About eddiegirdner

Retired professor, Political Science. Author, traveler, Leica Photographer.

Once Upon a Sidewalk

Once Upon a Sidewalk

By Eddie Girdner

October 23, 2011

Once Upon a Sidewalk

Eddie J. Girdner

Published in Third Concept, No, 278, 2009

 

As I stepped out of a restaurant in New Delhi, India, some piles of books for sale on the sidewalk in Connaught Place caught my eye. It would be instructive to see what the local population was reading, I thought. Or were these bootlegged copies only being picked up by the foreigners living in the city? The first title that my eyes focused upon was The Warren Buffett Way by Robert Hagstram and next to it was The IBM Way by Buck Rogers. With all the poverty one sees around this city, these should prove useful indeed. And then I was hit by a feeling of nostalgia when next to these I saw the old classic, Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill, which I had seen selling in the same spot some forty years ago. Was that stuff still selling? Amazing. Surely, it seemed to me, if the way to grow rich was to think, then India would surely have been the richest country in the world for hundreds of years.

 

And then there was The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman… sure enough! Friedman had ridiculed all those critics who doubted the virtues of globalization and the global neoliberal economy, in this book, particularly those who wanted more government regulation and social welfare, when times were good, that is, just before the collapse of the global economy. Oh yes! That should explain what was happening in India very well, I thought. And making a bid to trump Friedman was Once upon a Wall Street by Peter Lynch. That should make one’s lunch digest better! And on another brightly colored cover Jack Welch screamed out in big red letters: Winning! Well, I don’t know. I guess there must be somebody somewhere who is. It had been a while since I had run into anyone in that category. And Delhi didn’t seem the likely place.

 

After a couple of days negotiating the streets of Delhi in an auto rickshaw, and comparing these books to what I had seen over the years, somehow they just did not quite seem to suit the climate. But then another book, looking on the brighter side, suddenly proclaimed: Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do. Now there’s a lie if I ever heard one! Well, getting down to the nuts and bolts of things, I moved my eyes around to Tom Hopkins, How to Master the Art of Selling and Mutual Funds Made Easy, put out by an outfit called Beria Sunlife Mutual fund. Along with those it might be wise to pick up a copy of Consumer is King by Rajyalakshmi Rao. A nice package there to acquire the know-how of getting ahead in the business world and life in general in the world’s teeming underbelly. Mutual funds, here I come! We have all learned what a great investment those are in the last few months! Certainly appropriate for Delhi residents. I wonder if my auto rickshaw driver, making five dollars a day, not enough to send his children to school, should pick up a package of those mutual funds for his future. And next to it all, to give one a broader view, and a more philosophical underpinning, was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

 

The juxtaposition of these titles next to what I had seen on the streets and around the city, the condition of the common people, could not have been more stark. I thought of the thousands of Indian Farmers who had committed suicide over the last few years because they could not even feed their families. I thought of the women construction workers I had seen waiting at the side of a road in Delhi that morning, with their babies, waiting to begin their day of heaving soil and cement and bricks for a dollar a day. They were certainly not following the Warren Buffett way. They may have been thinking, but they were not growing rich. And as far as I could tell, they were not winning either.

 

Only one writer seemed to have gotten it pretty much right. Right in front of me, there was a copy of Peter Robinson, Snapshots from Hell. Now that ain’t no lie! When there is no future, then why not fantacize about the glories or capitalism? Nowadays, in New Delhi or New York… what’s the difference?

 

Another title offered was by Mark McCormack, What they Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School.  But why buy the book? One could learn much of that just by riding around a third world city in an auto rickshaw or in these days, or sleeping on a sidewalk.

July  16, 2009

Eddie J. Girdner, Professor of International Relations, Izmir University. Author of USA and the New Middle East, 2008.

 

 

 

Woody Guthrie: Rubaiyat

Rubaiyat
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

Don’t give your money, not one penny spend
To learn the secret of your life, my friend
One little hair divides the false and true
And on that little hair, it starts and ends

One hair, I guess, divides the false and true (the false and true)
Find this one hair no matter what you do (what you do)
This hair will lead you to the drinking room
And to the wives of your great landlord too

I rolled in pain down on that sawdust floor (the drinkin’ floor)
I prayed to heaven to open its golden door
I groaned and yelled: How long must I here roll? (roll here)
You must roll here till you are you no more (you no more)

I wasted lots of hours in the hot pursuit
Of this and that argument and dispute
Better to kiss the lip with laughin’ grapes
Than eating sad or proud or bitter fruit

I’m glad I went off on my big carouse
And took my second wife into my house
Divorced old dried-up reason out of my bed
Took this daughter of the vine to spouse

What is and is not proof I rule in line (I rule in line)
And up and down by logic I define
I guess you thought I was a deep wise man
I never went deep in anything but wine

My drinkin’ door eased open late last late (last night late)
I saw a lady with an angel shape (pretty girl)
She handed me a glass of wisdom juice
I drank it down and found the juice was grape

This grapy juice can prove a billion things
Can make our racial haters dance in rings
Can make our seventy-two fightin’ priests and princes
Sing sinful songs, and tease my kings and queens (queens and kings both)

If God roiled my good wine, then would he dare (he wouldn’t dare)
To make my viney grape a trap an’ a snare
I drink my wine and I bless your sweet red mouth
If wine’s a curse, well then, who set it there?

 

 

American Sahib (A Novel)

American Sahib

Eddie James Girdner

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information and retrieval systems, without permission from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. Please do not put this book on a free download sight. It is unethical and a theft of my hard work. If you want to read it, please be a decent enough human being to pay the small price of the book. That is only fair.

Copyright © 2016 Eddie James Girdner

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1530291526

ISBN-13: 978-1530291526

Life is simply the eternal desire for travelling

Iqbal

CONTENTS

1

New Way of Life

3

2

Land of Five Rivers

33

3

Idiocy of Rural Life

73

4

Just Now Coming

109

5

Male Chastity Belt

157

6

Bread Basket

189

7

Delhi Wine

229

8

Wild Ride

263

9

Excursion

337

10

Out of India

359

He who reads one short word, Love, becomes a true pundit.”

Kabir

1 New way of life

Chapter One: The Invitation

When James was called down to the desk in late morning, he wondered what it could be about. After living in the new dormitory for two years, it had never happened to him before.

He came out of the elevator and approached the desk near the rows of student mailboxes. He saw a fat manila packet marked special delivery lying on the counter. The attractive student behind the counter, a young coed, asked if he was James Weldon. He showed her his student ID card and signed for the packet.

James knew immediately what it was when he saw the address in the corner. “Peace Corps, Washington, DC.” He took the bulky packet, excited to hold it in his hands. He took it up to his room on the eighth floor and opened it with excitement. On top was a cover letter stating that he had been selected for a Peace Corps training program. It was for a food production project in India. The training would be conducted in California beginning in April.

It was somewhat of a surprise. He had been imagining that he would be sent to some place in South America. But India? That was quite different. Far more exotic. The more he thought about it, the more it appealed to him. Son of a gun. He would have his university degree nailed down and now be doing something significant. He was up for the challenge. It could impress his friends. He wasn’t sure what his family would think about it, but it did not concern him greatly. He knew what he had to do.

There was a form to fill out and return if he was willing to accept the program.

It was the best thing that had happened to him since he left home and entered the university more than four years ago. Now he was about to graduate in January, the middle of the academic year. Another two weeks and he would take his last set of final exams and if successful would graduate with his bachelor’s degree. It was all a little frightening. He would be out into the cold world away from the warm bosom of the university where he had spent the last four and a half years. That had been a sort of home to him. His main responsibility was studying and passing the exams. But now a major turning point was imminent.

Out of one institution and into another, in fact. So much for American individualism. Americans never seriously considered how much their lives were actually controlled by the state. They lived under the illusion that they did everything themselves, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps as individuals. It was part of the American political myth that served big business and the corporations well. They too derived the lion’s share of their profits through the state, although this fact was concealed.

Now there was a new star to reach for, a new goal to aim for. And surely it would keep him out of Vietnam. It would take the benevolence of the American state to save him from the destructive power of the American state, which was the only real threat to him. It was an ironic twist. Dialectical.

Indeed, when he had filled out the lengthy application for the Peace Corps some nine months ago, avoiding the war in Vietnam had been a primary motivation. Not the only one, to be sure, but he knew that short of fleeing the country for Canada or Europe, there were only two possibilities. The military and Vietnam or the Peace Corps. He had been on a student deferment for several years. That had kept him out of the military while several of his friends who did not go to a university had been drafted. He even knew of one that had been killed. Now things were getting hotter.

He had watched the whole thing unfold over the last three years since 1964. Each morning he would open his door in the dorm and find the St. Louis Post Dispatch just outside. He watched the war slowly unfold as headlines tallied up numbers of new troops being sent. The US was gradually getting deeper and deeper into the quagmire. First the American “advisers” had been sent. A Military Advisory Group (MAG) which was, after all, just a cover for preparing the way for the first combat troops. Then the first troops arrived. After President Diem had been assassinated with the secret nod of the US President, John F. Kennedy, things began to disintegrate.

Then began the bullshit sessions in the dorm. Sometimes they would go until late at night, past midnight. He listened to other students’ opinions, but played it by the gut. He generally spent his time studying, not taking part in the debates. Indeed, he was almost as ignorant about the actual situation as the average student, just knowing what the newspapers, the corporate press told him. This information arrived each morning. But he didn’t buy it. There were those who were gung-ho about “stopping communism,” to strangle it in the cradle before it took over another country. Then there was the fat kid who seemed to be the intellectual one who knew more than others. He said that the Geneva Accords had called for elections, but the US would never allow them to be held because they knew that Ho Chi Minh would win. What was the truth, James did not know, but that sounded plausible enough to him. When it came to being sent off somewhere to “die for his country,” he was cynical as hell. How come it was only the poor bastards like him who had to die for their country? The ones who didn’t go to the university had already been shipped off.

What he did know was that he wanted no part of that war. It was all wrong in his view. Probably all war was wrong, in his view. What was the US doing there anyway? If the Vietnamese wanted to be communists, then let them be communists. It was none of his business and none of the business of the US Government, as far as he could tell.

He listened, but mostly stayed out of the debates. His area was science and math, physics, to be exact, and he had not studied a lot of history and social science. Nevertheless, he had made better marks in these subjects. Now he had a new hope, a way to avoid going to a far off country and killing people. If they wanted to be communists, it was no skin off his ass. What was this dying for one’s country? How could getting killed in Vietnam be dying for one’s country anyway? Rather, it would be dying because of the stupidity of one’s country in invading another country. He would just be a pawn sent to keep the country from going communist so that American companies could go there and exploit the people and make their profits. He just could not go along with this World War II patriotic stuff.

Maybe if he had studied political science they would have brainwashed him into believing in the war. Good thing that he had studied physics.

Johnny get your gun, get your gun, get your gun,

Get those commies on the run, on the run, on the run.

We will have a lot of fun, lot of fun, lot of fun…

That was bullshit. It would just get himself killed, like it had done to his distant cousin.

Excited about the Peace Corps invitation, James went down and had a quick lunch in the dorm cafeteria. The food was not always that great. Well, I’ll soon be out of this place, he thought. Today he saw that it was cheeseburgers and French fries. That was great tasty food. He would pile on a lot of mustard and ketchup on the fries.

He took a seat near the window that looked across the circle driveway to the campus. The first winter snowstorm was arriving. Big flakes of wet snow were floating down. He was going to miss this old campus that he had now grown to love. Cute coeds were arriving back from classes with their books, hoods covering their heads. Let it snow, he thought. I will soon be in some place far more exotic.

Visions of what it would be like to actually be in India began to flood into his young imagination. He would have to do some reading once his last exams were out of the way. He did not have much of an idea what it would be like in an Indian village in Punjab.

Back in his room, he filled out the one-page form carefully and signed it. He put a stamp on the envelope provided and dropped it into the letter box down in the lobby. He would waste no time in getting it back to Washington.

He did not let his parents know about his decision at once. He would tell them when he wrote a letter in a couple of days, breaking the news to them gently. Not making a big deal about it. His mother would likely not be excited about it. He had run off to the university. Now he would be running off to another country. Didn’t she realize that it was better than Vietnam? How could one educate their parents?

His father too, he wouldn’t be thrilled either. Just another crazy thing that young people were likely to do. Run off to a different country that was not even Christian. He would just go pray about it and then go back to reading his Bible. Why couldn’t he just have a normal son? He had known all along that nothing good was going to come of going off to “that college down there.” Now this just proved that he was right. The military was not good either, but was more normal. He would pray about it. It was all in God’s hands anyway. But he knew that his prodigal son wouldn’t buy it. He had been ruined by “that college down there.”

Coming into the last week of class, James had some assignments to wrap up. There was a term paper to write for the education class and the write-up of his laboratory work in a physics class. He must study, make the attempt to decipher and understand the complex equations in quantum mechanics. Surely, it had reached the point that those spinning, shooting particles were way above his head. He had come to the conclusion that trying to be Einstein had its limits and surely he had reached it. Just a “C” in the class was all he was praying for. It would get him by and on out of the university into the world or real events. He would stop thinking about pi mesons and other elementary particles and start thinking about India. Something that one could actually see and feel. That was surely more elementary. This new opportunity would give him the energy he needed for the final push.

In the coming days, he began to realize that he was on the threshold of something new, completely unknown. It would be a sharp turn away from his pursuits in the last three years since he had gone into physics. Understanding the nature of the universe was grand. It had opened him up to learning. It was fascinating to understand the nature of things around him, the physical world. But somehow, it was necessary to understand society too. That had been the weakest link in his education. He had begun to understand that.

Academic physics was beautiful, enlightening, often elegant, but beyond academia, what was it? What could he do with it? Help design weapons that would kill more peasants in third world countries? Why was science in America so often used for the advance of imperialism?

He had extended his education another half-year to complete the education classes for a teaching certificate. There in Hill Hall, that bland boring sanitized building, up on the bulletin boards, were all those notices of teacher vacancies in high schools in Los Angeles and the surrounding communities. That looked inviting in terms of getting him out of Missouri and over to the West Coast. But it would not keep him out of Vietnam. That was for sure.

In the summer, while doing his student teaching in St. Louis, he had gone over to McDonald Douglass in suburban St. Louis. He filled out an application for employment, but could not get excited about applied physics. He was not excited about helping the company develop new weapons for the military and war. After all, that was where most of the research and development money came from, straight from Pentagon contracts for new technology for war.

If he went into the Peace Corps, not only would there be adventure, but travel and a chance to learn something about the world and a different society. It would get him out into the wider world, not only out of Missouri, but out of the country.

He thought back to those summer weeks when he had worked at the canning plant in Elmville. There he had worked with the local red-necks, farmers mostly, and dreamed of going west, going farther west than he had ever been before, all the way to the coast. This time, he would see California, as soon as he had the opportunity. Now he had worked himself into a position to do so. He was itching for that freedom. Now there were just some grueling nights left when he would have to burn the midnight oil and study, on into the morning, to nail down his last courses and get the degree under his belt.

He was on his way to embarking upon a great adventure.

Chapter Two: The Great Escape

Back in his home town, James made a trip to the local draft office. It was just up the old graveled road five miles to the small town of Preston. The winter weather was now mild with no snow so the road was open. He enjoyed driving up that old familiar way that he had traveled daily when in school. Now he could look on it from a different perspective. He had come quite a long way since then and was not tied down to the place like a local yokel.

He parked on the square next to the old familiar bandstand, where he had listened to high school bands as a kid. The square was almost empty. The town, if not dead, seemed to be close to its dying breath. It had a desolate look. Some parts of the traditional nineteenth century brick buildings had burned, being replaced with new tacky one-story buildings. The place looked so small compared to the time when he was a kid. It had been hit by the destructive force of capital. Its absence, to be exact. Creative destruction in Schumpeterian terms. Capitalism had sucked it dry. There was only one grocery store. A few other businesses tried to hang on. There was the old newspaper office that ran the weekly gossip sheet. Someone had called it the weekly Preston Post-Telecrap. The whole town reeked of tackiness. Yet he had not completely managed to free himself from its clutches.

James crossed the street to the office of the local draft board. It was not difficult to find. But he had always had a dread of the place, as if those doors were the gates of hell. They certainly had been for some poor suckers. He had resolved to not get sucked in very deep. Not at all. They would not get him into their clutches.

He remembered his first contact with the Selective Service Office. After he had turned eighteen, in his senior year of high school, he had heard that he was supposed to register. But somehow he had neglected it. He just put it out of his mind. His parents were unaware of the requirement and so said nothing about it. They were more concerned with keeping him out of hell than out of Vietnam. Whether hell was actually a threat, he did not know. On the other hand, it was evident that the Vietnam War was a clear and present threat. James had just let it slide until the summertime. After his birthday in February, he started feeling guilty and feared that he might get into some kind of trouble if he did not register. But he put it out of his mind, graduated from high school, and worked on the old farm. He plowed, planted corn and soybeans, and thought of going to the university, come fall.

Finally, by the summer, he had mustered the courage to go and face the music. When his father went to the bank to make a payment on a note for a small loan, he went with him. His father parked near the old band stand. There was that large poster on the metal stand that had been there for years. Uncle Sam with his finger pointed right at him. “I want you.”

But you’re not gonna get me if I can help it, James thought. He tried to ignore it. It was a menace to local youth when there was a war going on. And that was almost always the case when it came to the United States of America.

James appeared and told the middle-aged Secretary, Mrs. Grinnell, that he wished to register. He was feeling like a criminal. What would she say when she discovered that he was six months late? Could he get into trouble for it? She gave him a paper to fill out. When she looked at it, she admonished him for not registering six months earlier. Legally, he had been required to do this by his eighteenth birthday. But nothing was done about it. She filled out a draft card and issued it to him. The card indicated that he was now eligible to be drafted, but he told her that he was planning to go the university in the fall.

He saw an angry look come across her face. She hated those guys who got a deferment for the university. She wanted them in boots once they were out of high school. That was her job, it seemed, even though it was not actually her job.

The secretary was the wife of a local businessman who sold farm equipment and profited by cheating farmers. Sometimes he charged them too much. Now after more than four years as a university student, James wanted to have some idea whether he was going to be granted a deferment for two years to serve in the Peace Corps.

Entering the small office, he found the middle aged woman sitting at a small desk. There was a picture of the President, Lyndon Johnson, on the wall. It reminded James of the war in Vietnam. She was the only one there, sitting idle. Nothing had changed in those five years. She looked exactly the same. The same dowdy, middle-aged, small-town woman. She seemed eager to get her claws into another victim. Him, to be exact.

Hi, my name is James Weldon,” he began, as if she didn’t know. “I have been a student with a deferment, but I graduated from the university last month. I applied for the Peace Corps and have been accepted for a two-year program. I would like to apply for a two-year deferment for the Peace Corps.”

There was a look of disgust on Mrs. Grinnell’s face. Yes she remembered him. In fact, she had him in her gun sites, at least draft sites, and had just been waiting for his time to come up. She had already prepared a list of eligible candidates. He should have graduated in the last year. He could not remain a student forever and once out of the university, he would be just another warm body to fill up the county’s quota of draftees.

Oh yes, you are on my list here,” she said. “You’ll have to go to Kansas City for a draft physical examination. We will send you a notice. You’re not going to be deferred to serve in the Peace Corps. I can tell you that.”

It was just as he had feared. He had no idea how the system worked. Did it mean that this was the final word and that he would definitely be drafted? He had a sudden vision of catching a bus north to Canada, thinking that it must be colder than a bitch up there at this time of year. But better than going to Vietnam. There was Europe too. Another possibility. Maybe better.

James wondered how she could know the decision of the draft board. Wasn’t it the board that was supposed to make the decisions? And they could have had no idea that his application for the Peace Corps was now accepted, could they? She was not the draft board. Was there actually such a thing? But perhaps the decisions were being left up to her. That figured.

She didn’t indicate that she was at all sorry. It seemed that she rather relished the idea of sending him off to the military and probably to Vietnam. She enjoyed seeing the looks on the faces of those college graduates when she informed them that now it was time to throw away their books and pick up a gun. Probably that was how she got her kicks. Who did they think they were anyway? Did they think they were better than the local guys who had never gone to college and had already been sent off in uniform? Some of them wounded. A couple of them killed.

Oh,” James said, “I thought maybe they would let me serve in the Peace Corps. I have received an invitation from Washington.”

It depends on the draft board,” she lied. “And they are not going to let you out for that.”

If she knew about it, she did not tell him that there was an appeals process. The local draft board did not make the final decision in such cases. However, James had no clue how it worked at the time.

I need to see your draft card,” she said.

James pulled his billfold out of his back pocket and slipped it out. It still indicated that he had a student deferment. Reaching inside her desk, she pulled out a fresh card and changed his classification from student deferment to eligible for the draft and handed it to him. She tore up the old card with the student deferment and tossed it into the waste can.

I’ve got you in my clutches now, you son-of-a-bitch, James figured she must be thinking.

The bus for the physical will leave for Kansas City next Monday morning at seven o’clock,” she informed him. “Please be here by six-thirty.”

Shit, James thought. I am in a world of shit now. But I’ll be God-dammed if I am going to show up in this town for a draft physical. Some quick action was required. There was not much time to sort it out.

