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India will soon be the world’s fifth largest consumer of energy. And there is probably one major reason for this: aircon.
Unless you have visited India in the summer months, you won’t appreciate the significance of aircon, but I certainly do. Despite its responsibility for the enormous energy deficit, aircon is perhaps now the ultimate giver of health and life to the rising middle classes.
The other night the electricity failed again, for around four hours, and the invertor didn’t hold enough charge to get through the night. It was miserable. Such is the power of aircon – once you have it, you can’t live without it. The contrast between my father’s non-aircon house and my cousin’s more expensive and modern dwelling couldn’t be greater.
Much as I hate MacDonalds, aside from the clean toilets and the absurdly smart security guards in their jat-moustaches and white spats, the saviour of Connaught Place is MacDonalds and its aircon. Ironic in a country where beef is not available.
So as the economy continues to boom, so the god of aircon will continue to ascend through the pantheon. Borne on his conveyance, the sacred refrigerated soft drink, his influence will only grow stronger as time passes.
I used to have an unshakeable faith in karma and the laws of the dao. For evey action, I once thought, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. As long as you do the right thing, you’ll be fine; but every moral outrage will come back to haunt you.
I’m not sure I believe in that anymore. Having circumnavigated the Dalai Lama’s residence not once but three times – an act that is supposed to gain one’s soul immeasurable merit – plus spun all the prayer wheels and donated to beggars all around, I still missed the bus tonight, leaving me stranded for another day.
It was an easy mistake to make. I arrived before time at the bus stand where I was dropped off on Sunday, only to discover too late that the bus picks up 200 metres down the road, out of the line of sight. I then compounded this error by trying to catch up with the bus in Dharmasala itself, but missed it again leaving me stuck at the town’s chaos station until nightfall.
Then again, there are worse places to be stuck. McCleod Ganj itself has nothing much to offer beyond the Tibetan temples and curio shops, but the true value of the trip has been to escape the oppressive heat and boredom of Delhi in a landscape far, far removed from the depressingly clinical flatness of Holland. The only thing to do here is to put on your shoes and walk, and that’s what I’ve done.
I’ve missed the hills, and I’m glad to be here.
“How can you govern a country that has 500 types of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle once lamented. But if France is hard to rule, then imagine a subcontinent that has 300 million gods. De Gaulle didn’t have an answer to that one.
I’ve never really believed in what must be an apocryphal figure, but out of that pantheon there must be a divinity for almost everything. For example, there has to be a god of diarrhoea. There must be. I’ve worshipped at his temple often enough on my visits here in the past, and have spoken to him on the porcelain telephone on many an occasion.
It’s a source of some disappointment, therefore, that so far on this trip I have hardly suffered at all. But for a couple of minor bouts of no more than a morning or so there’s been nothing. I’ve been avoiding meat, I must admit, and the shits do seem to be tied up with ‘non-veg’ food.
But in any case it’s so damn hot I’m hardly eating anything at all. I’ve currently resorted to fulfilling my nutritional needs via fizzy drinks, of which I’m now consuming an unpardonable litre to a litre-and-a-half per day. There must be a god of Coke, Thums Up and Limca too, I reckon – they’re certainly earning their keep.
'Travellers' never fail to amuse me. They loaf around in their dreadlocks, tattoos and baggy pants in a desperate effort to be different and just end up blending right into their own little crowd. Nowhere more so than here in India, the hippie capital of the known universe.
But when push comes to shove, say when a bus is a couple of hours late as tend to happen in Asia once in a while, this bunch will kick up a fuss like ther's no tomorrow. "Chill out, man," I feel like saying, "It's all good, don't mean nothin'." There's more of them than me though, so I keep my trap shut in case all that peace and love turns into an angry punch-up.
Anyway, made it in the end. The bus came, the flies went away, and despite more rupturous dissent when a group of Tibetans from a refugee colony outside Delhi boarded and took all the best seats we got here earlyish this morning. I promptly disappeared and found a decent hotel at half-rate, which makes up for having been done over for the price of my bus ticket on Janpath back in ND.
