He did. He also looked exceedingly pleased with himself. Pappu ushered me round to the boot of the Ambassador and proudly showed me what he had bought yesterday with the money I had given him for food and board: a blanket with a golden trim round the edge and a new travel bag. On his feet was a sparkling pair of black lace-up shoes. Somewhere during this extended viewing of purchases made with my money, I did have the unworthy thought that you wouldn’t exactly call any of these items, ‘food and board’. The whole point of laying a little aside was to make sure that my driver arrived at the starting line in peak condition. ‘Clothing and accessories’ weren’t quite what I had in mind. On the other hand, Pappu did look well. However much he stuffed himself, he was never going to take on the upholstered roundness of a jam roly-poly, but he gave the impression of being a good deal fitter and fresher than he had a couple of days ago. This was reassuring. We climbed aboard. Pappu put his hands together for a short prayer (also reassuring if viewed in an optimistic light), and we set off.
We had hardly changed out of third gear, when we pulled into Mandore, the former capital of this part of Rajasthan. The reason it is now no longer the throbbing heart it once was is that a certain fifteenth century holy man, living a quiet and contemplative life in the desert, suddenly came up with the unasked-for suggestion that Jodh, the ruler, should abandon Mandore and build himself a new capital at Jodhpur. Which, of course, he did. Its astonishing how often this kind of thing kept on happening in India. Mohammed Tughluq, you may remember, marched everybody off to Daulatabad. Akbar did much the same in Fatehpur Sikri. A trifle inconvenient if you’d just finished tiling the kitchen, particularly since you knew that, in a few years, you’d probably be told to pack up again and retrace your steps.
Actually this didn’t happen to Jodhpur. By some miracle, it stayed occupied. The only person who suffered was the poor old holy man who was responsible for putting ideas into Jodh’s head in the first place. It turned out that Jodhpur had no water. It had to be piped in. And the route along which the water would be brought? Slap bang through the little place that the lonely hermit was pleased to call his own. He wasn’t pleased, understandably, and went so far as to curse the water in Jodhpur so that it would be forever brackish[i] – but it served him right if you ask me. There are times to speak out and times to stay zipped.
I walked through the main entrance of the Mandore gardens until I came to the cenotaphs (chatris) of past Maharajas. This was all that seemed to be left of Mandore. If there was more, I didn’t see it. It was early morning, just after dawn, and the place was deserted. Monkeys had taken over. A few of them were sitting on a chatri roof complaining that the coffee was cold and if the papers didn’t arrive soon they’d cancel their order. A female was on the ground doing her best to keep her child entertained, while simultaneously keeping a watchful eye on a pack of dogs that had strutted in like a troop of hungry mercenaries. One of them peeled off and chased her. She grabbed junior with a free arm, pulling him to her like an airplane retracting its wheels, and ran. Three legs or no, she could shift. And she could jump. She was half way up a wall in no time. Once out of danger, she turned round and hissed.
An unwashed youth swaggered in from somewhere, eyed me up and down and left. I was starting to have a bad feeling about this. There are moments when discretion is the better part of valour, and this was one of them. Something not quite right, and probably nasty, was in the air. I hurried back towards the main gate and instructed Pappu to saddle up and get us out of here. ‘We go, Pappu,’ is what I actually said.
The plan was to drive north to Osian and then cut west to Jaisalmer. We motored out of Mandore and further into the Thar desert. Two hundred and twenty-five million years ago all this was the Tethys sea[ii] according to the geologists, but it certainly wasn’t a sea now. It was as dry as a bone. The land was flat and sprouting straggly vegetation of a sort that I couldn’t identify – not that this narrows the field particularly. Pointed outcrops of rock were sticking up like humps on a camel’s back. Peacocks were playing by the roadside, and a herd of goats was wandering down the highway, gossiping. A typical day in up-country Rajasthan, except for a gossamer wisp of white cloud floating across the clear blue sky. I didn’t think they had clouds here but as long as the temperature stayed in the high twenties, I thought I could probably get used to them.