Thanks for the information,” he said. “Have a nice day.”

He turned and left the office. He was not about to let her know what was in his mind. He would pretend to go along with the program. Indeed, he was not certain at the time just what he had to do or could do. He had made up his mind that he was not going to be drafted and sent to the military where the probability of going to Vietnam and being killed was exceedingly high. He was not going to be coming back to the local funeral home in a box, at least not from being killed in that fucking war.

It was just a few weeks after the Tet offensive, after all. The Communists had captured and held the US Embassy in Saigon for several hours. Now the war was continuing with high casualty rates. It was exactly the wrong time to get drafted into the military. The slaughter in Vietnam had intensified and the USA was on the losing end. There was no way.

When he got back to the farm, he got his packet of information and looked up the telephone number of the Peace Corps in Washington. He quickly called the office and told the woman there that he had talked to his local draft board. They were calling him in for a military draft physical the same day that he was scheduled to start the training program in California for the Peace Corps.

A secretary located his file.

Don’t worry about it,” the woman said. They were obviously used to dealing with such cases.

You have already been accepted and scheduled for the Peace Corps training program. Once you arrive at the training site in California, we will request that the examination be transferred to California. You can then take the examination there after you have started training.”

Oh thanks,” James said. “I was not sure what I was supposed to do about it.”

We will appeal the decision of the local selective service board to the Missouri State Selective Service Board,” she said. “And then to the Presidential Appeals Board if it is turned down at the state level.”

Fuck! What a relief, he thought. That sounded great to James. Fuck those local yokel farmers. He had now made a pre-emptive strike on them and was now one step ahead. Out in California, well, maybe it would not be quite as brutal as up in north Missouri. He would do whatever was required to work his way through it.

I will be happy to see those sons of bitches in my rear view mirror, he thought. They are not going to get my ass shot off in Vietnam. I’ll fight for all I am worth to prevent that. There was no threat at all to him from the Communists in Vietnam, as far as he could tell. The threat was much closer to home. It was only the American military that could be a real threat, not only to his way of life, but to his life itself.

James had enjoyed his month of leisure after finishing out the semester in January. He found the old farm house at the bottom of the hill comfortable and enjoyed his old room with shelves of his old books upstairs. It had an old familiar homely smell. The house smelled of hickory and white oak wood smoke. He went to the library in Preston. There was nothing there on India, but the library in Elmville had a couple of old books. It was mostly general information and badly out of date.

Now that he had his teaching license for high school classes, he asked the school in Elmville if he could do some substitute teaching. They had actually called him for a few days. He enjoyed putting on his coat and tie and going to the classes. There was not much teaching, just babysitting the students as they did their assignments. Seeing the small town students, he was glad he had escaped to the university. They looked so fresh and naïve. Most did not know what they would do. Mindless. They did not have a clue. How many would become cannon fodder in that war? Some would never leave. And some would die, through no fault of their own. There was no way they could learn the truth, short of getting a university education.

He went to the courthouse in Elmville and applied for his first passport which arrived in a couple of weeks.

On the last day of March he was scheduled to fly to California. His plane ticket arrived in the mail a few days earlier. He was excited when he opened the packet. It was great to have it in his hand. It was proof that he was not going to be around come Monday morning when he was supposed to be on that bus up there on the Preston square. It was like they were sheep that were being sent off for the slaughter.

On Sunday, his family took him down to the Kansas City Airport. It was the old Municipal Airport close to downtown. He said goodbye to his family, who he did not expect to see for another couple of years. Not if everything worked out. It was the first time that he had ever checked into a flight for anywhere. It would be his first trip by jet plane. He was excited about it. Ready for adventure. He was not one to stay around his home town. He would get out in the world. Make something of himself.

His plane took off and headed west across Kansas. In Denver he had to switch planes. A couple of hours later, he came down in California, the first time he had set foot in California. After that, it was just a short commuter flight down to Ontario on an old prop job. When he arrived, a young member of the Peace Corps staff was there to meet him. Two other trainees had arrived at around the same time.

Norm, the guy who had met them, took them out to a small van and they were soon on their way down to Hemet. The other two guys were equally young and as green as James. They had all come from back east somewhere.

Hemet, out in a big valley, had been a ranch town. Now, it was developing rapidly with new suburban housing districts.

To train the group, Development and Resources Corporation had rented an old site where Mexican farm workers were normally housed. Low one-story buildings made of wood were partitioned off into big rooms. Four volunteers were assigned to each room. Some forty volunteers would arrive before the evening was over.

The chow hall was across the street. The new trainees were sent over for some evening food. The meal was not likely to strain the budget. James tied into the thin pea soup and salad. There was a small piece of cake for desert.

He met his other roommates. In a little bit, he turned in on the small cot that had been provided in his corner of the large room.

The next morning at breakfast, more of the staff had appeared. There were some of the older guys who would do the training. There was a young sour faced graduate student from the University of Wisconsin with a drooping mustache who was in charge of the language training in Punjabi. Along with these were several Punjabis who would provide the language training.

As the time was short, no attempt would be made to teach them the Gurmukhi Alphabet. The language would be learned by the sounds of the words only with phonetic spellings.

The volunteers were divided into groups of six and the training began at eight in the morning and continued until eight in the evening with just time out for meals.

It was difficult. Some days there would be a lecture on Indian culture and society in the afternoon. This would break the monotony of the language training.

James, being somewhat timid, soon discovered that he was not one of the top language students. It was not clear how much of a concern this was going to be in evaluating the volunteers. What many did not realize was that the major language of India was actually English. And most of what would be learned would have to be learned in the field anyway, after arriving in the country.

Around eight o’clock in the evening, the training would end and the volunteers were on their own. Just across the small highway that ran past the compound was a small pub called the Winner’s Circle. Every evening, several of the volunteers would head over for some draft beer and pool. James followed the others. It was almost the first time he had drunk beer. He had tried it just a couple of times in the university. Now he tasted the light draft beer and started to like it.

The volunteers had been provided an allowance of eight dollars a week. As most of everything was provided, this was actually quite enough. They could drink the draft beer at a quarter a glass.

James tried his hand at pool and even won a game now and then. But he was best at the shuffle board. This was a fun game to play and it made him feel good when the draft beer began to tickle his gut.

The group had the pub practically to themselves. Only a few others came in. Hardly ever a woman. It was still a quite rural area.

The training went on. Then there were the trips. It was interesting, seeing some of the countryside of California.

One field trip was arranged to the Coachella Valley to see how vegetables were grown in California. It was the first time that James had been in the desert, down close to Palm Springs. He would remember those date milkshakes for a long time.

On a Sunday, there was a trip to Los Angeles and a Punjabi meal at a Sikh family’s house in Baldwin Hills.

One day, James was told that he had been scheduled to go up to Los Angeles for his military draft physical. Another volunteer named Jerry also had to go for the physical. They were picked up and taken in an old bus from the 1950s. Taken down town, they were dropped off at a flea bag hotel and given a room. The rooms were old and musty needing renovation. It was clear that they were reserved for military guys. They had been rented cheaply to the government. They were already being treated like cannon fodder. It was a clear indication of how they would be treated once they were in the United States Army.

James and Jerry took the opportunity to go out on the town. James bought a couple of books and they went to a park and watched the girls under the palm trees. They were having a pleasant time.

They had been given orders to report to AFEES, the Armed Forces Examining and Entry Station, at zero seven hundred hours the next morning. They got up at six and headed out, not having time even for some breakfast.

Arriving at the site, a mob of unkempt young guys from seventeen to twenty five was starting to gather up outside the large doors. There were few who wanted to be there. Most were looking for a way to escape the lot that now seemed to have befallen them. Some had already been drafted. But now if they could only flunk the physical, they would be safe. This would be difficult for most, short of physically shooting themselves in the foot.

A young army petty officer appeared and began to bark commands at the unruly mob.

Shut the fuck up, you motherfuckers,” he barked. “Line the fuck up and get your young asses in there. You’re on your way to a new way of life, you motherfuckers. I’ll ream you pussies a new asshole. You civie scum.”

All the talk about how to get out of the military now broke off. This would be the moment of truth for some of them. Those already drafted who passed the physical would be signed in, given the oath, and shipped out to a boot camp somewhere before the end of the day. It was hard not to pass the physical. But some lucky few would not. They were the fortunate ones who would find themselves back home.

Others would pass the examination and then wait for the draft notice. It was either that or head for Canada. Most would not have the means to get to Europe, even if they had the courage to do it.

As for James, he did not want to be a part of the whole debacle. He had no desire to be herded like a sheep. Yes, you are right, son-of-a-bitch, he thought. I am on my way to a new way of life. But it is a lot different from that one that you have in mind. I am not going to be cannon fodder for the American imperialist machine. I am not going to carry a gun and kill anybody. If I get my ass out of this country, then it will be to make friends with new people and not to kill them. I would much rather buy them a beer. If they happen to be a communist, then that is their own business.

If the Vietnamese wanted to have communism, that was their own business and none of his own. From every mountainside “let freedom ring.”

Chapter Three: Over the Wild Blue Yonder

The waves rolled in from the vast blue Pacific. James walked out into the surf in his bathing trunks feeling the cool salty water wash across his body. It was a new experience. It was the first time he had been in the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter. It excited him as he breathed in the salt scent of the ocean. This had been his dream for years, to reach the farthest point west that he could go in the country. As he could not swim, he would remain strictly a shore bird, but loved the sea, nevertheless. He wondered when, if ever, he would learn to swim and envied those who could swim out in the surf. He wished he could too. Perhaps he could have if his mother had ever allowed him to go to that small pool in Preston where all the other kids went to have fun in the summer.

He walked along the sand where the waves washed ashore and watched the water retreat back into the sea. The sand felt delicious to his bare feet. He picked up some small pink and white sea shells. Further up, a couple of young girls were sunning themselves. They had slipped their tops off, exposing their young tender white breasts to the bright May sunshine. The tender tips of their young peaches surely tasted as sweet as a ripe juicy cherry. James imagined his tongue on those perked-up pink raspberries. He wouldn’t stop there. He visualized a juicy red cherry ready for plucking. California girls. James felt a pang of regret. It would surely be many months before he would be seeing such a scene again. Sea gulls swooped across the sand. They were luckier when it came to moral constraints. He wanted to be as free as those birds.

There were only four more days left before the flight to India. Several volunteers who had now been selected for the Peace Corps group had been dropped off in Santa Monica for some rest and recreation while they awaited the flight. A couple of guys had flown back home to say goodbye to their folks and friends, but James did not have the money for a ticket. The flight would be on the next Monday morning. In the meantime, they would enjoy the beach, watch the girls, spend their allowance at the fast food joints and drink a little watery American beer. There was a row of tacky motels and fast food places along the strip next to the ocean shore.

He had somehow made it through the training program with flying colors, although it seemed somewhat of a miracle to him. But why shouldn’t he? There were only a handful of the trainees who had ever actually planted a crop in a field or even lived on a farm, for that matter. Surely his background as a real farmer should count for something. Still, he had many doubts until he opened that envelope on the fateful evening. The small slip of paper read “Have a nice flight to India.” He had made it.

His language skills had left something to be desired, but this was obviously not a great concern to those running the training program. The shrinks out from Washington were concerned with motivation and mental stability. They did not want any international incident. And too many times the Peace Corps doctors had been forced to escort a volunteer back to the US when he or she had lost it, gone bananas, in some remote corner of a God-forsaken country.

James, on the other hand, was rock solid, in that respect. And determined. It had been that drive that had taken him all the way through to a degree in physics, after all. It was considered one of the most difficult majors. He had performed difficult tasks to get through the university. He had no strong attachments to any girlfriend. In fact, he did not even have a single one. The government had fixed his teeth, even if in the last days. Now he was on his way. Surely he had accomplished something.

That is, providing the Presidential Appeals Board would give him the deferment for the Peace Corps. The application had been submitted after he had been turned down by the local draft board and then by the State of Missouri. Indeed it was surely more likely now that the money had already been spent to train him and send him out into the field. But one could never tell. Bureaucracies were seldom rational, in spite of what Max Weber had believed and what they still taught in political science classes.

The week before the lucky twenty-three volunteers who had survived out of the forty had been taken to a local restaurant off the main boulevard in the local town and given a steak dinner, along with a pep talk from that rather boring square guy from Indiana, Norm. He would have looked natural if he had been wearing a military uniform, James thought. He could have made a great high school football coach. That’s what the pep talk reminded him of. Pumping up the team to win the game.

Don’t miss your chance to do something great,” he challenged them. “Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.” In other words, don’t miss your chance to be an American hero. This was the basic idea. This is your big chance to save the world. Don’t let it slip through your fingers. You will regret it for the rest of your life. Get out there and teach those little brown bastards what they don’t know how. We are Americans. We are the best. We have the know-how. The ingenuity that made America great.

The members of the small group were pumped up with this sort of fantasy. After all, the guy was just doing his duty, giving them a healthy dose of the old American “can-do” spirit. But after all, wasn’t this the attitude that got American bogged down in wars around the world? Barging in where they were not wanted, where they did not know what they were doing, and had no business being there. Vietnam was the most glaring example of that. That war, after all, had motivated most of them to sign up for the Peace Corps in the first place, although they had to pretend that it was not true. The shrinks had forced them to lie. That elephant in the room must remain invisible.

James had found himself looking around at the faces of all those quiet, absurdly serious, young guys. Were they also thinking “this guy is full of shit,” like he did, or perhaps, “there is something wrong with me?” He could not really buy all that idealistic, gung-ho, Peace Corps balderdash. Sure, they were said to be “idealistic.” In fact, they were the actual realists. The idealists had already been sent off to Vietnam believing that they were saving the world by picking up a gun and killing communists, so-called. Now the ones coming back were more realistic. Fighting for peace was like fucking for virginity. If wars could have saved the world, it would have been saved a long time ago. Give peace a chance. “It is wise to love and foolish to hate,” Bertrand Russel had said. Whatever happened to Wilsonian “self-determination” for nations? More often than not that meant letting the US make the determination for them of what kind of government they should have. It certainly had for the protestant minister, Woodrow Wilson.

His project was much more mundane, down to earth. Namely, to save his sorry ass. He was not going to get it shot off over there in a rice paddy. That he had to resort to such an absurd and outlandish method to save it was part of the absurdity of life. Ironically, the Peace Corps was a part of the State Department. One agency of the state would save him from the treachery of the Pentagon, another agency of the state that threatened his very life. For him the real threat came from Washington, not farther away in Vietnam. The communists were doing their thing and leaving him the hell alone. They were no threat to him.

Whether he could actually do anything for India or Indian farmers, he seriously doubted. On the face of it, the notion was absurd, ridiculous. What he did see, on the other hand, was that it was likely to be a great adventure. India was clearly a fascinating country. Seeing the country and the people and learning about everything he saw was something that he did not want to miss. It would be terribly refreshing to learn something about Indian society, after all his years in math and physics. The human touch. Out among the real people. He believed that what he was doing was courageous and certainly adventuresome. The volunteers, it had to be acknowledged, did march to a different drummer.

He would not play it safe. He was willing to take the risk. It was another phase in his education and expansion of himself as a person. He had chucked his home town long ago for the university. The best thing he had ever done in life. Now he would chuck the normal road, service in the military, for the Peace Corps. If it made him a sort of renegade then so much the better. If he was a “draft dodger,” he was dodging a war that he wanted nothing to do with. How could that be considered dishonorable? Only if one believed that one should be a wooden soldier and march in lock step to the needs of the imperial state. That would truly be closer to fascism and not very honorable.

Now he had come to enjoy the taste of beer and drank a little now and then with the other guys in the motel room. Even if it was the piss-poor watery American brew, it was delicious. He thought of girls. He would now be missing them, even before he had had a taste of them to miss. His religious background in a religious family had made sure of that. Except for a couple of young loves in the university, he had missed the boat. He was still a virgin. When would he ever discover the ecstasy of pussy? The prognosis did not seem terribly bright heading off for one of the most socially conservative countries in the world.

The big blue and white Pan American bird, a Boeing 707, took off over the Pacific in mid-morning. The sandy beach and blue water appeared at the end of the runway as the plane jetted up out of the LA smog. He would not see America again for more than two years. On its round the world journey, the group would ride the big bird half-way. The thirty-hour trip was exciting, yet tiring. Flying west and west for hour after hour, as if he was flying off the face of the earth. Flying to the nether regions of the earth. What was he getting himself in for? Americans did not have a clue about foreign places. At least most of them. Perhaps a necessary facet of an imperial state. They only learned about a country and where it was on the map, when the US invaded. A few of them did, anyway. For most it was just “somewhere over there.” Many of them did not even know for which side the US was fighting. Now it was too late to turn back. He had bought the ticket.

Honolulu was sunny and crowded with GIs on the way to Vietnam or returning for some R and R. James could hardly believe he was there. In Tokyo, he flocked with the others to the duty-free shop in the airport. They bought cameras and transistor radios. A camera being beyond his budget, James bought a big transistor radio that he thought would be useful in the village in Punjab. He would need the short wave bands.

Across the International Date Line, darkness caught up with them by the time they reached the languid heat-soaked air in the Hong Kong night. There seemed to be a million lights from the high hills around the airport. It seemed very mysterious to a green American who had grown up in the sterile Midwest. Then they were out again and cruising high over Vietnam where the war continued. There were flashes of bombs exploding below. American soldiers were being shot, blown up, and mangled down there in the jungles. Saving America, not for democracy, but for capital. How could they be that fooled? A little education was needed for political consciousness.

The plane came down into Bangkok. Out of the plane and into the airport for a little exercise as the plane was cleaned and spruced up. By this time, the group was getting weary of the constant flying. But there was yet another long leg of the flight.

A few more hours and they were high over India. All those thousands of small villages below in the crystal clear night, across Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This is it, James thought. The real India. Very mysterious. In the early morning, the plane drifted down into Palam Airport in Delhi. Daylight had not yet arrived, when they were ushered through customs and into the old rattling “deluxe” bus that would take them to the city. The early morning air was stagnant, hot as shit. The country appeared to be dilapidated. He had arrived in India.

They spent five days in Delhi to come down from the jet lag and level out. At age twenty-three the jet lag was not so serious. What was clear was that it was a different world, a totally new world that was fascinating. The June heat was searing, draining one of energy. They had been dumped into India at the hottest time in the year. It was hot all night, even at four in the morning. There was misery around every corner and luxury too for the rich. It was a long way from Kansas.

Chapter Four: Human Liberation

On the face of it, it was highly improbable that James Weldon would make it to India in the Peace Corps, given his background. First, he had grown up on a farm in supreme isolation near a small town in the Midwest. Only a few members of his class had ever gone on to the university. But staying around the home town was a dead end. There were no industries in the county, so no jobs.

The isolation was produced by not only religion, which cut the family off from most of the local society, but by the psychology of not even desiring any social life. There were many rural families who lived in relatively isolated places, but on the other hand, they generally had some sort of social life. But James’s family did not.

Outsiders hardly ever “came down the hill” to the old house on the farm where the family lived. When they did, from time to time, it was not unusual for James to run away and hide behind the house.

One regular visitor was a salesman, Mr. Wiggins. He was an older man who walked with a limp and sold McNess Products. He pedaled his wares from house to house. James’s mother would be home when he suddenly appeared in an old blue car. He could slip in so silently. His father would be working in the field. While she did not particularly need any of the things he had to sell, she would buy a couple of things just to get him back on the road and on his way. He usually refused to leave until she bought something. This was usually a very large metal box of ground black pepper or other spices. Sometimes it would be coffee or tea. The products were generally quite overpriced. Selling products that way was just a nuisance.

James usually ran away and hid when Wiggins showed up, but he remembered the strange crude man, spinning his lies to make a sale. He had a gruff voice and spun out his practiced phrases to convince rural housewives. He swore that a severe shortage of pepper was imminent. Better stock up on it now. Not having any cash on hand, his mother would have to write him a check, which he would cash the same day as soon as he got back to town. Then his father would complain when he came home about being robbed by this Mr. Wiggins who had come down from Preston. It was frightening to see him appear. But his mother did not have time to run away like she did when the preacher came.

James also remembered a Bible salesman. These guys were popular in the rural Bible belt. They sold expensive, overpriced, Bibles. But how could one pass up the deal. No one could afford to risk losing the manifold blessings and Manna that was sure to fall from heaven as a result of the purchase of that gold-laced leather-bound book. He did remember that his mother had bought a Bible. Even though overpriced, his father could not object very strongly. Nevertheless, he hated those salesmen.

His father had his own Bible, a well-worn one that he had ordered years before from the Gospel Publishing House in Springfield, Missouri. It was a Scofield Reference Bible with a concordance. That was all his father ever read or studied, tracing every verse back and forth through the scriptures with the help of the references. It was exactly as a Marxist true believer who tried to understand every word that had ever been written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

James recalled that one day a salesman arrived selling a thick bound volume of sheet music between white plastic covers which was also excessively priced. But since his older sister had learned to play the piano, it was purchased on the installment plan.

The relatives who visited the family were few and far between. But his uncle Clay often did some farming on his father’s land. When others would come, his mother pretended to be pleased, but only wanted them to leave as soon as possible.

