Thursday, 2 February 2012

from Thiruvannamalai to Pondicherry India

Hawkers enter the public bus displaying their goods, shouting out the name of their edibles: samosas, bagged sweets, deep fried lentil puffs; urging the passengers to buy trinkets or charms of one of the 330 million Hindu deities.  I'm the only non-Indian in the bus. Many eyes scan me with curiosity. 

As I turn to see what all the hawkers are yelling about, a young man whose face and upper body are painted with red and white circles enters the bus.  A thin stick seems to magically protrude vertically in front of him.  But how?

Then I see. The stick (about four feet long)goes through the middle of his tongue. He moves his swollen tongue and the stick moves slightly forward and back.

The bus driver and and the first row of passengers (all male) watch me watching this man.  They laugh and look back and forth from me to the boy.  I'm sitting in the very front seat: a single seat on the opposite side of the engine from the driver.  Suitcases, bags of grain, luggage, wrapped parcels lean against the engine creating an island of goods separating me from the rest of the bus.  Stick-tongue boy moves toward me, but can't reach me.  The driver and first row of men yell to him.  He walks out of the bus and stands outside my window thrusting a gold-wrapped box toward me. 

I sort through my wallet, find a 5 rupee coin, reach through the horizontal metal slats of the window and drop the coin through the slot in the top of his box. The bus driver and front row men smile, nod, laugh.

The driver starts the engine and we begin the three hour ride.

Villages, rice fields, hills made up of boulders stacked one upon the other zoom past.  Rice fields of life-screaming-affirmation yellow-green. Yaks pulling carts stacked with cotton bags stuffed with goods.  Trucks piled with loads of twigs and branches strapped down and fanning out over their sides. 

A motorbike man almost eclipsed by the panoply of multi-colored plastic goods tied onto his bike put-puts by.

The bus rattles and bounces along the pot-holed two-lane blacktop road.  My head swirls with ecstatic prose: rhapsodies to the beauty of India's countryside and people.  My pulse beats to the rhythm of the engine. I sing a song of silent words in praise of life.

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