Apropos of nothing...

Khare (kharem1@worldnet.att.net)
Sun, 28 Dec 1997 00:18:37 +0530

[Written 12/17/97]

If you get this, it means I actually manged to get online from Delhi. The
first cybercafe here started a year ago at $25/hr, but they're now down to
$5. The gov't just liberalized Internet access so new providers can
wholesale it for 50c to $1/hr. What galls me, though, is not that you can
spend $40 on a five-star dinner for two (I dragged my mom out to the
rooftop salon at Le Meridien Delhi), but that a four-page international fax
is also $40 -- $10/page!

What a land of contrasts -- the usual cliche about India. Basically, the
major metros (Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta -- all cities created from
scratch by the East India Company) are on dollar economies (Rs40 - $1).
Back in the hinterland, like my 1M population hometown of Varanasi, people
still count paise -- 50 paise being worth about 1.2 cents...

Metro India, though, is getting pleasingly modern (to my eyes). Not 1/100
of, say, Singapore, but there is at least an upper middle class worth the
name. Venal, petty, and disgustingly un-civic, just like the States, but

More to the point, I keep forgetting how gorgeous the big-city girls are
:-) I mean, it's brutal, but true, that there'sa huge impact of
urbanization on equality and self-confidence -- and that's the quality I'm
referring to as a attractive, not mere physical beauty and wealth (which
help enormously!). It's spunk.I always spend my days in India back at the
ranch, so I didn't quite realize the difference.

Miss World 98, Diana Hayden, was just crowned last month: the second Indian
in a row. 22, single, and looking... :-)

On the other hand, the sceptre of looking here is arrangment: the acres of
newsprint devoted to it are horrifyingly bland (think "apartments for
lease"). Two of my contemporary cousins are being auctioned of this
month. I can't see it. I just can't!

Arrrangement is a process that is completely NOT about the ONE. And I'm
very capital-R-Romantic about that. Not flowers and chocolates, but
Sturm-und-Drang, two people changing the world, &c.

I'm not fixed at all on Indian -- I admit my American-bred fetish for
blondes and redheads :-) -- but it does make a difference. All I can say
now is that I'm more sure than ever she's out there, she' probably brown,
and it's just a matter of years before we find each other. Now if Rajit
would just slip me a few entrees into contemporary Indian polite society...


[12/24, Addendum]

I'm in the waiting room at Palam (the Delhi domestic air terminal, also
(rarely) known as Indira Gandhi International Terminal 1B -- 1A is
International, so it truly is a big-endian architecture -- the most
significant bit is at the end!). The flight to Nagpur is, as usual,
delayed, from 4:20p to 8:15p... and mounting. Over the years, I must have
spent more time in this one room, waiting, than in any other airport in the
world -- because in most, there's something to *do*. Here you wait and
watch piped-in Star TV or Doordarshan and quaff these 5 rupee instant
coffees. Anyhow, luckily we heard about most of this delay in advance, so
we only got here at 7pm. Earlier today, we took a cousin's kids out to the
posh suburban center of Vasant Vihar, home of McDonald's, TGI Fridays,
India's first Dolby digital Hollywood multiplex, an upmarket supermarket,
and some fairly darn cool video arcades (cheap plays on imported Japanese
fighters all with splash screens saying "not licensed for use outside

Earlier, I tried to go to Cafe Wired World, a cybercafe so wired its
hoardings (billboards) don't even have a damn URL, which should have been
my second warning -- the first was that my host said their food was
supposed to be good, and we know that food and bandwidth are inversely
related. Turned out to be on the second floor of a bowling alley cum
icecream parlor cum bar cum arcade cum karaoke arcade -- and closed,
inexplicably, with no sign or schedule or ... India!

On last night's express train we eventually arrived in Delhi on time, but
were stuck in the railyard waiting for a platform for 45 minutes. Everyone
stood right up and crowded into the cockroach-infested aisles with their
carry-ons (which on a train can be up to the size of a calf) and stood
there for the whole 45 minutes. I suggested to the conductior they ought to
honor the integrity of the nationalized railways by playing th national
anthem -- everyone was standing up, anyway...

Anyway, the point of this whole diversion is to get back to the topic of
'nothing', in particular, the form of nothing known as women :-)
Unfortunately, I only have 3% battery left, and Indian airports don't have
any visible power outlets -- worse than Charles DeGaulle! In the market
today, there was a screaming mob of highschool kids out for winter break
today, in a madhouse scene out of some *American* movie. Second, with our
extra few hours in Delhi, I prevailed upon my mom to go to an art
exhibition at the Taj Palace hotel, wherein we met some more of the cream
of India's Fashionable Young Things.


Fashion is a big deal nowadays -- fashion magazines everywhere, fashionable
people across the tube (a real change, I assure you, from the days of
monopoly Doordarshan), fashion boutiques in even "class-B" cities. Indian
designers have been coming into their own, right on the high-heels of
India's sudden dominance in the beauty-queen business. Rohit Bal, in
particular (as opposed to Rohits in general, such as the late Rohit
has the too-cool designer and too-hot-pricing bit down pat; he
recently was 1/2 of a fashion show held on the decks of the USS Intrepid in
New York (damn, I wish I was there!). I've been buying up the glamrags by
the bagful, since even the premium zines are a buck or two a piece (as are
the latest western albums on cassette -- legal copies, too!). Quite an
eyeopener, both commercially, and, er, physically. Fashion has really
trickled down to the middle classes. Benneton &c are still quite expensive
-- we're talking about $10-$20 clothes on these models -- but earning power
is catching up.

Last night we went to a "winter carnival" at the new local mall ("Central
India's only air-conditioned super-bazaar!"). Nagpur is NOT a leading
metro, just an industrial town in the middle of the country where Gandhiji
lived for a few years around Independence. There's one old university and a
host of new ones. But it is the state capital, and it does have an upwardly
mobile youth group. The mob last night at the mall, 75% male, was a riot:
Indian rock bands, comedians, fire-eaters, and even here, Fashionable Young
Things (on a Clothestime budget, if not Nordstrom's).

Over the years, I've probably spent 90% of my time in India in Benares,
which is, let's face it, a squalid unreconstructed heap of a city. I've
internalized a really negative picture of India in my mind. Not that it's
not true -- Varanasi IS the 97% experience in India -- but that I hadn't
appreciated that there is such a massive, and well-run 3%. Nagpur has,
relatively speaking, excellent infrastructure (24-hr water, power,
cellphones at 15 cents a minute). It seems like a civil place, the roads
are clean, the slums are set back, and there's a green lung at the center
(Seminary Hills). I'm going to have to spend more time seeing more of India
-- particularly the South -- but when, I don't know. 97% of my relatives
(almost literally) are in Varanasi, so that's where I have to go in mshort

Ok, off to the airport, to another new city: Calcutta...