Home of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, McLeod Ganj sits among the hills near Dharamsala at 1,750m above sea-level. Here you'll find a Little-Tibet without-Tibet, somehow more engaging yet altogether false compared to the real thing. I'll stay here a couple of days, though - it'll do me good.
Right. I'm sick of sitting in my father's dusty flat on the outskirts of Delhi, where there aren't even any shops, let alone things to do. No TV, no radio, and I've nearly read my 700-page novel. Interviews went well, but more on that later once the telephone gets reconnected and I have Internet again. Apart from that I am climbing the walls in serious need of therapy.
Off to Dharamsala for a few days it is then. See you later...
Nothing works here - not water, not electricty, not transport, not nothing. My laptop and phone line are down, hence the lack of updates. Hopefully the situation may be rectified by next week.
On a lighter note, I'm off to Dharamasala on Saturday for a couple of days, so should have some pics and stories after that.
No man likes to be beaten. But to be beaten by the man who has always stood as the particular example of mediocrity in his eyes, to start by the side of this mediocrity and to watch it shoot up, while he struggles and gets nothing but a boot in his face, to see the mediocrity snatch from him, one after another, the chances he’d give his life for, to see the mediocrity worshipped, to miss the place he wants and to see the mediocrity enshrined upon it, to lose, to be sacrificed, to be ignored, to be beaten, beaten, beaten – not by a greater genius, not by a god, but by a Peter Keating – well, my little amateur, do you think the Spanish Inquisition ever thought of a torture to equal this?
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
In Europe you are so used to the electricity coming on at the flick of a switch and water flowing at the turn of a tap you don’t even think about it. Even in Shanghai I had utilities 24/7. No worries. But here it’s different. Here you have to work.
The day begins at 6.30am, like or not, since the mains water only operates during limited periods of the day. Since it’s been 30 degrees all night and there’s no aircon as promised, (in fact not even an aircon brochure anywhere to be seen, despite my father’s assurances) you haven’t slept anyway, so it’s no big deal.
Turn on the motor via the switch in the bathroom, assuming electricity is functioning. Run downstairs to the bottom water tank, where there are three valves which must all be turned in the correct direction for the tank to fill with water. Once the mains shuts off, you can then pump water up to the top tank on the roof, which provides the majority of day-to-day water use.
This is assuming that you have even half a clue about how the system works. If you don’t, and it hasn’t been demonstrated to you, there is nothing for it but experimentation of the all the different combinations of the valves and motor, none of which work leaving you without water for washing up, showering or flushing the toilet for the rest of the day. Discover at a later date that one of the valves was bust anyway, making all of the above academic.
This is not impoverished rural Bihar; this is a middle-class suburb of New Delhi, the national capital.
At least there is a solution to the three-to-four times daily power cuts: each household possesses an invertor, basically a battery that charges up if the electricity is working and runs the lights and fans if it is not.
However, this invertor is not strong enough to keep the fridge going, so anything within is in a permanent flux of thaw and cool which in 40 degrees of heat can’t be good for sanitation.
I can’t live here. There’s a difference between being a whinging softie and just failing to accept that things need to be this way. I don’t accept that it needs to be this way, not here, not now in 2007. It was like this in the 80s and nothing has changed at all.
The images of India you see on TV are false. The only way to live comfortably here is to be incredibly filthy rich. The rest suffer in uneasy silence – and that’s not even including the billion poor for whom conditions are infinitely worse. If this is shining India, then there is no hope.
6.12 am. Ding Dong!
Me, Phil: (Opening door) Namaste…
Lakshmi, Housemaid: Namaste. (goes about business)
L: Something something something panee something something?
P: Er… panee? (go to turn on water)
L: Something something something kanna hayng?
P: Haa, kuch kanna….
