Tuesday, May 13, 2008

what the freak is an amla?

Riding along on the bus between Delhi and Agra, the traffic is crazy. Our bus dodges cows, horse-drawn buggies, women in colorful sarees carrying brass urns of water on their head, stray dogs, camel carts piled with hay. You take your life in your hands on the roads of India. This says nothing of the noise. Horns tooting non-stop, back and forth like they are speaking to each other. And what's with the men pissing on the side of the road? I don't get it. No bathrooms? We spotted an outdoor market. Those of us crazy enough about food screamed to stop the bus! In minutes, clad with cameras, we were in the middle of the madness. Imagine the scene, burlap blankets scattered on the ground piled high with guava and amla, the Indian gooseberries. Vendors crouched on their haunches prepared to sell. The smell of guava permeated the air. Almost too sweet to keep smelling. Only men, not a single women. All eyes, every single one, were on us. No longer was selling fruit the spectacle. I took out my camera on the sly. I didn't want to act like a National Geographic photographer but honestly they would have killed for the shots.. As soon as I opened the viewfinder, I had hoards of men and boys around me like a magnet . And what I didn't understand is that they don't want to steal my camera, they wanted to see themselves in the screen. Thank God for digital cameras. I'm shooting furiously and as soon as I'd take the shot I's show them the image of themself. It's was a frenzy. I had masses around me. I moved through the market and they'd move with me. We started to leave and the swarm, like bees, left with us. The further away from the market we got, the smaller the swarm until finally I had one final stragler, a 8-year old boy who was next to me as I got ready to get on the bus. Just then he said to me, "Pen?'". Then I remembered the guide books and how the kids love pens. I search my purse and found one. In the process I find a Hersey's Chocolate Kiss. I hand him the pen and the Kiss. He shoved the pen in his pocket. He looks at the chocolate kiss wrapped in foil. He makes a gesture like popping the whole thing in his mouth. I can't help but think about aluminum foil against my teeth and I cringe. NO, NO, take the foil off first! I show him how. Cautiously he puts it in his mouth. I wait. One second, then two. He looks almost scared. Finally a smile comes over his face as the chocolate melts in his mouth. His first experience eating chocolate!