When the children started to school, the church they attended, the local Assembly of God, taught that it was a sin to do almost anything that was the least bit enjoyable. It would be a sin to play games or sports, such as baseball, football, or basketball. His parents refused to ever attend such events. It was also a sin to dance, to go to a movie, to wear makeup and for women to cut their hair. One could not drink any alcohol. It was a sin to swear. It was a sin to engage in petting with a girl if one had a date.

Outside of the school, the only activity was church. Church, church, church. Church was everything. It was ironic, then, that his mother did not actually seem to put much stock in it. Somewhat clandestinely, she actually liked Elvis Presley and Rock and Roll music, even though it was strictly verboten. The driving force was his father, driven, it seemed, by the notion that God easily got angry and that when he did, there would be hell to pay. And it seemed that having a little fun and laughter might just do the trick. God just didn’t like for people to have fun. He was apparently a sour old bugger. So one had to walk the line and keep one’s nose to the grindstone. Hard work. Busting one’s ass all the time was fine with God. He liked that. It would please him. Going roller skating would not. Nor would fishing. But he would probably overlook it for a country boy if they went to church on Sunday. One could have a date, but not do any petting. One had to be very careful what they did or thought.

As a result, the family went to church all the time. That was at least four times a week. Most people were astute enough to ignore the silly church rules, to be sure, but James’s father did not. He took them seriously. Most people went to ball games and so on. They went to movies. They did pretty much what they wanted to do. They were normal human sinners, within the context of the puritanical church doctrine.

And why not? If worse came to worse, it was incredibly easy to take out fire insurance from the ravages of hell. All one had to do was to “repent” and then God would forgive one. What could be more easy? Why deprive one’s self of enjoyment in the meantime? Rationally, one should enjoy the hell out of life and then repent at the last minute before it was too late. That strategy was a no-brainer. It was simply economic rationality. Maximizing utility as an economist would say.

It didn’t take a lot of brains to figure that out, one would think. That way, one could clearly have their cake and eat it too. And there was that parable about the workers in the vineyard. Jesus had defended paying the ones who came later and worked a short time the same amount as those who worked the entire day. So why deprive one’s self of the joys of life? Getting “saved” in old age would have the same efficacy as if one had done it in youth. But one could have had a lot more fun in life. It would more than double one’s pleasure. And God wouldn’t hold it against one, once the slate was wiped clean. It was just not fair to those who lived like a Christian all their lives missing out on all the fun.

Most people seemed to have figured that out. Perhaps God was testing them, giving them a sort of intelligence test. Perhaps the ones that could not figure it out were not the clever type that he would want in heaven, anyway. Why would he want heaven filled up with stupid people with a low IQ?

Of course, if God got angry and squashed one like a bug it would be all over. One would drop into hell at once like a rock into a well. That did not seem very likely. There were so many thriving on their sinning it certainly seemed worth taking the chance and going ahead and having some fun. Carpe Diem.

In the churches, the preachers kept admonishing one to come down to the altar and “get saved” because God might get impatient and send a truck to mow one down in the street if they did not. James took that pretty seriously, but was pretty sure that he could avoid getting hit with a truck, even if it was God that had sent it for him. He always checked the street pretty closely before crossing.

All in all, I seemed that God had set up a system that was pretty easy to beat if one was a little bit clever and used one’s brains. After all, the brains too were given by God too, or so it was believed. So he surely expected that people would use them.

The problem was that James was not allowed to be clever. He had lived his life under the conviction that he was headed straight for hell and there was not much he could do about it. That was all there was to it. The preachers had always convinced him that he was a sinner. Even if he got saved, he was not terribly interested in living the boring life laid out for a good Christian. It just could not appeal to a young man that had any ambition in life. If one wanted to have a good life, la dolce vita, one had to sin. That was clear enough. The point had been driven home plenty of times straight from the pulpit.

Because of this regimen, James had missed out on having a proper socialization and so was quite socially retarded. It was the incredibly stupid brand of religion that was largely the culprit, plus the fact that his family had been stupid enough to believe in it.

The lucky break came when he was fortunate enough to escape from his family and his home town for the state university. His normalization was not automatic. He had been deeply scarred by this sort of youth. It had taken him all of three years to begin to see the light, to get out from under the system of human terrorism and hell fire preaching that had been blasted from the pulpit all those years. It had taken him that long to realize just how goofy he had been up to that point. The idiocy that was rural life started to become clear.

But then, religion always made one goofy as far as he could tell. At least there was an inordinate amount of empirical evidence to that effect. Religious people were always doing goofy things that would make one’s head swim.

It suddenly dawned upon him that the Bible thumpers had it precisely upside down. It was heavenly to go in for the “hellish” things and hellish to go in for the “heavenly” things. It was not at all certain that there was a hell in the after-life, or a heaven for that matter. But what was certain was that those country preachers had made his life a hell on earth, while the other kids and many others too were enjoying heaven on earth. Those country preachers should just mind their own freaking business and leave others alone, he concluded. Who were they anyway?

He had read that many villagers in India did not buy the religious myth of heaven and hell. The only heaven and hell that existed was right here on earth. Life for some was heaven and life for others was hell and that was all there was to it. If one had money and wealth in life, one lived in heaven. If one was poor and had to toil just to live, then life was hell. That rang more true than anything he had ever heard from any preacher.

Those country preachers liked to lie and pretend that they had been the greatest sinners on earth, running around in honky-tonks with so many women and having a glorious hot time, just to get the local farmers jealous of them. Then they would pretend that they had made a huge sacrifice and given it all up for God. It was a patent fraud, but it worked, from a marketing standpoint.

Nevertheless, the Bible was no antidote to hormones. They went right on secreting and people kept right on sinning, as long as it was physically possible.

So in his third year in the university, James chucked the church. He started dating some girls and drank a few beers. He went to movies with the girls. He got a date and went to the homecoming dance. He went to all the football games. He started having a good time, and sure enough, it was heavenly. He didn’t know if he would go to heaven when he died, but what the hell? He was now enjoying a little bit of heaven right down here on earth. Maybe that was what God had intended all along. If God was in charge, why did he allow all those sinful things that were so much fun?

If God did not want people to drink beer and wine, then why did he make it so tasty and inebriating? Why did Jesus perform that trick at that wedding when he turned the water into wine? He was certainly responsible for getting some of those peasants drunk on their ass that day. Why didn’t he just let them drink water? Maybe Jesus wanted to see them go wild and dance and have a good time. They had spent their whole life in painful toil and still could not get ahead. They needed some freedom to blow it off from time to time. It didn’t take Jesus to figure that out.

And why did God give men and women such beautiful genitals if he didn’t want them to use them? Why did he give them the fiery yen for sex day in and day out and all night? This was unlike some animals that only mated at a certain season of the year for reproduction. Apparently, men and women were given genitals for more than just the reproductive function. More than just to increase the population, as in animals. It seemed that humans were meant to increase their enjoyment. Perhaps that was what made them human in the first place. Why should sex be only animalistic? It should be a human function and human liberation. And why did God make people want to dance, if it was a sin? Why did he make them happy, if they were supposed to mope around and dwell on religion all the time?

Why did God put up with the devil? Why didn’t he just squash that son-of-a-bitch? Why did God go after people and not that devil? If God was all powerful, as was said, it should be pretty easy to get rid of that son-of-a-bitch devil if he wanted to.

Somehow, it seemed that it was part of the larger scheme. God needed the devil to get his work done, the same way the United States needed the Soviet Union to be a super power and so on. Maybe the “devil” was just another face of God, like the Hindus believed. That would make more sense. Both God and the devil were in basically the same business. They were both recruiting souls for their kingdoms. It was a matter of marketing. But one had to admit that the marketing of sin was a heck of a lot easier than the marketing of religion. The devil had the advantage. God had to row against the tide. It was just the same with politics. It was easier to market socialism than capitalism, because the majority benefited from socialism and was just exploited by capitalism.

The upshot was that those theological principles just made no sense. One could just spin out theological Sanskrit all day and night and no one could have a clue about what was wrong or right. But it was pretty clear that making people miserable was wrong, even if it was done in the name of religion.

James had made some inroads into freeing himself from his small-town and religious background. The university had opened up his mind. Now his experiences in India were set to open up and expand his experience and thinking upon a new and higher plane. He had nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

2 Land of Five Rivers

Chapter Five: Anarchy

The few rupees that James Weldon had in his pocket would go a long way in Delhi. They were part of a small packet given the volunteers as they arrived in the country. Along with the money, there was a small plastic canteen for water and some iodine pills for purification. A small bottle of paregoric had been included, the equivalent of a cork, for the time when Delhi belly would hit after the incubation period. The young Peace Corps doctor had warned the volunteers against eating the fruits and vegetables without peeling them.

Just consider all fruits and vegetables to have a thin film of feces covering them,” he said.

It was not very inviting, the prospect of coming down with dysentery. Caution was required. On the other hand, the volume of water required to survive in the baking heat made the small canteen for water something of a joke. They were told that a tenth of all deaths in India were from lack of sanitation.

The Indian International Center, the hotel where they would stay for the first few days, was clean and air conditioned. Outside the grounds of the hotel was something altogether different. A different world.

That day, James had seen more and stranger things than he had seen in his entire young lifetime. There were plenty of young attractive Indian women in saris and colorful Punjabi dresses. But they did not affect him in the least. As with the food, it would take a few weeks before his fancy turned to desire the affection of the Indian women with their beautiful warm brown skin. It would take a while before he would start seeing them as beautiful.

With a couple of friends, John and Andy, James would head down to Old Delhi, the old traditional part of the city. Finding a bus stop, they asked how to get there and piled into an old beat-up red bus. They gave the conductor a few of the flimsy light paisa pieces and stood, clinging to the overhead bars. There were no more seats. A couple of young Indians offered the sahibs their seats, but James refused. He did not want to be given special privileges. The others also stood. That his attitude was totally unrealistic, he had not yet learned. It would soon come to the point where his resistance would be broken down. The Indians were born to suffer cradle to grave misery. The Americans were not. The bus rattled down the wide metaled road, dodging small slow cars, rickshaws, tongas, pedestrians, a constant stream of bicycles, scooters, push carts, and now and then a white cow or a Brahma bull. Nothing could have been more anarchic, had it been purposely arranged.

They got down from the bus near a huge teeming bazaar. Here, it was such a scene as he had never encountered in his entire life. A leper in filthy rags pulled himself along the dirty pavement, his withered emaciated body balanced on his hands. He propelled himself crab-like. Seeing the group of three Western sahibs, he let himself down and extended a hand, part of a hand, that is, for some paisa. His fingers were missing. James did not know what to do when confronted with such a pitiful sight. He did not know if he should give money or how much. He dug into his pocket and found a couple of ten paisa coins and dropped them into his palm avoiding contact. Andy and John followed suit. It was a lucky day for the leper. A tourist would have never been seen in such a place as this in Delhi.

James noticed the beggar’s straggling matted hair, his unshaven gaunt face, and his legs, where his feet had been eaten away by the disease. Splotches of red covered other parts of the body where the rot was continuing. There was a metal ring in his ear. His plea was hardly audible. Not a voice, but more of a growl. Oh Jesus, the guy has been reduced to a state below that of an animal, James thought. What kind of society was it that allowed human individuals to exist in such a miserable state?

Encouraged by their response, other beggars pestered the rich sahibs. In India, anyone with white skin was considered to be rich, no matter how poor they might be.

Along the road, a vendor was selling sweets, hollow thin brown balls the size of golf balls, being filled with some sort of sweet water and popped into one’s mouth. The vendor was pushing an ancient broken cart with cloudy glass around and wearing a white cap, kurta and loose pajamas. No shoes. His dark brown weathered face looked tough as leather. The goalis were bought for five or ten paisa by some shoppers for their children, or gobbled by fat babus who ambled along talking and laughing with each other. They stared at the three sahibs as if some creature that they had never laid eyes on had suddenly emerged from behind one of the stands. What was so strange? They were all of the same human species. Two arms, two legs, two eyes, a nose and mouth. But not in India. The caste system, economic class, religion and language had erected high man-made walls that divided society.

At another stand, a vendor was frying jelabi, a tall stack of the golden brown sticky sweets dipped out of hot oil and stacked on a large metal platter. He was taking the five and ten paisa pieces and handing out the oil and sugar soaked jelabis in small papers that were actually torn from a student’s used copy book. Young girls in Punjabi outfits laughed and nibbled on them, while staring in the direction of the ludicrously-looking Americans. They had surely taken a wrong left-turn somewhere. And why had they come to this bazaar? Their proper place was surely in some five-star hotel on the other side of the city or in Connaught Place.

A frail little man with a large woven basket balanced on his head was selling karati dal. Fried, baked lentils, moongfully, and mixtures of these in small cone-shaped containers again made from the pages of the used school books. He squeezed a shot of lemon juice onto them, with a quick skillful twist of his finger and thumb, along with red pepper and salt, to make them more delicious and delivered them up to an anxious customer.

There was an endless stream of delicacies embedded precisely in the profusion of chaos and filth, a myriad of smells, scents, mixed together, so as to almost make James gag or at least to produce a sort of nagging nausea in the pit of his stomach. Piles of refuse were scattered around and papers littered the ground. That these foods were delicious was obvious by the way the patrons relished them when they could produce a few paisa from their pockets or from the corner of a cloth where they were tied up. That they produced the exact opposite effect upon James was also obvious. Shit! What a country. One could not have imagined such a scene in their wildest dreams.

James had forgotten his topi, or hat, as he rushed to catch up with the other sahibs and explore some of the city. This was a dreadful mistake, as the sun threatened to slay him right there in the midst of all the confusion. He almost ran into a big white Sahiwal Bull that wandered into his path chewing a mouthful of garbage. He looked around and found a booth selling locally made clothes. Some cool pajamas would have been in order, but he didn’t quite know how to go in for that giant step in going native. In the corner were a pile of hats. One was the old British colonial style, that explorers were seen wearing in the jungles of Africa, at least in pictures. It was ridiculous and few Indians would wear it. He picked it up for the hell of it. It would be fun to wear. Pretend that he was a Britisher during the Raj. He gave the seller the ten rupees he asked for without bargaining. He would wear it. After all, how could he look any more absurd than he already looked to the Indians?

The three out of place foreigners wandered in the profusion of the sellers in the huge square of the city. Now the tremendous heat and constant sweating had produced in him a thirst he knew not how to slake. There was no such thing as bottled water and the volunteers had been warned by the doctor that the local water would bring them down with diarrhea and ultimately dysentery if not treated. Another couple of days, and the time for incubation of Delhi belly would have arrived. He would be putting it over the hill. Water seeks its own level. Shit flows down-hill.

Andy, spying a drinks seller, saw something looking like strawberry soda pop in a large glass container. There is no way, no way that I can drink that, James thought, but there was foolish Andy acting brave and going for it. The vendor proudly rinsed a glass and poured out a glass full from the container. Perhaps a hundred customers had already drunk from that very glass that morning. Now it was the Sahib’s turn.

James took a taste of the concoction, which tasted weird. Something close to sweetly sickening perfume was his immediate sense. I have never tasted anything like it, he thought, and it is positively revolting, repulsive, shit. What the fuck is it anyway?

It is not so bad, actually,” Andy said. It was gul pani, rose-flavored water.

What the hell? James decided to go for one, giving the small man a ten paisa piece. He gulped it down. Horrible, positively horrible, no doubt about that, but it did not actually make him gag. I don’t want to die of sun stroke here in this fucking chaos, he thought. Self-preservation, a basic human instinct. It was close to a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all, in this country. Or so it seemed from the outside.

A little later, the explorers were excited to come across lemonade, at least that is what it looked like. A seller was squeezing small lemons and limes into water. They soon discovered that it tasted nothing at all like good old fashioned American lemonade. With no sugar, and a large dose of salt and black pepper, it tasted totally different. It was scungbie, in fact, a hot weather drink that replaced some of the salt that the constant sweating took out of the body. Better than rosewater, James thought, when he took a swig of it, but now he was reaching his limit of these outlandish scents and tastes that day.

There were huge displays of chappals, both leather and plastic. These sandals were designed to keep one’s feet cool, at least open and dusty, and not sweaty as western style shoes produced. That would clearly not do in the tropics, except perhaps in the coldest days. The classical leather chappals were just a strip of thick tough leather with a loop for one’s big toe. For ten rupees, a little more than a dollar, one had nothing to lose. What a deal. On the other hand, not knowing what anything was supposed to cost in the country, maybe the sellers had charged the sahibs three times what the items were actually worth. It hardly mattered. It was all part of the great adventure. The great magical mystery tour. What a deal! The green foreigners bumbled their way through the country as if they had been in a dream or were on an LSD trip where everything they saw morphed into something with a different form, shape, taste, color, and smell.

There were a million other things to buy in the street. Even bootlegged, homemade whiskey, which was concealed behind the bottles of Black Knight in the drinks shop that had apparently been produced in an actual drinks factory. One could hardly tell for sure. It might have been fake. The sahibs were not in the market for alcohol, in any event.

A paan seller was making paans inside fresh green leaves. He first coated one side of the leaf with a thick white paste. Then he asked the customer to select various compounds of powders from the small compartments of a worn and badly soiled wooden box. James was curious and asked to have one. He would give it a try. If it did not kill him he would get a taste of it, and if it did not kill others, it was not likely to kill him. John decided that he was a fool, but James had now bucked up the courage.

He pointed to a couple of boxes that looked interesting, and the paan walla quickly scooped up the contents in his fingers and smeared them on the leaf and folded it up. It was like playing Russian roulette. James gave him ten paisa and popped the folded leaf into his mouth. As he chewed, the flavor slowly seeped out. True, the taste was quite horrible, but now that seemed to be par for the course and he was starting to get used to these weird Indian flavors. After ten minutes, his head began to turn and the markets and people began to swirl around him. He could hardly walk upright.

What the fuck?” he thought. There must have been some kind of weird stimulant, perhaps some drug that was now playing tricks with his brain. But, on the other hand, he was feeling no pain. He started to enjoy the scene. He started to laugh. The other two sahibs started to look goofy to him. The Indians had a point, after all. The climate here clearly did not suit these freaks with white skins. Or him either. How the heck had he ended up here? It was not an LSD trip, but had some of the elements. He felt like he could take off and fly right out over the crowd. I better be careful and find out what the hell is in those sons-of-bitches before I eat them, he decided. Time passed quickly, or not at all, as he sort of tripped out on whatever the heck it was that was in that paan that he kept chewing. He spit out some juice on the ground.

Small stands sold local cigarettes, bidis, scented supari, matches, soda pop, real coke and fake coke, toffees, chewing gum and a thousand other items. It was here that John discovered some Indian brands of cigarettes, Gold Flake, Charminar, Wills, and so on. Some of them were old British brands. As a smoker, he would need something to keep him going for the coming two years, and the American brands were not to be found anywhere in the market. It was strictly import substitution for proletarians like they were now to be.

They came to a dhaba. It was grimy and grungy, but the food smelled delicious as the three sahibs had by now worked up an appetite. There were large brass pots of food simmering on a mud construction in front of the dhaba. The place sold curried bakkara or goat, green lentils, potato, bendi tori, along with stacks of chapattis. The smell from the place made the guys hungry at once.

That spicy goat cooked in a red curry sauce didn’t look so bad. One could eat it. What the hell, if he went out? He would go out in style, in a great and bold adventure pushing forward on the battlefield in the Great War for peace.

Now the sahibs fell to the challenge, eating up their fill of the food that might otherwise slake the hunger of starving Indians. The goat curry burned their mouths, but was tasty. It would take some time to acquire the taste, but it was not bad, along with the tender chapatti to sop up the juice and scoop up the spicy okra. It would have gone down well with a beer, but it was not that sort of place.

The place brought pitchers of water and grungy worn and chipped glasses. Better not drink too much of this, he thought. They asked for a Coke, and this time it seemed to be the real thing. They had been fed, even if at the expense of those they were supposed to be helping get fed. But they were nevertheless carrying out their mission, not to engage in killing any communists. What would anyone here in this bazaar have to lose by becoming a communist, James wondered? For the poor half of the world making less than a dollar a day, how much did they have to lose anyway? If communism would provide them with their daily roti, then it had great appeal. Give us this day our daily bread. The communists, after all, seemed to be just repeating the words of Jesus Christ in the gospels. The capitalists, on the other hand were not springing for it. That would definitely be a moral hazard.

An ice cream seller was hawking his wares. Andy would give it a go, but James considered that it was not worth the risk. He passed it up. Ice cream, like sweets, could be a prime depository of bacteria of all kinds. He switched to the leather sandals, but they hurt his toes. It was not the place to get used to them.

The three sahibs, perhaps now three stooges, crammed back into a crowded bus to try and make it back to somewhere near the hotel. This was hell. This was heaven. It was a hell of an adventure but James was enjoying it. This was Anarchy, Indian style. This one fantastic day alone was worth all the trouble he had been through. He had learned more about global political economy in one day in the bazaar than he had been taught by those naive American professors in four full years at the state university in the USA. They should travel.

