|Without even a hint of irony, my body in a uniform protest against too much TV, too much information, too much dejection, began to breakdown. After a night of "extreme eating" at Bombay's Chowpatty Beach--the sandy metropolitin promenade that inspired the single best Indian restaurant in California, L.A.'s Bombay Cafe--my digestive system took a direct blow. I would spend the next seven days with a toilet seat fastened to my ass.
Simulanteously, I was being beaten by the Ides of October, which in my youth routinely sent me to the ER in the middle of the night for adrenalin shots. Then, I would awaken covered in sweat, an iron grip around my wind-pipes, my mother by my side prodding me to take my asthema meds, and patiently stroking my head, wishing that it was she who couldn't breath, rather than her fragile, broken little boy. And I would tell her to wait, that I just had to catch my breath. She would sit it out with me, kneeling at the foot of my bed, indulging me, while I pretended that these stall-tactics would fix the problem, but knowing that nothing would short of the drugs. Those were the good nights in October. On the bad nights, we were into the car and speeding, a blur across Highway 101 to Kaiser Permanente where a steely needle filled with God's greatest ever elixir--the breath of life--awaited my tender arm. I would think to myself that the reward (breathing) was so rich, so intoxicating, so perfect, that the trauma leading up to it was justified. I was innocently thinking like a junkie awaiting his Naked Lunch.
So there I was hunched over the toilet, thankfully a western one, sucking down misty blasts from my Arbuterol canister every four-hours, sweating and delirious. Something in me was horribly wrong. And while a trendy crowd fought for bar space at the ultra-hip Red Light, pulsing with the Parisian DJ imported from the Buddha Bar, Anneka and I fought for space on the can. She too was suffering a similar fate. India.
Due to my poor bill of health, most of what I saw in Bombay, I saw through the window of our mid-range hotel room. The window was approximately seven paces from the toilet, two paces from the TV. After a few days with no fungible improvement, we determined that our condition was the direct result of the hot and humid climate, of the visably dirty air, of some super freakish Asian mold spores living in the A/C duct in our room. We decided to leave.
Items left unchecked on my to-do list:
See trashy Bollywood film.
Hang-out with the glamourous film stars at posh night-club.
Wander through the bazaar in the old city center.
Eat dinner at the Taj Mahal Hotel.
Throw a party (our working title: "Union" because all hip parties have a singular name) in the VIP room at Red Light.
That lofty agenda came up short. Fortunately, we were able to visit several art galleries, including the National Museum of Modern Art (five Rupees). We had drinks at Red Light (on an off-night). We walked through the Taj Mahal Hotel (rooms at $400 per night). We saw a H-ollywood film, and you could call it trashy (see "Night at the theater" entry). And we managed to buy some interesting textiles from a local boutique. So, we only truly missed the mark (pun) with the glamorous film stars, and the way I figure it, they can't be nearly as glamorous as the eye-candy San Franciscans I call friends.
Two tickets to Udaipur, "Rajastan's most romantic city," I slammed on the credit card. Remarkably liberating it was to travel by air, to leave behind the teeth-chattering dirt roads and the over-stuffed, over-heating, mid-centry buses that clogged them. To lift up and above the rat-a-tat-tat of the Indian railway, the relentless vendors of chai and coffee, the smell of body odor and worse. I had almost forgotten how fine it was take to the Friendly Skies, to snack on a warm, pre-packaged meal, to sip soda from a plastic cup, to gaze out the window, as the landscape changed from green to blue, to brown to gold. In India, you de-plane just as you do on Southwest flights into Burbank Airport, that is, you walk down a flight of stairs on wheels, onto the tarmac. So you immediately "feel" the place. Just as soon as I felt the place, I was happy to be there. The sun was low in the sky, and it was undeniably Autumn.
The equatorial heat that promised never to relent in Southern India, had passed here in Northern India. The quality of the light was different somehow. If I were to explain it in terms of color, I would say we traded the white light of the south for the amber light of the north. And it suited me just as well. We would spend the next three days here in Udaipur, peering across a lake loosing the battle to drought, into the western walls of the majestic City Palace.