Dogster: Not Quite In Gujarat

Old Jun 24th, 2009, 03:09 AM
  #21  
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The other branch of the Singh family was lolling about in Tent City guzzling beer. A local masseur prodded at the eldest Singh as he lay on his side, fast asleep, covered by a damp towel. His mouth hung open, a thin line of drool glistening in the lowering sun. Many dentists had died for that mouth. It snapped abruptly shut when we puttered up on the Vespa about five p.m.

‘How was your festival?’ said Madame Singh.

‘Where is the car?’ said her fiancé.

‘Why are you on a motor-scooter?’ said her father.

Mother Singh didn’t say anything - but then, she never did.

‘You don’t know...?’

Well, I’ve never seen a family move so fast. My valiant rescuer explained it all as they rushed around. I could hear whispered Hindi, then ‘oh, my god!’ He was still talking as they all clambered into their 4WD; ‘oh, my god, where?’ He pointed dramatically to the mountains. The car lurched anxiously into gear and he fell backwards. They charged out the gate, screeching orders to the staff as they left; ‘oh, my go-o-o-o-od, don’t forget to chop the carrots! Start the curry! Boil the water!’

I was left gasping. Raju poked his head out of the kitchen tent.

‘Chai?’

I stared at him for a moment. I was in an amateur production of Sinbad the Sailor.

‘Only if you take that stupid turban off.’

It was time to stop the play-acting. There was a real drama going on. Somewhere up in those hills young Mukesh was getting very cold, very hungry and very nervous indeed. He could see tribal men gathering in the valley below, drinking toddy. It was not a rescue party.

Everyone just waited patiently for darkness to fall. That’s when the tigah-h-h-h strikes.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 03:24 AM
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‘You’re a very lucky man,’ harrumphed Madame’s father much later, ‘that was a very dangerous situation. You know you’d still be on that mountain right now if his son hadn’t been there...’

That was absolutely true. Not a soul knew where we were.

‘Without mobiles we’d never have found you.’

I noticed his hand shaking as he told me. He was drinking whisky.

‘That stupid old fool would have let you die up there to save his reputation. Pure fluke, a university student and a Vespa got you out of that. You’re damn lucky. Those Adivasi drunks would have stripped the car and beaten Mukesh senseless, just for the pleasure of it. Then they would have stripped you...’

I don’t know if it was his words - or the long pause after them that sent the shiver up my spine.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 03:39 AM
  #23  
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Just the tip of the tribal iceberg.

We'll go dancing tomorrow.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 04:02 AM
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Goodie! Another Doggie yarn! She scanned your body for tell-tale brand names? An orange octopus fell asleep on his head??

You are a total scream!!
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 07:01 AM
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Shades of deja vu. GASP!
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 07:05 AM
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How was the food ?
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 07:38 AM
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Already a tale worthy of Dogster!
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:35 AM
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Marija: this sweet vignette might partly answer your question:

That night I was sitting quietly in the dark smoking my dwindling ration of charas. Raju wandered out of the kitchen tent and across my line of sight into the field. He was holding a bottle of water. When you see an Indian heading into a field with a bottle of water, don’t ask, don't follow.

He wandered back a few minutes later, objective achieved. Raju went straight to the kitchen tent, sat down at a table and began to pummel and punch at the dough for tomorrow’s parathas.

It occurred to me that I was at greater risk of hepatitis than tribal attack.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:49 AM
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A dog dancing-can't wait!
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:59 AM
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As an aside: this little moment sparked off a whole side-journey of revelation and intrigue as Detective Dog set off on a hunt to discover the reality behind that hessian curtain in front of the kitchen. It was so gross I didn't include it in here.

'Where are the washing facilities?'

'Err... the boys have soap.'

'Yes, but they boys don't know what it is. Show me the soap.'

You know the answer.

'Where do they wash?'

You know the answer.

'When did they last wash their hands? Raju! Show me your hands. Argh-h-h-h. Show me those fingernails! Argh-h-h-h, God Almighty! And you are preparing my food... in THERE!'

Sweeping gesture into the kitchen tent. Don't look in the kitchen tent. If you look in there you will die.

Raju couldn't see what the problem was.

All these boys were tribal lads from Poshina. Sticking a turban on their head wasn't going to make them a waiter. They were feral sprogs with no comprehension of any of it. If they had ever learnt, they had forgotten. I became Doctor Dogster, doling out Dettol, cough medicine and Strepsils, bandaging cuts and bruises, inspecting nails and bench tops, washing my own hands with alarming frequency. Madame and Mr. fiance Sir thought I was a total pain in the arse.

It didn't matter what the food was like, Marija [bland and repulsive] - it was the conditions it was prepared in that REALLY spun me out.

