Monday, January 15, 2007

East West Conversations

So much of what charms me here are the differences between the Indian and Western approaches to conversation. The last couple of days we've explored archeological constructions of 15th century monuments...Fatapur Sikri and the Red Fort in Agra sported extensive holdings for zillions of concubines. And some of our young male guides were amazingly informed about the nature of sexual activities that occurred between the monarch and all the women, especially when I'd mention that I'm a sexologist. Then I'd hear about the condoms made from animal intestines, fellatio, and parchesi games using slaves girls. It was also demonstrated how the walls of the concubine cells could transmit private messages. (One talks into one corner and hears the message loudly from another end of the cell). Eventually one of our guides revealed that he was scheduled to be married (in an arranged marriage) next year. In that his only sexual experience had been with his own hand he was in desperate need of some pointers. His candidness was too sweet for words. What a challenging culture he lives in!

Today was my birthday and of course everyone wanted to know how old I am. Kathleen thought I should keep it secret (very middle-aged American female) while every Indian I've engaged readily discloses. I love being in a place where all ages are fine and welcome. Yes and I happily turned 54 today!

Hard to pull off a party in a place where I know no one. But the day was full of fun. We packed up our bags at our Agra hotel and were driven in a private car to Fatapur Sikri. Beyond exploring the gorgeous ruins (some still in the process of reconstruction) we were intensely accosted by trinket and jewelry hawkers. They were all so desperate...and so intensely demanding. If she bought something, 10 more would surround me chattering hard about how I needed to buy something, too. At one point I made a video recording of one of the hawkers hawking and then played it back to him--just to be irritating. He only took it as added fodder for me to absolutely buy something from him! And even when I sought refuge in the car they pounded on the windows and thrust necklaces and bangles at me. There's an intensity here I've never ever seen anywhere before!

Later we stopped at a posh tourist restaurant and ate from a delicious buffet. Suddenly I realized we hadn't been served meat in nearly a week. We ate in the garden and the wait staff were kind and well-mannered. So many different Indian worlds!

Then later we stopped along the side of the road so I could photograph the cool stacks of buffalo patties (used as cooking fuel). Then a little horde of enthusiastic children rushed in front of my lens. Every time I attempted to frame a picture, a couple of extra heads would pop in. And of course they all wanted to look over their digital image right afterwards. They were SO fun! While the pictures lack my signature ability to frame things well, they do tell a fun story.