I’m feeling strangely unexcited by the prospect of a dinner-dance new year celebration in this brash over-rated, impersonal and over-priced hotel in Jaipur. It was obligatory and by local standards, exorbitant. For the 6,000 Rupees we had to pay, you could buy 20,000 bunches of bananas, 30,000 litres of bottled water, 12 days full time tuktuk transport with driver… or, more reasonably, feed a local family well for two months. We could have cancelled the hotel, which would have meant finding somewhere at the last minute, but avoiding the roof terrace drinks and Bollywood dress code and the pounding drum-n-bass disco. But then how else could we discover what the Jaipurian middle-class is doing? Since we last set foot in India, two years ago, prices don’t seem to have shot up, but the ratio of taxis to tuktuks and of tuktuks to rickshaws, of motorbikes to bicycles, has risen. The air is even more full of fumes, the streets even more congested with mayhem, but perhaps fewer kids are running barefoot in the excrement. The piles of smoking rubbish are topped with rummaging piglets, goats, skinny dogs and scrawny cows, but not humans. Tens of thousands of Indian youths clambered over the Amber Fort to get their selfies, and the selfie-stick sellers outnumbered the trinket-vendors two to one. The camera-phone is top of everyone’s list this year, and the only shops in town are banksor mobile phone shops. Did these tourists want to know about the fort? I was investigating the Turkish bathhouse which some eighteenth century Maharajah had had carved from marble and overheard one selfie-taker comment to his friend that it must be a tomb. The sign on the door was carved in marble, in English and Hindi, but tombs and baths can be easily mistaken, I guess.
The visceral pleasure of being part of the melee in the streets still outweighs the revulsion at their open sewers or the abject poverty which is still here. It’s thrilling, and it’s exhausting, but at every corner, it’s new. Everyone here is trying everything they can to better themselves and their standards, even though they clearly scramble over one another in the process.
The same guru who is now a TV star in the UK, after reading the palm of Jan Leeming, saw Val for ten minutes in his small office at the back of the jeweler’s shop his family runs, once we’d bought something in the shop. He pulled no punches apparently. Saw everything he could not have known, hit several nails on their heads. Foretold possible futures, gave advice on work she might take time to carry out on her chakras, and recommended the use of a semi-precious stone in the mantra. I’m glad I didn’t ask for a consultation, though he didn’t need me there to know who I am. He knows someone in Cork too. An infamous Head Shop operator I used to know. Small world, I hear.