Pleasantly, we were picked up at the airport (after my mother unintentionally hired a porter) by the fine staff of the Bissau Palace, pictured above. It reached 118 degrees, a new record for my personal experience. For my mother, who is of a certain age, it was much worse! It was necessary to stay inside after 11 each day and not emerge again until six in the evening.
Our hotel, owned by the Maharaja of Bissau (since the official dissolution of the aristocracy under Indira Gandhi, many Maharajas, unable to support themselves in the manner to which they had become accustomed, have decided to turn their surplus palaces into hotels or museums), was lovely. The walls were adorned with sixty-year-dead hunting trophies and photos of British, Indian, and American (Kennedy) royalty at Bissau. There were also letters of gratitude from Sotheby's, Time, and the Duchess of York, among others.
The hotel felt like a time warp. It was hard to avoid feeling as if we were guests of the maharaja or the viceroy, sitting inside in the fan-cooled lobby with 1940s leopards mounted on the wall, surrounded by photos of Gayatri Devi and other royalty, behind roll-down bamboo curtains, sipping fresh sweet lime juice while the servants watered down the road, took the 1930s touring car for a spin, or fed the peacocks.
The man who worked the internet reservations, who I'll call Sankara, was applying for a visa to visit San Antonio. He was very friendly, with very good English, and very strongly in favor of arranged marriages and women wearing traditional non-western clothing. And, furthermore, very sure that he wanted to improve his lot in life. He spoke proudly of his several promotions and two full-time jobs, and I believe he will go even further. In this he is a marked contrast to many of his compatriots, who are still in the old feudal mode of doing the job their family has always done, with no hope of (or expectation of or, as far as I can tell, idea of the possibility of) doing anything better. I have had Hindus explain to me that it would be against their religion to try to better their place in the world; what they must do is do the best they can in the position into which they were born and hope for something better the next time around. Sankara wasn't a good Hindu, by their standards. But oh, he was happy! I'll pick happy hardworking honesty with a hope of erfolg in this world and perhaps the next over pessimistic drudgery and culturally-sanctioned dishonesty (more on which later) with meagre hope for a slightly better rap the next time around the painful wheel of life and death.
In Jaipur, we saw the city palace, in which there were a few tourists and outside of which there were a large number of tourist-catchers. Please madam, postcard madam? Some Japanese tourists, some Germans, and a few undefined lone wanderers. The Germans were grouchy and entered into yelling matches with refreshment-stand managers for wanting to charge Rs. 15 (32 cents) instead of Rs. 12.50 (27 cents) for Aquafina bottled water. I very nearly went up and asked them if they really couldn't manage to spare that extra money for the privilege of drinking in a cool and quiet place and for someone to whom those few cents obviously meant quite a bit, but they left (without buying) as I approached.
Indians male and female get fat all in a large belly -- the most unhealthy way to get fat. No wonder diabetes is epidemic. No protein in the diet, really. At the Texas Classmate's house, we ate only starches and fats, with only about a tablespoon each of yoghurt and sprouty beans. No vegetables either, besides onions. And this was in a wealthy and educated family! No wonder Bob hates it here. Indians also get a different kind of lactose intolerance. (I am basing this on an article from a newspaper which also claimed it was scientifically demonstrated to be healthy to eat no breakfast and a huge dinner just before bed, so I may be wrong, but it fits with my knowledge of Bob's family.) Whereas white people with lactose intolerance (the few that there are) are generally born that way and their problem extends to all or nearly all dairy products, brown people, and especially men, tend to develop lactose intolerance in adulthood, and it generally only involves plain milk. (PeTA is unable to grasp that fact, so they make the constant claim that most Indians cannot eat dairy at all, something that would be ridiculous to anyone who has any familiarity with the Indian diet. But that's PeTA for you.) Bob, however, has the white version of lactose intolerance (to go along with his white lifestyle and girlfriend). His family is quite incapable of getting that through their heads, so they keep insisting that, if his stomach hurts from the creamy sauce the vegetables were in, he should just have lots of buttermilk and curd (yoghurt) to make him feel better! Despite these difficulties, there is hope -- but I get ahead of myself; I will write more on India's discovery of health later.
