scenic scenery

August 30, 2007

We have been befriended by a man whom I shall call Laxman. Laxman haunts the university canteen even though he is no longer a student. But he is not there to study but rather to prey (in his own way) on sweaty, overwhelmed western exchange students. Laxman does not have a generous heart – he never tips, he reprimands beggars, he’s careful with money – but for some reason he has decided to take all of us harassed foreign students under his wing, with no clear motives, for nothing concrete in return.

He has engaged in the dirty work of house-hunting for some, he has linked empty bedrooms with homeless students, he has procured scooters, beds and stoves for others. He has become the strange fairy god mother of the exchange student population. Laxman’s assistance is difficult to resist. He has one crucial thing that we all lack. He’s Indian. He can speak Hindi, he understands how to do things. He gets things done. Particularly in terms of finding a flat, his assistance has been invaluable for some. Most landlords do not want to rent to western students. Here, our white skin carries connotations of libertinism, decadence, polygamy, alcoholism, drug addiction. It’s as if by giving us a place they’ll lower the standard of their building. We know another household made up of a Spanish guy, a Polish guy and a girl from Reunion Island/France. The girl comes across as Indian if she doesn’t say anything (a huge advantage when doing anything from shopping to catching rickshaws). Laxman finally procured them an apartment by constructing an elaborate story which basically entailed the girl being an Indian businesswoman, married to the Polish guy, setting up a company in Pune in which the Spanish guy was an associate.

Laxman is highly aware of the upper hand he has. In a way he flaunts it. I believe that this is his payment for services rendered – freedom to luxuriate in his superior understanding the country, customs, food and language and freedom to impart his knowledge on us ignorant fledglings, to excess (he’s incredibly patronising, feels the need to instruct us on the most obvious or arbitrary things, such as the proper manner in which to use the slices of lemon that you tend to receive along with your meals at restaurants here).

Laxman organised an outing on Sunday. He rented a car and a driver and organised for Erin, Celia and I, the Polish guy, the girl from Reunion Island/France, an Iranian student and a Polish traveller to take a trip to a waterfall four hours drive from Pune, called Varandha.

I feel uncomfortable accepting things from Laxman. As I said, he’s patronising. But he is difficult to resist and I accepted and capitulated and tried not to grimace as he explained the proper, Indian way of washing one’s face with water, among many other things.

It was a nice day. The hills were hilly and the trees leafy and the waterfall was wet. I had to pee in a bush. This was a low point. The high point was swimming in the waterfall. But I was forced to do this in my jeans and top and then wade around for the rest of the day, wrapped in a shawl because my top had gone see-through, with extra kilos of water dripping from me. We walked up a hill, I couldn’t breathe, my lungs were sad. (I was sad that I had such sad lungs, due an to unhealthy lifestyle that I thoroughly enjoy. This made me sad too. But also happy.) We drove home; it was a long trip to do in damp, muddy clothes and an extremely carsick guy sitting opposite me who looked like he was going to puke on me at any minute. Luckily he held off and we arrived home safe and sound, yearning for a hot shower, but resorting to a cup of tea and a few buckets of cold water over our heads instead.

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