Osian was a one horse town. Actually it was a no horse town, but it did have goats, cows, dogs, monkeys and camels. It also had temples. Osian has been around since the third or fourth century, and had been a flourishing trading centre in the eighth century[iii], but you wouldn’t have known it today were it not for the fact that Osian has temples like Fife has golf courses. They were everywhere: to the left, to the right, straight ahead. Not having a clue which was which, I fell back on what I like to think of as the J.R.Ewing / Dallas approach to matters cultural. ‘Find me a big one, Pappu,’ I said. He did. In fact, he found what turned out to be the most illustrious of them all, the Satya Mata, dedicated to a manifestation of the goddess Durga, the fiercest of all the great energies.[iv] Pappu tended the car while I climbed a long succession of steps, arranged in flights, going up the side of a hill to a gigantic entrance porch. I couldn’t help noticing that Hindus touched the top step of each flight with their hands as they went up and, if I hadn’t thought I’d look like a complete idiot, I would probably have followed suit. It seemed a rather comforting thing to be doing.
This was a place for the locals. Well, not for foreign tourists anyway. None of the signs were written in English for one thing, and I only spotted a couple of other non-Indians in the place. A service was going on and I edged towards the inner sanctum, hoping for a peep. A drum started to beat. Dum dum, it went, pause for two, dum dum, then a symbol crashed, then all hell broke loose in the rhythm section. It was quite a sound, and I followed it to its source.
A young man was thrashing a drum with one hand and, with the other, doing his best to nurse a complicated machine made up of cogs, levers, belts, wheels and hammers. The output of this marvel was not a year’s supply of ball-bearings as you might have expected, but the sort of percussion backup that most symphony orchestras would kill for. It was an exciting noise, no doubt about it, and it sucked me right inside the temple, into the middle of a throng of chanting pilgrims. They didn’t seem to mind, even when I found myself incanting a selection of monosyllables that I imagined (deludedly) would slide harmoniously between the leaves of the authorized text. There was rhythm here that went to the core, and after a quarter of an hour I was fired up and ready to hurl myself against the enemy. It was that kind of sound. Mind you that could be my western upbringing. Others might be stimulated to pursue the quest for spiritual enlightenment. But me, I wanted blood.
I dragged myself away. Too long in there and there’s no telling what might have happened. I leant on a rail, gazed over a Spanish-looking landscape of rolling hills and occasional trees, and began to ruminate. The view looked vaguely familiar. I had seen those trees before, somewhere… and then I remembered. They were the spitting image of those arboreal creations that I used to paint as a boy: a single thick line denoting the trunk with circular blobs of green on top for the leaves. There have only been three things I have been able to draw that extremely perceptive souls have had a sporting chance of recognising: a square house with four windows, a five bar gate and blobby trees – so these kept appearing on all my pictures at school. My art teacher, Mr Watkins, gave me up as a lost cause after the first week. I didn’t blame him. He would lean over my shoulder from time to time, and being a kindly man, confine himself to a thoughtful ‘hmn’ before moving on. So I kept on producing rural scenes until the time I jumped ship, more or less at the point at which Watkins was plucking up the courage to suggest that I might try my hand at some other feature of the natural world, like a bowl of flowers.
My blobby trees haven’t put in an appearance since – until now. Here they were in real life. It was like bumping into old friends. I regarded them lovingly for a while, thinking how wonderful it was that nature should imitate art, when a young teenage boy put his forearms on the railing alongside, and said, ‘You like Tendulkar?’ I said I preferred Gangully. (I should perhaps explain, for those who don’t know, that both of these gentlemen are cricketers.) ‘Where from?’ he asked and, having established my place of residence, he told me that Scotland had lost all their matches in the cricket world cup. Actually I knew that, but I was impressed that anyone would bother to comment. Scotland had done rather well finding eleven players who knew which way round to hold a bat. Winning a match was a step further on, to which I’m not sure anybody had given much thought.
