are all a bit philosophers here in India, I like this. He told me a few stories that I had already heard. Like that men and women are different. Men are physically stronger, but women have stronger personalities (I don’t agree). Then women have developped a wider sight because this way they can watch their children while they work. Men can see further away. A few curious things: why are cows holy? Because they are quiet and peaceful, they are not afraid of anything or anyone. They walk in the middle of the street, in the traffic, they eat or sleep there, and nobody moves them. Traveling is good for the spirit, like when you wear a new dress for the first time, it gives you a sense of pleasure. I like this.

This culture is transferred from one generation to the other, from grandparents and grandparents’ friends to grandchildren, from gurus. Everyone has a guru in India. They seem like our confessors in Italy. Raj is not the first one to tell me that Italians and Indians are similar (but don’t tell them). Because we both like to stop in the street and talk. Maybe this is true in some parts of Italy, not where I live. Raj wasn’t too bad talking to, but after half an hour I got tired; nevertheless I accepted to meet him again after I visited the Wind Palace.

wind palace jaipur

Landmark of the town, the Hawa Mahal, or “Wind Palace”, is amazing. Built by a maraja for Krishna, it’s full of windows to allow women to look at life in the street without being seen (sad).

At the end Raj didn’t show up, and I went for dinner. On the way I stopped to have a chai and in a couple of minutes there was quite a crowd around me. Nice. I like when they stop without being annoying.

While I was writing at the restaurant a guy sat at my table. A white man. Alfredo, about 45 years old. Born in Venezuela, but he has been living in Europe since he was 14. At the moment he lives in Nice. He plays his guitar on the street, this is how he earns a living. Grown up Hari Krishna. He swings his head like Indians do, after 3 months living here. His flight is also on December 23. He invited me to visit him at Canary Islands this Winter. “But you’ve just said you live in Nice!”. I’m a hippy, I don’t live in one place, I move.

In a few hours I have a bus to Bikaner, North of Rajasthan, near the Thar Desert. I don’t like traveling by bus, but it’s difficult to find a seat on trains. The buses I use (obviously the cheapest) are like the old public buses in Italy. Fixed seats, broken dumpers, windows that don’t close. The first time I took a bus in India next to me was a guy of 150kg. I was able to sleep. I always sleep, but wake up every two hours, when we stop to pee and chai. Let’s hope it will be all good tonight.