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Tag Archives: India

 

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  • Arts & Culture

    Letter from Jaipur

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    Last year’s Jaipur Literature Festival was exciting and boring at the same time—a death threat is exciting, but thirty death threats are boring; as Dostoevsky wrote, “Man is a creature who can get used to anything.” Salman Rushdie was scheduled to attend: Islamic groups agitated to deny him a visa, which he does not need in order to enter India, but never mind. It was suggested that instead Rushdie might address the festival via video conference: the government itself advised against this. Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Amitava Kumar, and Ruchir Joshi read aloud in protest from The Satanic Verses, still banned in India, but, after the gravity of their collective transgression had been brought home to them, they left the festival.

    We know what comedy is: life is increased. Think of Rodney Dangerfield addressing the crowd at the end of Caddyshack: “Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!” And we know what tragedy is: isolation increases. I used to think that life was about winning everything, Mike Tyson once said, but now I know that life is about losing everything.

    But what is India, with its boundless affirmation of life in general that befouls so many lives in the particular, with its joyous proliferation unto overcrowding, need, and misery? I did my small part, during my brief month there, to maintain those inequalities: Give me your shoes, I know you have other pair, you not need these, give them me, said a man as he tried to pull my sneakers off while a second man tried to pin my arms; and what he said was true, somewhere on the other side of the world I did have another pair of shoes, four shoes and only two feet; all the same, unhand me, my little friend, before I pick you up and throw you like a javelin.

    I attended the 2013 JLF. It began in the same way. Read More

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  • First Person

    Letter from India: The Haunting

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    “I think this hotel is haunted,” I told my traveling companion, Clancy.

    I have never said anything quite like that before. Now, I have unconventional beliefs. I believe when others tell me they have seen a ghost, particularly if they have details—say, a long nose and a tuxedo, or a suggestion from an old lady that we “touch now, dearie.” But it still sounds like crazy talk. I am aware of that.

    “You’re right,” he said.

    “Really?”

    Then we were both afraid to turn out the light. We were in the Rajmata Suite, where the woman who lived in the hotel used to sleep, back when it was a home. Actually, the correct word is palace. When you turned out the light it was pitch black in the room. In that darkness, I felt—briefly—a unique dread. It was not a menace. Just a funny intimation. To put it into words is to coarsen what was fine: an intimation that one day I would die.

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  • First Person

    Letter from India: The Permit, Part 3

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    The story so far: Clancy and Amie continue to struggle to obtain the elusive permit that will allow them to find accommodation in a remote mountain area.

    We stayed one night in McLeod Gange. It might be called the woo-woo capital of the world. Woo-woos everywhere—frustrated, blissed out, on drugs—unwashed woo-woo land, with lots of coffee shops.

    In the morning, we passed a black street dog with white paws. He limped on a hind leg.
    Clancy said, “Hey, White Socks, how’s it going?” Read More

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  • First Person

    Letter from India: The Permit, Part 2

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    The story so far: Amie and Clancy find themselves stranded in a remote area, in need of a permit before they will be allowed to stay anywhere.

    The next day, as we were heading out to get a car, Tenzin, the proprietor of the guesthouse, stopped us and explained that it might take us two or three days to get the permit. He suggested we pack our room, offering to sell it while we stayed in Dharamsala. He said, also, that we could stay until August 6—we could stay as long as we liked.

    “I can shuffle rooms around,” he said once, and then later, “We have had a cancellation.” Still later he added, “You will have to change rooms, but your new room will be just as nice.” We shrugged our shoulders. So long as we had a room.

    In Dharamsala, we were directed to “District Commissioner” office 111. We poked our heads into a medium-size room shared by four men. Their desks were piled high with manila folders tied together with tennis-shoe laces. We said, “Protected area pass?” in a tone that suggested we might be arrested for asking the question.

    The administrators reacted as any American in her office might, should an Indian couple poke its head in and say three words in Hindi.

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  • First Person

    Letter from India: The Permit, Part 1

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    We were on our way to a small Tibetan colony in Himachal Pradesh. I lived there for about a year in 2008 and wanted to show it to my traveling companion, Clancy. Also the house where I stayed is very peaceful and nice, and I thought it would be a good place for Clancy to finish the book he is working on. We had about ten days to spend there and were in agreement: no cars, no roads.

    I wrote to the manager of the house, which is called Old Labrang. It is a guesthouse, but you can’t really stay there unless you get the okay from the manager. In the past when I stayed there, it was during the off-season. Since my last visit, the place had undergone major renovations and is now, by any standard, a desirable place to stop. Palazzo floors, an interior garden with flowers and orange trees. It costs eight dollars a night, and as a result I had a feeling that this time there would be a problem securing a room. I didn’t want to sit down and write the request.

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