Family Holiday (vacances en famille)

I find it easy to adapt to unfamiliar conditions, but it takes others to make me duly appreciate and marvel at my surroundings. A little French flavoured family holiday is exactly what is needed. We’ve rented a minibus, including a Sikh driver who sometimes swaps the turban against a Nike cap and drives the nine of us through Rajasthan. This feels appropriate – all the same people who first took me to India when I was 15 are here. And their habit of cultivating joy is healing. We spend the long hours on the road making up a game of bingo, for which we have to spot things like a monkey on a cow (or the other way round) or a woman in a red saree crossing the motorway. Which we have now observed multiple times, unlike a motorbike on which all three passengers are wearing a helmet.

We are also preparing a game of “two right, one wrong”, which we’ll play with friends at home. Is it true that we’ve danced on the back of a truck? Or that we’ve been in a temple dedicated to mice, in which hundreds of rodents walk over the pilgrims’ feet? That Clem has moulded a brick with her own hands, which was then burnt in camel dung?

In the meantime, I am discovering roadside photography, right from the bus’s front seat. Which leaves me with hundreds of poor quality photos of the same setup. But this occupation helps to stay focused on camels, cows, painted trucks, and smouldering looks their owners probably copied from Bollywood.

Or cotton fields in which camel carts are loaded, puppies in the dust, little round huts that could appear in a Star Wars scene, a naked toddler being washed, and finally a sandy scene with no people; a sight in itself.

I wrote this on the way from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, where we slept under the stars of the desert. ⛤

Solution: I cheated; two of the above were wrong. We haven’t (yet) danced on a truck, although that’s definitely on our to-do; and the professional brick-moulder wasn’t satisfied with Clem’s work and redid it.


Post Pre-wedding Post

The morning after

My most immediate impression right now is the slight spice-induced queasiness that stems from the pre-wedding function I attended yesterday night. Not that any of the food was bad – on the contrary, it was amazing to taste some old favourites like pani puri, phav baji, and aloo tikki, as well as some unknown snacks (none of us felt the need to help ourselves in actual food after several rounds of snacks).

But well, for now it’s porridge and tea for me, in one of these touristy rooftop cafés in Paharganj (the main Delhi backpacker location), overlooking typical Indian bustle from a safe distance.

A few hours later

I’m again sitting in a café (this time a very artsy – and empty – venue in central Delhi), but nothing much has changed. I am sipping masala chai instead of ginger lemon tea, and am considerably more exhausted than before. My plans have been changing at a dizzying pace (or is that still the queasiness? Or the fact I haven’t had lunch?), and I’ve resorted to not knowing anymore, and waiting for some local friend-person to help me. That is because local non-friend people have been dragging me around different offices from where I was supposed to get train or bus tickets (after someone told me I had to book my train ticket from the tourist office). It seems established that there’s no train available today, nor a bus. Oh, yes: the plan was as simple as getting out of Delhi until my French (ex-host) family arrives and the actual wedding is happening. But there seem to be train strikes or whatever. Who knows. When one guy in one office told me that the only option of getting to the hills would be to take a taxi, which costs more than 100€, I decided that I should reconvene.

Since my friend who is getting married is understandably busy, I spent most of the function yesterday in his friendship group, listening to mostly Hindi conversation over blasting music, while the ring ceremony was held somewhere in the background, attracting interest only from a few people.

As far as my Hinglish (see below) goes, I’m up to speed now – my English has already taken a slightly different accent plus the occasional Hindi word, which probably sounds more odd than authentic, and hopefully not mocking. It also seems more representative of young men’s than women’s speech, although I haven’t had a great sample to check that. It seems wise to hold back on expressions like “bro”, “man”, and, for many additional reasons “cunt” in any case… even though they’re very tempting to add emphasis!

Anyway, so I called one of the people from yesterday, who’d already helped get me a taxi back to the hotel and had told me to ask in case of trouble. I told him about my issue of getting out of town and he said: “Let’s meet after I finish work, and we’ll sort something out!”. As strange as I find their bewilderment about someone (especially, but not only women) travelling alone, sometimes I really do appreciate that protectiveness.

Evening – how it all resolves

Even though I kind of threw the plans arriving a week before the other foreigners (as in, my French host family), the delegation of friends that was set aside to cater for us has swiftly accommodated for me. Right now, I’m sitting in someone’s “spare flat”, and a few people were trying to figure out what they could get me to do to pass my time. Maybe I wasn’t helping that much when I was like “Oh, I like parkour! There surely is even a parkour gym somewhere in Delhi…”. Well, they’ll help with the gym bit – at least something to avoid potato-mode. And shopping also seems to be universal – and to be honest, having a local person with you can actually save quite a lot of money on that.