Sunil (for that was the boy’s name) offered to be my guide and I accepted gratefully. He was about 13, and he took his duties seriously. His tour included an ancient pillar dedicated to the elephant God, Ganesha, an even more ancient water tank with stone stairs carved into the side (now dried up), and an even older-still ancient temple dedicated to the sun. Sunil said eighth century, and he may well have been right. There were some worn carvings on the outside, but worn or not, I’d have recognized those curves anywhere. This was pre-Khujaraho erotica. Invoking the spirit of Raj Kapoor, I gave it the full inspection. Unfortunately, since everybody else who had passed through Osian over the centuries had done likewise, the detail had been worn away and I wasn’t able to satisfy myself about precisely who was doing what to whom. Sunil put my mind at rest. ‘Kama Sutra,’ he said.
There were no cars in this part of Osian but in order to keep the pollution quotient up to the mark, the town made up in litter what it lacked in noise and exhaust fumes. Through this we picked our way to Temple central, which had one exquisitely carved Jain[v] building after another. The Jains had money, and restoration had been going on since 1971. I asked the local priest when the work would be finished. He put down the book he was holding, looked me squarely in the eye, and uttered the immortal words: ‘no finish time in India.’ In that case, thought I, there was not a lot of point in hanging about, so I asked Sunil to see if he could find where Pappu had got to. Look for an Ambassador, I told him, and a driver with a new pair of black shoes.
There are a number of railway crossings between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer as the road criss-crosses the railway line. Not far from Osian, we stopped at the first to wait for a train to go through. I got out, stretched and walked to the gates, where I was joined by a jeep. He had driven past everything waiting patiently in the queue and parked himself in the right hand lane. That is to say, he had blithely brought his conveyance to rest facing the oncoming traffic. ‘This should be interesting,’ I thought to myself, and settled back to watch the mayhem ensue. The train went through. The gates opened. The assorted vehicles opposite poured across, except that their flow was interrupted by a jeep blocking the road. What a surprise. If this had been Britain, the driver would have been immediately jumped on by a dozen angry motorists and his body dumped in a verge. What happened here? The driver reversed all the way back, protesting at the injustice of it all, and the traffic continued on its way. A few horns were blown in a neutral kind of a way, but mainly people looked on. They didn’t let it spoil their day. India is endlessly surprising. And uplifting.
The road narrowed down to one and a half lanes, and then to single file. The countryside became even drier and sandier. There was hardly a car about. It was the kind of country where you expect to see olives. Dry land, rocks, intermittent bushes. I don’t know if they grow olives in India. I imagine they do. They grow most things. Shepherds were herding sheep and goats. Camels were stretching themselves to nibble the roadside trees – which, incidentally, is why they have necks that wouldn’t look out of place on a giraffe. They’d have to be straightened, of course, for giraffes to take them seriously, but there’s enough inherent length in that tubing to give the spotted beanpole of the African veldt a run for its money – a stumpy one, anyway, with short parents. There were also, of course, occasional cows, one of which was standing by the side of the road, observing carefully as the Ambassador came lumbering along. When we were about ten yards away, it stepped out into the road, as if remotely controlled by a hidden statistician doing a survey on the quality of car brakes. Pappu swerved past without breaking sweat. All in a day’s work. I don’t know why I bother to mention it.
The road improved after Philodi. It was narrow but well made, and straight enough to satisfy the Romans. Mile after mile of light brown earth, bushes now and again, interludes of cultivated fields, and then scrub. I would have dozed off. I was relatively speaking unshaken in the back, the air was hot, the country was monotonous, but – and I speak as someone who can nod off almost anywhere – I defy anyone to sleep in a moving Ambassador. I issue the challenge. We reached Jaisalmer in the early evening after about nine hours on the road, and with no lunch. I am never at my best in such circumstances. My hotel was on the edge of town and not very inspiring. I checked in and went up to the room. The water came out of the shower at about the same volume as juice being squeezed out of an orange, and a rather dry orange at that. I stood underneath for about half an hour trying to get wet, and then decided I had had enough of being dribbled on by cold water. I lay on the bed instead.