Chapter Six: The House of Chandi

The deluxe bus left something to be desired, but it was about as good as one could get in India in the nineteen sixties. The volunteers would be off from the hotel on an American schedule. It was, after all, the American Peace Corps, officially a branch of the United States State Department. Zero eight hundred sharp, they had been told. That was when the bus would get underway. A sort of military operation. They should be packed up and eat breakfast, shortly after seven o’clock and then be on the bus. They would be accompanied by some of the Peace Corps trainers, Ernie, Byron and Bruce.

Some of the volunteers had turned their radios on early in the morning. It had been announced as the top news from the USA on the Voice of America. Bobby Kennedy had just been shot in Los Angeles, just as the results came in that he had won the California Democratic Presidential Primary. The shocking news cast a sad pall over the group as they waited to leave for the Punjab. Indeed, only a month before, Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis after criticizing the Vietnam War. Now this.

Indeed, there had been hope that America’s nightmare might end. There had been so much protest of the war in Vietnam. Things had gone badly as President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was sunk in the realities of Vietnam. Thousands of young Americans were dying. Sometimes more than a hundred a week. The number of Vietnamese slaughtered was many times higher, but they were just chalked up as being “Vietcong.”

Bobby Kennedy had seemed to be the best hope that the war could be brought to an end. At least, it was the best current hope of the American “peaceniks.” No one could know. There were more than half a million American soldiers in the country. Bogged down. It had come down to admitting that it was a quagmire, on all sides. The question was how to get out of it.

In Delhi, a vast river of bicycles flowed past the gates of the elegant Indian International Center where the volunteers were housed. White clad riders pedaled, appearing as foam on the never ending stream to offices, where they would sit behind high piles of tattered rotting files and smoke cheap cigarettes. Some would smoke bidis. They would drink Indian tea. Sweet with milk. They would chew sapari spitting the juice on the cement floors. Bureaucracy was a hydra-headed monster, the iron framework in these former colonies. The famous iron framework. No one could escape the steel trap from cradle to grave. The vast majority had simply given up, unable to cut through the mountain of red tape it took even to get a bag of cement to fix their house. As far as getting a telephone was concerned, it was something of a decade-long, even life-long quest. The reality had pushed the society to being perhaps the most corrupt on the face of the earth, out of the simple fact of necessity. The fundamental urge for self-preservation. The Hobbesian war of all against all where life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Solitary, however, it was not. Poor, nasty, brutish and short, it was all too often. It was not exactly a state of nature, but rather the state of political society in Independent India. Perhaps a state of corruption would be closer to the mark.

The passenger cars were far fewer than bicycles. Clumsy boxy Hindustan Ambassadors, old Morris Minor British designed autos, hurtled through the streets, badly driven, dodging everything in their way. But tough. Dependable. A fat babu sitting in the back seat digesting the morning paper and chewing betel nut. The Indian one percent. The daily dose of deadly news as his profits piled up. Communal carnage in district towns of Uttar Pradesh. Corruption was hardly news. Not unless it was on a gigantic scale involving some high official. Business would do what it takes in spite of the iron framework. Money under the table. Bicycles, rickshaws, wandering white bullocks, pedestrians, tongas, scooters, motorcycles, push carts, tempus, trucks, buses, carts loaded with factory produce pulled by grimy human animals, bent double beneath the load. Fragrant scents emanating from roadside stands, mixed with morning sandalwood dhoop was glorious. The heat bore down mercilessly. Another day in this third world paradise. The anarchy that was the life of an Indian city.

As in many so-called developing countries, the essential functioning part of the car was the horn. The horn that never stopped blasting from the time of entering the stream of traffic until the destination was reached. Such a cacophony of sounds which essentially rendered the continuous blasting irrelevant. All swept down-stream in the swirling maelstrom, the veins of the thriving Indian economy. No one had a clue how the anarchy that was India functioned, although the economists pretended to know. They turned out turgid tomes year after year explaining the most tiny details. But others disagreed. Indeed, if all economists were laid end to end, they would all be pointing in different directions. This essential law was beautifully illustrated in each succeeding issue of Economic and Political Weekly from Bombay. Intellectuals spun out their pithy analyses every day on the editorial pages of the Times of India and the Hindustan Times. They were right. They gave stern warnings. But the officials, the economy, and the World Bank did not give a shit. Leave the intellectuals to their ivory towers, or their hot dusty offices, in the event. The country hurtled on into the future, where, no one knew, like an old Hindustan Ambassador taxi that had just lost its steering wheel. Somehow the masses would survive. Some survived. Many perished. The population climbed ever higher hurtling toward a billion souls, one sixth of humanity. Reincarnation gone haywire. The juggernaut veering badly off track.

From Lodhi Gardens in West Delhi, where the hotel was located, the bus made its way down through the crowded stream of traffic to catch the Grand Trunk Road up through old Delhi. The Royal Road through Haryana, Punjab, and Pakistan, on to Kabul. The first day’s destination would be the new modern city of Chandigarh, the House of Chandi. On the second day, they would reach Batala in Punjab, where the last six weeks of training would be held. The volunteers would be unleashed on the population of Punjab. White ants on the march.

James found the events in the US worrisome, but in the event, there was nothing that he could do. Indeed, he had done what he could to escape the war and the political impasse. Most did not understand that in Washington, it was not just individual decision makers. The United States of America was a global Empire and had been for at least a century. Everyone was locked into the rigid institutional framework. The parameters were already set. The bulldozer of the global capitalist political economy plowed on with the United States of America and Wall Street pulling the levers. Anyone who got in the way of the institutional apparatus got plowed under. Politics and political campaigns were just epiphenomena, smoke and mirrors to dazzle the eyes of the masses. Every time a new President was elected the people foolishly thought things were going to change for the better. But nothing ever did. When would they ever learn?

James turned his attention to the fascinating scene that was the India before his eyes, now the panorama unfolding on every side. It took time for the bus to maneuver through the city, but once outside, the bus picked up speed and sailed along at a good clip, the powerful horn parting the way up the hot black metaled road. Nevertheless, the bus had to slow when coming up behind a lumbering bullock cart loaded with a huge bulging load of wheat straw in burlap or when encountering slow traffic. At times the traffic was treacherous, threatening, as crazed sadougies barreled down the metaled road threatening everything in a flat-out game of chicken with any and all vehicles. Punjabi machismo gone haywire. A “get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-you son-of-a-bitch” attitude, whether challenging a bus or a loaded goods truck. It hardly mattered. The driving style had to demonstrate the macho driving prowess of the sardars, so “just get out of my way, you sons of bitches, or I’ll fuck your sisters and mothers. Move over you son of a pig, son of an owl.” The sort of woven cloth braids worn by young Punjabi women trailed from the windows of the lorries driven by the bearded sardars. One could see them blowing in the wind. These members of the rising Jat class of peasants had also become the kings of the road.

Mass times velocity squared defined a fundamental law of physics. Momentum ruled and that was all there was to it. That was the bottom line on the GT Road. Smashed vehicles were abandoned along the sides of the highway. They were victims, sorry sons of bitches who had tried to defy that fundamental law.

Lacking bottled water, the volunteers relied upon their small plastic canteens to keep their bodies hydrated. They were like fragile plants put out of the greenhouse into the harsh climate. They quickly wilted down. Those who could not take it would have to be shipped back to cool, sanitized, America.

The wheat had now been harvested and mostly threshed. Some bound shocks of wheat were still being threshed, sometimes the old fashioned way with bullocks. The more progressive farmers had tractor driven mechanical threshers. The poorer peasants were still doing it the old fashioned way with oxen and a plank of wood. Tillage of the fields for the kharif or summer crop would not begin until the monsoon rains arrived in early July. So there was not much work being done in the fields. The main crop across the countryside was sugarcane, now half grown from last year’s cutting. Along with green fodder, clover, alfalfa, and green maize to feed the buffaloes and cows.

Peasants, often the women, came out in the early morning to cut fodder for the animals, burseem, lucern, cane fodder, and corn fodder. Carried back in a big burlap container on their heads, it would be mixed with chopped wheat straw, turie, to feed the animals. Loads of wheat grain were being hauled to the local mundi or grain market by bullock carts and trolleys behind a tractor, to sell in the market. Huge loads of turie were being transported on the roads on trucks and bullock carts.

Along the roads, on the outskirts of district towns, grimy small local industries appeared that made farm equipment, trolleys, and small machinery. Grimy dhabas appeared, selling curried goat, vegetable dishes, and chapattis.

Along the roads, school kids rode bikes. Young coeds in colorful Punjabi dresses and dupattas, pigtails trailing down their backs, in tight fitting pajama and kamiz, the current style for young women. Some were quite cute, James began to notice, but well out of range in such a conservative society. Some of these young budding beauties had begun to catch James’s eye. That was true. He could see the exact shape of their young legs in the tight fitting pajamas, under their short kamiz. The swell of their young breasts looked enticing. Juicy peaches pushing up inside the thin fabric. There was a subtle sexuality about it. Indeed, they were starting to look sexy to him as he settled into the flow of things. In fact, he was getting hornier by the day. His glands went right on in their destined mode that nature had laid out for them. When he lay down in late evening, he got a throbbing hard-on. It was part excitement, part sexual frustration.

Around noon, when the fierce heat had become unbearable and the loo blew into the windows of the old bus upon their faces, the group of sahibs arrived at the Kwality Restaurant along the GT road in the district town of Karnal.

The volunteers piled out for lunch and stretched their legs. The seats were not made for American-sized individuals. They were simply too big for the country. Or perhaps the country was too small for them. They settled down at the tables inside. There was no air conditioning, except in the Indian desi mode. There were thick soaked mats on the windows which produced a cooling effect as the hot wind blew through. It left a lot to be desired. There were a couple of large fans to blast the flies away. The sahibs were now hungry. What were good dishes to order? Probably it would be good to go for the curries.

James plopped for egg curry, boiled eggs curried in a sauce, with rice. Not so bad. It was tasty. The place was crowded. After that, there was ice cream. A small dish of ice cream with thin pink and brown wafers stuck inside it. The sahibs stocked up on water although how pure it was no one knew. Back on the bus, waiting for stragglers, they were surrounded by a sea of dark peasant faces in the street.

James had never seen such a teeming mass of people in the streets, along the road, most in traditional Indian dress, farmers in tumbas, kurtas, and pugries. Women, mostly in Punjabi dress or sari. A constant stream of tractors and trollies, bicycles, rickshaws, motorcycles, pedestrians, Hindustan Ambassador autos, old and clumsy, but effective transportation on the roads of Haryana. Local buses, Haryana Roadways, Punjab Roadways, deluxe buses from Delhi for the well-healed. Venders with loads on their heads, peasants bringing wheat to the market in bullock carts, young cute women with dupatta and Punjabi dress, laughing, giggling, and cows wandering, completely oblivious to the mass confusion in the streets. Which vehicles had the right of way, was determined simply by mass and momentum. Cows, on the other hand, always had the right of way.

A peasant led two black goats to the market. Sweet shops appeared with trays piled high with goods, but flooded with a hoard of black flies. The sweets harbored a massive amount of bacteria, but never mind. They were delicious. One must just make sure that they ate enough hot spices to kill the bacteria. The internal balance of nature. A meat market drew an inordinate mass of flies. The concept of sanitation had not yet arrived in rural India.

Some of the volunteers took advantage of their perch in the bus, amidst the flood of local culture, to take pictures with their new cameras and telephoto lenses.

Gradually, the stragglers from the Kwality arrived in the bus. The bill had been paid from Peace Corps funds. Thanks to the American taxpayers, the US Congress and PL-480, the sale of American wheat grains. Now the show must move on.

In late afternoon, the bus arrived at the outskirts of the new city of Chandigarh. It was now the site of the new capital of Punjab. At least it was thought so at the time. The most modern of all architecture in India was found here. It was completely dysfunctional, in fact. Badly requiring Indianization. Nevertheless, the fact was impressed upon them that it was designed by a French architect, Le Corbusier. It was not clear if this man from Paris who had done so much to destroy traditional urban structures really understood the implications of building massive concrete structures in a land with the severe heat in the summers and biting cold in winter. The massive cement structures would absorb the heat in summer and be residues of cold in the winter. One might have been tempted to send him back to the drawing board. But then, like many developing countries, there was a tendency to praise anything “Western” regardless of how inappropriate. In fact, the more inappropriate, the greater the praise, as a rule of thumb. The cultural legacy of colonialism, perhaps along with the cultural imperialism of Hollywood films.

Just after arriving at the modern rest house, the Panchayat Bhavan, a volunteer turned on his radio and received the news that Robert Kennedy had just died in Los Angeles. Another victim of the politics of the time and the gun culture of America. Things were not going well for those who wanted to see the end of the Vietnam War and peace.

It was refreshing to get a cold shower and cool down after the searing heat of the day. It was a sad day for the group, coming to grips with the second prominent assassination in the USA since the training had begun only two months before. What had actually happened, as with the murder of his brother, President John Kennedy, was shrouded in mystery.

The dark deeds that went on behind the façade of the imperial state remained hidden in spite of the myth of America as a free and open society. These facts could perhaps be seen more clearly from twelve thousand miles away.

Chapter Seven: Punjab

The volunteers and staff had spent the night on the threshold of Punjab. While Chandigarh was to be the capital of the state, this was being disputed as residents of the adjacent state of Haryana also desired the city be their capital. Ultimately, the city would be designated as union territory, belonging to neither state.

The bus rolled on to Ludhiana and up the GT Road. They made Jalandhar by noon. The volunteers were not very lucky, being offered a box lunch of cold chapattis and boiled eggs. Too make up for the dearth of real food, they found a place that sold cold bottles of Golden Eagle beer. This helped to limber up and lubricate the situation in the searing heat.

The bus rolled on up the GT Road, reaching Batala in Gurdaspur District in the early evening. Tired, the volunteers walked to the large open dormitory room and stored their belongings near the mungies arranged along the walls. Here they were to spend the next six weeks for the remainder of the Peace Corps training.

In the event, the evening turned out to be something of a debacle. As part of the protocol, the Block Development Officers (BDOs) from the blocks where volunteers were to be stationed had been invited for an evening meal on the grassy lawn of the Gram Sevak Training Center. The food had been prepared and put out on long tables with white table cloths. However, the Indian guests had arrived first before the American volunteers.

James and the others were quite hungry having made do with the practically inedible box lunch at noon. Now as they lined up for food, they found that most of the bowls were already empty. There was precious little left to feed them that evening.

This was his first evening in Punjab and James would have to go to bed somewhat hungry. The next day, the training would begin in earnest.

Jasmine, a cute young Indian woman was one of the language teachers. James did not make any efforts to pitch woo to her. However, two members of the group had already set their sights on her. She was the cutest one. There was another language teacher, an older woman. The women were living in a separate building which was designated as the haram and placed off limits to the guys.

Delhi belly had arrived and no amount of paregoric, it seemed, was going to solidify what was increasingly the consistency of water.

The next morning started off with a bang. The instructors had arranged for a tour of the area by bicycle. This was a complete surprise and shock to James, since he was one of the two members of the group who had never learned how to ride a bicycle. How was he going to manage it? Afterward, he did not remember how many times he had fallen into the ditch that day. But he nursed his wounds as well as his wounded pride and came through it.

In spite of the knocks and bangs on the first day of training in India, he learned to ride the bike soon enough. He even learned to ride it in traffic on the crowded roads of Batala. He was determined to make it. He had brought some weaknesses with him from his past, but he would overcome them. He regretted that his mother had been so foolish, afraid to let him learn to ride a bike like all the other kids. Now it had put him in a bind. He would have to pay for it.

When they were not sent out on the roads, they were in the classrooms studying language. True, he did not make it very far in this enterprise. Most of the others were superior to him. Sometimes they would be sent to the big lecture hall to listen to an Indian professor on Punjab agriculture. The approach was amusing to James as an American. It was so formal and pretentious. The lecturer acted like he was God.

But it was a good way to study the character and appearance of a Sikh professor, an educated member of the Jat farmer caste. This was what stuck in his mind from the lectures. That big tightly tied red Sikh turban that came to a point above his forehead. A real macho appearance. In fact, it reminded James somewhat of the head of an enormous bird, perhaps a red-headed woodpecker. His large eyes reminded James of the eyes of the water buffaloes that he had observed around the villages. He had a broad nose, large mouth and ruddy complexion, perhaps from excessive drinking or something else. His thick black beard was waxed heavily with something that appeared to be gooey and pressed down flat to his face by a black net that fit over his chin, neck and cheeks and was tied over the top of his turban. This seemed to partly bind his mouth shut so that he had trouble moving his mouth. A Sikh was not supposed to cut his hair. So to control it, he had to resort to these technological measures. Indeed, the grooming of the hair and beard for a pucca Sikh must take up an inordinate amount of time, James speculated. They would be worse off than a woman in that respect, it seemed. But why bother? Indeed, some young Sikhs had just said “forget it” and cut their hair. That seemed to be the practical solution to James. It was, of course, far too easy in a religious country like India. This Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind, ten Gurus, Guru Granth Sahib, and so on seemed to be way out of control and a little over the top, to say the least. The sardars kept stressing how “brave” they were and so on. Machismo had clearly become a central plank of the religion, but on the other hand, there was Guru Nanak raising his hand in peace like the Buddha.

The question arose as to why religions had such an obsession with hair. He thought back to his Assembly of God Church in Preston, Missouri. Here, women were not allowed to cut their hair. There were some other Pentecostal churches that had the same rules. Even so, most of the women ignored the rules and cut their hair, anyway. One could easily spot the dowdy look of those who did not. It was just a matter of uglification, making themselves look as unattractive as possible. For those who followed the rules, it was hell. It caused them an extra burden. But why the hell did it make any difference? Surely it was a sort of litmus test for stupidity. They had to work harder to groom themselves, only to make themselves look unattractive.

In Hinduism, if women went to a certain temple for a ceremony, they were required to cut their long beautiful hair and shave their heads. Then the temple authorities turned around and made huge profits by making wigs out of the hair and selling it. James did not remember that he learned much about agriculture from those pretentious lectures, but studying the grooming habits of a Sikh gentleman was instructive, to be sure.

James learned more when they were taken out to try plowing with a wooden plow behind a team of bullocks. It was pretty hard to get the hang of that. He wondered if the Peace Corps really thought that it would be a useful skill to learn.

One morning, the group was taken to a rice paddy that was ready to plant. The volunteers had to take the seedlings and plant them in rows as they waded in the water some fifteen centimeters deep. It was tiring work, staying stooped over and pushing the roots into the soft mud. The deadly burning sun bore down as the sweat began to run down their faces. They were attacked by black flies and mosquitoes.

Another day they were taken to watch a peasant thresh wheat the old fashioned way using a team of oxen and a flat plank that the animals dragged across the wheat. Then there was the laborious task of winnowing the grain after it had been threshed. A hot, dirty and disgusting task.

In the heat of the day after lunch, they were given a short siesta. This was not long enough for a good nap, but could be used for some reading and reflection. After an hour, they would hear the voice of Bruce, one of the directors: “Let’s go ooh, Let’s go ooh!” The volunteers would be rousted off of their mungies to continue the classes, in spite of the heat, boredom and diarrhea.

In the afternoon, there was a break for tea and snacks. The snacks were half Indian and half American. The Americans ate chapattis left over from lunch, but Americanized them by smearing the rotis with peanut butter and marmalade. With a lack of refrigeration, a large tub with ice water was used to cool sodas, Coke, orange, and lemon flavors. The volunteers were gradually being acclimatized to like Indian food with three Indian meals a day. But sometimes it was still the old American peanut butter and jam agenda.

On one weekend, the volunteers were sent out to the houses of individual farmers on their bicycles to spend a couple of days with them and question them about their agricultural operations in Punjabi. James had little trouble locating his farmer, who had a young son who knew a good deal of English. This was a huge help. He spent part of the afternoon relaxing under huge mango trees on a mungie. When it came around to dinner, he caught a glimpse or two of the farmer’s cute young teenage daughter in a bright yellow Punjabi outfit. Again he succeeded in the exercise. Punjabis prided themselves in being hospitable to their guests.

After the six weeks were over in the middle of July, the BDOs were invited back for an evening meal. It was the middle of July, just after the monsoon storms had broken. This provided a bit of relief from the searing heat. The next morning, the volunteers packed up their belongings and headed out in Hindustan Ambassador cars for the bus station. The BDOs with their American sahibs in tow caught buses to their respective venues. The white ants marched behind their new Indian bosses.

For James and Mr. Moti Lal Verma, the BDO of Bhagat Bagh Block, it was an hour’s ride to the make-shift bus stop along the GT Road in Jalandhar. In fact, it was just a flat spot along the side of the road where the buses stopped. Approaching eleven o’clock in the morning, the heat had already become unbearable. James had always wished to live in a hot place but this pushed the heat way beyond the designation of hot to something akin to infernal. Closer to pure hell. Another bus arrived and stopped, divulging Kenneth and Paul, who also had to shift buses.

Suddenly a couple of poor workers in rags came running toward the shade of a eucalyptus tree beside the road. They were carrying an old dirty mungie which they now set down near the tree and said “cuttem Hoigee,” he is finished. The poor worker on the cot had just succumbed to the brutal heat, perhaps dying from a sun stroke.

