Published in Lifestyle + Travel, May/June 2007
Hindoos on High Beam
An old India hand, our Frequent Flyer brings us up to date with the subcontinent’s pop culture, transportation highs, Keralan spirituality, high-society causes and insanity-causing cultural differences.
Typical Malayalee paroto lounge customer
I have become something of an armchair expert on India. Every month I spend long hours on India’s dastardly highways, avoiding cows and Hindus on high-beam. I then spend long hours in Indian hotel rooms (generally Taj hotel rooms), propped up in front of the idiot box, recovering from such trips.
I munch Masala chips and quaff Parsee mango pop as I recite my mantra: “Never again… never again…”.
After three years of doing this – and putting up with that glorious subcontinent’s own brand of not doing business – my nerves are shattered and I am 110 kilos on heat… but I can name every Hindi movie Parveen Babi ever made. And I can do hip gyrations and pneumatic breast thrusts while downing a glass of banana lassie. Heaven help the hotel maid who interrupts my morning rendition of Satya Da Alo Du Du (“Bang Me, Bang Me, Baba”) as I climb into my highway patrol outfit and vinyl bib.
The vinyl bib I have affected since discovering the Parota (crepes) lounges of Tamil Nadu, where men slam things down in front of other men, sending onion gravy sky high.
These lounges are my favourite eateries in Asia, almost on a par with the warung of Indonesia, in terms of a good meal in a proletarian atmosphere. My personal assistant from Pondicherry, the delightfully slim and elegant Miss Trixy Kapur also loves these lounges, but I suspect, for reasons not wholly related to gastronomy. She often pole-dances in the Parota lounges of Tamil Nadu (born of a Rhodesian cricket umpire father and a Tamil Javelin-throwing mother, her milky if blotched skin tones are set off to perfection by the generally sooty décor). No one ever looks up – Tamil’s are true he-men and are not to be distracted from a greasy pancake by the gyrating hips of a half-caste – but cows have been known to look in the window. Miss Trixy generally gyrates to “Dobi Da Da Movi” (“Hit My Tits tonight”).
Tamil’s are true he-men and are not to be distracted from a greasy pancake by the gyrating hips of a half-caste.
Tam-bram at home
Last trip I visited the famous Tam-bram (Tamil Brahman) village of Sundarapandipuram, near Madurai. Tam-brams are a uniquely robust sub-species who marry wealthy Bangalore girls and conceive computer whizzes. In their home villages – such as the architecturally splendid and unique Sundarapandipuram – Tam-bram men are rather fierce; they glare at passers-by like tigers in an old city zoo. Unlike their Balinese Brahman cousins they have no gardening skills at all – the last tree in the village has long since been chopped down – and there are a limited number of temples to run. Most village Tam-brams just lounge around in togas like roman senators, surfing the breeze. (Except, of course, the special few who serve as maître d’s at one of the state’s executive vegetarian restaurants, where the traditional macho service is circumvented by a senior Brahman who flutters about with a shining aluminium bucket, delicately dispensing dollops of curried goop. His fingers twirl like dancing castanets as the buckets dance across the linoleum.)
Legless in Kerala
Christianity came to South India with St. Thomas in the first century AD, resulting in the conversion of so many Brahmans that Tam-brams had to be imported from across the Western Ghats (to essentially run the states temples and religious communities).
In Kerala, God’s own country, there are more miracles per square mile than anywhere on the planet. I love to watch the local evangelic Christians television channel; “Give it up for Christ.” Last month, the show featured numerous miracles and a charismatic healer whose very touch would send beefy Malayalees (Keralites) crashing to the church floor. Fishermen gave testimony: “In the two weeks since I started praying to the Lord Jesus as my saviour I have not touched toddy.” They then promptly collapsed, legless, in a sorry heap.
Another ‘contestant’, a moo-moo clad-aunty from Mommy’s Colony, had been cured of her “intolerance towards air-conditioning,” we were informed by the pastor’s assistant, a lithesome miss in a tight floral frock.
Praise The Lord!
I am going to appeal to the Lord Jesus to get me off my Snickers and Lay’s Masala chips dependency. Stay tuned.
India only has Breaking News. Ever since CNN invented the idea in 1994, Indian news channels have been streaming only Breaking News. It’s like the treble dial on a ghetto-blaster, or the high beam option on car headlights: if you’ve got it, WHY NOT USE IT?
My favourite news programmes are the celebrity ones where Bollywood divas discuss wildlife conservation. These programmes invariably have tense “Thundering Stampede of the Apocalypse” background theme music (Tension is an Indian speciality).
Recently I was on a ferry coming back from Alibag – Bombay’s answer to Long Island – with a socialite who was yakking about Amanresorts and conflict diamonds and high colonics. Suddenly she turned on a group of locals who were about to throw a banana skin into the ocean.
“Shame on you” she shrieked as the docile Dalits took cover. “Couldn’t you find a bigger cause?” I enquired. I then lectured her on how all rich Indians should concentrate on the prevention of cruelty to design consultants, in the first instance.
Asking and Doing
Communicating in hotels in India induces sociopathic tendencies, particularly when dealing with staff members fresh out of a training program. Indians are extremely polite and cautious in communications, and tend to double check, triple check even, to avoid misunderstandings.
Example: (In a business centre in Hyderabad)
“I would like to go online.”
“You would like to use the computer?”
Or, in a business hotel in Bangalore:
“I would like my laundry back, please.”
“You want a laundry bag?”
“No, please return my laundry”
“Yes, now please”
“In your room?”
“No, in the middle of the road outside you …#%*!!”
(A laundry bag will certainly appear within five minutes).
Almost every hotel driver now asks a medley of Dale Carnegie questions aimed at soothing ones’ nerves such as:
“Are you comfortable?”
“Can we go now?”
“Is the A.C. all right?”
I prefer to be thrown a brochure for a foam massage, personally.
Recently a trolley retriever at Bangalore airport asked me if I found the cool climate pleasing. “It pleases me that you bother to enquire” is the only response, really, delivered like a true Princesse de France.
• • •
An architect kidnapped me last year and drove me from Bombay to Poona, the once quaint hill station where ancient parsees still live like grandees.
We left down town at 6 a.m., to avoid the traffic, and were soon on the outskirts of the interminable grey suburbia. Sadly the grey edge of suburbia extended for another two hours. I thought the sun would soon rise and the morning mist would lift and it would be like the hills and vales in the Sound of Music.
“Its not mist, its marsh gas” said my abductor” so don’t get your knickerbockers in a knot, Heidi.”
It was a cruel retort.
It was like the descent into hell.
In the primordial gloom we pressed on. We passed a row of abandoned Delta Force booths, set up to stem the flow of car-jackings along highway One, and then, suddenly, there was a ray of sunshine and a patch of the pastoral before we dove back into grey suburbia and marsh gas.
We were on the outskirts of Poona.
Made Wijaya is the nom de plume of Bali-based Australian writer and landscape designer Michael White.