Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Back from Holland/ India: III

People II: An American, a Romanian and a Bangladeshi!!

I travelled through three continents, and this blog is about three females who crossed my way during my stay in Holland, and to some extend they represent the status of the woman in their respective continents/countries. Unless they read this blog and shout at the top of their voice that its them that I am qouting or misqouting (for a male memory stores conversations only in shorthand; the female records it on tape and keeps several copies in hidden corners of heart for future reference), unless they come forward, we can safely treat them as unknowns (similarity to people living or dead is coincidental, and no harm is meant to anyone anyway)! That being said, lets get on with some trans-continental talk!

American Woman (Let Lenny Kravitz play in the background)!

She was on a high, her puffs were loud and deep, the dope from her ciggarette permeated into the being of everyone around her, and everyone sat as if swooned by the swing of her words that she transmitted through clouds of smoke around her. Her eyes were radiant with naughty laughter, and she sat surrounded by half a dozen youngsters. Her hair fell in a careless cascade over a white face, a face that had flown across the continent to this haven of soft drugs. She said she made this annual pilgrimage for it soothened and strengthened her mental and emotional health. She must have been in mid-forties, was a veteran of divorces and broken relationships. Her jokes and teasing brought color to the cheeks of one and all; no subject was taboo, her advice raced from telling guys to tour the red light district to telling the girls to make most of their youth, though with the use of rubber as well to talking about her boyfriends from her glory days. (I sat at a distance, checking email, and overheard similar conversations whenever I returned to that site everynight). I saw that behind her loud laughter, the glitter of her dopey eyes, the clouds of smoking talk was a woman who was bitter, alone, sad.

The Romanian (For some reason, find Billy Joel's She'll always be a woman to me!)

I got out of the train. I had scribbled bus #7 on a piece of paper, and noted the name of station it would take me. Four days in Amsterdam had taught me the pleasure of seeing city on foot, and I was wondering if I could drag my baggage for whatever distance I needed to cover. A beautiful face caught my eye, there was an obvious smile on her face, her features were distinctly European, height about 5' 5", and by all means she was an attractive lady. This and past follies told me that she was smiling at someone else, which turned out to be unexpectedly false. "Here she comes, and I have no idea who she is. Maybe I remember her from another birth, but I don't think I can forget a beauty from this life" "Are you here for a summer school too", she asked in her heavy East European accent. I was stumped, smashed, hit in the belly, struck by lightning..... for not only she was pretty she spoke in an accent that totally tingles every hair on my body.

"I am here for Soft Matter conference." "Oh! God knows what that is.. I am here for an art school, " she spurted, and I noticed her hand stretched out, "Sarah." "I am Vivek." "Are you an Indian? Oh! I totally totally love India. Its such a crazy place." I thought to myself, this is interesting beginning and asked aloud if she had travelled to India. She had already found a bench and as she chatted with a breathtaking speed, in that wonderful accent, with words flowing out of her mouth laden with the morning smell of unbrushed teeth, she bade me to sit down as well, and I was feeling quite stupified and amused and entertained while she continued in a monologue in a voice that pitched and peaked and swelled and sounded like a river stream in wilderness. In spite of everything, I was paying attention (or so I imagine now). OK! There were all these words hovering around me, almost like butterflies and they seemed to have emerged from the person sitting next to me!

(Read like Russians speak English, and read it at a good speed and read it as if the beautiful girl is talking to you;) "I went to India last year. It was all crazy will all the bright colors of what you call them, duppatta and suits, though dunno why you use english word suit for such a traditional wear. Oh! The orange, the reds, the blues. I loved that long piece called sareee that my friend bought for me at Banaresh. Banaresh was so cool, though you know what there was this guide who was totally smitten by me and would come banging at my door at night, all drunk and called me his sweetheart or something and I had to just bolt my door from inside and he really scared the shit out of me. In morning he would say sorry and present thousand entreaties, but I tell you now I laugh about it, but that night I was more scared than I have ever been in my life. Then I was in Pune where there used to be pimps who would offer us a choice between quite well dressed guys who would hang about us and it was so totally fun. My friend, a curious one she is, was all giggles as the pimp outlined the cost price of each one. And later he asked us if we did not want to spend money, he could arrange for us to earn some. You don't seem to believe me Vivek, but that is how things were and it was so insane (giggles). All the rickshaw people are such cheats, they would ask me 200 ruppees for what otherwise costs just 10 ruppees. I later learnt to bargain, and bargain hard, but in initial few days people everywhere wanted to rip off every penny they could. Oh! Your country is so so spiritual, and I became friends with this Lama. The lama had really nice muscles I believe from doing Yoga and I teased him what use his muscles be. I dunno how they live all their life without marrying or fucking for that matter. Its such a waste, but he taught me how to meditate. Do you know how to, for it really relaxes ones mind!"

