Last Friday saw our bitter leave of the desert city in which I died for the third time in twelve days. Apparently I wasn’t letting my body recover long enough before we booked it out of Pokhara, Lumbini, Varanasi, Agra. Fast, blurry, irresponsible travel. Looking for center on the outside, instead of within. The hotelier in Bikaner, who shall remain anonymous but that he runs the most popular ho(s)tels in town, promised one price as a kind gesture, and, come pay time, charged us twice his word plus an extra night.
The scene was unpleasant: Heather, moon-furious. Me, a half-delerious skeleton between their opposing words, as if I had some final say in the matter, as if the credit card had not already gone through.
Bikaner is somewhat off the tourist path, a northern Rajasthani sibling to the popular camel safari town of Jaisalmer, the famous blue-hued Jodhpur, and laid-back Pushkar. That was the point: take the ten steps required to avoid the crowds, and be granted a break from touts and their targets.
A handful of American movies and Indian TV recovered me to a skinny, post-zombie-like state, ravenous and sore from too many days in bed, listening to hotelier and beloved client argue over a handshake deal made a week before. My head shook involuntarily with anger. I wanted to thank him for his help with mailing a package home, and slap him across the face for after accepting lunch on our dime that afternoon. I felt both helpless and violent, and expressed with words my dreary fury.
Minutes before our bus was due to arrive, Heather brought me to a tailor. I stood outside as she laughed with the women inside. She’d arranged for a copy to be made of my favorite pants – a fraction the price, comfortable as the original. My anger from the hotel swept into a tearful gratitude. That, after a week of caring for me, tolerating my bad attitude, delirium, total refusal to eat, and explosive bodily fluids, she would bestow upon me the gift of a custom wardrobe!
Seconds later, three local boys on a motorcycle rode by. Over the 150cc motor, one spewed, Oh, I want to fuck you…
Oh, India. Let me count the ways.
I roared at them. Furious, annoyed, helpless. The driver turned around. Anger begets anger. I stood my ground, and they passed us, glaring, and yelling Hindi.
So much face of the animal kingdom is bluff.
The truth is, if they stopped to engage, I’m not sure what might have happened. I may have my head on a stake. Maybe not.
These kinds of moments seem to happen every few months: someone challenges me, threatens Heather, or myself. Mindless, misplaced anger. Usually, I laugh it off, put it down to a repressed childhood or some such context I’ll never have. Other times, something within me clicks, and an obnoxiously masculine, alpha force wants the challenger to know he’s out of line. Often enough in the past, I’ve been the one to cross it, exploring neighborhoods where I didn’t belong, and paid for ignoring the signs. I pay more attention now, and with it comes fear-borne aggression.
It scares me. I sense violence in my throat, limbs and gut. My heart palpitates, rushes blood to my hands, head, feet. If the bald man who jumped out of the claw of Abraxas at Burning Man had taken another step, the nerves in his face pulsing, probably due to the ketamine or cocaine… if these immature teenagers stopped the motorbike and approached us…
The space is unknown to me. I am neither a fighter nor a pacifist – I believe violence can and does accomplish certain goals, even if they’re not particularly useful ones. I possess neither art nor discipline with which to fight – only my body, and the rage stored in its depths.
I would be neither willing nor proud to engage anyone outside of defense of self or loved ones. Even then, I doubt my capacity to justify my violence. Bodies store pain, and I’ve got enough of my own to ever want to create it in another.
Breathe. Calm nerves. Channel chaos into creativity, let it go, release, c’est la vie, this is India: everything is possible; nothing is available. Counting to ten doesn’t work for me, but writing does.
India, for me, has not been so much a holiday than a welcome gauntlet. It tests everything I think I know, and wobbles its head when I ask a clarifying question. I love it as much as I hate it, and, as often as locals ask how much I feel for their country, India seems content either way.