I struggle to come up with the right Adam West/Batman-like onomatopoeia. Kablam? Not right at all. Does hand-skin on face-skin ever make that kind of sound? Braaaagockkk! Not exactly but that’s the closest I can get. The drunk dude receives the smackdown. Picture what Mr. Perfect would do to Ricky the Dragon Steamboat if the Intercontinental belt were at stake, and you are on the right track. Because the perpetrator and the victim are speaking Malayalam, however, I cannot make out what onset the loudest slap I have ever heard. I turn to see the bearded, blank-stared vagabond hold the side of his face in self-pity and bewilderment. (Enough seconds pass in delayed response between the slap and the holding of face to, say, read a short newspaper article.) Whatever he has done, however, the temperature of the water in which my brother Prateek and I wade is at least equally toasty.
We ride in the back of the paddy wagon with a raging drunk and a violently-inclined pig, on a dirt road in a remote part of India at around 11 pm. We were just trying to get on our way to the nearest airport. We feel frustrated and concerned.
The lust is back. (Two people explicitly mentioned it would be a good idea—and my mom isn’t even one of them. I assume pretty rightly those two people, oldest friend and ex-girlfriend who remains close, represent tens of thousands of unbiased opinions out there.) Where else would it start but a police car? I swear I didn’t do anything, other than perhaps look sketchy, over which I have no control. Same problem as last year and this time I wasn’t even dancing wildly. (This isn’t my first run-in with Keralan cops (Wonderlust: Empire (State) Strikes Back)). For a pretty well-intentioned guy, I sure arouse the suspicion of authority figures frequently. Especially pot-bellied, mustachio-ed Keralan authority figures.
When I read any good story, I enjoy the prose, the witticisms, the social observation, and the episode(s) as they unfold. And I am also always curious about where it is going and how it will end. While I am nervous riding down the backroads, not understanding why we have been picked up and what these cops have in mind, this thought occurs to me about books. I realize I am just living a story rather than reading one. And living one is immensely more exciting. I tell myself I haven’t done anything wrong. With the truth, there is nothing to fear or worry about and I change my mindset to one of amusement and curiosity and it does wonders for my perception of the situation. I begin to enjoy it.
We reach the station. This one calls for the chief inspector. This is a big night in this remote village. He arrives to the station bleary-eyed, clearly awoken from a deep slumber. Evidently, the threat we represent requires the local big gun to figure things out. He speaks English and tells us that the security of the nation is at stake. Oh, that’s all. At least we know what this is about now.
While the inspector inspects, through a combination of facial expression and gesticulation, we make the best of it joking with the late-shift cops. One makes an internationally recognized gesture for craziness in reference to my Vibram five finger shoes. Another diligently copies our passports by hand because the copy machine is broken. And the last little (pot-bellied) piggy offers us food, slaps the drunk, and begins petting my brother’s arm, telling him he looks like Sharukh Khan, a big Bollywood star. Prateek’s discomfort at these advances (?) and my schadenfreude temporarily absolve the deep pain I suffer being the shorter, skinnier, less glamorous brother.
When talking about how we were here for a yoga program, I demonstrate a headstand in the middle of the office. One apparently asks me for a contact number for the yoga center when I provide my Indian mobile number. I didn’t have any clandestine plan to pose as a yoga center employee. I simply thought he wanted MY number. He eyes me suspiciously when I communicate this to him. Easy, Officer Hightower. (I see two missed calls from the same number later. Maybe it was the other dude looking for Sharukh.)
Speaking of Bollywood, while growing up our family made Hindi Flicks, home movies parodying 70’s and 80’s era Bollywood movies. In Inspector Sahib (sir), the chief inspector heroically saves the day. We sense such heroic possibilities in the real-life inspector—he seemingly believes our story but decides that we’ll drive back to the yoga center to clear this up once and for all. We aren’t 100% certain this is for the best, however, since the yoga instructor basically told us in no uncertain terms to leave. (That’s how this all got started. Given the time commitment and cost, we had decided to leave at the end of the first underwhelming day. Breaking this news, we were told to pay a 600 euro cancellation penalty or leave immediately. Uh, the latter. While we were waiting for a car and driver we thought we had arranged with locals, they surprised us by having called the cops.) But would she now feel incentivized to somehow exact vengeance through this opportunity? No, I hold the ace of spades. In the rushed departure, I had forgotten to give her the key to our room, unmistakable evidence that we were in fact there. To quote Ice Cube, “and I am yelling domino.” Mixed leisure game metaphors, sure. Everything is cleared up and the inspector facilitates our ride to the airport. Like the protagonist of Inspector Sahib, he is the product of a meritocracy. We thank him. National security crisis averted.
Besides the spades and the dominoes, I think the real metaphor of the story is the key. Truth was on our side and unassailable. I can’t say the rest of the journey was quite hassle-free but almost 24 hours after leaving the yoga center, we end up at a white sand beach in Goa on the warm Arabian Sea.
PS-I would like to catch up my loyal readership, perhaps numbering in the hundreds of thousands, just briefly. After Peru, I returned to the United States. I regrouped, spent time with friends and family, enjoyed the incredible honor of officiating Brooke and Jamie’s wedding (See “Empire”), and decided on a self-directed study, in the area of the relationship between the individual and society, as a course of action. I had considered Phd programs but decided that for my individual purposes it would be more restricting than enabling. With the flexibility that a completely independent study offers, I am taking advantage by locating myself where I feel most inspired. I went to Colorado for two months and am spending my winter here in India. While studying, I am also continuing the inward journey that intensified during the ten month trip. For some people, I can understand that the uncertainty, the living out of a backpack and the not having a steady address would be a nightmare. All I can say is that other than the occasional run-in with cops, it ain’t so bad.