The management had seen fit to site the dining room in the basement. It was not enticing. It was also empty. I sat down and waited for some sign that waiters were present. In vain. I cast my eyes vacantly around the room hoping that, just perhaps, some item of fascination might leap out of the gloom. It didn’t. Ten minutes later, a couple of couples came down, spied me looking miserable and asked if they could join me. It was as if a yacht had put into a desert island and invited its only occupier to climb aboard. I said yes, with alacrity. They were charming, and English. ‘You like Tendulkar?’ I asked. They did. Even the women, although I have noticed that women from the Home Counties are good at faking such things. But, as it turned out, they liked many other things in India as well, and by the time I left for bed I was feeling cheery again.
There have been a few moments on this tour when I have been glad that my wife, sweet lady that she is, was not with me. Now was one of them. Half-way up the stairs, licking its whiskers, sprawled an enormous rat. Had her good self seen this, she would have let out an ear-piercing scream (imparting the somewhat redundant information that there, ahead of us, was a rat), and jumped into my arms. At this point two outcomes would almost certainly have occurred, the one following immediately upon the other. I would have been deafened in one ear, with luck only temporarily. Then, struggling under my new load, I would have teetered manfully but in vain, before cascading backwards to the bottom step, my Dear Lady on top of me. Would I have walked again? Probably not. But she wasn’t there, so I was able to have a sensible man-to-man chat with the hungry rodent and persuade him that the leftovers in the kitchen would make better eating than my leg. As he went down to take his turn in the dining room, I retired to my bed, pulled the sheet over my head and tried not to listen to the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
Next day, through the local travel agents, I organised a guide called Madhu Sudan to show me the sights of Jaisalmer. Pappu drove us into town, and then I saw it. A dust-bin. My first in India! Not just any old dust-bin. On this one were the emblazoned words: ‘Use me. Clean your city.’ And what a difference! Jaisalmer was litter-free. Trust me, I checked. OK, if I was being picky, it was not quite up to Zurich standards but then where is? This was a clean city by any standard other than gnomic. Cleanliness is relaxing, so much so that I went shopping, strolled through the streets and had myself measured for a hand-made shirt. For a fiver. But that was later, after Madhu had shown me around.
We went up to the fort, which was actually a city within a fort, built in 1156 and home to several thousand people, sundry scooters and auto-rickshaws, to say nothing of miscellaneous goats, one of which was sunning itself on the battlements as we approached. Jaisalmer is called the golden city and, with the sun on the sandstone, you could see why. It was a sort of Indian Cotswolds, but older. And hotter. Madhu told me that the heat in summer can get up to 54º C. Normally it’s a quiet 46-47º. ‘At 54º’, Madhu continued, ‘no need to cook breakfast. Just go outside and break an egg on your head. In one minute, you have omelette.’ I assumed he was joking, but then, when I looked at the top of his flat and hairless head, I wasn’t so sure. If ever a head could double as a frying pan, this was it. ‘Can you do an omelette at 46º?’ I asked. He put his outstretched fingers on his scalp and lowered them gradually over his eyes and down to his chin, signifying egg dripping down his face. Then he gave me a broad grin. I burst out laughing. We both did.
One of the sights of the fort is its 8 fifteenth and sixteenth century Jain temples. Very splendid they were too, and covered from floor to ceiling with carvings of gods, goddesses, animals, birds, dancers, musicians and naked ladies. You could spend a day doing nothing else but inspecting the walls. There was even a statue the size of a grain of rice.[vi] So I’m told. I didn’t see it myself. Well, it’s not the kind of thing that, as you walk past, leaps out at you saying, ‘and where do you think you’re going sonny – cop this.’ I gather it lurks discretely on the ceiling of the Sambhavanath temple, so if you’re going, take binoculars, and allow plenty of time. However, apart from missing this little gem, I had a good nose around and was struck by a thought which I shall now share with you. Jain temples – and Hindu ones for that matter (they’re more or less identical) – don’t (in my limited experience) have anywhere for the congregation to sit. There are cosy passages aplenty and umpteen shrines, but nowhere for all the incumbents to gather as a group. You know what that means – NO SERMONS. Hallelujah. Nobody standing up and pontificating on what’s what. Sounds good to me.
