By the time I am able to post this, my weekend will be long past and I will have entered and exited the tunnel of Vipassna. I figured I should write about the madness before going into my mind, rather than after (knowing full well I wouldn’t end up writing more than a passing reference to the weekend if I wait until after the retreat).
So, Jaipur may not be a wild place in general, but in the universe of my mind, I will always think of it as such. Unknowly, I arrived in this mid sized northern Indian city in time for one of the wildest weekends of the year, the Elephant Festival and Holi.
The Elephant Festival was exactly what you would expect in India. Elephants dressed in wild colors and fashions, a disjointed parade with marching bands and dancing children which eventually degenerated to a free-for-all, with a majority of the gathered spectators walking out onto the polo pitch to take photos, ignoring the announcers pleas for us to take our seats (initially, so that “friends in the back can view the procession” and eventually so that “we may continue with our planning of spectacular events”). Basically, it turned quickly into normal Indian chaos and ceased to function with any modicum of timeliness or order.
It was during this time that I noticed a beat up pair of sneakers next to me in the grass (inhabited by what looked like western feet) that reminded my strikingly of my much missed younger brother. When I requested to photograph these shoes I instigated a friendship with the guy who would serve as my entirely passive and apathetic (not in a bad way, more in the casual way we Americans would expect from an Australian in his early twenties) guide, protector, and sometimes husband. We left the Elephant Festival after the 3rd round of tug of war between Indians and westerners in search of Matt’s friend with a rickshaw, only to end up wandering the streets of Jaipur, getting hopelessly lost. If you know me, which you very well might not, then you know that I have the world’s worst sense of direction, but when it comes to walking I am slow and endlessly patient. We walked for hours, seeing much of the city. Eventually our strolling brought us back, again and again, to the same traffic circle and we decided we needed professional help. The first tuctuc driver informed us that our desired destination was “too far” for him to be willing to give us a ride (yeah, that was decidedly NOT the ATM Matt thought he had used.)
Eventually, we made it back to our respective hotels with plans in the morning to meet up and venture into the city for Holi. This pleased me, since I had been instructed, as a SWF, not to leave the hotel alone.
A note of Holi: This is maybe the one nationwide holiday of the year that is NOT a religious holiday. It involves getting drunk (or wasted in some form) and plastering one another with vegetable dye powders (“colors”). It is almost exclusively Indian men and children (and obviously tourists) who partake, so as the morning and afternoon progress, it becomes less and less safe for women to be in the streets un-chaperoned, when everyone is well within their rights to walk up to you, hands covered in dye, and smother you with them.
Matt, who is gifted at befriending tuctuc drivers, picked me up mid morning, to find me already smeared with pink paint by the manager of the hotel, Shankar (“I’m sorry, madame… Happy Holi!”). Matt’s friend, the driver, took us to a Party. At a fort. This was one of the crazier parties I’ve even been to (and that’s saying a lot). It was late morning; we were in one of the towers of a dilapidated fort in the middle of the city with about 50 people (Indian men and westerners alike), smearing one another with colors, and dancing to house music (and occasionally lady gaga). After a couple hours, not surprisingly, it degenerated to more aggressive (and less fun) applications of color on the part of the Indian guys, and more aggressive (and less fun) attempts on the part of those same Indians to get me to leave to go to another party. Fortunately I had my sometimes husband with me and used him as my excuse not to leave (although I was assured by these suave young Casanovas that “he won’t mind”).
It was at this point that Matt and I, now accompanied by Robert (an teenage brit whose age was not apparent whilst covered in color), left with our tuctuc driver to get some lunch and to seek out some other ladies who had said, very non commitally, that they would join us later. It was at this point that we realized our driver, who will now be referred to as Romeo, was hopelessly in love with one of the girls, and that any attempt to leave the party would involve driving past her hotel to see if she was back. In the end, Matt and Rob and I ate sandwiches in the restaurant next to her guest house while Romeo waited in vain out front.
Full of veggie sandwiches and lime soda (and feeling lethargic after a looong morning and early afternoon), we began to lament the absence of a clean lake for swimming and a movie theater with an English film. We settled for the hose at my hotel. It took some convincing, but eventually Shankar let us spray each other down (still fully clothed), which only kind of worked in removing the color. Naturally, as soon as we were clean(ish) we were ambushed by Shankar with pink color and we had to start the processes of cleaning over again.
It was around this time that Romeo showed back up to get us with his Juliet (a Polish girl names Natalia) in tow. This elicited uncomfortable glances between us, the 3 amigos, having spent the better part of the afternoon listening to Romeo drunkenly lament his broken heart. But the boys worked out the situation pretty quickly. After a whispered warning to Juliet about Romeo’s obsession they deduced that she knew exactly what she was doing, encouraging his affections and scoring free rides and tours around the city. Rob and I continued to look uncomfortably at one another at each of their exchanges, but Matt took it a little more in stride, looking the other way.
Not surprisingly, the day eventually burned down to another long walk, this time down larger streets of the city. Me, Matt, and now also Robert, chatting about the differences of our various countries and the otherworldliness of India. We were a little surprised at the calm nature of the evening. We determined that the Indians really PARTY so infrequently, that they must burn themselves out early on in the day, sleep it off, and then get back up for a normal evening, businesses and restaurants opening and people coming back out into the streets, only this time clean and sober.
As Robert and I waited for Romeo to talk to his brother before our final ride home, my wrist was grabbed by broadly smiling older Indian woman who pulled me into a previously unseen hallway leading into what looked like an abandoned factory. She held tightly as she dragged me down corridors and past sleeping bodies on cots. Having already said goodnight and goodbye to Matt (and having the “you’re on Facebook?” conversation), Robert served as my protector, following close behind. This woman eventually pulled me into a small room, filled almost wall to wall by a full sized bed with a woman dozing on it. Confused, I looked at Robert to see if he had any idea what was going on. When I looked back at the bed, the old woman pulled back a blanket, smiling all the more broadly, to reveal her 3 day old grand daughter. We gasped and moved in closer to awe at the tiny human being, eyes closed tightly, fingers curled around her blanket.
A few minutes later, back at my hotel, I sat on my bed looking through photos and reminiscing on the weekend that I had thought would involve a lot of reading and a little lonely sightseeing. Shankar knocked on my door, checking to see that I got in safe and that I had had dinner, and with his slightly drunken “goodnight! Happy holi” from Shankar, I fell asleep.