BACK IN THE ROOM after a tasty but ultimately unsatisfying dinner—alone, with the waiters, in the dining room after the three strange-looking foreign white women left, and the service was still slow. The hotel appears to be virtually deserted and half shut down, if the availability of desserts on the menu (virtually nil) is any indication. . .I suppose I stick with my plan to seek out a place by the ghats tomorrow—which I will have to do while attempting to jettison my autorickshaw driver who is returning at 5:30 am for my "tour". . .this will be an interesting test of my character. . .Realized, while the train was pulling into town, that this is the place that "brought" me to India—that I wouldn't have come to India if (absurd thought) Banaras weren't here. . .that it was always all very nice to tour Rajasthan and see the Taj Mahal and maybe get a mountain view and all, but that I came to see Varanasi and Calcutta. (3.21.97)

DOWN IN THE DINING ROOM, where there are other guests (!) tonight with whom I am obviously not interacting—a big group for whom the hotel has broken out the chafing dishes (for the 160 RS. buffet) and opened the bar (lots of beer—they're Australian); also more Germans. . .Japanese have been in evidence as well, mainly young people—down at one of the ghats there are two guest houses for Japanese kids, and they're hanging out down there, taking boats, making the scene—how they manage without Hindi or English—like a miracle, incapable of being grasped by the conscious, striving mind—and to know what they're making of all they see and experience, whether they're here out of fashion or on some spiritual search, whether they're the first in their families to come here, what their guidebooks say (I wonder this often)—more questions requiring translation, otherwise unaskable.

I was thinking today during one of the long stretches of autorickshaw transport over horrible ripped up Varanasi roads that Papu had me on today (he insisted that I come to his house to meet his wife and family—I insisted on a very brief stay as I couldn't communicate with them at all and barely with him, and I sensed the approach of a brother/uncle/cousin with a sales pitch in the silk sari line), it occurred to me that the English language is to most Indians what Ganges water would be to me—namely, a powerful and certain agent of health-destroying disease. . .It's most pronounced when dealing with the children—the many, many working children and the even more numerous habitual, casual beggars (the real beggars have no English)—this sense of English-speaking being a sort of infection, of the ability to speak the English they speak as being like the disfiguring scars left in the wake of infection—like a VD, the fault of the parents. . .parents and children sick from associating with tourists, their tongues weary from working through thickets of error but never stopping—they keep yammering away—when in doubt, repeating, liberally—desperate to reach the shady temple precincts of the perfect pitch: money, in their condition, is wished for as if it were healing. . .a cure, a miracle drug. . .Whether any of this is in the slightest bit true, or fair, I start to have a sinking feeling when someone starts speaking to me in my own language now. (3.22.97)

BACK IN THE DINING ROOM; a bad vegetarian meal—have to stick with the meat here, I guess—or at least with the excellent chicken I've been having so far. Sickened at re-reading some of these entries—the unbelievable pettiness; I feel that I have experienced nothing but hotels, hotels, hotels—service providers, drivers, commission-wallahs, laundry cheats, waiters, bellboys. . .boys, boys, boys—the women I've spoken with, the Indian women, the few, in five weeks, whose paths have crossed mine, I hereupon enumerate: the masseuse in Jodphur, the woman on the train to Jodphur I mistakenly suspected of trying to poison me (spoke no English at all); the four girls from the chai shop in Omkareswar I took the boat across to the Anapurna temple with (23-year old virgin college students, very giggly, some English); the saleslady in the Bharat Bavan gift shop at Bhopal (very brief encounter); the doctor from Bhopal on the Lucknow bus tour with her children, husband, parents (very good English, very basic "You are from, you have been, you go" conversation, however); the mother of the handsome little boy on the train to Varanasi (no English); the women in Papu's family (no English). . .also the lady on the switchboard at the Lucknow hotel, one or two (interchangeable, if two) clerks at the Agra hotel (no conversation); the rude ticket seller at Delhi Northern railway, her rude fellow-worker at the information desk, a rude bank teller in Udaipur—the desk clerks in Agra were rude too, actually (at least one of them was); and then there have been several hideously degraded beggars. . .and that unbelievable bitch in the upper berth on the night train to Lucknow whose husband banged on the door at 4:30 am to collect her and she waited for me to get up and let him in (no conversation, no English, no fun). This cannot be all India's fault, this poverty of human interaction I've experienced so far. . .Surely a great deal of fault lies in me, my way of always looking for the path of least resistance, always going from one point of quiet and solitude to the next point of quiet and solitude and shunning involvement as too noisy and troublesome—not conducive to peace. . .I forgot the two women on the local bus from Ranakpur to Udaipur who were very sweet—but no English; and the ladies on the bus back to Indore from Omkareswar, who spoke a little English ("You are from, in India you have seen") but mainly napped; and the lady in Indore who said there was nothing to see or do in Indore. . .At the same time, it must be somewhat true that the curse of travel is men—strange men, everywhere, is really the essence of the situation. (3.23.97)

