Sunday, April 03, 2011

India part 28a: Puri, Konark, Bhubaneswar

The overnight train from Calcutta exhausted us both; I hardly slept, even though my fellow passengers were relatively quiet. Having said that, a noisy chai-wallah did come round at around midnight - not an ideal time to take tea, imo - and half an hour later, a man was hocking up phlegm so noisily it sounded like he was vomiting a shoe.

Within three hours of arriving in Puri, Orissa - east coast, yo - we wandered to the garden lushness of Golden Green Restaurant, where the menu temptingly dangled the offer of a "jam burger" in front of us for just 15 Rupees. We walked in to Arcade Fire's 'Keep the Car Running', the title of which could have been code for "get out, quick", I suppose, but is also a Good Song, so I took this as a Good Sign. And it was: both the restaurant, which we returned to several times, and Puri were lovely. Each traveller ghetto has its own peculiarities, and this one's was the abundance of restaurants and cafes with amazing leafy gardens.

Puri's other quiddity is that everyone here is obsessed with this strange little god called Jagannath. Here's what he looks like:

Jagannath crew

Not really your average Hindu god, right? Cute, though. He has his own eponymous temple, in town, and an enormous festival dedicated to him; also, his big round eyes stare out from every other wall.

In Puri, we met Paul, a Scot with a voice like Ivor Cutler and a face like Iggy Pop. We asked him how long he'd been travelling for: "Twenty years." He declared himself disappointed with the "smoking scene" in Puri and suggested we stay "out" for another year, citing the recession as a good reason not to go home. I suspected his suggestion was less out of concern for our well-being than to add two more drifters to the world's pile to keep him company. He said he'd advise any young person these days to take out a loan "from anyone stupid enough to give them one", spend it all, and declare bankrupcy. I'd just read the much-shared BBC article Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere and I guess what he was saying tallied with point one: "At the heart if it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future." Interesting fellow.

Tree-door fail

There were other interesting fellows in the same restaurant; the next day, while I scoffed the biggest pile of fruit, muesli and curd ever seen by human eyes, I tried to block out the voices of an American, an Italian and an Australian talking about bloody Shantaram, the American's "like"s getting more and more noticeable, reaching an insane level when he started talking about people who, like, like Shantaram and those who, like, don't like it... Later he went a bit nuts, apparently suggesting the Aussie was comparable to those who commit genocide because he made a few observations about "Indian people"; this guy seemed to be suggesting, with classic rising inflections, that just to use the word "Indian" was racist, because India is, like, so diverse? And grouping people together like that is really narrow-minded? The Aussie fairly reasonably explained that what he understood by the fairly well-recognised term "Indian" was "people who live here in the country of India". The American, who didn't really respond to this defense, did a "Jerry Springer's final thought" type thing at the end, sounding very superior: "You're just saying this is your perception and not necessarily the ultimate reality? And that's fine, I'm sure you mean no harm by it, but for so many people it is the only truth..." Blatantly a Eng. Lit. student (with modules in structuralism and post-colonial studies).

Cosmic

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