2000kms by motorbike in India has taught me....
1.) On the road in India might is right; the bus is boss
2.) Ascetics really do walk barefoot through the desert, stick and sack in hand
3.) Whistling and cheering are acceptable things to do in a movie theater, so is dancing along
4.) The difference between a born again jesus healer and an India guru is less pronounced than you might think
5.) There isn't a corner on Earth where Hollywood hasn't penetrated
From the hippie-pirate lined rave beaches of Goa, up into the coffee saturated Coorg hills, down into the intensely all-at-once democratic and communist elections of Kerala, back up into mountains for a tour through the wild Western Ghats and finally back down to the dry, destitute lands of rural Tamil Nadu, I’ve seen much of India from the road that I otherwise would have whizzed past on a train or bus. Not to mention, I’ve dodged every animal and event imaginable: wild elephants, dogs, camels, roosters, goats, festival parades, cows, cats and funeral processions. It all happens on the road in India.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet characters on the way who invited me into their homes. In Thrissur, perhaps against my better judgment, I lived with a high ascetic priest in the jungle who is honing his spiritual powers to perform the miracles of Jesus. He took me along for his morning open-eyed meditations whereupon he gazes intently at the red sun. One meal during mid-morning and that’s all he needs for strength. Again, at sunset we would go to the beach and stare at the sun blearily. Yes, I lived with a real life breatharian. Would you imagine he scream like a girl on a motorbike?
There was a struggling Keralan author who wrote books in English and published them to the Kindle Store. He read me his latest novel late into the night, about a semi-autobiographical man’s tribulations working as a chauffeur in Saudi Arabia. A middle-aged Indian playboy and philosophy connoisseur took me in for a night and we talked Kierkegaard for hours.
Most fruitful off all the encounters and hamlets that I’ve stayed in was a night spent with two young Tamil men in their thatched roof hut in a village outside Munnar. After we shared a shelter from the late afternoon rain, they insisted I come stay with them. Turns out, they were Hollywood officionados and giddily quoted me lines from Transformers as it played on their miniature-sized TV. Black out, no power. Shia Lebouf is back on. TV signal lost. Smack. Back to the action; their eyes are glued. One of the young men Castro informs me he’s seen it 17 times, exactly 17 times.
As much as I’ve sworn off Hollywood film for this year, it tends to find me in the most remote corners of my travel. There isn’t a dusty corner in the world where the American dream machine hasn’t crept into. Not only was it entertaining Castro and Akil, it was fueling their dreams: “It’s my dream to go to America”, a big smile cast across their faces. I asked them what they knew about America and they quickly painted a green grassed land of suburbs and clean mega-modern cities. Then I asked them how they know about America, Castro pointed to the TV. The images on screen become the world we know, especially of those far off places we long to go.
There were film festivals along the way...there was heady discussions of cinema, but the more I travel the more I realize it's the people who stick. Likewise, it's this way too with the films. The plot is irrelevant.