"Oh! I did not spend much on anything except on the motorbikes that I took for hire and the gas I used. I would find people like you, nice people and ask them if I could stay with them. Your country is so secretive about sex and all, that I knew there could be no risk and it would be really nice home cooked meal and I travelled all around Madhya Pradesh, Sanchi Stupa and Ellora caves and went to that extremely sensual temple at Khajurao. There it is evident that you are really in the land of Kamasutra, all those statues intertwined in most complex of ways. Calcutta was just swarms and swarms of people. I was though unable to go to Rishikesh, but I did go to Kashmir and you believe it or not I attended a Muslim wedding and that girl was so happy even though she had never met that woman. Do Hindu-Hindi also have arranged marriage."

I went through the ritual of explaining how arranged marriaged worked well in our society and if I had no one to be really crazy about, arranged marriage was an arrangement that could provide me with a nice lifepartner, etc etc. She ventured to ask me if I would be willing to marry a non-Indian and I stopped short of asking "iraade kya hai" (what are your intentions?)

"Hey! Guess what my birthday is next week. Why don't we plan and celebrate it together? It will be so much fun." What date? "Sixteenth". Oh I will be gone by then. "I have to take bus #8, and I better get going," she said, "here is my email and do write to me and lets meet in coming few days when you are here, and maybe we can eat, drink and party."

Well, she missed two #8 after that, we talked or rather she talked on and on about India, Romania, love, intercontinental travel, lamas, spirituality, Indian food, marriages, temples and how she planned on going to another trip to India. Of course, now she had another place to stay there. (My parents would be scandalized if she appeared at home and talked like she did here. Maybe they will ask her to try "daatun" on her teeth). Eventually, like all good things and beautiful women, she parted, said a goodbye, and I guess (sigh!!) that is the end of this story!

The Bangladeshi

Finally I arrive at the conference site. This was my first day in the city, and I had walked over three miles to this site, using map, my feet, and directions provided by the Dutch people. Few minutes later, she arrived, dragging a huge suitcase and carrying a heavy bag that made her lean to a side. She arrived in a saree, wrapped on her head, and she was also wearing a sweater. After having spend nearly a week in Amsterdam, she seemed to be grossly overdressed to me. At this instant she was struggling to drag her suitcase. Reading a book on chivalry, that too Don Quixote means that you have to help a damsel in distress (well, I guess I would have helped otherwise too, but thinking about knights lends it extra glamour).

"Are you from India?" The questions irks me when it comes from someone I believe can tell from my face that I am from India. Still, I said yes, (though I really wanted to say Mongolia) and figured that her bags were heavier than my wildest imagination could have told me. It turned out that she was to be my next door neighbour, and I somehow managed to drag her bags to her room. This reminded me of my friend, who often says that unless I start going to gym with him, I will turn out to be a useless husband! Meanwhile I learnt that she was from Bangladesh, a graduate student like myself (though she was mother of two and employed as an Assistant Professor), had left her country only second time, it was her first time in Europe, she had travelled from the airport in an overpriced taxi and that whether I liked it or not, I was going to have company.

"Hey Vivek! You don't seem to understand. The reception is in the city center. It took me fifteen minutes to get here in the taxi from there. Lets find a bus, why must you insist on walking?"

Well, I walked from the city center to this dorm, and that was right after I came into the city. So I know its doable, more so as now the baggage in not there. I really believe that you cannot know a city unless you tred through its streets and bazaars. Why don't you take the bus?

"I don't know how?"

Its like taking any local bus in say Bangladesh.

"I have never set my foot in a local bus. And I come from a family where we never walk any distance."

I was getting irked. She refused to walk, and she had never travelled in the bus. A rich man's wife and a rich man's daughter she must have been, and for all I cared I could have left her right there. What was particularly annoying as well was that while she had all her registration dues waived (as she was coming from third world country), she was carrying cell phone, making international calls, and even here in foreign country she wanted a stranger to arrange for the luxuries she was used to. I remained adamant, and well, she walked (asking me to promise that we would travel in bus on our way back). I found a British guy who wanted to walk as well, and we both had to slow down considerably to let her catch up with us. A theorist is always fun to talk to, and as we ambled on, I listened to what he was working on, and felt the thrill of being back in the scientific world. She looked miserable, for walking pained her as much as his accent and talk about theoretical stuff. (At the end of the day, we did take a bus, and that too after a nice dinner in a desi restaurant that my particularly large nose helped us to find!)

We saw each other a lot in coming few days, for reluctantly or otherwise I was the only help she could find around the place. For me talking to people is no problem (if you haven't noticed by now, you better see me soon). A part of me sympathized with her, for she was so far away from a place where she had everything provided for. A part of me was irked to the limit for she seemed to quite inflexible in her demands and choices. Coming from a middle class family in India, I have been taught to be flexible, to bear stuff with smile, to bear hardship with the same joy as one takes joy in success. Anyways, the last day of our trip came and she had already asked me several times if I could help her shop for her kids and kins. So I decided to show her the city of Amsterdam and help her with buying the gifts.