The scene was rather shocking to James as he suddenly realized how tenuous life was with such a level of heat and intense sun. Presently a bus going through Bhagat Bagh arrived and James’s baggage was loaded on top by a porter who looked as emaciated as the poor guy who had just kicked the bucket. The BDO quickly paid him some pitiful amount of paisa for his trouble. He looked at his hand disappointed and moved away. James and the BDO found a vacant seat in the bus which was soon on its way rumbling and roaring down the GT Road.

At Phagwara, the bus swerved to the left to take another road to the east. An hour later, the two travelers reached their destination, which was to be the new home of the American Sahib. James got down at the stop, stepping on the bare earth. He had to stretch his legs to avoid stepping in the puddle of water immediately in front of the back door of the bus. The sides of the road were muddy with water standing from the monsoon rain in the night. James looked around as the BDO asked a coolie to retrieve the bags of the sahib from the top of the bus. Again, it was for chintzy payment.

James took the opportunity to survey the layout and scenery of his new home town.

Damn! This is a hell hole if I ever saw one, he thought. As a matter of fact, it was hardly more of a hell hole than any other local small town of ten-thousand souls in any part of Punjab. In fact there were worse hell holes. Nevertheless, no one would want to exactly call it a garden spot, as the name suggested. To his right he noticed a dilapidated bicycle repair shop where a small grungy guy was pumping up the tire on a run-down bicycle. The roof was piled high with old inner tubes, discarded bicycle wheels, old bicycle tires and other useless pieces of junk. Behind him he saw a seedy dhaba with a sign above it claiming that it was a “hotel.” The smell of boiling curried goat wafted into the air. A cook was busy preparing chapattis at the clay oven in front of the place. There was a hand water pump out in front near a couple of dirty tables where the food was being served. The row of seedy establishments stretched on down the road for as far as he could see. This was anarchy on a smaller scale than Delhi, but anarchy, nevertheless. The British for all their efforts had made few inroads in all their years of rule. The thought suddenly struck him that it was terribly unlikely that the Peace Corps was going to change a fucking thing by deploying this crop of white ants.

The BDO asked a rickshaw walla to take the sahib’s bags and leave them at the Bhagat Bagh Rest House, which was just across the road. The chowkidar would look after his things. The BDO paid him a few paisa. He was careful not to allow the sahib to pay for anything along the way, playing the role of the patron. This was not only courteous, but the proper protocol for India. James was a little uncomfortable about it, wanting to pay his own expenses, but then, he still had stupid American notions in his head. He was still a long way from going native. Actually, he would always be.

The BDO hailed another rickshaw, with a small and young driver. He invited James to get in and he got in from the other side beside him. The driver pushed the cumbersome machine to start it rolling, jumped on the pedals and strained to get up some speed. James was amazed at the poor guy’s legs. They were all bone, muscle, and tendon with not an ounce of meat. His life was a hellish struggle pulling sahibs around all day by the strength of his malnourished young body. But then, it was either that or die. It was a Hobbesian world. Self-preservation, but then that would have to break down at some point in the not too distant future.

James concentrated upon the legs of the puller. They looked hard as iron, as he pumped. One could see his powerful legs as he worked, as he wore a loose-fitting thin cloth tumba. They turned down a side road for half a kilometer when the BDO asked him to halt. James walked with the BDO up to his abode which was set back from the road in a jumble of other houses. The BDO pumped the knocker on the wooden door a couple of times and a middle aged woman in Punjabi dress unlatched the wooden door to let them in. This was Mr. Verma’s wife. James noticed the general clutter of a small courtyard and a two-year child playing on the cement floor. There were half a dozen clay flower pots scattered along the walls and corners with sickly plants. The smell of spicy food wafted from a blackened enclosure which was next to the wall of the main house. This was apparently the kitchen.

At the opposite corner was a cement bath house with a hand pump inside. The BDO invited James to freshen up with a bath before lunch. James had no desire to do so and considered it more trouble than it was worth, but he was afraid to go against protocol. This was his new boss and he knew that there were many pitfalls. It would be the easiest thing in the world to fall into a faux pas. Indeed, he was certain to fall into more than one before this visit was over, not even being aware that he had made it.

James thanked him, but was rather at a loss about how to proceed. The BDO showed him the metal bucket of water beside the pump, the soap on the concrete ledge, the towel hanging from an overhead wire. There was a small wooden platform half a meter square on the floor to sit on while bathing. Everything was ready.

James went inside the bath house, closed the wooden door, and removed his clothes down to his shorts. Since he did not have a change with him, he would have to take care not to wet them. What the hell? There was no way to do it with them on. So he slipped those off to. He took the plastic cup and dipped up a cup full of water and poured it over his hot body. It was cold, but refreshing. Now he soaped himself down lightly, and poured over more water. It began to feel good as he poured over more cold water. He finished the bucket and dried himself off. In spite of the inconvenience of the wet cement floor, he managed to get his clothes back on. These American pants were now far too heavy for the weather. He would have to buy Indian pajamas to make life easier. There was simply no choice. He would have to go native.

He combed his still-wet hair using the mirror propped up on the concrete ledge on the side of the bath house and emerged. He felt refreshed after the heat of the morning. But it would not last long.

After the BDO used the bathroom to wash up, he invited James to the table which was in the courtyard near the kitchen. His wife appeared with two plates piled up with white steaming rice.

Oh God. That is a lot, James thought. I cannot eat that much rice. A hoard of flies had suddenly appeared and began to dive toward the rice. James noticed that the BDO largely ignored them, but James wanted to keep them off the pile of rice that he was going to eat, after all. He subtly tried to scare them off without suggesting that he had come onto a house filthy with a hoard of flies. Surely many of the flies had recently hatched in the piles of shit that were deposited in the nearby fields every morning. But it was a losing battle. The flies were made out of sterner stuff and were not going to be deterred by an American Sahib in getting their lunch. It was their right; at least they considered it to be in India. They too had souls, like every living creature. They too were an integral part of society. That this was especially true in this backwater fly blown town would become more and more apparent as the sahib settled in.

Then the woman brought two bowls of yellow lentils. The BDO spooned dal onto his rice. James did the same, hoping to cover up any damage those flies had done. The only way was to chow down and get it before the winged hoards got it. It was a sort of race against time, but he was afraid of being on the losing end.

James ate through a little more than half of the rice and dal. There were some slices of radish and onion for salad. At that point, he felt full and gave it up. He would not stuff himself in this heat. The BDO forged ahead cleaning his plate. His protruding stomach had puffed out a couple more notches. The wife then produced some slices of ripe mango for dessert.

When they were finished, the BDO invited James to “take rest.” It was normal to have a daily siesta after lunch in this season. James welcomed the idea and now his stomach felt rather stuffed. In the back of his mind, he wondered how many microbes those pesky flies had brought to his food. He would likely have some idea in a few days once the gestation period had passed.

James settled back on a firm pillow on a mungie in the upper room. He hoped that his food would digest. It was hot as hell, here in the coolest place of the house, and getting hotter. He was about to drop off for a nap, but he kept having to wipe the perspiration off his forehead as the sweat formed, even though he was not moving a muscle.

Finally, he did doze off. He dreamed that he was riding a bus. A wild bus ride across Punjab through small villages and towns. He knew that he was supposed to go somewhere, but did not know where or if he had actually gotten there. He was worried how he was going to contact the Peace Corps officials and learn the name of the town where he was supposed to go. The slip of paper that he had written it on must have fallen out of his pocket. What the fuck was he doing here and what the fuck was he going to do? Why not just leave these people and their country alone? James thought things should be different, but it was surely not up to him to change it. As for the Indians, if they wanted change, they would find a way to go to the UK, America, or Australia.

James woke up with his head bathed in sweat. He had slept perhaps an hour. He wondered if he had finally arrived at that town that he was looking for on all those wild bus rides. Now he was weak as hell. The heat had slayed him to the point that he did not feel that he could even pull himself off the mungie to stand up.

Then James heard the voice of the BDO down below.

James Sahib, James Sahib, please come down. Please come down for tea, Sahib.”

Shit, James thought. It is hot as fuck and he wants me to come for that hot tea. James thought of a cold Coke or better yet a beer. But tea?”

Thank you, sir,” James said. “I am just coming, just now.”

James hauled his tired sleepy frame off the mungie. He had never imagined how the heat of 115 degrees Fahrenheit could take a body down, even a young man like him. Jesus, what would it do to an old man?

Down below, they sat in front of a small table. The wife brought Punjabi tea in a pot and poured out two cups. It was sweet milky tea. Indeed, the milk and sugar had already been boiled right into the tea. On the table was a heap of karati dal on a small plate, salty and peppery fried lentils. James liked the way it burned his lips and mouth.

James tasted the tea. It was sweet and gooey. And hot. He was not sure that this was going to hit the spot at that moment. He used the spoon to scoop up a small amount of the spicy mixture and shovel it into his mouth. He liked the flavor.

The BDO noticing James’s watch asked what the price was in the US. In fact it was such a cheapo that James didn’t even want to talk about it.

Oh, it is just an old Timex,” James said. “The cheapest watches you can buy in the US. I had it as a student. I couldn’t afford a good one. Ten dollars. That’s all it cost. I call it a dimex.”

The BDO quickly converted the cost into rupees. There were seven rupees to a dollar. Seventy rupees.

Very good, bahut bhuddy,” the BDO said. “Very good watch. Can you get me one?”

James thought about it. He sure as hell would if there was any way. They probably were not sold in India and if they were, they would cost a heck of a lot more with the customs duty.

I don’t know,” James said. “I will see if I can.”

If he could just go out and buy one of them, that would be easy. But India was still under an import substitution regime. Every effort was made to keep foreign goods out of the country. That is, for the masses. The rich could get them, of course, but that was different.

Ask your friends at the Embassy in Delhi” the BDO suggested. “I am sure that they must have watches in their store.”

Right! All those friends that I don’t have, James thought. And they really are concerned about us Peace Corps volunteers out here in Punjab.

James was amused that the BDO thought that those guys that worked in the Embassy were probably his friends. He had no right to shop in their exchange and certainly knew no one there. God, there must be millions of Indians who would like to have some items from there, James thought. There was not much chance of him pulling that off. Not unless he could seduce someone’s wife who worked there.

They drank the syrupy sweet tea. Oh for a Michelob, James thought cynically. He thought how that ice cold brew would taste just about now with the suds on top. And how about a tasty thick pizza to go with it? He was suddenly in Pizza Hut heaven. Sucking down a cold draft beer. America was heavenly, in some ways. No shit! Imperialism did throw up its rewards, but on the backs of the poor buggers in the third world who had to pay for it. Pay with their lives, just as often. Unethical as hell. Forget it. Back to reality.

It seems that Mister Nixon is going to win the election in America. I have read about him,” the BDO said. “I think he will be a better president than Mister Johnson.”

Like shit, James thought. Tricky Dick, that asshole? It would be one of the most depressing days in his life when those election returns would come in after three months. Nixon would be declared the President Elect. It would be three o’clock in the afternoon in India, the next day after the election when it would all be wrapped up.

Well, I will be surprised if that is the case,” James said. “He will not end the Vietnam War. It will go on. Every American President has to have his own war. At least one. Now Nixon will have his. And more people will die. A lot more. Johnson is guilty of escalating the war, of course. But a peace candidate like Robert Kennedy, perhaps, might have ended the war sooner. Now it is probably too late for that.”

Why is America fighting in Vietnam?” the BDO wanted to know.

Hell if I know, James wanted to say. But it fact he knew all too well. It would be a lie. Should he come clean?

Corporate profits,” James said. “That’s the short answer. And the long answer too, unfortunately.”

Global power. Corporate profits. That’s the bottom line. It has nothing to do with democracy. It is really quite simple. The defense industry, military industrial complex, raw products, cheap labor, all that stuff. Stock prices are soaring. Once the war is over, American companies will pounce on the country for cheap labor.”

And that is the reason that I ended up as an ex-patriot on your doorstep, James wanted to stay. But he had already said more than was good for him as a good upstanding American overseas. He must now be a roving ambassador for the country, whether he wanted to be or not. But he was now starting to sound like a communist to all those who believed in the pure goodness of the American empire.

He noticed the BDO staring into space. It had gone right over his head. So much for a bureaucrat.

Chapter Eight: Seeing Stars

James Weldon peered out into the vast universe millions of miles away. He had never seen such a spectacle in his life. True enough, the universe and the millions of stars had always been there. But he had never really seen them, not the way he saw them now lying flat of his back on a string charpie on the flat roof of the BDO’s house. He felt that he was looking down into a vast chasm, rather than up, and was about to fall, hurtling toward this vast star-filled space. The millions of stars that filled the heavens were incredibly bright and sparkling in the night air. He could see the big dipper clearly over to his right.

He realized how much he had missed, always sleeping inside a house in America and not on an open roof where he could look into the heavens millions of miles away. Was this what gave the Indians such a philosophical bent, always speculating about the nature of God? How could one see such a spectacle and not consider how it came about? It would turn one into a philosopher.

Or perhaps not. Mr. Verma was sleeping a short distance from him. Now he began to snore. It seemed that the stars held no wonder for him. The whole scene was so serene except for that rip roaring sound. It was very mysterious, indeed. How did he get here and where was he going? Clearly, he was on a mission, to be sure. To avoid having to kill any communists as well as to save his own young ass. Those were truly worthy ideals. No doubt about that. And then a fart, quite loud, came from Mr. Verma’s mungie, bringing him back to earth.

James could hear the sounds below in the town. He heard the bicycles on the road in the late evening sounding their ringing bell to avoid other riders in the dark. He heard a dog barking. Shop keepers were closing up their shops, banging down their shutters for the night. At a late night dhaba, the sound of chapattis being flapped from one hand to the other and slapped onto a hot tava. A Hindi film song was blaring from some establishment. Some drunks came past laughing and talking loud out of their heads. He heard temple bells tinkling as someone brought incense to light for the Gods. A motorcycle was passing. What would his parents think if they could see where he was here in this strange land? He felt perfectly secure. It was where he wanted to be at the moment. Another phase of his embarkation upon a great adventure.

James drifted off to a sound sleep in the refreshing night air. He had pulled the light cover over him to ward off the mosquitoes which now flourished with the monsoon rains. They were hankering for some appetizing foreign blood. Sometime after midnight some large monsoon clouds moved across the sky from the west. When Mr. Verma felt the large cool rain drops hitting his face, he woke up. He called to James to wake him up.

Sahib, Mr. James, we will go downstairs,” he said.

The BDO stood up, picked up his string cot and started to carry it down the concrete steps to the second floor. James saw that the rain had come and so he did the same. Moving down the rather treacherous steps without a hand railing, they placed their beds just inside the sheltered veranda. James resumed his position on his charpie and soon drifted off into dreamland again. The weather was not bad for sleeping if the mosquitoes could be deterred.

James dreamed that he was somewhere on the old farm in Missouri and was trying to run, but his legs would not move fast enough. A black storm cloud was coming up, possibly a tornado. It was bearing down on him, but he could not get back to the old house in time. He was just bogged down there somewhere.

James awoke with the gentle voice of Mr. Verma. Daylight had arrived, but the sun had not yet appeared. The pre-dawn air was mysterious. He heard a crow kaw-kawing. A flock of small birds soared across the small veranda. He could see the ugly jagged tops of some buildings in the dim morning light. Small towns of Punjab. Beautiful, they were not. It could surely not be past five o’clock in the morning.

Let us go for nature call,” the BDO said.

Fuck!” James thought.

Right at the moment, James would have liked nothing more than to doze for another couple of hours. The daily heat was brutal. The morning air during the monsoon was relatively pleasant. A good opportunity to sleep. Why give that up? A lost opportunity. His warped American mind was completely out of sync with reality. But when in Rome do as the Romans do, James remembered. Somehow he thought that the Romans were probably not so stupid as to head for the fields at this ungodly hour. Not to take a shit, at least. James could generate absolutely no enthusiasm for such an enterprise at five o’clock in the morning. Even as a novel experience, it did not command much interest.

Not only was the idea of going to the fields to take a shit and piss not appealing to him, he was positively sure that there was not a chance in hell that his bowels were going to move at this time. He could take a piss, sure. He needed that, absent a latrine in the house, but a shit was something else. Nevertheless, he could not tell that to his new boss. Mr. Verna, whose bowels had been moving at five o’clock in the morning for several decades, would likely not understand. James, on the other hand, had been programmed completely differently. Perhaps half past seven o’clock, eight, or so. That would be reasonable. But not at five in the morning. Forget that shit.

Mr. Verma filled a small brass pot with water from the pump and gave it to James and did the same for himself. He then led the way out of the courtyard, through the wooden gate, and into the road. As they crossed the metaled road, whose only traffic was human at this time, they entered a well-worn path that led down to the fields. Here, they joined the constant flowing stream of white-clad bodies flooding out and spreading across the fields like a flock of white birds looking for food. Indeed, the fallow field was now dotted with squatting bodies making their early morning nature call. It was somewhat of a windfall for the lucky farmer, getting all that free fertilizer dropped upon his field like Manna from heaven, James reflected. Seeds in there ought to pop up out of the earth like the seeds in that story of Jack in the Beanstalk with all that super fertility. Eating the tasty cucumbers, one would never imagine that they were just recycled shit from the contributing local population.

James felt like a fucking fool. Even if it had been possible for him to shit, he did not feel like pulling down his jeans and shorts, exposing his ruby cheeks, and shitting here in the open air with all those other strangers around. Moreover, it was going to be a grand attraction for the others to watch a gora, an American, no less, taking a shit in their humble field out here in the boondocks. All eyes were going to be focused firmly upon his buttocks, curious to see just how Americans, in fact, took a shit. There just as well have been a command given, as in the military, “Eyes Right!” to focus right on his ass. This was really for the birds.

James noticed too that they were all male. But the women had to shit and piss too. Where were they? He would learn later that certain fields were designated for women and others for men and one just had to know where to go. What a system! India was one gigantic toilet from the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal. From Srinagar to Cape Comorin.

James imitated the Indians, squatting down and taking a piss. Normally, he would take it standing up. That seemed more natural to him. But he also knew that the odds that God was going to will that he take a shit at five o’clock in the morning was pretty close to zero. The old man up above would just not help him out to that extent.

After shitting, the Indians used the water in their small brass pots to wash their ass. For this they always used their left hand because the right hand was used for eating. If the field was being irrigated, there would be a canal that might have water where they could wash.

James started to feel highly embarrassed and inadequate in fulfilling the requirements of this basic protocol of Indian life. At this rate, he was going to turn out to be an abject failure in this enterprise of going native in the subcontinent. And why had the Peace Corps not trained him for this? Development and Resources Corporation of New York had surely let him down in not training him in one of the most basic of all skills that he was going to need every day. They were surely not fulfilling the parameters of their contract.

And sure as hell, when nine o’clock rolled around, he was going to be dying to take a shit and then it would be too late. There would be no place at all to do it. This being an American sahib was sure tricky business. Except for a few fields of corn fodder and patches of sugar cane, not yet grown tall, there were few places to hide in the fields and take a shit at this time of year.

James followed the BDO back to the house all broken hearted. He was going to need that shit. He remembered all that rice and dal he had tucked away at lunch the day before and that bendi tori and chapattis in the evening. Shit. That sure as hell should make him shit.

Meanwhile “back at the ranch” tea was being prepared by Mrs. BDO in the bureaucrat’s comfortable koti. Arriving and feeling quite down, James was offered some of the official sweet, gooey, Punjabi tea. The small mud stove in the kitchen corner of the courtyard had now been fired up and was emitting a fragrant odor of burning cow shit. This smell wafted into the air from other houses as well. It created a pleasant homely atmosphere and James settled back to enjoy it. The smell of smoldering cow shit was so truly homely and relaxing. The smell of burning oak and hickory in West Virginia had nothing over that. He was still feeling guilty over his faux pas at heeding the call of nature. One had to drink the tea quickly. Otherwise, a scum would form on top of it from all the creamy milk as it cooled. He had noticed that.

James, Sahib, you will take bath,” the BDO told him.

Not a bad idea, James thought. It would be refreshing. And it seemed to be an order.

Thanks,” James told him. “I will not take long.”

The BDO was about to pump a bucket of water for him.”

Oh sir thanks, but please, I can do it.”

It’s nothing,” Mr. Verma said.

James pumped the rest of his water and slipped into the bath house. At least he had a small degree of privacy here. He slipped his clothes off. After wetting down and rubbing his body with soap, he poured large cups of the cold water over his body. It was invigorating. He brushed his teeth. When would the shit hit the fan?

The BDO’s wife was preparing prathas. Having mixed the atta or whole wheat flour, she rolled out the dough. She put potato on the dough and folded it over once again before placing it on the hot tava to cook. Their cooking added to the glorious morning aroma. The resulting bread cakes were rather crude, but tasty.

It was the first time James had eaten pratha. The BDO settled down to the small table after finishing his bath. The wife set a small bowl of pickled red pepper, and mango achar, on the table and gave bowls of curds to both men. The yogurt had been forming overnight in a large clay pot under the stairway. The idea was to break off small portions of the hot pratha with one’s right hand and scoop up the hot spicy pickle and the curds naturally.

James thought that it was a hell of a thing to have for breakfast. The pratha was quite tasty, with the potato. The spicy pepper pickles tasted too strong for six o’clock in the morning, perhaps. The mango pickles were better. As for curds, he had never eaten yogurt in his entire life. It was simply not eaten in the small Midwestern town where he grew up. People had not even known about such a thing.

