Notes from Rajastan.
The Film Company I was working for at the time was concerned about travel insurance issues owing to the heightened political hot-spots along the border territories with Pakistan. Hmmmmn. That’s exactly where we are shooting. Any more suicide bombs and we will lose our insurance. Luckily for the insurance policy there were no more suicide bombs.
When you are at the travel doctor before your trip, lie about the amount of injections you have already had. This will mean you avoid quite a sore arm. Neville Stevenson, the production designer travelling with me for the job, decides to get quite a few extra shots. His arm hurts. I’d prefer the risk of Tetanus. I convince myself I’ll avoid it by looking out for it and wearing everything-proof boots. My feet swim in sweat for two weeks. My wife says I have to sort my feet out before I can come back home.
We did a blood test too, just in case. Actually I ended up doing quite a few blood tests, because I didn’t want a sore arm, so I had to prove I had had lots of shots. Neville got his blood tests too. He sprung a leak. There was blood everywhere. So he got a sore arm, blood all over his clothes, and a $256 bill from the doctor, before we even left the country.
Then there is Rabies. Rabies is a biggie. 50 000 people a year die from Rabies, 25 000 of them in India. We investigate getting the shots. They will help delay the effects for a little bit, before you have to get to a serious hospital with serious doctors and serious medicine, within 24hrs of getting bitten. I ask what happens if you don’t get the shots. The prognosis is not good.
But I’m a bit late to get my shot, and I don’t want too sore an arm, so I take the risk. The advice is that if you get close to a dog looking like its stumbled out of ’28 Days Later’, threaten it with a stick. All the dogs look like they have stumbled out of ’28 Days Later’, so instead of carrying a stick the whole time I carefully surround myself with other people, so they can get bit first. I mean, I’m in advertising right?
In India, everything is on display. The density of the population squeezes you like deep diving. You get over any middle class desire for personal space pretty quick. It’s impossible to describe. The gap between the rich and the poor is a vertigo inducing void, yet you see a shared wealth of spirit everywhere. 3 days in and I am already casual with pilgrims, car accidents, cows, camels, beggars, and businessmen. Businessmen everywhere. (I do wonder where the women are).
In India, everyone is an opportunist. Or more to the point, the hopeful nature of these people turns into luck on every corner. Everyone is sanguine. It puts me to shame. In India it is simply lucky to be drinking Chai, it is lucky to be talking to a friend, it is lucky to have a roof. I believe that beyond my uber-privileged life in the west, I was the luckiest just to be a guest here.
And now India has its own burgeoning middle-class. Our local line-production company, talks proudly of this, and the huge amount of mainstream advertising done here. I love the idea that the Indian middle class on its own has a population size bigger than the entire population of the USA. That is quite satisfying. The guy push-biking me along this crowded alley with a stack of gear is as poor as you get, but he has a TV with 200 channels. He’ll sit at night and watch the telly. He’ll sit with his whole family. And now he can dream of owning a computer. TV is alive and kicking ass here. And the Indian film business? It’s bigger than Hollywood by a country mile.
The biggest threat in India comes from underfoot. Talk about what lies beneath. I had to take my everything-proof boots off and walk barefoot to scout the magical lake in Pushkar. No shoes allowed. No shoes? You’ve got to be fucking kidding. Old food, cow shit, human shit, plastic rubbish, paper rubbish, skin, pigs, cows, rabid dogs and monkeys, bats, spew, spit (human and camel), tetanus, HIV, Hepatitis A-Z.
Add into this the Hindi practice of washing and sun worshipping in water you could stand a spoon up in, spreading this holy water all over the steps where we are walking. Well it makes me realise how meaningless I am here.
This Indian underfoot detritus is beyond words, smells, and textures. It’s first class sensory overload. It’s what nightmares are made of. I’d love to see someone with cleanliness OCD here. I laugh out loud at the thought, but its not that funny. Nah, it’s pretty funny.
We travelled on the maddest road in the world, from Dehli to Agra. The chaos is overwhelming. Overladen trucks with sleep-deprived speed-ball drivers swing out into oncoming traffic, and stay there. Cows stop mid lane, and everyone swerves around them. Pilgrims journey, like they have for centuries. Bikes thread any gaps. It is so busy. I view it all with the bubble wrapped disassociation of my comfortable air-conditioned car (with driver and support crew). I feel safe. But then it happens. I look out the window, time slows and the loneliest image I have ever seen mixes into my vision. Two human bodies lay alone on the side of the road, intertwined with the scrappy metal of a small motorbike. They will never get up. It is very messy. No one has or will stop. The bodies lie in their death, uncared for. I cannot speak. My heightened senses switch their polarity and I fall into deep sadness. Back home there would be ambulances and good-natured folk slowing traffic and talking into mobile phones. In India, the bodies are left where they fall.
I went to the local Jaisalmer doctor because I was not sleeping. I normally sleep like a sloth when I travel, but for some reason this trip created a very busy front brain. I had Insomnia. The doctor was pretty funny, he was concerned about my problem and thought it might be something much deeper. I told him I did not need a psychiatrist, and asked if I had the right guy. He asked me if I was depressed, I said I was actually very happy, but just a bit tired. He asked if I was travelling with a friend, I said I had a couple of mates with me and we were working. He asked if I was sharing my bed with them. I said they were not that sort of friend, and they probably wouldn’t appreciate the connotation.
He spotted my wedding ring. He clicked his finger in an, ‘I’ve got it’, sort of way. He said I was not sleeping because there was no one sharing my bed. I started to wonder what his prescription was going to be. All I wanted were some sleeping pills. He was reluctant to give me anything under the concern that it would turn me into an addict. Again, I wondered what he had in his doctor’s bag. He ends up giving me Valium. I’m OK with that, it doesn’t really help me sleep any better, but I wasn’t going to turn it down.
At times the chaos breaks surface and reveals India’s challenges and inertia and degrees of dystopia. But India is about people, and they are wonderful. Thankyou India. You absolutely rock, and thankyou Krishna for the air-con.