The bags had become no lighter, and she finally got it that travelling for a week does not require half a quintal worth of stuff. (Though I do thank her for carrying sugar, cream and tea-bags, for life without tea is not worth living)! Visiting the souvenier shops in Amsterdam makes it pretty clear that you are in the sex capital of Europe. The dolls, toys, T-shirts, pendents, postcards, key chains, wall hangings, are all tokens, reminders of the city known for prostitutes, sex, right light district, dope laws and liberal eroticism. Here I was with a person coming from a country of purdah, the land of fanatic censorship, the religion of absolute covertness. But thankfully Amsterdam also has souveniers that remind us that its the city of canals, of Anne Frank, Van Gogh and Rembrandt (though these three were as unknown to her as my the description of my PhD research), and that its the land of windmills, crafted and painted wooden shoes, pottery and the Dutch cows (that have black patches on white bodies, as if the creator had dropped ink on them, and the ink got smudged)! She wasn't impressed with Amsterdam "The buldings are so old, not only old, but old-fashioned. People have no style or sense of clothing. (I wondered hmmm she saw no street in the red light district and still!!). The shops are full of bad stuff. There are too many cyclists as if no one owns cars here. I see no beauty in these canals or having houses near canals. These bazaars are narrower than the new ones in Dacca. I know these women have too much freedom, so much that they care more for their false beauty than for kids. Everywhere you go you see people behaving like gluttons, eating and drinking with relish. Drinking wine in bright daylight!! (But sun sets at 11 pm, I thought)! Neither the architecture nor the people impressed me at all."

Maybe my grandmother would agree with her. She had irked me the most at times, I guess more because she had an attitude, a way of thinking that I know exists in my home country as well, and that there was no escape from that. She was in more ways than one, like most desi women are in their thirties. After bidding goodbye to her, and receiving her numerous thanks and a box of chocolates, I sat down first to ridicule her, but soon I was admonishing myself. The woman I had for many days criticized and looked down upon as intrasient, rooted in ageless religious and communal bigotry, incapable of taking care of herself and ignorant of the existence of the artists and scientists I most valued, the woman I have perhaps talked about in the same tone was my initial thoughts about her were..... that very woman turned out to be perfect as a devout Muslim, a doting mother, a devoted wife and a prized daughter. The American had smoke and humor, but it veiled her bitterness and sorrow, the Romanian had romance and risk, though her thoughts proved that she was quite shallow but it was the Bangladeshi who turned out to be happier and at peace with herself and her life. I guess I have a lot to learn, and become more tolerant and less critical from next time.

PS: Next blog travels to India. Many people I met can sleep easy, for they will not make an appearance in my writings soon!


RTD2 said...

Hey Vivek..Welcome back..I didn't manage to read all your adventures, but they certainly seem..hmm..adventurous :) Especially the European woman..If I were a guy, I'd definitely be jealous. Just wanted to say hello..We'll talk soon..

Netherlanderin said...

I like the quiteness of streets in Holland. I prefer cycles as transport than cars and pollution for you can hear water flows of canals while biking. I prefer hiring a bike and hearing water flows of canals than walking or taking buses.

Improve yourself said...

Hello -> Vivek <- I just wanted to let you know that Back from Holland/ India: III was an interesting read and well presented. Just my two cents.

Quality of Life Improvement

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Mohamed Ali said...

شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام والقطيف وراس التنورة وبقيق انوار يطبية لتنظيف المنازل
وتنظيف الخزانات بالقطيف وتنظيف الشقق والبويت وتنظيف العمائر والفلل بالدمام والقطيف وراس التنورة وبقيق ومكافحة البق والنمل الابيض بالقطيف والدمام
شركة مكافحة الحشرات بالخبر
شركة مكافحة الحشرات بالقطيف
شركة مكافحة النمل الابيض بالدمام
شركة مكافحة البق بالدمام
شركة مكافحة الصراصير والبق بالدمام
شركة تنظيف بالدمام
شركة مكافحة النمل الابيض بالقطيف
شركة مكافحة النمل الابيض بقيق
شركة تنظيف خزانات بالقطيف
شركة تنظيف ارضيات بالدمام
شركة تنظيف ارضيات بالقطيف
شركة تنظيف منازل بالقطيف
خدمات مكافحة حشرات بالمنطقة الشرقية
خدمات التنظيف بالمنطقة الشرقية

Mohamed Ali said...

فرسان النيل هى الاولى فى نقل العفش بالدمام هي شركة نقل عفش بالخبر وشركة نقل عفش بالجبيل والدمام وشركة نقل عفش بالقطيف والدمام وشركة نقل عفش بالاحساء وشركة نقل عفش بقيق وراس التنورة
شركة نقل عفش بالدمام
شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام
شركة تنظيف بالجبيل