Jaisalmer is a city built for strolling. Apart from the fort and the temples, and the not inconsiderable fact that there is no begging, the old town has narrow streets, ornate houses and havelis (homes of aristocrats or rich merchants) that stand comparison with anything. If you are a haveli fan, this is the place to come. The best of them are decorated on the principle that more is more – that if there is spot of empty wall, carve something on it. It’s an approach that takes cash, of course, and you may wonder how a city that sits in the middle of a desert, miles from anywhere, came by enough of the stuff to afford such creations. The answer is ‘trade’ – the caravan route to and from the west. Cereals, ghee, and opium went through here on their way to Afghanistan, Sind, Iraq and Iran, and back came carpets, swords, wine and ‘green-eyed, Circassian houris.’[vii] Overloaded camels plied back and forth for centuries, but the glory days of Jaisalmer started in the sixteenth century (helped by a favourable alliance with the Moghuls in Delhi), and ended at the end of the eighteenth.[viii] Today there is tourism. And Soldiers. Pakistan is just down the road.
I liked Jaisalmer. I liked just wandering around with nothing much in mind. This suited Madhu fine. He was a wander-around-nothing-much-in-mind kind of person. The only thing that seemed to bother him was his sunglasses. They were new and he wasn’t entirely sure that his money had been well spent. He kept taking them off, rubbing his nose, putting them back on and asking me what I thought. I must admit I was rather flattered to be consulted. It doesn’t happen often where matters of fashion are concerned. I told him straight out that, while there were limits to the remedial changes that a pair of sunglasses could induce, and he mustn’t hope for the moon, his, as far as I could tell, were fine. This didn’t seem to reassure him. We popped in to the 10ft by 4ft kiosk where he had bought them, and he somehow persuaded its owner to offer a replacement. Madhu tried on every pair in the place and was much taken by a sleek cut-away silver number with reflective lenses. He looked over to me enquiringly, a seeker, if ever I saw one, of reassurance before truth. I said they were great.
The optometrist who ran the kiosk had trained in Delhi, made up the lenses himself and had his own computer testing equipment. That’s what his sign said but, being prone to what I like to regard as a healthy scepticism, I asked if I could have a look. It was in a cubicle at the back. An ultra modern piece of computerised kit that tested your eyes and then coughed up a recommendation. It was accurate to the 90% level apparently. The remaining 10per cent was provided by the sort of nineteenth century technology I’m used to – a test chart that begins with a letter ‘E’ so vast that, if you can’t read it, they skip the glasses stage and go straight to the white stick. His investment in state-of-the-art had cost him 23,500 rupees and I asked him if he would ever recover it. He fluttered his hand horizontally through the air and told me that his customers wouldn’t think his service was any good unless it was computerised. All this, and designer frames as well, in a shop not much bigger that a decent-sized estate car. As I have said, India is endlessly surprising. If you are ever in the Southern Market in Jaisalmer and in need of a pair of specs, look no further than Bhatia Optical. Thoroughly recommended – and if the glasses start to annoy you, you can always take them back.
Late on that afternoon, and after being measured up for a shirt by Mr Dungar Ram of Tourist Tailors, I went back to the hotel to meet Pappu as we’d arranged. I asked him to drive me out to see the sun set over the desert. That’s what eager visitors to Jaisalmer do when they’re not looking at havelis. When we arrived, I took my shoes off and walked across the sand. Pappu came with me. He liked sand. In fact, liberated from the Ambassador, he became quite frisky. He ran up the dunes and threw himself over the top in the armchair position that overweight 15 year old boys adopt when they’re dive-bombing their sisters in the pool. By the time I had come round to his side, he’d dug himself out and was brushing a dusting of yellow particles out of his trousers. After a while, we reached sunset point. I knew where I was because there was a sign that said Sun Set Point, which didn’t exactly make me feel I was charting unknown territory. Mind you, I might have formed that impression from the presence of dozens of cameleers plying their trade, and any number of tourists. But a train of camels in the distance, silhouetted on a sand dune against the setting sun, is still a great sight even if all it carries is Americans.