We spent that afternoon relaxing at Bissau Palace; there were only a few other guests, including several French of Vietnamese extraction studying Indian art and a white guy speaking Hindi and going about on a motorcycle with his brown girlfriend. Too bad I didn't get a chance to find out more about him.
We rebuffed offers from all around to take taxis and rickshaws to this or that shop or tourist attraction. Lots wanted to take us to the Water Palace -- "no entrance fee, no camera fee, madam" -- which is the case, but because the Water Palace is entirely closed. Not exactly a lie, but a deliberate and malicious deception in the hopes of conning tourists out of their money. It is also extremely common to insist that shops, hotels, restaurants -- or anywhere else you want to go where the driver or tout won't get a cut of what you pay -- are closed, full, or burnt down. (Oddly enough, there was one shop in Jaipur that was closed for repairs -- it had fallen down -- but I only believed it when I saw it for myself.) This is part of a system of dishonesty that permeates much of India and has for centuries.
In Kim, Hindus and Muslims both scorn the British for being scrupulously truthful. Yes, I know, you cant read Kipling anymore, because his skin was white and he wrote realistically about people with brown skin whom he loved and knew closely. Ahh, enlightened modern racism. But this is not just Kipling being racist; so many things I've read in class, from the classical period through the sixteenth century (the end of pre-colonial India), echo the same sentiments: honesty is a sign of simplicity and weakness, not a virtue, and lying is a sign of sophistication and wisdom, not a vice. For one example among hundreds from the colonial period, in Plain Tales from the Raj, one girl describes how she was brought up in India in the belief that British people absolutely did not lie. When she went back to England, she was shocked to find out that Englishmen lied just as often as anyone else -- something she had not encountered in India. Similarly, it is undeniable that Indian soldiers were dismayed and disgusted to see the way Englishmen kowtowed to their wives, and that the English were horrified by the culturally-sanctioned abuses against women that continue in full force today. So, there is good reason to believe that, at least in some circles, Englishmen in India did not lie or beat their wives, Indians did, and each for that reason despised the other. From my experience of tourist-catchers, that (at least about lying -- from my UT professor's statements in support of wife-beating, perhaps the entire statement) is the case today as well. And the poor Travelocity people, dealing with Air India people for days and reporting back to me that they finally had to come to the conclusion that the Air India people were not being open and honest. [Interjection: in my classes, when I point out flagrant dishonesty on the part of characters in our short story assignments, the teachers -- except for the Christian one -- don't understand what I find wrong with that!]
The next day, we went to the Amber Fort. What a great guide! That is the only place we got a guide -- the only place for which "Let's Go" recommends a guide -- and he was excellent. Had candies in his pocket for beggar children, too. His son, also a tour guide, had been killed when an elephant threw him off the mountain -- we walked down instead of taking the elephants we took up! Tourist catchers were along the elephant trail, anyhow, and entirely spoiled the ride up. Even the mahout joined in.
In the afternoon, after a break, we went into town and shopped as the normal residents shop. A sari, a cheap Punjabi suit, hairpins, bangles, and handkerchiefs. Our bicycle-rickshaw driver had only one functioning leg but more than compensated, outpacing everyone else on the road. Another of our rickshaw drivers yelled at some motorcyclists who were trying to chat us up and warned us never to talk to "bad motorcycle people." Another stopped for water along the strenuous way and looked so sad when I paid him the agreed-upon price that I went back and gave him a bit more, even though he hadn't asked for it. (Especially because he hadn't asked for it.) And one who took us two blocks and wanted more than all the others together and wouldn't go away until we shut our door against him!
The next morning, very early, we took the train to Agra.