The BDO’s small daughter was now up and playing around on the floor. She came to her father, who encouraged her to go to her mother. She clung to her mother’s kamiz as she prepared the food. From time to time, she started crying and complaining. Like many children she was somewhat spoiled for attention.

James knew that he was quite hopeless with kids. He was just neither the father nor the grandfather type. So he rather ignored the little imp, which was in rather bad taste. He generally had the urge to smack kids, rather than to pamper the little monsters.

Mister James,” the BDO began, as he popped a large portion of a pratha and spicy red pepper achar into his mouth, “we will take your things to the village Happowal this morning. The Jeep has been repaired.”

Thank you,” James replied. Now he would really get to see the village where he would be spending his next two years. Whatever came, he would take it. He really had no choice anyway, signing up for this outfit.

We will go to the office, Mister James. You will meet the staff,” Mr. Verma said.

Thank you, Sir,” James replied.

They had more tea. The BDO changed from his pajama to his tailored pants, a slick brown linen and a striped bush shirt, which he wore outside his trousers. It protruded over his flourishing stomach. He slipped his feet into sandals and they were off. James felt rather odd in his American leather shoes and jeans. He would have to do something about that. His attire did not fit the weather. He didn’t either, of course, but that was something else.

It was a short walk to the BDO Office, a single story pucca building. It was stucco, having a coating of cement on the outside of the bricks, and a dull yellow color, as many government offices had. It was discolored with black in several places and badly needed repairing and new paint. The stucco was starting to flake off in some places. As they arrived, a chowkidar, who was sitting on his haunches, stood up quickly and saluted sharply. James felt embarrassed by this odd behavior. At least it was odd to him.

The BDO took the greeting in stride, ignoring the poor peon, and marched on to his office, striding as if he was about to stir up a whirlwind of creative activity at his desk. There was a curtain hanging in the doorway. Inside was a clean and relatively cool room with a worn carpet on the floor. In the center of the room was a large wooden desk. An electric punka was whirling overhead creating down drafts of air. The two large windows had been covered over on the outside with a thick mat which hanged over the windows. The chowkidar kept the mats wet down from the outside, creating a cooling effect as the air wafted through the mat. Around the edge of the room were several wooden chairs woven with plastic to make the seats and backs.

The room was quite dark inside so that it took a couple of minutes for one’s eyes to adjust. On the wall, high up, were framed black and white portraits of the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Pundit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India appeared next to his daughter. Mahatma Gandhi appeared, grinning, in this case. Perhaps, in the back of his mind, he thought it was all a big joke, and he was just having fun with all that nonviolence and Ahimsa business. James sometimes suspected the same about God. He was just having fun and playing jokes on people who took it all too fucking seriously. God knew that it all didn’t mean diddly shit. There were many universes out there that were more significant than that outfit called the earth and its “solar system.” That project had been pretty much a failure from the get go. What James was seeing in India did nothing to disabuse him of that suspicion.

The BDO settled down into the large office chair behind the desk and motioned for the American Sahib to take the chair to his right.

The large desk was cluttered with stacks of papers and documents, held down by heavy glass paperweights. The edges of the papers fluttered in the air as the fan whirled, the documents threatening to take off and fly. James noticed that the papers were held together by straight pins inserted in the corners. There were a couple of rubber stamps and stamp pads on the desk and some dirty journals and reference books. There was a pen and pencil set and a small container for straight pins. There was a small bell within the officer’s reach.

Presently, the BDO picked up the bell and rang it loudly. Another chowkidar appeared instantly as if by magic. He jumped quicker than Pavlov’s dog when he heard that bell. The muscles in his legs sprang instantaneously. He approached the BDO timidly with folded hands and a stupid blank look on his face as if his recent lobotomy had been a glorious success.

Honjee Sahib,” he said, stupidly. The BDO delivered an order to him in Punjabi.

The chowkidar saluted and marched out quickly as if he was made of wood, the tail of his khaki kamiz trailing behind him.

Mister James, the driver is just now coming to take your things,” the BDO announced.

Just then a young agricultural officer appeared. He was a young Sikh with a tightly tied maroon pugri. James wondered if that tight pressure on one’s head from such a turban might affect one’s brains. Even if the hot sun did not cause sardars to go pagal or crazy at noon, as the legend had it, those turbans seemed like they might.

The young man appeared and salaamed in front of the BDO. They discussed something in Punjabi, which James did not understand.

The officer, Santokh Singh, introduced himself to James.

Mister James, welcome to India,” he said enthusiastically. “I am Santokh Singh, the block maize inspector. I will introduce you to the other officers.”

James followed Santokh Singh out. There were a series of rooms that served as offices. There were two or three desks in each room with a chair behind them. The tops of the small tacky wooden desks were completely bare. There was a sugar cane inspector, a wheat inspector, a rice inspector, and so on. James learned that they had university degrees from various agricultural universities in India. In addition, there were ten village level workers (VLWs) for some one hundred villages in the development block. However, these VLWs, also called gram sevaks, were not around right now.

As they walked around to the offices, James had spied a small brick building in the garden that appeared to him to be a toilet.

Shit, if that is a toilet, it is my chance to take a shit, he thought. After meeting with the officers, he chatted with them a bit. They asked him some questions about agriculture in the USA. As they were talking, he was surprised to see one of the officers tearing a piece of paper into tiny pieces, after which he tossed them on the floor under the desk. James noticed that there were no waste baskets in the room.

When he had the chance, he asked Santokh Singh if that building in the garden was a toilet.

Yes, you are welcome to use it,” he said.

James jumped at the chance and quickly fled to the building. Sure enough it was a toilet, although Asian style with the porcelain bowl in the floor. Good enough for government work, James thought. He opened the clumsy metal door and went inside. The inside latch was broken, so he would have to watch for others who might have the same idea to use it while he was there.

He pushed the door closed and pulled down his pants and shorts. He would have to balance himself on his haunches to take the shit. He had not yet mastered the art of this and lost his balance from time to time, having to prop himself up with one hand behind him. The beautiful thing was that his bowels moved. He had won the morcha for the day, as the Punjabis said. His stool had started to be quite soft, but was still solid. Thanks be to God, he thought. The Lord will provide, up to a point, at least. Even in these nether regions.

Having finished, James turned the tap on his left side to fill the small plastic cup with water, but nothing happened. Shit, he thought. What will I do now? He noticed that there were a few drops of water left in the bottom of the cup, enough to wet his fingers. He could not clean himself properly with that, but it would have to do. The heat had increased and the sweat was now dripping off of his face. Not only his face, but also his arms were dripping with perspiration. The flies decided to have some fun with him while his hands were occupied with the immediate enterprise. This going native was not as much fun as he had anticipated.

Still in a precarious position, he pulled up his shorts and then his pants and buckled his belt. At least it was sweet relief, even if not a completely pleasant experience. It would have to do. Next time he would take more caution about the water, if time permitted.

Heading back to the offices, he noticed the center office where the secretary worked. It was then that he saw Ravi Kaur sitting behind a large old typewriter in a bright red Punjabi outfit. He saw at once that she was a very attractive young woman. He did not dare to go inside and introduce himself fearing that he might be guilty of another faux pas. There would surely be a chance if she was there every day. She is beautiful, he thought. Imagine finding a beauty like that in the agricultural development office. She was doing OK in the way of development, as far as he could see, unlike the rest of the place.

James returned to the BDO’s office having been informed earlier that the driver was “just now coming.” Apparently his status had not yet changed from “just now coming.” But if he was, it was not happening very fast.

James waited around another hour or so, twiddling his thumbs near the BDO’s desk, while the officer shuffled the papers, taking out the pins and rearranging the documents, sometimes adding another one, and sticking the pins back in. It struck him that the country had not yet entered the era of paper clips. Now there was a revolutionary possibility. Was it possible that the use of straight pins had some advantage? Not likely he speculated. This sticking of pins through the papers seemed to take up an awfully lot of time. And it could not be very pleasant when they went the wrong direction and stuck in one’s finger.

James noted that there was no telephone in the office. It was necessary to call upon him in person if one needed something. Telephone connections were still very difficult and sometimes it took years to get a hook up.

From time to time, an elderly peasant would appear and approach the big Sahib in an exceedingly timid manner with hands folded in front of his face and give his humble “Namaste.” He would make some humble request to the official. The BDO would pretend to listen carefully, making grunting noises as if he agreed, wag his head from left to right, and tell him not to worry. It would just now be solved. New seeds were just now coming. Fertilizer was just now coming. Loans were just now coming. Repairing the water canal was just now coming and on and on. Everything was just now coming. Then the peasants would go back to their villages while the status of the requested items never changed. Sure enough, the BDO was right. They were just now coming. They would always be just now coming. That they never arrived was neither here nor there. Good enough for government work.

The driver too, was just now coming.

3 Idiocy of rural life

Chapter Nine: The Mansion

As the clock approached noon, the chowkidar entered the office and announced that the driver had just now come.

Could it be true?

Sure enough, it was true. The BDO now slipped his bare feet back into his chappals and beckoned for James Sahib to follow him. Outside, they climbed into the small jeep and trundled around the road to the Bhagat Bagh Rest House, which had been painted the same dull yellow color as the block development office. Here another chowkidar appeared and salaamed. Pakhar Singh retrieved the sahib’s baggage from the rest house and put it into the back of the jeep.

The driver headed out the five miles to Happowal village. After four miles, they turned south at the junction and passed green fields of maturing maize and sugar cane. They trucked on for a half mile past bullock carts, bicycle riders and pedestrians. They passed green rice fields, freshly planted and arrived at a small village. There was an enormous pipal tree at the entrance to the village. Further down the village road that ran around the perimeter of the village, they arrived at the large iron gate of the biggest and most modern koti in the village.

James noticed a row of small thatched huts along the road to the right, with small urchins playing around in the road. The driver curved to the left. A small servant boy appeared and opened the heavy iron gate allowing the driver to enter the brick-paved expansive courtyard. Indeed, it was a big two story house with an extended wing, which served as a guest house. The village mansion.

The driver pulled the jeep up to the door of the guest house. A young Sikh emerged from the big house and greeted the BDO with a salaam with his hands folded in front of him and then a handshake which went on for some time as they exchanged pleasantries.

The small servant boy took the sahib’s bags and carried them into the guest room. Then the young Sikh in his early twenties greeted James, who was about the same age. He told him that he would be staying here. Inside James saw a large room with six large charpies spaced along the wall beneath the windows. To the opposite side was a fairly modern bathroom with shower and squat style flush toilet from a tank on the roof. James saw that this place would be as plush as staying in most hotels in a city in Punjab. Better than most in fact. James was astounded to think that this was to be his living quarters. He had not imagined anything so luxurious.

Indeed, it did not dawn on the sahib, naïve as he was, that he was merely being parked here due to the fact that the development office had not yet done their duty and come up with a place for him to live. His real house was just now coming and would be just now coming for yet quite some time, an obvious fact, which nevertheless escaped the sahib. He had not yet come to grips with the inordinate inefficiency of the bureaucracy in India. He would settle back and enjoy the situation, while the decision remained neglected. Meanwhile his house would be just now coming. The truth was that it had not yet even started. That information was yet to be disclosed.

James sahib said goodbye to the BDO and thanked him. He settled into the room in a chair near a small stand. Balvinder Singh entered and told him in his halting, but sufficient, English that the servant would bring his food. He could make himself at home. Now, I will have a place to take a shit and a shower, James thought.

Fuck N’AA. Well this is not turning out too badly, the sahib thought foolishly. Indeed, he had been suckered into it. He was a nuisance that the official had gotten out of his hair for the time being, until the issue would come up again. How the issue would be resolved, no one had a clue. Perhaps it would just languish, just now coming, as it somehow solved itself, like so many things in India. The extent of his naivety could hardly be overestimated.

The small live-in servant, Bahader, was a pahari, from the mountain area in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The family paid him a few dollars a month, most of which he sent back to his destitute family to support his aging parents and younger siblings.

After twenty minutes, the servant boy appeared with a tray of food. There was bendi tori, zucchini, curds, a guava and chapattis wrapped in a cloth. By now James sahib was hungry and pleased about the way things were turning out. The chapattis were warm and moist and greased with butter. Indeed, the village food was quite tasty. It was not fancy, being what peasants ate, spicy okra and zucchini to be eaten with chapatti.

It was clearly expected that he would eat with his hands, as there was no silverware. He would have to perfect his skill in picking up the subzi with the chapattis with only his right hand. As for the curds, he had still not acquired a taste for yogurt, but he ate it, thinking that he must get used to it. Anyway, he had been told that it was good for his stomach and aided digestion. The most delicious part of the meal was the guava. James was not used to the taste of ripe guava, but found it to be delicious. Fruit would be beyond the budgets of most villagers, even in season.

He rested and did some reading as he had a novel that he had not finished in his bag. After the heat of the day had subsided, James saw Balvinder approaching his room from the main part of the house. He had asked James to take a rest after the meal. Indeed, it was quite brutal to be out in the sun and humidity.

Mister James,” Balvinder said, “Come with me to see my fields. I will show you the planting.”

OK,” James said, reaching for his shoes. “I want to see the fields and how they are planted.”

He walked out the gate and down the dirt lane with Balvinder some one hundred meters. Balvinder was a proper Sikh and wore a large tightly tied red turban. James noticed his light, slim, build and that he walked with a rather dainty gait. He did not seem at all like a peasant. Indeed he was not. He reminded him of the sons of gentlemen farmers that he had read about in classical Russian novels. He spoke in an exceedingly kind way, moving his slender hands which did not seem to have been accustomed to farm work or any work at all. Below his impressive turban was an elegant handsome face, thin and aristocratic, one might say. His thick black beard had been waxed and oiled and was plastered closely to his face. He began to describe the farming operation.

I will show you our bendi tori and the fields where we will plant hybrid maize,” he said. “This year, we will be producing maize for hybrid seed.”

They passed a brick wall where several big black water buffaloes and two cows were tethered to the ground by chains. A stack of dung patties were piled next to the wall. A young Sikh boy of six accompanied them. He had his long black hair tied up in a white cloth in a small round knot on the top of his head. A young girl the same age looked at them curiously. Her coal black hair was parted in the middle with braids sticking out on both sides of her head. An older Sikh youth was wearing a black skull cloth on his head.

The bendi tori or okra fields were already more than waist high and producing pods of vegetable daily. The fields for maize were just being prepared. James saw a fairly new Massey Ferguson tractor being driven in the field by one of the drivers preparing the field for the maize.

Balvinder Singh’s father, Inder Singh, was, in fact, a politician and top man in the area. He owned more than a hundred acres of the most fertile land in the village. He was the Sarpanch of the village and the Chairman of the Panchayat Samiti of the development block. He was, in fact, a member of the state legislative assembly, the Vidhan Sabha, in Chandigarh.

Near the fields, there were pieces of machinery. James was impressed by a new four-row maize planter. It was surprising to see such a modern piece of equipment in the village. Indeed, on the old farm in Missouri, James had always used an aging old two-row planter that was several generations behind this modern machine. Hell, they do not seem to need my help, he thought.

There were a couple of charpies near a herd of buffaloes and milk cows. The tractor drivers sometimes slept outside near the animals for security. A sweeper came daily to collect the manure to make it into dung patties. It was then dried on the brick walls and on the ground. There was a pyramid of such dung cakes carefully stacked near a large stack of turie or wheat straw, bound by rope made from rice straw. The village women came to cut fodder daily to feed the cattle after mixing fresh green cuttings with the dry chopped wheat straw. Then they milked the cows and buffaloes.

Balvinder explained that they were now in the process of harvesting ten acres of bendi tori which was sent daily to the local vegetable markets. The other fields were to be planted with maize for the production of hybrid seed corn. An American variety was being crossed with an Indian variety. James had seen the big seed companies in the United States producing seed in the same way.

Inder Singh clearly came under the rubric of a rich farmer, in fact, the richest farmer in the village. He was the patron and the local peasants looked up to him rather like a god, as they considered themselves so much lower.

That night the tractor drivers tilled the soil all through the night to prepare the soil for planting the next day. They were rushing to plant the seed before the next monsoon rain which was sure to come presently.

The next morning, James was invited to watch the planting operation. He had planted corn in Missouri on the old farm plenty of times. He volunteered to drive the tractor for just one round. Balvinder agreed to let him try his hand. He liked the feel of being on the tractor in the field, which made him feel more at home. He did such a careful job, that the driver turned the job over to him and he continued until the field was planted in the late afternoon.

Chapter Ten: The Village

James awoke to a heavy morning monsoon rain drenching the courtyard. Strong winds were sweeping the refreshing waves of cool rain onto the veranda. He had the urge to strip off his clothes and run out into the cool wet storm and let it wash the heat out of his body. The monsoon wind on his face was delicious. The limbs of the trees outside the compound were being wrenched up and down in the gale. The rains had brought some relief from the brutal heat for a few hours, but then the heat would soon return.

He realized that he would be confined to his room until the downpour let up. The servant boy appeared with two boiled eggs, some morning roti, and cha. He had learned that Balvinder was married and had a small son, although he had never seen his wife and son. They were confined to the portion of the house that belonged to the women and small children.

He tried studying Punjabi language for a while, but decided that he was not making much progress. So he decided to read for a while.

After an hour, the rain let up and the skies lightened up. He looked up from the book that he was now getting into, Nightrunners of Bengal by John Masters. It caught his interest now that he was in the country. He would have to make a trip to a bookstore in Ludhiana for some reading material. He wanted to do some shopping. He thought of buying a notebook for a journal that he would keep while here.

He had not yet even walked around the village of Happowal. The only thing was that it took a little courage to venture out and get his feet wet in the local culture. He realized that he must try out his Punjabi that he had learned in training.

He put on his shoes, which were still not appropriate for the Indian climate. They were too hot for his feet. He looked around and found his topi to protect himself from the sun. He put some rupees in his pocket and walked out into the courtyard. The air which was now cooled down from the monsoon rains was refreshing. The sun was just starting to beam down through some spaces in the clouds. The servant boy was in the courtyard washing the pale green Hindustan Ambassador sedan. This was the car which the Sarpanch and MLA Inder Singh used to tour the district and the state. This was the only car in the village. Indeed, only the very rich elites could swing owning a car. And there were others who could afford one, except that there was a waiting list as they were being produced. One had to wait for up to two years, even if one had the money, if they did not have the needed political connections.

James sahib exited the courtyard through the strong iron gates. Then he was out of the protective shell. He began to feel that the place was quite strange, but bucked up his courage. The surroundings were interesting. He was not completely uninformed about the conditions in an Indian village after reading Oscar Lewis’s Village Life in Northern India. That was much more informative than anything in the training program had been. But it was quite out of date.

When he walked out the gate, he noticed a dead water buffalo lying by the side of the road. Its big black body was now swollen up inordinately. It was clear that it had been there for some days as brown spots were starting to appear on its hide. It seemed that the low caste chamar or leather worker should have taken it away by now.

Walking toward the center of the village, he noted the great contrast between the big house where he was now living and the small mud dwellings. Most of the houses in the village were traditional kucha houses made of mud, cow dung and straw. Many of the walls, periodically coated with a layer of cow dung and mud, needed to be repaired. The mud was flaking off in spots with the monsoon rains.

The scene in front of him was quite depressing. It was quite a poor village for sure. But he would reserve his opinions and explore the situation. He encountered some small boys in the streets who looked at him as if he had been a ghost that had appeared out of nowhere. Sometimes they would run away. But the more brave ones looked at him curiously and seemed to recognize that he was a foreigner, in fact an Angrez, an English person. One brave boy, barefoot and in dirty worn shorts and no shirt came up to him.

What is your name?” he said, in chopped English.

He was obviously studying English in the local school. James decided to play with the kids a little, kidding them.

My name is Hanuman,” James said using the kid’s staccato English.

The kid laughed. Hanuman was the monkey god.

Where do you live?” came the second question.

Bangladesh,” James teased him.

The kid laughed again. He was strange, but anyway, a funny man?

What is your name?” James returned the question.

My name is Ram,” the kid said.

Shabash,” James congratulated. “Aapan bahut sunee.”

The kid seemed pleased to be told he was beautiful.

The village street had once been paved with bricks, but now badly needed repair. The drains at the edge were clogged with a green-blue-black slime and filthy with putrid water. The monsoon rains were not strong enough to unclog the drains. A couple of small boys began to follow him through the street. An older Sikh woman in a pinkish Punjabi outfit was watching him suspiciously from the doorway of one of the mud-walled dwellings. Her chuney was draped across her breasts and over her shoulders. She pulled it partially over her face when the sahib appeared. Her dark face made her look like a man to him. Her hard life cooking day and night in the village had taken its toll.

Further on, there was a village post office. It was in a traditional mud dwelling to the left. Here is a convenient place for mailing some letters, James thought. He was happy to see that it was so close to his house. He entered and saw the postmaster behind a dirty worn table filling out some paperwork. The pages of the book were made of cheap yellow paper, the man writing swiftly with a fountain pen in Punjabi. He was soon to discover that all official signatures had to be made with a fountain pen. A ball point pen was equivalent to a pencil and not allowed for an official signature.

