The Millennium Trip – Letter #6

Namaste everyone,

The poverty in India is oppressive. More so than in any other country I have been to. In India, the poverty refuses to be compartmentalized or hidden behind conveniently positioned hedgerows. Here it is in your face all the time. It is on the pavement; starving, sleeping, washing, whining, defecating – on the pavement.

Everyone else walks past in the street. The beggars follow you from the moment you leave your hotel until you return to it’s sanctuary in the evening. Occasionally you see some Policemen trying to clear them off with sticks. Beating them while cower against the wall; offering no resistance. For the Policemen it must be like trying to hold back

the tide with truncheons. Knowing that you could change any one of their

lives in an instant makes you feel guilty. To be continually reminded of this makes you feel depressed.

Here, in Jaipur, I went to watch a Bollywood movie at the Raj Mandir cinema. With a capacity of 1125 seats it is purported to be the largest, and most lavishly decorated, movie theatre in Asia. The movie, “Sarfarosh”, has apparently been a bit of a box office hit down this way and I had to queue for and hour to be sure of getting a ticket.

What plot there was, was not hard to follow, even in Hindi: The nasty Pakistani’s have been smuggling arms across the border to the Indian tribes who are using them to wreak havoc in the hill areas. Our hero, 25, Assistant Commissioner of Police, sees his brother getting killed by the baddies and vows vengeance. The romantic sub-plot; big-city rich girl gets put in her place by the hero, looked like it had been stuck on afterwards by a nervous producer.

The real interest for me though lay not so much in the wooden acting or the cut to music sequences as in the type of India portrayed in the movie. This India looks like a combination of Mumbai and Delhi; Modern, vibrant and fast. The stars all drive fast cars and wear Western designer clothes, the heroine in particular showing acres of flesh you would never see on any self-respecting Indian woman. There are also no beggars in this India and the few lower caste people you see are portrayed as clowns; happy with and even jolly about their position in society.

Finally, in a delicious twist to the movie plot, Shoab Aktar, the Pakistani fast bowler, is reported to have approached Sonali Bandra, the leading actress, with a proposal for marriage. The fact that she is Hindu and he is Muslim doesn’t seem to bother anyone. In fact, it is becoming something of an institution here with both Salim Malik and, more recently, Azhar marrying Bollywood actresses.

In Delhi, needing a shave, I took the advice of the guidebook and submitted myself to the ministrations of a street-side barber. After seating myself in his chair, and being paranoid as I am about HIV and other blood-borne diseases, I ventured a question as nonchalantly as I could;

“So um…do you sterilize your blade after every shave?” Subtlety was never my strong point.

He, deigning to answer, gave me a look that made it obvious he thought I was a stupid bourgeois twat and made a point of mixing some neat Dettol in with the shaving cream. I, feeling guilty for being a stupid bourgeois twat, and fearing further reprisals, decided to shut up for the rest of the procedure.

And what a procedure it was; three shaves, two massages,

numerous balms and 50 pence later I left feeling like a new man.