Sept 21, 2002
Cosmo magazine - I mistakenly took it as one of the signs of the western, 1st world. But then on a whim - okay, actually on a desire to check out some hot chicks I skimmed through a copy of Indian Cosmo. It reminded me that India is definitely the 3rd world.
[paraphrased slightly for entertainment value, but the content is not changed]
"My complexion was clear until I suffered a bout of Tuberculosis. Now I'm breaking out. What do I do?"
"A dog bit my face. How do I get rid of the scar?"
Pushkar - a pretty little town on the edge of the great Thar desert. Women in colorful dress, men in turbans, cows and camels wandering the streets. I'm hanging out, but not staying in, the Peacock Holiday Resort. It looks disturbingly like Melrose Place. A quartet of bikinied girls are in the pool playing volleyball with a beach-ball. A table of guys are sitting and playing cards. Others are just hanging out chatting or sunbathing.
The Hasidic Jews walk in to blow the Shofar. That's right, it's Yom Kippur Pushkar style. I'm the only non-Israeli in the crowd. Everyone gathers around the Hasidim, all the men put on yarmulkes and the Shofar is blown signifying the start of the new year.
A few days earlier I had been convinced to come "be with my people" and join for Rosh Hashanah services or at least dinner. As a non-practicing Jew who hasn't been to religious services in 15 years I had no desire to renew my faith. I also didn't have any big desire to "be with my people". The Israelis are notorious for only speaking Hebrew which excludes me from conversation. The free meal was tempting, but the real reason that I decided to go was the thought that the Jew High Holidays in India would be a unique and interesting travel experience. It was. Shofars plus bikinis was the highlight, but the services were also interesting. It was a traditional Orthodox service. A curtain separated the men from the women. A few Hasidim were leading the service. All the other men were wearing yarmulkes and rocking back and forth while praying. The sandals and Beer Lao t-shirts were familiar. Otherwise it was a bit disorienting. It was like I had been teleported 3000 miles to Tel Aviv. It was hard to remember that I was still in India.
The Hasidim of Pushkar are an interesting bunch. They belong to a group called Bet Chabad - based out of New York. The believe that their spiritual leader , Rabbi Milu Bavich, also of New York, is the Messiah. Unfortunately, he died. A dead Messiah is always a bit of a mystery to me. However, before he died he expressed sadness that there are Jews all over the world without anyone to lead them in religious ceremonies. So now, where ever in the world you find Israeli backpackers (India, Thailand, South America) you also find small groups of Hasidim complete with their beards, black jackets, big black hats and free dinners for Jews on the Holidays.
Many many Israelis come to India. They tend to take lots and lots of drugs. The natural result being that some of them completely and at at least semi-permanently lose their grasp on reality. When DJs move the needle on a record to create a sound it's called "scratching". Similarly, these Israelis who have taken one drug too many are called (in Hebrew) "scratched". There are enough of them now that Israel set up a whole town for them. I can imagine experience of arriving in Israel on a flight from Delhi or Bombay.
"Do you have any fruits or vegetables?"
"Did you bring back more than 2000 shekels worth of purchases?"
"Do you know where you are?"
"Do you know your name?"
"Oh.... you think that you're Krishna. This way please! We've got a nice happy happy place for you."
"Chaiii..... Chai, Chai, Chaiiiiiiiiiii." It's a very familiar sound on the trains of India. I really like the train Chai. It's good. It's absurdly cheap. I mean really absurdly cheap - 4 pennies for a cup. But, the thing that really amazes me is that it comes in a little ceramic cup that is disposable. You finish your chai and then throw the cup out the window and watch is shatter beside the track. I'm getting a bit too accustomed to the 3rd world. Poverty, filth, disease, people in turbans and saris, every type of animal wandering the streets - all this seems normal to me now. However, the fact that it's cheaper to serve tea in pottery than in plastic continues to shock and amaze me.
The Rebbe's name isn't Milu Bavitch. MiLubavitch means from Lubavitch, as in the town in Russia where the movement originated from.
Thanks for the correction Yaakov.
What is his name?
And Yaakov's response...
The Lubavitcher Rebbe's name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson Z''l (Z''l) means "his memory for a blessing" and is said after someone very righteous passes away. Some people put Shlita - which is a phrase used to honor a Rebbe or Rabbi who is still alive, but if you put it after the Lubavitcher Rebbe's name today, it means you believe he is Moshiach (messiah). This whole belief stems out of a debate in traditional Judaism about whether the Moshiach can come from the dead. Those Lubavitchers (but not me), who believe that the Rebbe is going to be Moshiach, are often very adamant about expressing this belief. Others like me, who don't claim to have any grand revelation (although I hope he is), just stick with Z''l. Also, there is no large modern-day difference between the name Lubavitcher and the name Chabad. They are pretty much synonymous.
Suraj Radhakrishnan - Dec 29, 2006
Amazing stuff you write there! Love to read more about a typical western tourist's perspective on India. Have you ever been to Bangalore?
Try South India the next time you are in this country. Let me see if your views are any different than my boss from downtown San Fracisco. :)