In the meantime, I am trying to find out how to quickly find lots of interesting people, and try to understand more of what the world looks like from around here.

Appendix: Hinglish

Just a few things I remember noticing today

  • “Also” in place of “too”, e.g. “You should try this one also”
  • “Thrice” instead of “three times”, e.g. “We had to queue thrice to get the tickets!”… but seriously, that makes sense – do any non-Indian soeakers use that, too? (Or, also)
  • “Even” in unexpected locations, but I don’t have a good example.

… plus lots more stuff (check for yourself, ha). One more thing: some time ago, someone asked me: “but do you know a single Indian who speaks English properly?” … which I found a strange way to put it. As in, there’s loads of English native speakers around here (Yesterday, I met this cute maybe 8 year-old, who already spoke English better than I did age 14), who all speak perfectly fine according to the variety they’ve grown up in. It just happens not to be American or British standard (which, by the way, lots of native Americans or Brits also fail to acquire).

Although, if you are a speaker of Indian English or have some other expertise, please do say if you disagree!

As always, do sign up for email alerts, so you never miss any of these incredibly important posts. Much love from India ❤

Orange Delhi night

I thought arriving would be more of a relief. Instead, it’s the middle of the night, and I’m wide awake and alone in a shabby dorm (which is either overpriced, or the exchange rate has changed dramatically since 2014, or the rest of the place really is that great to make up for it).

But! I am in India, once more, and unexpected memories and forgotten knowledge populate my mind. Like when I spontaneously want to say “sorry, I don’t have money” or “just a second” and catch myself in surprise because the words are suddenly there in Hindi.

Chatting to my taxi driver, back into the openness and confidence I used to feel. It is good to remember that there is a place where singing out loud is not all that strange, and a bit bewildering to receive all the tourist-reserved attention again. Most of all, however, this time I was less overwhelmed just by the country, and able to notice smaller things. The orange-patterned floor in the airport, the dusty sweet-ish smell that is very hard to describe, but immediately familiar. The orange-coloured night, in which the smog diffuses the light emanating from the lamp posts, the red street lights everyone ignores, magnificent temples in the most ordinary corners, oh, Delhi.

So, yes, I am full of wonder to be passing through this part of the world again, which for me feels like passing through a certain phase of my life again. Well, for now.

And I think I have decided on the theme I want to adopt for the coming days or weeks. It happened on the plane, when it suddenly clicked that I would land and be back, truly. I felt this joy, like vibrating with goodwill for all sentient beings, only better. Because there was this certainty that, at the core, there was nothing to worry about, as if anxiety wasn’t even possible, as if everything was just …good. It’s like having lost your compass and not noticing until you get it back. Which made it utterly obvious that the theme of, well, now will be to follow whatever this sense of direction indicates, just do what feels like the right thing to do, in the safety of a few weeks in which no decision will really matter anyway, and maybe learn to take some of this home. But because I’m starting to overthink stuff again, this is the right time to sleep, to then meet the wonder of the new day with a waking eye.

Beautiful Bologna.

Lina and me started off profiting from the cheap Italian trains again (after, of course, having another ice-cream in Jesi for breakfast) and arrived in Bologna in the afternoon. As those things go, it was evening by the time we had visited the city and felt like we could move on, and, you might guess, we realised that it was getting kind of too late* to hitch out. Since it was our last evening in Italy, we felt like we should treat ourselves to something, and, more importantly, finally try that street music thing. Bologna is fantastic in terms of acoustic, since all the sound bounces off the arcades you find everywhere in the city centre. We had fun, and some other people seemed to enjoy it, too, some even put some coins in our orange hat.

After a short while, we realised that we might want to find a place to sleep (before one of the single men about could offer to, ugh, host us), but that was no trouble, since we had money and internet and felt like filthy rich kids. We went to a hostel and got the offer of taking a private two-bed room for only 2 Euros more than what we’d pay for two dorm beds. We opened our wallets wide and pulled out the 50€ he was asking for – we had just about enough. Then, he asked for just one Euro more, taxes. We looked at the heap of coins in front of us, and at our empty purses. After a moment, Lina opened her bag and fumbled around until she produced a certain hat still containing the circa 4€ we’d collected before. Hah!

We felt less rich, but daring (since we knew we wouldn’t take out any more money before reaching home). Moreover, we took a thorough shower and stained the brilliant white towels with our dirty feet.


*Okay, it’s never too late for anything. But standing on a road for the whole night is decidedly less fun than sleeping.