Having found the right spot to watch the sun go down, we stood there and waited. Pappu’s attention was diverted by a large black beetle, which he proceeded to torment by pouring sand on it, and turning it over. Given that it lay very still after Pappu had repeated this exercise a couple of times, I rather believe that the excitement may have been too much for it.
An ascetic looking Indian had been watching this performance from a few yards away. He didn’t look enraptured. He was perhaps pondering the number of life cycles Pappu still had to go through before enlightenment was his. The beetle now being dormant, Pappu was in need of further entertainment. Across his field of vision sauntered a boy followed by a weary camel. Pappu pounced. I couldn’t follow what passed between them but I’d be surprised if it didn’t have something to do with Pappu putting the best possible gloss on his skills as a cameleer. At any rate, he was soon in the saddle, reins in hand, encouraging the long-suffering beast beneath him to break into a gallop.
I was watching this performance with interest and hadn’t noticed a young fellow came up to within a foot of my ear and place a tube to his lips. He then produced from it an immense belch, which quite knocked me backwards. I looked around for some explanation other than that the world had just ended, and saw this youth about to repeat the process. I wasn’t at all clear whether he believed he was playing a tune, or was blatantly trying to extract protection money on the grounds that, if I didn’t pay him to stop, he’d obliterate my eardrums. It could only have been the latter, surely, so I edged away in as slow and as dignified a fashion as a man, who has just been blasted into oblivion, could muster. It never does to give in to blackmail.
The sun, meanwhile, was sinking fast, and looking glorious. To western man, that great shining orb up there in the sky is a large, hot lump of rock but, to Hindus, it is also a metaphor. I later discovered a rather lovely ancient mantra that Hindus still recite at dawn and dusk. ‘Let us contemplate the beautiful splendour of God, Savitri, that he may inspire our visions.’[ix] ‘Worship’ is not an inappropriate word for a prayer like that, strong though it may be for western tastes. Then the deep orange tennis ball dropped in slow, slow motion over the net, and disappeared.
We walked back to the car and Pappu drove me to a rooftop restaurant in town, where I dined, underneath the stars, on assorted vegetables, one of which managed the unique double of having the consistency of freshly picked twigs and tasting delicious. Its name escapes me but I’m pretty sure they don’t stock it at Tesco. The beer was Kingfisher, described on the menu as being ‘most thrillingly chilled’ – which was putting it a bit strongly. The whole meal was dirt cheap and there were no visible rats. Pappu was there to take me back to the hotel when I’d finished. I did like having a driver. I could get used to it.
I was woken next day at the crack of dawn by the penetrating wail of a holy man calling the Muslim faithful to prayer. He was atop a minaret and taking advantage of the latest that modern technology had to offer by way of amplifiers, to make sure his message reached out to deepest Rajasthan. I found it all quite colourful, but I wondered what the Hindus thought about this happening dawn and dusk, day after day, year after year. No, that’s not the right question. The Hindus would probably shrug and get on with things. What would less tolerant people make of it all?
Picture yourself in a small town in England and ask yourself what would occur if someone were to build themselves a high tower and broadcast wake-up music to a population hitherto slumbering happily in their beds. He’d be lynched. Religious tolerance is something that is burned deep into the core of most Brits, but then they’ve never been asked to choose between that and a good night’s sleep. Let me refer you to the reaction of an English traveller in India, Tom Coryat, in the early sixteen hundreds. Admittedly Coryat was eccentric bordering on the deranged, but we should take note of his response to hearing devout mullahs climbing up their minarets and proclaiming that ‘here is no God but one God, and Mahomet, the messenger of God.’ He snapped. One day, he climbed up to a high place opposite the mosque and shouted back, ‘here is no God but one God, and the Lord Christ, the son of God.’ He also threw in for good measure that Mahomet was an impostor. The authorities, fortunately for him, thought he was off his trolley, which was the only reason that they didn’t immediately put him to death.[x] What it shows though is how superhumanly easy-going is your average Hindu.
