Recumbent pilgrims lie scattered on the white marble of the Golden Temple. They look identical: long dark beards, white turbans, aged soles of their feet. Here we are far from the anomic lifestyle of Seattle, the bathetic pathos of Seoul, here people must have touch, must express total equality even in their style of eating, must cover their heads in humbleness not only to an imaginary God, but to each other. In a state of quiescent repose, we face each other as beings of the same universe.
The gold surface of the temple is grandiose. One wonders who built it, in what conditions, etc. Ostentatious displays of wealth certainly arouse suspicions in any puritanical American. Even the deserts in Amritsar are marked with filigree; delicate real silver tops off my rice pudding and looks like tin foil.
I encroach upon the sacredness of yet another religion, as I turn my back on the temple, deliver a wad of flem backed up in my nasal passages by the pollution of the city. Apparently you’re not supposed to do that.
I rid myself of the tourist monuments like passing difficult excrement. To find myself in a new city, one must survey the perimeter, as a canine around his new home, before he cane take in the pleasure of the streets. As soon as I am released from the injunction to see the tourist sites, I walk in random directions, towards whatever seems exigent or within my proximity—a broken down building, a gathering of Indians around a well-lit street, a strange figure in the dark. Very often I simply float within the crowd, unthinking and unassuming flaneur, imbibing in the aura of the city and its people, retreating from certainty, trusting the void wherever it leads.
We chase the beaucratic fairy around the train station from one ticket counter to another, filling out forms, getting things stamped, carrying our luggage on our backs with the body-heat of the Indians in our nostrils. The bearucratic and taxonomic obsession with getting things right, perhaps instituted by the British, has been popularized among travelers of India by V.S. Naipaul, where, in one short story, his wife faints from exhaustion after running from one passport office to another. The denouement of our confusion and utter exhaustion is only to discover that there is no train left for Jaipur.
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