He greeted the postmaster with a “Namaste.” He appeared to be a Hindu, a small thin man in khaki colored pants and shirt.

Mai Aerogram chaida,” James told him.

Honjee, Sahib,” the postmaster said. “Qitnee?”

Paanch,” James said.

James was happy to see that he could buy aerograms here to write to his friends in America and so he bought five.

Things are not so bad, after all, James thought. I will get used to it. The postmaster would be good to have as a friend.

While he used a little Punjabi, he discovered that he was actually wasting his time. The postmaster was a virtual dictionary of language, even though he did not have a lot of education. After all, he had to be able to deal with letters in at least four different languages, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, and English every day. And they were all written in different scripts.

Where are you from?” the postmaster asked him in perfect English.

America,” James told him. Technically, from the United States of America, but in Punjab, the big old, big old, country Shangri La, where practically everyone dreamed of going someday, was just referred to as “America.” That glittering place where everybody was richer than a mother, that is if one could believe what one saw in those films made in Hollywood. The myth had been spread around the world. Western cultural imperialism did not miss a beat right down to the last mud hut in this remote corner of the world.

Every young person dreamed of winning the lottery and landing in that glittering heaven where gold would be continuously pouring down upon one’s head and its value in rupees was nearly incalculable. It had to be true. After all, the ones who had been lucky enough to land there sent back money almost every month and their parents in Punjab even built them a big roomy pucca house with the lakhs of rupees that appeared in the local bank from “America.” It was truly the land of milk and honey. In the winter they appeared back in the village with a new suit of clothes and a big new transistor radio. One could hear them walking the streets and listening to Hindi film songs.

The postmaster was impressed. After all, it was the first time that an honest to God native-born bonafide genuine American had ever darkened the door of this small post office in a cubby hole of a mud dwelling in an isolated village in India. That was surely an honor. A red-letter day.

Texas?” the post master wanted to know.

Everybody knew about Texas in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, James’s origins were not nearly so prestigious.

Missouri,” James informed him.

The postmaster looked puzzled. Missouri did not have a high billing in Punjab. Indeed, not in all of India or indeed most of the world.

It is right in the middle of the country,” James informed him. “Not far from Chicago.”

The post master was not impressed. A real American should be from Texas or California, at least. James felt embarrassed being form such an obscure state. He had let the postman down.

Why have you come to Happowal?” the postmaster wanted to know.

There was no short answer. In fact, James often asked himself the same goddamn question. “Why the fuck have I come to Happowal?” Good question! There was no easy answer. Like a politician, he would have to skirt that son of a bitch. It would not do to be honest, to give a short answer.

The American Peace Corps,” the Sahib said. “I am working in the Peace Corps.”

The postmaster looked at him a little suspiciously. The average intelligent individual, who had an inkling of how the world works, would easily suspect that this was some sort of cover for the American Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. In fact, James was not so sure himself that it might not have been used for that purpose.

What will you do here in this village?”

Food production,” James said. “We are supposed to teach farmers how to grow better crops and more food.”

The postmaster just looked at him. How the heck could he do that? He was thinking. Punjabi farmers had been producing crops here for eons and knew how to do it. It was simply not plausible. There had to be a better answer than that. It had to be phony. That cover story would not wash.

The postmaster, being a kind man, would not press him on the point.

Mister James, you are welcome,” he said. “Come and have tea anytime.”

James thanked him and picked up his aerograms.

Across the street was a small village shop. He thought that this was another good chance to try out his Punjabi. He entered the door of the small shop.

Along the wall were several large tin vegetable oil cans filled with various items such as grains and flours. Rice, wheat, bajra, maize, wheat flour, and gram flour. Some of the cans were rusty. All of them were dirty, but the grains were mostly out of the reach of the ravenous rats that had the free run of the old walls of the village. Most people believed that it would be a sin to kill them, especially in the case of a white rat. After all, they had a soul, like all living creatures. Sometimes a trap would be set to catch them, but the trap did not kill them. It just trapped them inside and then they would be taken out to the fields and turned loose. It would merely be an inconvenience for the rat that would likely make it back to his favorite wall and food source by evening.

The shopkeeper was sitting comfortably on his haunches just inside the door smoking a cheap cigarette. He held the weed between his third and fourth fingers, sucking the air from between his thumb and index finger. This way, his mouth never touched the cigarette. He seemed to be perfectly content. Whether he sold anything or not was no real concern to him. It was his kismet and totally out of his control. It all depended upon God, perhaps just now coming.

James entered the small space, folded his hands, and gave him a Namaste. The shopkeeper greeted him and offered his hand. James was getting used to shaking hands. He was shaking almost as many hands as if he had been a politician. Why were the Indians so fond of shaking hands? And when they did, they just kept shaking as one talked.

James looked around the shop wondering if there were any notebooks. He was not sure if he should ask for a “kitab,” a book, or a “notebook.” The shopkeeper would probably know the English word “notebook.”

Mai Kitab chaida,” James told him.

The shopkeeper apparently did not understand what he wanted. He was not selling books, as such.

Notebook,” James explained.

The shopkeeper picked up some copybooks that he kept for school children in the village and brushed the thick layer of dust off them that had collected over several months. Some were quite small and flimsy. But one was nice, even though quite crude. It was thick with many pages and would make a nice journal. James liked it. It had thick cardboard covers. On the front, it said “National Notebook.” The fountain pen that he had with him should work fine on that paper.

He gave the shopkeeper two rupees for it. He didn’t know if he had been charged too much, but he didn’t care. Foreigners were usually charged more than locals anyway, and he just had to get used to that. For James, it was worth it and he would start his journal that very day.

The shopkeeper knew some English, but not a lot. James was happy with his purchase and looked around for something else that he could buy. The shelves of the store were poorly stocked, the shelves and items dirty. They were covered with dust and now moldering in the humid air. He saw some bars of Lux Soap and some three liter tins of Dalda cooking oil. It was vegetable oil, known locally as Vanaspati. There were moombatti, candles, for the frequent power failures. Small boxes of matches, cigarettes, cone-shaped packs of bidis, eggs, tea, sugar, gur or lumps of cane sugar, and other things local poor villagers would need and have to buy. There were metal containers of chickpeas, brown lentils, pink lentils, and moong. There were some crude brooms, with short handles. Washing powder, light bulbs, red pepper, and freshly made salty karati dal. One shelf was piled up with factory made biscuits that looked appetizing.

James decided that he could use some bars of the soap and certainly some boxes of the biscuits, or cookies for times when he needed a quick snack. He didn’t smoke, so he did not need the cigarettes, but some candles and matches would come in handy when the power went off in the evenings.

The shopkeeper invited him to take a seat on the edge of the charpie in the entrance. He was becoming the shop’s best customer that day, just setting up house.

Sahib, cha peo,” he said, inviting James to have some tea.

Twarda ki naaya?” the shopkeeper said, asking his name.

James,” he said. “Mister James.”

He would be called “Mister James,” so just as well accept it.

James tried to understand his Punjabi and what the shopkeeper was trying to tell him, but he quickly saw that the Punjabi that was spoken in the village was very different from what they had taught him in the Peace Corps training classes. What the hell? It was an interesting experience and he was enjoying it after a fashion.

A small boy in shorts and a dirty torn tee shirt appeared with a tea pot with pink flowers on its sides. He poured out two cups of tea in the cups. James noticed that the cups were chipped around the edges and discolored, but perhaps they were clean in any event. The shopkeeper produced a small plate of spicy bhoojia. This was a spicy mixture of thin worm-like pieces of pastry. It was tasty and burned his mouth.

James took a taste of the same sweet, milky, gooey Punjabi tea that one was served everywhere in Punjab. The British had drunk it with milk and sometimes sugar. The Punjabis mixed it all together as they boiled it. By this time, James was starting to get used to it.

James wanted to be friends with these guys, but hardly knew enough of the language to be able to communicate effectively at the time. He would have to get by with what he knew and some sign language for the time being. He paid for his purchases and said goodbye for the time being. Cheap, anyway. It was a cheap country, but then his budget was not that great anyway.

Now he walked further up toward the other side of the village. Most of the buildings were still the traditional mud houses. James came to like these houses and found that they were actually more comfortable than the modern pucca houses made of bricks and cement. The thick walls stayed cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

On the other side of the village, there were some pucca houses, but not many. Those with pucca houses generally had some family member living in the UK or America who could send back money.

The word that a gora, or Angrez, had come to the village spread down the grapevine like lightening. He was the new curiosity in the village. He was the new freak, one could say. The alien, as if some creature from Mars had just got stranded when their flying saucer crashed.

After some lunch, James decided that he would take the small train into the local town. It stopped at the small station in the village. In Bhagat Bagh, surely he would find better things to buy. For basic local transportation, he needed a bicycle, but it would have to wait until the wheels of bureaucracy had moved. That is, it would be “just now coming,” for quite some time yet. The category of things “just now coming,” in fact seemed to include many things. It was certainly true in his case. Whether it was a case of “just now coming” or “just now not coming,” was not easy to determine with any fair degree of accuracy. When an Indian official’s head wagged from side to side, indicating a “yes, yes, yes,” it might mean “no, no, no, but I cannot tell you no as that would not be polite. I would not do that to a guest.” The Indian assumed that the Sahib would understand that his “yes” actually meant “no.” Certainly an Indian would get it. That it went right over the head of the Sahib, he had no idea. To be sure, Indians also could never be entirely sure whether a “yes” actually might mean “yes” or “no.” In any event, it was wiser to assume that it meant “no” until further information would be forthcoming. One could simply not live in Indian society going around telling the honest truth. James had not yet understood this elementary fact. It was not a country for honest people. Apparently the Peace Corps officials had not understood this either. If they did, they did not clue the volunteers into this inner secret of Indian society. Hypocrisy was a technique that he had not developed, which was perhaps a serious handicap.

For now, James had to use his feet quite a lot. From the village he could sometimes take the train or a bus out on the main road. James walked out on the worn pucca road past the huge pipal tree. There were a couple of charpies here as it was an excellent cool place to sleep during the day. A Sikh with a large belly and a white shirt passed on a motorcycle. He walked past a flooded rice field.

Three hundred yards ahead, he reached the railroad tracks and walked to the station. At the small grungy ticket window inside, he asked for a ticket for Bhagat Bagh and paid his forty paisa. There was a small waiting room with wooden seats. There were some peasants with their brown legs in tumbas waiting. They sat on the seats, squatting on their feet, just the way they sat in their fields. Indeed, they almost always sat on their feet. There were some women in village Punjabi outfits. One had a small baby and small children were playing around others or clinging to them. A young Sikh teenager was sitting in a bright orange turban and black beard not yet filled out.

James now was conscious of the fact that they were all staring at him continuously. It was as if the God Hanuman, the monkey god, had suddenly appeared in their midst. It is not altogether wrong to refer to myself as Hanuman, after all, James thought. What was so fucking curious about him? He wondered. It was just that he was a foreigner from America. In their terminology, an Angrez, or Englishman, who looked exceedingly implausible. He realized that if he lived here in this country, that he was going to have to get used to the constant staring. But at this point, it disturbed him.

Incredibly, they are not aware that I am aware of how they are staring, he thought. He could stare back. He would look back to see if they were looking back to see if he was looking back and so on. They were looking at him as if he had been some sort of alien who had just dropped down from Mars. Now there’s a son-of-a-bitch that took a wrong left turn somewhere, they were probably thinking. They would not have been wrong about that. He was beginning to feel that way himself. He wished that he knew enough language to ask them why the fuck they were staring at him like a cow looking at a train. They should mind their own business. Now that he was here, he was here, and it was none of their fucking business, so they should just get over it. If he looked a little different, he had as much right to be here as them. Unfortunately, it did not work like that. It was everybody’s business that he had somehow dropped out of the sky and landed here. Maybe they were trying to figure out what country he had come from.

Eventually, the small train, like a toy, appeared from the east. James followed the bunch of peasants into the small cars with dirty wooden seats. It was a short five miles to the railway station in the town.

When it arrived, the train disgorged a group of its passengers. There was a nice small station painted the same boring government dull yellow. The railroads were part of the legacy of British colonialism and one could go almost anywhere in India by rail. The old iron work horse of the country. Although Mahatma Gandhi traveled much by train, he said that he would not shed a tear if there were no railroads in India. It was easy to get fed up with the punishment that one suffered on trains. The real problem was that they were insufficient to deal with the massive number of souls in India.

James walked up the crowded railway road past the grain mundi. It was not so busy here in this season as no grain was being harvested. Then he passed a series of wood lots where logs were being sawed into boards to make items of furniture. Some shops sold long thick bamboo poles.

Past the post office through the cluttered street. A freelance typist was sitting in front of the building with an ancient typewriter. He punched out letters and telegrams with two fingers for a few paisa for those who were illiterate. It was always a busy place with several people queued up to buy stamps and to register and mail letters.

Further up, James spied a shop with large jars of toffees on a shelf at the front of the store. They were wrapped in multicolored wrappers and appeared to be delicious. James asked for them and the shopkeeper filled up a bag made from the used pages of a student’s copy book.

Further up the road, James found a stationary shop that sold copy books, pens, and pencils. He bought some paper for letters, a couple of small copy books for notes and some ball point pens. There was a chemist’s shop. He wanted to buy some vitamins. He found that it was a place where he could buy medicines quite cheaply. He asked for vitamins and was given a large bottle of them.

Very good, Sahib,” the pharmacist ensured him.

James wondered if they were really very good or if they even had the vitamins that they claimed. He decided to take a chance and buy them.

It was an adventurous day, but now it was quite a long walk back to the railway station. Still, he was enjoying it, except for the stares from all the Indians around him. That was going to take a lot of getting used to.

James caught the next train back to the village. On the way back, he tried the candy that he had bought. He was disappointed that the flavor was nothing like what he had expected. He realized that he should have tasted it before buying it. Nevertheless, it would be a treat that he could give to the small kids in the village when they came around.

When he arrived at the station, he walked back to the big house and up to his room. In the evening, he started writing up his journal. Perhaps, it would not be possible to be completely honest with the people he met, but he could put his thoughts and reflections down on these pages. After all, it was a great adventure, no matter how it was going to turn out.

Chapter Eleven: The Idiocy of Rural Life

One morning the American Sahib was awakened by the servant boy, Bahader, pounding loudly on his door. Since it was Sunday, he had slept rather late. The boy appeared and handed him a bunch of letters. James was thrilled to see some mail. It had been a month since he had heard from anyone in the USA. One large white envelope had come from Delhi. It turned out to be his monthly check from the Peace Corps. Another letter was from his mother and there was one from his sister. It cheered him up to read the letters and he would reply the same day.

He felt like he should take it easy on Sunday. No work on projects. It would be a day off in which he would have the luxury of reading.

On Monday morning, he would hit the trail again and see what was going on at the Block Development Office. After two boiled eggs and tea, he decided to walk out to the main road and catch the bus to Bhagat Bagh. There had been heavy monsoon rain in the early morning. Now every place was wet with puddles of standing water. There was no place for it to go at once in this flat land of Punjab. The sun had now burst through the dark clouds in bright illumination bringing on the sultry humid air.

James picked up his cloth bag, found his hat, and walked out onto the metaled road. There were several bicycle riders and some pedestrians heading for the train station or to catch the bus.

Presently, a young man came up to him on a motorcycle and asked to give him a ride.

Mr. James, Sahib, come with me,” he invited. “You can ride on back.”

James was surprised at how many people around the village had already learned his name.

James declined the offer, saying that he could just walk, but the guy did not take it seriously. “No” was generally taken for a “yes,” and “yes” was generally taken for a “no,” but James had not yet understood the psychology of Indian society this deeply.

Thinking that James was just being polite, the guy offered again. He was rather insisting. It would be to his honor to take an American on his cycle.

James climbed on the back of the two-wheeler. They buzzed down the lane, skirting pedestrians, bike riders, and a couple of bullock carts now on the way to market with bags of grain. James was not sure if he would be thrown off. At the junction, James got down as the driver was going a different direction. The trick now would be catching a bus. It took some time to learn the technique. Sometimes it was nearly impossible, in fact.

James peered down the road to the east, watching for a bus to appear, but only big public goods carriers were rumbling down the road, scattering the bicycle riders and pedestrians off the roads. He would just have to wait.

He sat on the edge of a concrete bench some distance back from the road near some large trees. There were puddles of water standing along the road from the recent rains. Some villagers were sitting along the road on their haunches and staring constantly at him. One had climbed up on the bench and was crouching there in his bare feet on the concrete slab. The peasants were wearing thin checkered tumbas that they wore in the fields. When they sometimes bared their legs, James noticed that they were smooth without hair. Just what I learned, he thought. These farmers actually shave their legs, but on the other hand, the women do not. James thought about that a little bit as the peasants burned a hole through him with their lazar-like eyes.

Then he heard himself being discussed in Punjabi by two of the peasants waiting for the bus. He could pick up part of what they were saying, enough to get the drift of it. He was a “gora” and “Angrez” and a strange creature to them. James tried to ignore them.

More big goods carriers passed. When they met another vehicle, they were forced to veer off the edge of the pavement to the left, sometimes splattering the pedestrians and those waiting with a shower of dust, water and even mud. James barely escaped the blast, but his eyes and face were plastered with the wind and dust stirred up by the vehicle. Millions of people all over the country were wasting their time waiting for buses, trains, tongas, and so on. This was a tremendous waste of human potential, James considered. The way things were done worked, to be sure, after a fashion, but was surely inefficient from an American point of view. But totally irrelevant, he concluded. Efficiency had already taken America down, destroyed the food, exported people’s jobs, made people poorer. The majority, that is. Better to avoid modernization. Efficiency might be good, if it was used to better society.

Across the road, James watched the activity taking place around a village well. To the left there was a small bicycle repair shop. It was a sort of shack, although made of brick with sheets of metal for a roof. Old used bicycle parts, even whole bicycle frames had been tossed onto the roof. There were worn out tires and some other junk which he could not recognize. A young Hindu in greasy shirt and pajamas was busy fixing a patch to the inside of a bicycle tire. Outside, an aged Sikh peasant was pumping up his bicycle tire with a hand pump. As he forced the handle of the tire pump down, only his knees seemed to bend as he used the weight of his entire body to force air into the tire.

A young girl of eight appeared leading a large black water buffalo with curved horns led by a chain to the cement cover of the village well. She pumped a bucket of water from the well and began dousing the animal with cold water from a small brass container.

An old woman appeared in rags. She walked bent over toward the well. Her face was extremely withered and her hair streaked with white. Her thin cloth top was full of holes and could not cover her sagging depleted breasts which hanged down in plain sight like the flat ears of a sow. She sat down on the well curb under the pump and took up her morning bathing in plain sight in public, as if no one would see her. James felt pity for her, but it seemed that no one noticed. It was just a normal scene taking place before their eyes.

Presently, a Jat peasant roared out onto the road with a Massey Ferguson tractor and trolley loaded with bags of grain for the market. He offered a ride on the trolley to some peasants waiting. A couple climbed up onto the bags of wheat.

The heat of the day had increased. James was becoming more miserable by the minute. He felt the sweat beginning to drip from his arms and forehead. The mosquitoes were not bad during the day, but the black flies were persistent, buzzing around his head and gouging into his eyes. He waved them away continuously, to no avail. They returned again and again to dive bomb into his eyes. He began to feel miserable. The heat, dust, mud, stench, and staring peasants, were almost too much. A large black crow began complaining from the top of one of the trees with Kaw, Kaw, Kaw. James was ready to do the same.

A big elderly man appeared, walking along the opposite side of the road. His massive legs protruded from kucha shorts under his large belly. His hair was streaked with gray and his beard looked bushy and tough. He walked stiffly like a small child as if he was in a daze, as if he had suffered a lobotomy and was now on the loose.

An old peasant appeared trying to drive a bullock cart down the road. The big black mudge pulling the cart refused to go straight. The animal insisted on taking him back into the village. The old man was beating the poor animal mercilessly with a thick bamboo lathi and laying crude Punjabi curses on the ornery creature.

O Tierre Maa, O Tierre Bahan, Olu ka putta, Soor ka Bucha.”

I’ll fuck your mother. I’ll fuck your sister you son of an owl, you son of a pig.”

Lying on the cart was a young boy who was moaning in pain as if he was about to die. Apparently the old peasant had resorted to attempting to get him to a doctor by taking him on the cart. But the buffalo had its own idea about that proposition and did not want to be a part of it. The creature was not into first aid.

Then James spied a bus approaching from the east. Would this one stop? Not likely, he calculated. Most of the time they did not bother to stop unless they had to let a passenger disembark. Then the conductor might have to shout abuses to the mass that tried to barge their way into the already packed sardine can and force the metal door back to ward off their assault. The buses invariably arrived packed to the gills at this time in the morning.

This time, the bus slowed, as if it would stop. Just then a goods carrier was approaching from the opposite direction. The bus had to swerve off the road to the left, hitting a pool of water. The mass of would-be riders were suddenly hit with a gust of wind and dust and then a barrage of muddy water over their bodies. The driver had apparently said “fuck it” and barreled it on. Several peasants shouted curses at the bus driver and tried to brush off their clothes and rub the dust out of their eyes.