After this uncharacteristically early start, I spent the day rootling around the town and peeling off a layer of myopia in the process. Indian shops were fun. I hadn’t realised this. They were also devoted to ‘stock’ in a way that store-holders in Britain would find impossible to imagine. Walls were not areas to be frittered away on a poster or a yucca plant. Floors were not for standing on, except insofar as a pathway to the till had to be kept open. Ceilings were not the exclusive preserve of spiders. All flat surfaces were for occupation, totally, with no square inch uncovered. Let me give you an example. I squeezed into a tiny bookshop (and I mean tiny) that somehow managed to pack in most of the English language titles published in the last twenty years. Everything from Lawrence James’, The Raj, to Baby and Childcare, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Ardel O’Hanlon, John Grisham and my favourite – a delightful tip of the cap in the direction of minority tastes – ‘Librarianship as a Profession in India’. A few doors down a General Store of similar dimensions was selling toothpaste, Old Spice, pots, pans, and any other item that your typical Jaisalmer housewife might require once in a blue moon. I bought a foldaway knife ‘top quality’ for 20 rupees (30p) which was ‘very sturdy’ and probably the best 30ps worth I will ever spend. I also refilled my pen supply, should I have to bribe my way out of a tight corner.
I thought I would wander along to see if my new shirt was ready. Mr Ram, I calculated, should by now have sewed the final button-hole and be waiting for me to try it on. I asked directions to the Panzari bazaar and somehow or other found myself on the outskirts of town in an area alive with furry little mini-pigs. This was not right. When I’d had my measurements taken, I had exposed my naked pink chest in the middle of a busy market lane – not surrounded by a herd of porcine objects that wouldn’t have looked out of place trotting behind Cro-Magnum man, nipping at his heels and chewing on chunks of woolly mammoth. I’d have remembered that. I headed back for civilisation and, as luck would have it, stumbled across one of the havelis I’d seen yesterday. I knew I was now in the right part of town, so I sat on a bench and read the Times of India given to me by the bookshop in grateful appreciation of the number of books I had bought. And then, when I’d finished, I folded the paper carefully, picked up my shirt, and took an auto-rickshaw back to the hotel. It had been a restful day.
I spent the evening on a stone step at the edge of a thirteenth century, man-made, lake, in a pose that was as close to the lotus position as an adult without a stretchable tendon in his body will ever achieve. The last rays of a dying sun were playing on the surface of the still waters. Below me, a few frogs were sitting at attention, waiting for their supper. How lucky I was, I thought, to be that little bit higher up the chain of death and reincarnation – a reflection that, as time ticked by, was gradually replaced by the notion that a comfortable chair would be pretty good too.
[i] William Crooke (ed.), Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Vol II, (Oxford University Press, 1920), p.949.
[ii] Devendra Handa, Osian, History, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, (Sundeep Prakashan, 1984), p.4.
[iii] Handa, op. cit. p12.
[iv] Handa, op.cit., p.16
[v] The founder of the Jains, Mahavira, was a contemporary of Lord Buddha in the sixth century BC. Jains are known for a strict reverence for life up to, and including, not killing insects. Their temples, to my untutored eye, were very similar to Hindu temples except that they contained Buddha-like statues which were always masculine and expressionless, sometimes with black marble eyes. More than that, I wouldn’t like to say.
[vi] L.N.Khatri, Jaisalmer, Folklore, History and Architecture, (Morchang Publication, 1997), p.58.
[vii] Robinson, op. cit., p127.
[viii] Khatri, op. cit., p.41.
[ix] Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley, op. cit., p.129.
[x] Gascoigne, op. cit., p.143.