THE DINING ROOM, AGAIN. . .high walls, pale yellow, trimmed in white, three big fat pointless arches each—a spectacularly clumsy and unimaginative treatment of space, a single floor fan providing the inadequate ventilation; the lighting surprisingly decent, however, and fresh garden flowers on all the empty tables—one other occupied tonight, by two Japanese or Korean women being entertained (?) or imposed upon by an aging Brit in unpressed jungle linen and sockless white sneakers, smoking enormously while he establishes trust. . .a vampire, perhaps? The son of a pair who "stayed on"? A parasitic expert/would-be guide? A malaria sufferer, living on nerves, possessing a certain sweetness. . .undeniably "donnish" and almost certainly criminal. . .small light-colored eyes awash with the strain of smiling concealment, of seeming to have no thought but obliging and nothing to hide. The two Asian women, smiling and opaque, their glances shuttling silken from his face to one another's faces, his mouth to one another's mouths moving in infrequent question or reply. (3.24.97)

THE ROOM, THE ROOM, back in the room—the sweet dining room manager arranged, for my dessert, an Indian sweet, my dissatisfaction with the condition of the dessert menu having been all too apparent on previous evenings—of which there seem to have been hundreds. . .it was a nice and thoughtful thing to do. . .Before I left the dining room a group of stained boys entered—high school age, several wearing glasses, well-off and well-behaved-looking boys having their Holi night on the town, behaving in a mildly (for them, no doubt extremely) rambunctious manner and staring as if I were the one covered in red powder and paint (as, for them, I am). . .Item in the newspaper about a college in Lucknow that suspended classes last week through tomorrow because the female students were being so harassed ("Eve-teasing" they call it, normally—it happens a lot) by male students touching them up under the pretext of playing early Holi—this is what I was warned about by the holy man at Scindia Ghat and by the hotel manager too, through their separate circumlocutions—this use of color-tossing as a way to touch women is, apparently, becoming more and more notorious and common. It's hard to know, of course, to what extent, if any, a wish on the administration's part for an impromptu five- or six-day vacation at Holi-time contributed to this cancellation of classes. . .whether there really wasn't any alternative but to lock the doors and stay home; whether the male students' lust for further bright handfuls of tit was really so implaccable as to render opposition, censure, punishment, all equally fruitless; whether there was no deterrent course possible, only retreat. . .It could be something that happens every year—the shut-down, I mean—and every year this same excuse, blaming, really, the women; every year, too, the concerned paternal voices in the newspaper decrying the endangered position, the exposed, vulnerable and threatened condition, of women during Holi week—it could all be lip service. I don't know (and probably can't hope to know) whether the break isn't something the women demand, instead of individual suspensions for their tormentors; whether they want out more than they want retribution—and, if so, how much of this choice comes from fondness and how much from fear. . .That education, as a value, is secondary to "tradition," however degraded its forms, is perhaps the only "cultural truth" demonstrated with any clarity by this event. (3.24.97)

BACK IN THE ROOM, after an harassment-free (!) walk back from restaurant (stopped off at an STD place to call Bombay. . .was attracted to the place's being empty and quiet—by the time I left two men had hurried in to wait behind me. . .). Full moon and stars; streets do not feel safe and, according to the dining room manager, who met me at the door, they aren't. . .I'd passed him on the way over to the other restaurant and he'd appeared concerned. . .Felt relieved not to be returning to a grimy, fluorescent tube-lit room such as the one I glimpsed through an open doorway at the Hotel Surya, despite being alive to the possibility that I'd have paid less for the silk things had I been staying there, or someplace similarly inexpensive—that I may well have been quoted the prices it was expected/assumed/known I could afford; feeling somewhat less tacky with spilt milk and tears, having dined, although inexpensively and fillingly, not really all that well. . . (3.26.97)

THE DINING ROOM—am making something of a nuisance of myself, objecting to the loss of television in the lobby (a "special guest" has the one working set in his room, leaving something that doesn't get cricket for the rest of us); asking that the music in the dining room be turned off (horrible tootling action-show theme song-style Indian musak)—actually I asked for a table away from the speaker and the waiter, abhoring the simplicity and compromise of this, just turned the whole thing off; then ordering a la carte after turning up my nose at the "roast beef" (probably genuine, but. . .) on the buffet. . .The room is full of Europeans eating beef and drinking beer. Soon they will be finished eating; then it will be time for them to smoke. (3.27.97)

BACK IN DINING THE ROOM, WHERE I AM ALONE AGAIN—I knew I was right not to have the roast beef. . .Man from the silk factory delivered my slimmer and now extremely becoming punjabi suit; then Papu appeared, his son has the flu, it sounds like—but it could be more serious, I don't know—in any case I will be going back to the river, at 6 am, and then to his house to say goodbye to Puja, whom he describes as calling for "Madam". . .I am a sucker I suppose. . .A disappointed sucker: no cricket on TV, after all that, so another evening to drag through—ugh. . .So extremely bored with myself, finally: it did take awhile. . .10:45 Back in room 161, waiting up in case Mom and Claudia call; watched some TV after dinner including highlights of yesterday's cricket. . .the addiction of several men and boys on the hotel staff to the television—to the Hindi junk on the television—is comical to witness but painful to interrupt for very long. . .their days are all day long and they're so bored, and they're not leaving for Bombay tomorrow. . . (3.28.97)


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