November 13, 2007

Tennis, anyone?

Drove Bombay to Delhi, and back along another route. Some nuggets from along the way (more to follow and that, as always, is a threat):


A huge collection of people enters the dining room at the Ahmedabad establishment where we spent a night. They line up around a long dining table just a few feet from the one we're eating at. They stand there idly for the next 20 minutes. Several yank out mobile phones and make calls. To each other?

Without warning, they break into "Happy Birthday", but there's little gusto in their singing. The birthday boy is 13 or 14, in a red T-shirt with gold applique and an army fatigue shirt over that. On his wrist, a watch the size of a small marsupial. His sister is in a striped top with massive gold-outlined red roses appliqued all over. A cake has appeared. Someone cuts a piece and stuffs it into the boy's mouth, someone else smears some on his smooth cheeks and even into his eyes.

He blinks furiously.

In my shirt-pocket, I suddenly remember, is my trusty little blues harp. I pull it out and play a quick "HBTY". Some of the heads at the long table turn and smile widely. The other heads don't notice. They all sit, food arrives, they eat.

When we're leaving, a smiling woman approaches. Soft and transparently sincere, she says: "Thank you so much for playing the piano."


At our Chittaurgarh hotel, I'm gathering stuff from the car to take up to the room. Two women from a party on the lawn, twenty-ish and in fitted salwar suit outfits, swish past me and enter the lobby. Two men are sitting there, watching TV.

As if on cue, both men's mouths fall open slackly as the girls walk past; then their heads swivel to watch. Suddenly the girls stop, turn and walk back to reception to pick up something. The two heads follow them still, now swiveling in the other direction. Done, the ladies turn once more and resume their original path. The two heads swivel accordingly.

Like being at a slow-motion tennis match.


On a friend's recommendation, we drive into Nasirabad to sample that town's famous kachora. The place suggested, Chavannilal Halwai (gotta love that name), is on one of those crowded small-town market streets where driving is next to impossible because of the people and the fruit and the cattle and the vendors and the haphazardly parked vehicles of every denomination.

In other words, being on that street is a visual delight. Though maybe I think so because I am not driving.

And that's because I'm standing outside the shop, waiting for the chef inside Chavannilal to finish the next batch of kachora. Waiting with me are about two dozen others, some of whose parked vehicles of every denomination are generous contributors to the chaos around us. In the corner of Chavannilal's red sign is the painted word "Gurjar". I also note that the street address for where we stand is "Paanch Batti Chauraha" (Five Lights Four-Way Intersection). And to my satisfaction, there is actually a tall pole at the junction nearby with four street lights in the four cardinal directions, plus a globe on top. Five Lights, entirely as advertised.

On the other side of the street, a man is getting a haircut. Viewed from across the pandemonium, it's an oddly peaceful sight. And atop the haircut shop is this sign: "Pulkit Garg, Advocate, BSc LLB DLL, Rajasthan High Court".

A haircut for you, sir, while we ponder your legal tangle? Sure, why not. And the kachora? It is hot and fiery and well worth the wait.

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