To this day, I think I was lucky to get out alive.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 02:02 PM
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Dogster, I have to keep reminding myself that you're actually writing this after having survived, or otherwise I'd be scared to death. As it is, I'm still pretty quivery just reading about it all.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 05:25 PM
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Dogster, Your writing makes my day. I have also decided that when I finally get to India to stay on the beaten-path. I think you have saved my future life.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 07:39 PM
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Note to dogster before his next foray: The Hep A vaccine (2 shots) confers life-long immunity. Typhoid is passed the same way and the oral vaccine is good for 5 years.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:42 PM
  #34  
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lol Kathie - I just put that bit in for you. I know you love a good disease. You would have been proud of Dr. Dogster. I've truncated the worst parts of that story. While I was there the Times of India carried large stories about the hepatitis outbreak just 50 kilomers away from the camp. It gets worse. Your note is taken.

The four days I spent at Tent City were rich beyond my wildest dreams - just not quite in the way I'd intended. Luckily all knowledge came slowly. There were no 'eureka' moments, so what seems very scary now was only kinda scary at the time. Often I only got the clue after it was all over... like a car crash, you process it in slow motion for weeks to come.

Thank you all for sticking with me and indulging this idiot story thus far. Some of you have said some very kind things - actually the greatest compliment is that you are still reading. The odder the situation the more difficult it is to explain. As you'll see...
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:45 PM
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Isolated tribal societies seem to operate on a rhythm, a slow heart-beat that sustains the greater community yet maintains their village privacy. Every week on a certain day in a certain town there is a market; this is called a ‘haat’; as much a social event as shopping. The locals are spread wide in tight-knit, family groups, farming the surrounding land, squeezing what they can out of difficult soil. Once a week everybody walks for miles into town to shop, bargain and gossip - then everybody walks miles back home. The show moves on; the next day there is a ‘haat’ in a neighboring town, the next day in another and so on, rotating in a seven day cycle around the district - Bakhatgadh comes alive on Wednesday.

The other six days of the week the town settles back into its customary torpor; a sizzling wasteland dotted with stalls, a dusty road, a rabid dog and seething silence – the surrounding villages hum to their own tribal tune; secret, savage gardens full of suspicion, reticence and greed. They just want to be left alone. This is not some idyllic rural commune – relationships are just as volatile as anywhere else; sometimes far more intense. Trapped up in the hills, wound tightly in superstition, caste and family, the tribes battle nature and each other to stay alive.

With infinite wisdom the tribals have built in a release valve. Once each year, sometime in the fortnight before Holi, the district explodes with a special event; a ‘bhagoria’, a mela or festival used for the young men and women of the area to pair off, start a relationship, get engaged, married or, in most cases, just elope and have sex under a bush. Like the haat, it travels around the wider district in rotation and, like the haat, every bhagoria is different. It’s an important once-a-year day; some very serious business indeed gets done at a bhagoria. District dispute is dragged, debated, sometimes battled out at a bhagoria. Tribal justice is swift and brutal – it’s always best not to get in the way.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:47 PM
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Late on Tuesday morning I noticed a large group of men sitting under a very big tree at the edge of the paddock we were living in.

‘What is that?’

‘Meeting tree.’

‘What is happening?’

‘Man, woman. Wedding.’ Raju pointed at the temple. ‘God.’

I didn’t really understand. He looked at me like I was a simpleton.

He pointed at the tree. ‘Man tree.’

Then he pointed over to the crest of the hill.

‘Woman tree.’

I could only see a big crowd of men there too. I assumed this was where the family deals were made just before tomorrow’s big day. I stood up to go see.

‘No!’ said the security guard.

‘No!’ said Raju, ‘very dangerous.’

‘So boys - if that’s the ‘man tree’ and that’s the ‘woman tree’ - who are all those other people under that third tree?’

‘Ah-h-h-h,’ smiled Raju, ‘big problem’.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:48 PM
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Mukesh arrived at my breakfast table all puffed and bothered, intent on making a stand.

‘Sir, sir... today, no Rana Singh, O.K.? Just you and me, sir. You and me.’

We had a bonding, buddy day: he played Muki’s Bollywood music loudly in the morning and Dogster’s tribal dirge softly in the sweet afternoon. We bummed around at the haat in Kavant. When the smell of sewerage got too much, we came back to camp for lunch.

Those people were still sitting under the three big trees. There were a lot more of them now. Things were getting animated at the man tree; seventy, maybe eighty men sitting in the dirt, some standing, weaving through the crowd. They were starting to shout.

Up at the woman tree the numbers had grown, too; sixty or seventy, maybe more - the same at the third, mystery tree. Each group was starting to shriek at the other. Man tree, woman tree, problem tree – that’s all I knew. I was eating lunch about five hundred yards away.

Madame and her Sir-to-be came over. They looked like they’d been arguing. I had to ask the obvious question.

‘Oh-h-h, this is just local business,’ she said airily, ‘nothing to do with us...’

