- Category: A Showing of the Palms
- Written by Jim Dee
*** Chapter Two ***
. . . at least, that is, they planned on venturing. What actually occurred amounted to a tandem realization that one night’s sleep after an 8,000 mile journey simply wasn’t enough. Postponing the venturing in favor of lounging around the hotel grounds seemed more realistic—a significant choice: on the good side, as indicated, additional rest was necessary. Take it slow. Get your feet wet. That sort of thing. On the bad side, however . . . just consider how far they were from home. Under these circumstances, to citizens of modernized places -— like America -— a comfortable hotel in the middle of a third-world nation can, and often does, assume all of the qualities of a womb. It’s not, for instance, unimaginable to envision a tourist utter the Freudian slip, “I’m staying in womb 32.”
Consider the Canadians next door: Room, swimming pool, room, restaurant, room. What’s more, the womb potential of a hotel certainly relates to its clientele. This hotel’s clientele consisted of mainly English-speaking people (some Germans, too). Even the lobby staff spoke near-perfect English. Easy communication. Who’d want to leave?
But this womb, as in life, was only a phase—an easily surpassed one at that, once a few of the basics were grasped. The first fundamental —- money -— proved most useful. “What I can’t get over,” Clive remarked to Maria while strolling along the orchid-lined path toward the pool, “is that one dollar is a whole lot to them.” As the money handler (by Maria’s choice), he hadn’t mastered the art of successful tipping.
“What’ve you been giving them?”
“Well, when I run out of small stuff, I’ve been giving out fifties.”
The problem was that their room service had exceeded “excellent,” past the realm of “annoying,” and entered into a special category known as “P.P. Joseph rings their room on the hour asking to deliver some fresh juice.”
P.P. Joseph. What a guy! In order to calm him, Maria promised to help his wife find employment in the states. She offered him an American five-dollar bill, and he scarfed it up so fast that neither Clive nor Maria could later recall if they’d in fact offered it to him first. He’d earned it, though, by helping plan the rest of the couple's itinerary.
They first met P.P., however, at the pool, which they visited the first day. P.P.’s job consisted of towel and locker-key distribution (and, of course, smiling). Clive wondered how many “first-dayers” slipped ol’ P.P. a fifty in thanks for a towel. From the smile . . . he guessed quite a few.
Three gigantic palm trees shaded a good deal of the swimming pool. Once in the water, they inspected and were impressed by ornate blue tiles along the sides. Large tropical birds played around the water, taking turns diving toward the surface and then jetting back up to building ledges on the pool’s either side. Another couple were in the pool as well. Both white, middle-aged. They bobbed up to us and introduced themselves as Richard and Gloria. Brits.
Gloria had strawberry blonde hair (mostly wet), slightly imperfectly-aligned teeth, and a light blue bikini covering her middle-age softness. Richard, a quite tall and thin man, also sported light blue colors-shorts with a thin red accent stripe around the edges.
“Just get here?” asked Gloria.
“It’s our first day.” said Maria.
“Lovely. Been to India before?”
“First time. And you?”
“We’ve been a month.” She smiled at her husband.
It seemed time for the men to join in the conversation. Clive asked, “Do you know what kind of birds these are?”
No one did. More smalltalk; Gloria’s tone, while in continuous praise for the country, continually downgraded the natives. When they left, Maria said, “Why the hell’d they vacation in India if they hate Indians?”
The birds continued to fascinate Clive. He even flagged down a waiter to ask what sort of birds these were. Stately birds, like American crows, but dusty-brown, with longer, thicker, and slightly more curved beaks, and a smoother coat of feathers. Larger eyes—perhaps like ravens’. The waiter, however, spoke mainly Malayalam (the language of Kerala —- and also, by the way, a palindrome) and said they were called something like “Caw-Caw” birds.
As is turned out, the Caw-Caw birds were actually Crows. (Obsessed, Clive had found an English-speaking waiter.)
