Monday, October 26, 2009

Passage to India VI

19 September

Manali or not, the night before I was so bored that I had to take some of Soni's favourite drog: switched on the TV and got excited by a Steven Seagal movie on HBO. I was sure I can't get any lower than that, but next morning I did: for one hour, I photographed flowers on the hotel balcony. My mood for doing something useful and creative seemed as far away as Spiti valley. I pulled myself together and took some more boring portraits. The 24-105 screwed up as usual, and the adrenaline was pumping agan in my veins as I was, for one more time, considering to use that lense in a sport very popular among Canon users: "how far can you throw a Canon L"?

Anyway, as I was walking down the main street - without the charm of Shimla, without the views from Mussoorie, without the mood of Matheran but still called a "Mall" - I ran into Prince Rama who used this lazy day for a walk with his wife, Princess Sita, and another demigod whose name escapes me, peaceful and lonely except for a few hundred followers - moving down slowly, dancing and shouting and singing the Mall.

(Here a video will be added)
Turned out to be a great Hindu festival, already connected with Dussehra, which is like a combined Easter-Pentecost for us (Christmas being Diwali - speaking in terms of mood of course).
This girl, waiting at the temple where all the masses were gathering, was my favourite model in the crowd...

...until a temple guardian grabbed my T-shirt and dragged me into the temple, and behind the curtain - literally. He must have mistaken me for some photojournalist, and in two seconds I was there to meet Princess Sita in person:

I wish I had held the camera just one centimeter lower, to get the other girl into the frame properly. Anyway, it turned out they want to make me a few potographs in the dressing room, where Rama and Sita & Co. quickly turned back into would-be Bollywood starlets.

When I at last finished photographing them, and recording a dozens of email addresses where I am still supposed to send photographs, I run into yet another little actress who gave the word "nonchalance" a new meaning.

By the way, this reminded me to a discusson I had back in Kalpa with two Scandinavians, who did me a favour to drop ther favourite subject - where to get the best dope and for how much - for a moment and talk about the sometimes... let's say, interesting body language of local females. In Delhi and other big places, dare to say India in general, local women are out of reach for foreigners. I don't know how t goe when one stays a loong time in India, but as a tourist this was my impression. No body contact, no flirting, no nothing. I felt it different in Kinnaur and Manali. You can have innocent fun but the distance is always kept. OK, let's suppose we can call the gesture of this girl in the above picture innocent - she doesn't know what it means. But when I took photos of local women and showed them the LCD on the camera - even the simplest peasant girl in Nako knew where to look for it - they got so close, so close into my private space that if that had happened anywhere else, I could have mistaken it for a "come on" sign. They pressed themselves so close to me that sometimes I felt embarrassed, because as a foreigner I was used to keep the distance in general and behave very decently to women in particular. But they didn't care, Usha behaving particularly naughty. So, the Scandinavians said they are just nnocent and don't know what they do; and I disagreed, keeping in mind what Vincent Vega said about foot massage: we do as if it would mean nothing but do know that it does. And thinking with the head of an Usha, why not having some fun with the foreigners who will be gone next day anyway, even if it's just a little flirt - especially with a photographer whose interest makes her feel special and beautiful? (Soni later translated: Usha kept telling the other women, "you see? I am the most beautiful, I am so much more beautiful than you because this foreigner takes photos only about me, not you." Of course I didn't take photos of the others, because she didn't let me...) But probably it could be easy to bend to evil thoughts in India if someone's undecent enough. Once upon a time in Bombay, a little beggar girl around 10 years kept pestering me to buy her some "milk powder for my poor little brother" and when I refused, because I knew the money I pay in the shop would end up in her little pockets at the moment I turn my back on her and the "brother", she frankly offered me a blow-job. But I'm not an indecent person. Back in Manali, the only indecent feeling I had was, at least in Hindu eyes, my desire for a beer or two or three or four after the thirstening experience of photographing the Rama Sita entourage. So I made my way to the nearest wine-and-beer shop, and the desire ws probably written in my face because people were looking at me like this:

...or maybe it was the tilak a brahmin put on my forehead in the temple which made me, the stupid tourist, look like a stupid tourist gone native. Anyway, until the shopkeeper was fetching my booze I took the time for a self-portrait:

My photobag filled with ice-cold beer I made my way back to the hotel, and was strolling out of the Mall when I met a guy bravely fending off two kids who desperately tried to sell him fake saffron. Let's call him the Nameless Wanderer. After a few words, we knew we belong to the same tribe but definitely ride different horses. Travellers' lore and guidebooks often speak about foreigners who stay in India, especially around Manali, and embark on a quest to survive only on beer and marijuana - last Mohicans of the hippi generation (although in their lifestyle only). Strange thing was, we could talk as if we had known each other for years despite our totally different background.

We immediately realized we need more beer so we went back to the shop, and ended up spending a blissful afternoon in Manali's park (more accurately, forestry institute or something similar). It was such a good feeling to lay around, stretching my legs and be totaly useless - time was all we had to kill.

Of course, this being India, the Wanderer ended up playing up the "I am released from Manali prison on bail and must pay some money to my business associates" bullshit, obviously meaning some unpaid dope bills, and I did give him some money; first, out of compassion, and second, more importantly, to settle my own karma bill: many years ago, in Delhi, when I was waiting for my flight back home, I was totally broke and didn't have money for the trip to the airport, and eventually it was an another traveller, an older version of the Wanderer who bailed me out with a few hundred rupees. I remembered the times when I was down, and repaid my debt. Sounds confusing, I know.

Checked my mail in the evening and Aya wrote that they are in a guest house in Old Manali, and since I still had nothing to do I grabbed the helmet and went up there. I didn't find them in any place, and ended up using Aya's helmet as a shopping basket when I bought a few things for the trip up to Leh. I was dog tired and desperate for some company, Aya, Edod, Jacek, Soni or anyone else, not to mention folks from home, and spent an hour sitting aside the Old Manali road listening to "Wish you were here" for the hundredth time. Realising that no friend or acquaintance will arrive in a riksha to miraculously save me from boredom and loneliness I dragged myself back to my hotel, for the first and last tme regretting to have refused the Wanderer's dope.

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