Her voice trailed off as the shouting increased. I saw a rock fly though the air. Madame’s eyes flickered to her fiancé. He glanced blankly back. Nothing must be said to upset the guest.

‘Where are you going this afternoon?’ she said hopefully, ‘back to Kavant?’

‘Do you know why there are three trees?’

It took her a moment to get my drift.

‘Ah-h-h,’ she said. ‘A girl was meant to get married tomorrow. It’s a very auspicious day. That’s her family, up there.’ She pointed to the woman tree.

‘The jilted husband’s family is under there,’ she said, pointing across to the man tree, ‘he’s young and handsome and angry.’

‘Under the other tree is the family of the man she has run away with.’

Ahh, now it began to make sense.

‘Nobody can understand why. She’s very pretty and he’s very old and ugly and has two other wives - which only adds insult to injury.’

Sir curled his lip. He hadn’t shaved for several days. Surely that wasn’t whisky I could smell?

‘Tribals,’ she sniffed and looked devotedly at her fiancé; ‘wives come and go here. Filthy. Nobody knows who has fathered who. Fifty years ago they were wandering around with a bow and arrow...’ she paused, expecting me to nod and agree. I couldn’t see her at all. She was a blur of pique, white noise and static. What did she look like? I don’t know.

Madame blithely rattled on.

‘Bhagoria is the time tribals use to settle their scores in front of the temple.’

‘Which might just be... that temple - over there?’ I enquired gently.

‘I think so,’ she said.

‘She means yes,’ said her husband-to-be, with all bitter calm he could muster. He could stay silent no longer. It was evident that Dogster was not the only person abandoned high and dry by Rana Singh’s entrepreneurial ambitions.

He was 100% tribal, Adivasi to his core; this smart old bugger had rented out the battleground for their annual tribal war.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:52 PM
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The situation was worse by the time we got back to Tent City. Now there were at least a hundred men under each tree. Everybody was really smashed, milling around in their own groups, periodically standing up to shout abuse across the field. There was high pitched screaming from the men’s tree.

‘That’s their war cry,’ whispered someone.

This high-pitched falsetto shriek of exasperation echoed across the dirt.

‘That means ‘come and fight’, said the voice.

In my experience, tribal communities and alcohol seem to be a particularly volatile combination. These guys get drunk in a way I simply don’t see anywhere else; staggeringly, wildly, gob-smackingly drunk; fall-over drunk, crazy drunk, violent drunk; above all – unpredictable drunk.

A bunch of men broke out, advanced unsteadily across the field then stood shouting and taunting their opponents. This confrontation was clearly governed by strict rules of behavior; threat, counter-threat, escalating rage erupting into a kind of war-dance; out of control – but in control, all at the same time - as much as three hundred drunks ever can be.

The brew of choice is ‘toddy’, an alcoholic drink brewed daily from the fermented sap of the coconut palm. If there’s not a coconut tree around they will boil up a tourist or two and ferment that. I would be a fine Jus de Chien. Toddy seems to come in two strengths; in the morning a light weight, restorative drink, rather equivalent to a beer; by evening, when nature has pickled the broth, toddy turns into rocket fuel.

A group broke away from the woman tree, a dozen enraged drunks unable to control themselves. The screaming increased. Whack! Someone was hit. Wham! Boof! Smack! People hurtled in to the battle zone. Some are dragged away. Rocks flew. This has all erupted as I watch, my lunch hovering somewhere between dish and discovery, barely five hundred yards away. This seems seconds from a full-scale war.

I notice several of the security men, kitchen boys and Madame’s fiancé standing close by, ready to fight or flee. I suspected the latter. They aren’t smiling. One wiggled his head. Time to retreat? Nah-h-h-h, I’ll be fine. Err, maybe. I saw Raju’s back arch; he was dancing on hot coals, ready to run in a second. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. Madame’s fiancé gently took me by the shoulders and walked me away.

‘Get in the car,’ he said, ‘just in case we have to make a quick exit.’

My heart skipped a beat.
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:54 PM
  #39  
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Hovering, hiding.

Mukesh slid into the driver’s seat. He had the key in the ignition, ready to go.

‘Hey, Muki,’ I whispered. I don’t know why I was whispering.

‘Hey, Papa,’ he smiled. His eyes looked a bit crazy.

‘Is it always like this at bhagoria?’

‘Yup.’

I looked across to see a dozen men intent on beating someone to death. A hunting party swooped down from the hill and pushed them away. Tribes akimbo. Arms waving. Bluff and fluster. Someone will have a black eye in the morning. One combatant is dragged from the field.

‘Fool tigah-h-hhs. Gr-r-r-r-rrr.’
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Old Jun 24th, 2009, 08:59 PM
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Come back tomorrow for the amazing conclusion: the Bakhatgadh Baghoria.

I think, almost certainly, Dog will die.
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