Even while extremely hot, Kerala exuded a vivid pleasantness. Extra-full red and orange roses lined every path. Orchids hung from every wall. A giant fishtank containing several two-foot long catfish functioned as a dividing wall in the wooden outdoor lounge-cabana near the pool. Keep in mind, however, that they remained, as it were, in utero. They d yet to venture from their lodging.
From the hotel window, Maria pointed out smokestacks from some nearby industrial endeavor. In fact, in the distance, a quiet rumbling could be discerned. “That’s the machine that runs all of India,” Clive said.
That evening, they dined in the hotel restaurant. Maria donned an elegant green salwar, one of a few she’d purchased in the gift shop. Clive found very little that fit. (He was a stout fellow -- two-ten, two-twenty maybe. Unfortunately, India lacked men over roughly 175 pounds. So, he had to settle for some bright-plaid one-size-fits-all pajama-like bottoms -— perfectly acceptable, mind you, in tropical climates.)
The restaurant resembled a carribbean-style nightclub: dimly lit, tropical touches (flowers, bamboo, etc.) a bar, a stage.
“Finally, we can enjoy real Indian food!” Maria said.
Clive nodded, and they relaxed a bit -— even unlatched their fanny-packs (the essential and obligatory pouch of all foreign tourists) and set them on the table. In them were alcohol swabs, pens, paper, Deet, room keys, calculators, and rupees galore. Both had researched India-travel extensively before embarking. This influenced mainly their precautionary medical supplies. They refilled the pouches from the main supply which occupied about a cubic foot of a gym-bag. Nearly a hundred dollars (back home) bought, among other necessities, the swabs, the Deet, the Lariam, over the counter anti-diarrhea medicine, prescription anti-extreme-diarrhea medicine, and prescription anti-super-extreme-diarrhea medicine, water purification tablets (iodine-based), bandages, gauze, tape, scissors, Handi-Wipes, and Kleenex travel-packs. They were ready.
They each wiped their fingers with an alcohol swab. “An ounce of prevention . . .” Maria said. By this time, however, they’d run out, as was inevitable, of their stock of American bottled water. The brand offered, Bisleri, looked suspicious (. . . something about the softness of the plastic bottle) and the first-sip, performed nervously and eventually by Clive, was like jumping blindly off a cliff, hoping for water below. Drink deep, or taste not the waters, he thought.
Food-wise, it was a haven; main courses cost maybe two-dollars, fresh juices pennies, breads practically free. Later into the meal, four Indian band-members began setting up the stage. Their instruments were noticeably western; no sitar, no tabla, no dancing girls. Soon the leader introduced the band. “Welcome to the Tharavadu Restaurant,” he said, and they immediately broke into a record-perfect version of Brian Adams’ “Everything I Do.” For the remainder of the evening, Clive and Maria dined to the American top forty.
After dinner, they enjoyed a mitha pan, and turned in. They’d seen and tasted pan in the states, actually. When Clive and Maria had first become interested in Indian food, Clive came across a magazine article describing it as a stimulant, perhaps a bit more exciting than coffee. Its legality in question, they and two friends quietly inquired of the maitre de in a Manhattan restaurant about pan’s availability. They’d pronounced it as though it had something to do with frying, but the ‘a’ is properly pronounced as in ‘father,’ the maitre de said. “But we are not serving pan in this restaurant. You have to spit, and I don’t want everyone spitting in here.” He told them to seek their prize around the corner on Avenue A -- which is exactly what they did.
The four of them walked in to the specified spice house and requested pan. For some reason, the turbined man behind the counter looked around suspiciously before producing a bag of betel nuts and a nasty-looking cutting tool. He shaved a bit of nut onto four palm leaves, added dabs of special creams and candies, wrapped the leaves with utmost precision, and charged them two bucks for everything. The four then smuggled what they thought was contraband into a nearby diner, and dissected the pan, unsure of what to do with it. Maria wanted no part of it. The other couple refused (one on the basis that he was driving, the other on fear it’d cause an allergic reaction in her private parts). Clive ate the nut only. It tasted like wood. Nothing happened.
The other two joked, “That Indian guy’s probably sitting there laughing with his friends saying Those dumb Americans! I just sold them a two-by-four!”