L: Something something something…
P: (shrug pathetically)
L: Something something something something something
L: (getting frustrated) Something something something something something something something something something kanna hayng?
P: Haa, kuch kanna…
L: Something something something…
P: I’m terribly sorry, you see I don’t speak any Hindi. Mayng Hindi ne hee balta hoong.
L: Something something something something something something something something something (shrug, goes off to prepare breakfast)
Continue for two days.
India. How can you romanticise a place do relentlessly romanticised by so many others before oneself? Yet the temptation remains, and even as I write the cries of the muezzin drift in their eerie song over the city as it prepares again for rest. But I am in no mood for romance tonight, because in the midst of a billion people and their loves and lives there is no room for anything but lonely contemplation of what India is and what it will never become.
I arrive minutes before the stroke of the midnight hour, dumped unceremoniously into the night by KLM’s sterile efficiency of in-flight movies and boxed-up dinners. Eight hours of Germany’s geometric order and Uzbekistan’s barren expansiveness before the darkness creeps up; and in between them more clouds than one can see beyond, as viewed from the sky behind the aircraft’s wing. My cousin and father are there to receive me, patiently waiting for the airport to disgorge its new arrivals from its bowels, and we ride in near silence through the still-bustling streets, each quiet for his own reasons of fatigue.
I try to sleep, but in the heat and unfamiliarity sleep does not come because she is not there and because I know now that she cannot be again.
In the morning, I awake to countless instructions. This is how the water works, an obscure contraption that needs careful control of the system of pumps; here is the refrigerator, the bathroom, the cupboards, locks and bolts. My father wears again the army shirt and slacks he wore last night in anticipation of his trip to Calcutta this afternoon; he thinks they are practical, but they don’t suit him.
It had rained the last day, and it offers some respite as the heat begins to build again. The expected rickshaw wallah is not there, and must we persuade another to take us to the office which he does in a half-resentful flood of sweat. At one point the ground is so bumpy I must get out and push. But eventually my father’s business in the office is done and we return for a moment, only for him to turn straight around and head for Calcutta.
So having come all this way to where I belong and am yet so alien, I am alone again. My cousin takes me for lunch, though work delays him by a couple of hours, and we eat quickly outside in a flurry of somnolent flies. A ride around the locality orients me to the neighbourhood’s landscape of idenikit tenement houses and shining new developments, all of which seem only half complete. And then again I am alone in the dusty apartment on the edge of the city, with the Yamuna river curling alongside redolent with the stink of a million other lunches and dinners and loves and lives. This is India; I am back.
“I want you to hear. I want you to know what’s in store for you. There will be days when you look at your hands and you’ll want to take something and smash every bone in them, because they’ll be taunting you with what they could do, if you found a chance for them to do it, and you can’t find that chance, and you can’t bear your living body because it has failed those hands somewhere. There will be days when a bus driver will snap at you as you enter a bus, and he’ll only be asking for a dime, but that won’t be what you’ll hear; you’ll hear that you’re nothing, that he’s laughing at you, that it’s written on your forehead, that thing they hate you for. There will be days when you’ll stand in the corner of a hall and listen to creature on a platform talk about buildings, about that work which you love, and the things he’ll say will make you wait for somebody to rise and crack him open between two thumbnails; and then you’ll hear the people applauding him, and you’ll want to scream, because you won’t know whether they’re real or you are, whether you’re in a room full of gored skulls, or whether someone has just emptied your own head, and you’ll say nothing, because the sounds you could make – they’re not a language in that room any longer; but if you’d want to speak, you won’t anyway, because you’ll be brushed aside, you who have nothing to tell them about buildings! Is that what you want?”
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
‘Baloch passing most critical period after Bugti’s death’
The people of Balochistan are passing through the most critical period after the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti...
He said there is no negative impact of the situation on the ongoing resistance movement, which is getting organised again. It is a clear proof of the reorganisation of the movement that seven to eight helicopters regularly bombard hideouts of resistance activists.