No chance. This shit is hopeless, James was about to conclude. He was about to give it up. Why couldn’t someone figure out a system for these buses, a regular system than would work? What kind of fucking country was this anyway? This system is inhuman, brutal, callous. Whatever happened to all those lofty platitudes of Pundit Nehru on the eve of Independence? All those fine principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution? Now they seemed to be trampled in the dust and mud of this turbulent country.

The swarthy Punjabis, undeterred, recoiled from the abuse from that son-of-a-bitch, son-of-a-pig driver and bucked up their courage to go after the next rattling mother that roared down the road. They were invincible. They were tough sons of the soil. They were Punjabis, no less. Nothing would do them in. They would overcome. Indian style.

A modern pucca Sikh appeared cruising down the road on a big new motorcycle and dark glasses. How long he had spent grooming himself to appear in public was not certain, but it surely took some skill to produce his pristine appearance. He appeared unfazed by anything around him. He was fit for a Hindi film. His huge red turban was impressive, made of at least five meters of thin fabric, tightly tied to a point in front, a white band across his forehead and his dark goggles. Goggles were a status symbol in India and no film could be approached without a large budget for goggles for the stars. The man’s thick beard was stuck down to his face, it seemed, with some sort of glue. He wore a spotless bush shirt of thin fabric which had been sent to him by his brother in London. It was the envy of everyone that he approached. They all wanted fabric from London. Swadeshi and Gandhi be damned, they seemed to be saying.

All the peasants goggled at him like “what a lucky son-of-a-bitch that is.”

And then their courage and hope again bucked up. Another bus was approaching, a green and yellow Onkar Bus Service bus. It slowed to a stop. The conductor admitted a few passengers, shouting curses at the others, slamming the metal door and latching it.

Presently, new hope appeared. A blue and white Punjab Roadways bus was approaching from the east with an aged rattle-trap wooden body. The mass of peasants, students, clerks, housewives, and shopkeepers, jockeyed to be in a position to make a speedy dart and not miss the chance if they detected that the crude metal door of the bus was going to open. They stood poised to be in the proper position when the surge burst forward toward the bus. Now the bus slowed as if to stop. James tried to move toward the bus in anticipation with the crowd, but there were simply too many elbows in the crowd to make any headway. The old bus suddenly roared to life again.

Fuck! The guy has faked us out, James thought. That son-of-a-pig is playing games with us. He must get a big kick out of that!

Then the driver suddenly braked and stopped some thirty meters ahead next to a big puddle of water. The mass of peasants and others, now a thundering herd, rushed along the rough edge of the road through muddy water and small jagged rocks in chappals. James had poured on the juice, so as not to be trampled underfoot, and was near the door when the conductor opened it. Some peasants in tumbas scrambled up the steps ahead of him, with their cloth bags. Then James felt his feet on the bottom metal step. It was not necessary to pull himself up. The surge of the crowd lifted him magically on the crest of the human wave to lift him into the already packed sardine can. He felt his body pressed against the warm bodies of the Punjab peasants. Up, up, up, and he was in. There was no place to sit, but what the hell, he was now inside and he would be ensured of getting there providing this old crate did.

Then James recognized a young man near the front of the bus. He had met him a couple of days earlier in Phagwara. He was a student at a local technical college named Paramjit. Then the guy saw James. Even though there was no space on the seat, he squeezed over to give his new friend a few inches to cling to. James lowered himself down and managed to sit by clinging to the iron framework of the seat ahead.

James practiced talking to him in Punjabi. The young guy tried out his rudimentary English. Neither was very successful as they trucked on to the town of Bhagat Bagh. The bus bounced and jogged along, being forced off the road periodically when meeting a large oncoming vehicle.

Eventually, the bus reached the town and blasted a path through the rickshaws, pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles along the main road. The old rattle trap bus came to a stop near the large mulberry tree and disgorged a number of passengers. The young slim conductor, in khaki uniform, and carrying his small plastic bag, rushed to the small cement building to sell tickets though the dirty grungy iron grating. He would refill the bus for the run to Phagwara.

James said goodbye to his friend and repaired to the Block Office. He would check out whether anything was happening. As it turned out, there was nothing surprising. He discovered that his bicycle was just now coming. Ajit Singh, one of the inspectors, would go to Ludhiana and purchase the cycle when the wheels of bureaucracy had turned sufficiently to give him the green light. Meanwhile, his bike would remain in the status of “just now coming.”

James was under the false impression, as it turned out, that his place to live had, in fact, come. The truth was that it had not yet even started to be in the category of “just now coming.” Everyone was too polite to clue him in to the fact that he had just been dumped at the big sahib’s pucca house while the officers pondered what could be done about doing their duty and arranging a house for him. It would be another month before the truth would come like a slap in the face. It was a cultural slip-up, probably unavoidable, in the event.

He arrived at the Block Office. His first duty was to take the darshan of Mr. Moti Lal Verma, who was now officially his boss, but actually only desired that he stay out of his hair. As a bureaucrat, his top priority was to get his requisite number of years in government service and retire on a decent retirement income.

James would give his polite Namaste and sit like a humble chela at his feet for some time until he had been blessed by the efficacious aura of the officer. Meanwhile, the officer would pretend to be busily listening to a peasant’s complaint, shifting papers and documents under the punka, taking out straight pins from the corner of the papers and sticking them back in again, putting in new pins, and moving the heavy glass paper weights around to hold down the flimsy papers from blowing away. He would ensure the timid peasant that all his problems would be solved; indeed, all his needs were “just now coming,” the BDO droning on in his practiced honeyed voice. He knew how to get on in his profession. He was a professional bureaucrat and knew his priorities.

Through the window in the wall, James noticed an adjacent room where tall stacks of rotting ratty, ragged and dirty files were smoldering. The stacks had fallen over against each other and appeared to be multiplying like a virus, like the pestilence of Mississippi kudzu vines, threatening to take over the place like a monster. James began to wonder what kept these piles of garbage from going up in flames through spontaneous combustion in the intense heat and humidity.

Having exchanged pleasantries with the BDO and ensuring him that he was getting lined up for future work, James bid him farewell. Outside in the corridor, he started to head for the offices of the agricultural officers, when he spied the English steno, young Ravi, in the adjacent office. She was busy typing a document on an aging typewriter. James could see her bright lovely face. She was a cute young woman. That was for sure. She had removed her chuney and he could see the tasteful swell in her bosom. This must mean that there was something inside there worth discovering. James ruled out making such a felicitous discovery. But the tickle in his nether region was clearly a sign that he was attracted to her. The beginning love pangs from his lower regions sent electrical signals to his brain. Indeed, it would be the easiest thing in the world for her to leave a blister on his poor lonely heart. She was about to do that.

Oh God, thoughts along that line were strictly verboten in Punjab, he was aware of that. This merely made his fantasies flare up more violently. Ravi slowed her typing and cast a couple of furtive glances his way. James was suddenly aware of the thickening in his jeans. He was clearly risking getting out of bounds. He was afraid of making a faux pas, but surely, it would not be too far out of line to just say hello to her. In any event, he hoped that his indiscretion could be chalked up to his being a naïve foreigner. An infidel, no less. They could not expect a gora to be aware of all the foreign ways. No matter how one cut it, India was indeed a very conservative society and here he was out in the boondocks of rural Punjab.

James determined to meet the inspectors, but first, his curiosity was getting the better of him. Quickly entering the thin curtains of the doorway, he folded his hands and greeted her with a Sat Shri Akal. She gave him a sweet smile.

I am James,” he said stupidly, as if she did not already know that an American Sahib had arrived in their midst. It was as if a huge circus elephant had suddenly entered her office and announced that it was indeed an elephant.

He thought that he could introduce himself in English. After all, she was the English stenographer.

I am Ravi,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

She extended her soft slim hand and he touched her velvet flesh. It was a beautiful hand, no doubt about that, he reflected quickly. And a woman with beautiful hands was generally beautiful in all her proportions. She did not continue to cling to his hand, as happened with a man in Punjab. James felt a loss as her lovely small hand slipped away from his.

James wanted to tell her that she was beautiful, but that would surely be going too far. His hello was not much, but her delicious sweet smile was enough to make his day. It was enough to carry him through a million fantasies. How could he forget such a smile? This brief encounter had brightened up his day inordinately.

Now with a clownish bounce in his step, he moved around to the inspectors’ offices. Indeed all men were made out of the same stupid stuff and there was no cure for that. When it came down to it, they all thought with their cocks. That was as elemental as hydrogen and stupidity. It was simply built into their software and hardware as well.

Entering the outside office, he said hello to Baldev Singh, the agricultural inspector for works projects. There were two other officers in the room, Santokh Singh, the maize inspector, and Inder Singh, the social, education and Panchayat Officer. They questioned James about some things in America. He described to them the farming operations in Missouri and the crops he had raised. He drew a map to show them where Missouri was located in the USA.

James had resolved to succeed in his mission. He had been issued a Punjab Agricultural Handbook from the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. He wrote in the front of the handbook and journal a verse that he remembered from the Bible.

No man who puts his hand onto the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

He was determined not to be a quitter.

The other pithy observation which he noted down came from E.M. Forster.

The sky settles everything.”

Chapter Twelve: The Hotel

At half past one o’clock, James was starting to feel hunger pangs. The morning struggle to get a bus from the village had taken something out of him and now he was badly in need of some grub. Lunch was typically late, however, and he waited around the office fooling away the time with the agricultural officers. Some entertained themselves by tearing up discarded pieces of paper into small pieces and tossing it under their desks. There was no waste basket. It would be left to the low-caste sweeper who came around once a day.

Baldev Singh invited Mr. James to come to the hotel for lunch. Ajaib Singh would accompany them. James was ready to jump for some tasty food as he was starting to be famished.

The “hotel” was just across the road from the bus stop under the large mulberry tree. The hotel, so-called, was in fact, simply a Punjabi dhaba that served the type of food found in roadside eateries, where truck drivers often stopped to eat. A standard fare was curried goat or bakkara. James found it to be tasty and delicious if the meat was young and tender. There were some seasonal vegetable dishes prepared daily, such as bendi tori, curried potato, spicy pumpkin and so on. Chapattis were being made continuously as the food was served, flapped from hand to hand and slapped on the hot tava until they were baked. And it was cheap enough fare for the agricultural officers to eat, even on their government salaries. In front of the room was a sort of courtyard with a hand pump.

As they approached the run-down dirty building just off the road, the American Sahib, James Weldon, saw a mud and cement construction where the food was being prepared in several large metal pots perched over hot coals in front of the building. There was a metal roof extending over the large mud stove. There was a cook in grimy dirty clothes and a young boy in dirty shirt and shorts doing duty in dispensing the dishes of food to the customers.

There were a couple of dirty wooden soiled tables just inside the crowded small room which was open in the front. The sun was too hot to sit outside when the monsoon clouds moved away. A monsoon shower might blow up at all hours of the day in this season. James sat inside at a small grungy table with the two inspectors. Water was served in a beat up glass pitcher that was stained in several places. Was the water safe to drink? James wondered. What did it matter? What choice did he have? His stomach would take it or collapse, that was all there was to it. So it better get used to it. He quenched his thirst with a class. Playing Russian roulette with polluted water.

As they were waiting for the food, James sensed some motion to his side. He turned and saw a large rat that had just emerged from a crack in the wall and was staring at him. He was tempted to toss a glass of water in the direction of the intruder, but feared that this would be too much of a vulgar faux pas. It was not the proper protocol, he calculated, to embarrass his patrons when they graciously had brought him here to dine for lunch. So he played it safe and simply looked into the bright eyes of the curious rat as the rat did the same to him.

Hi, my name is Mr. Rat,” James imagined the creature saying.

Welcome, glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Rat. Any service?” James would reply.

After all, the rat was merely in the enterprise of assuaging its hunger pangs, the same as the American Sahib. It’s all the same shit. Part of the seamless web of life in the universe. He would take the philosophical point of view, like everyone else. Perhaps that helped explain why rats appeared in dhabas so often.

The two other inspectors laughed to see the curious rat, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It was doing no harm. James looked around at the walls of the “hotel.” They were very colorfully decorated with large calendars with pictures of Guru Gobind Singh with sword in hand, threatening to run some Britisher or other intruder through. Guru Nanak was alongside, with gaudy garlands and beads around his neck raising his hand in peace, presumably once the Britishers had indeed been vanquished to their dying breath. The Hindu God Krishna, depicted in a beautiful shade of powder blue, danced and tweeted on his flute drawing a hoard of young sari clad gopis out of the green woods for some frisky frolicking of a nature that would excite the imagination as well as one’s nether regions, presumably. Hanuman, the elephant god, also attended, while engaged in the enterprise of slaying a demon. Not only that, the god with the trunk was ready to make any problems or ills that one might encounter disappear at once. No task was too big for him. Which should have raised the question as to why problems and ills still existed on the earth, but any such observations were not likely to arise.

Just to the right of Hanuman, James noticed a huge oversized insect, too large to come under the rubric of a cockroach, crawling up the concrete wall. Either Hanuman considered it a good omen, or had overlooked it. In fact, it could have been his or anyone’s relative reincarnated in a different form. A couple of small killys, lizard-like creatures, scampered around the ceiling and hid beneath the light fixture waiting for more flies and mosquitoes to appear to assuage their hunger. It was a dhaba for them too. They were harmless and, in fact, useful in reducing the mosquito population, although not in numbers large enough to do any good, as far as James could tell. The balance of nature clearly weighed in on the side of flies and mosquitoes in this latitude. It was, in fact, no contest.

Glancing down at the greasy stained table, James saw that it was literally covered with a hoard of black flies. James was appalled at this, but neither of the inspectors took any notice of it, nor made any effort to shoo them away. James was tempted to clap his hands above the table, bringing down at least a dozen of them with one irreverent whack. He had tried it more than once when he was by himself. It felt good to go after these pestilent creatures, but then his hands would be gooey with all that fly juice and who knows what other shit, as the flies had just hatched out in the surrounding fields full of all that human shit. Better to leave them to their own resources. Moreover, they too were part of the universal web of life and it would surely be sinful to murder them. He was enough of an infidel as it was from the perspective of Indian society.

So he tried to “do as the Romans do” and ignore the flies. On the other hand, had the Romans ignored them, they would probably never have gotten as far as they did, James thought. But never mind.

The dishes of subzi arrived, courtesy of the small boy in the filthy tee shirt and shorts. Also a metal dish of bakkara for each. A stack of chapattis was brought wrapped in a cloth which left something to be desired in the way of cleanliness but never mind. The meal was underway.

James took a chapatti and plunged in, breaking off pieces and scooping up the food with pieces of the flat bread. He avoided touching anything with his left hand, which was only a code of manners. That hand was used for other purposes and so permanently polluted beyond redemption, and so one must eat only with their right hand. The food was not so bad and filled him up.

After the meal, they washed their mouths and hands at the hand pump. His mouth had been left burning slightly from the red pepper, but the Punjabi food was beginning to agree with him.

James decided that there was no point in going back to the BDO Office. He would go back to the village. He said so long to the officers.

He wanted to buy some fruit before going back to the rest house. Going to the fruit and vegetable seller on the corner, he bought apples and guava. The subzi walla put them in a paper bag.

James took his fruit and headed back to the bus stand. He was thinking to go back to his place and read more of The Night Runners of Bengal. He wanted to finish that novel.

On the way, he started noticing the cute college girls on their cycles going to classes. They were starting to look better to him every day. He waited at the place where the buses stopped, coming through from Phagwara, but there were not many at this time of day.

James noticed that the sun had been blacked out. It was now approaching two o’clock in the afternoon. He hoped that he might catch the bus and get home before another monsoon downpour of rain came. Some large sprinkles started to fall. He saw that his paper bag was starting to get damp. Then more drops came down. It this bag soaks up, I’ll lose my fruit, he was thinking.

While he was waiting, a young woman was watching him. That was not unusual. As an Angrez, he always stood out anyway. Finally, a bus appeared and he hoped that he could make it home. The young woman got on the bus ahead of him. Now there was only one seat left and it was next to her. James took the seat as the bus suddenly started up.

Chello, chelloway, chell,” the conductor shouted. The bus was already underway. James cradled his bag of fruit in his lap, but the bus was hitting some rough holes along the side of the road, meeting trucks and other buses. Clearly, it was not going to work. His bag was starting to tear. A couple of ripe guavas started to roll out onto the seat. What could he do?

The young girl was looking at him and smiling at his predicament. Then she spoke to him.

Sahib,” she said, starting in perfect English. “Here, take my chuney. Put your sabe and amarooda in my chuney. Bag is breaking.”

But, I will be leaving the bus in four miles,” James said. “I cannot take your chuney.”

It’s OK,” she said. “You can bring me my chuney later. I come to the college every day. I will meet you at Kartar Sweet Shop tomorrow at two o’clock if you come. Do you know it?”

Oh sure,” James said. “Sure, I know it. Sure, that would be great,” James said. “You are very kind.”

Never mind,” she said. “I saw you before. I liked you. I wanted to meet you, but it is hard. Now I was lucky today.”

Oh no, I was lucky to meet you,” James said.

She took the chuney from her head and handed it to him. He wrapped the long thin strip of cloth around his fruit, now about to fall to the floor.

How will you go without your chuney?” James asked. “How will you go in the rain?”

Never mind,” she said. “I am not going to melt.”

Maybe you will, James was tempted to say. You look like sweet candy to me. He would have liked to melt her and now she was starting to melt his poor heart.

It is very nice of you,” James said. “I hope that it does not look strange carrying my fruit in a chuney.”

Don’t worry. It will be OK,” she said.

James picked one of the big red apples and a couple of the guavas and handed them to her.

Thanks,” she said, and put them into her bag.

What is your name,” James asked. “Lalita,” she said.

And I am James,” he said.

Yes, I already knew,” she said. “My friend told me.”

James wondered who that could be. His fame was spreading far and wide.

They were reaching the junction and James motioned for the conductor to stop the bus. He said goodbye and told her he would see her tomorrow.

Sat Shri Akal,” he told her as he left.

James headed for the exit of the bus. As he was going down, the cloud had burst and the monsoon rain let loose from the sky with a torrent. The wind was whipping up and blowing the waves of wet rain across the road. What the heck, he thought, I will get wet, but I can dry off when I get home and enjoy my novel. It was almost a mile to the village. There were few on the road now. He walked, enjoying the cooling refreshing rain on his body. Oh God! The rain felt good, almost sexual. He remembered the beautiful eyes of that girl, Lalita. Shit, she said she would meet me tomorrow, he thought. It was a good day. He didn’t mind letting the rain drench him like a drowning rat, with her sweet image in his mind. He had been acting a little crazy, but what the heck? After all, he was a foreigner. He could not be expected to know all the ways of the locals. Lalita, what a sweet name!

James arrived at the village compound and came through the gate. There were big puddles of water standing in the courtyard. His feet were getting soaked. But he didn’t mind. He came into the veranda and entered his room. It was never locked. He dried off his wet body and changed his clothes. He unwrapped his fruit and hung up the red chuney to dry, out of sight. It would be too suspicious to have her chuney in plain sight. He loved the feel of that piece of cloth. It felt erotic, especially knowing that it belonged to her.

It would be nice to read some of the novel once he had relaxed. He flicked on the electric light switch, but nothing happened. He saw that the power was gone. What the hell? It was crazy. But he was happy.

He lay back on his bed to take a rest. That young girl lay clearly in his mind. Now he could see her young face clearly. Would he forget it? Sometimes he could not recall a woman’s face when he loved her too much. He wanted to cling onto it and not forget it. Oh God, she was a cutie. And now he knew her name. He would find out where she lived when he talked to her again. What a loss, he thought, if I could never see her again. It would be so nice to have her picture.

That dress, so white, so clean. So pretty. That thin red chuney, and red pajama underneath. Her long black hair plaited. She showed her young shapely legs and that lovely swell of peaches in her bosom. Her pretty black shoes and short heels. He felt like sleeping. Somehow the rain had made him drowsy. Except if he did, he would surely now dream of her.

Just then, he heard the knock on his door. It was Bahader, the servant boy, bringing his afternoon tea.

Sahib, Mister James, cha,” Bahader said.

James sat up as the boy entered the room and sat the tray down on the small table. He placed a cup and a small pot of tea on the stand. It was Punjabi tea with the milk and sugar already boiled into it.

On the tray James saw a letter.

Your letter, sir,” the boy said, handing him the envelope.

James noticed that it was a large white envelope and that it was from the US. He saw the stamp and glancing at the other side he saw the return address “Selective Service, Washington, DC.”

My God, he thought. My letter has come.

James thanked the boy and sat down next to the small table. Better be sitting down to open this son-of-a-bitch, he thought, in case it is terrible news.

Oh God, this is going to decide my fate, he thought. Actually, it had already been decided some days ago and now the news had just now reached him. He dreaded that he might be put on a plane and given a ticket back to America to join the US Army, if it was negative. America might be the land of the free, but in the event, it was the farthest thing from freedom if he was going to be sent back. He would be sent straight to Vietnam.

He slowly opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. He bucked up his courage for any fate. There, in a couple of brief lines, it stated simply that he had been given a deferment for service in the Peace Corps.

Whew!” James thought. “Fuck an AAAAA!” I fuckin made it. See those sons of bitches in my fuckin rear view mirror, you motherfucking farmers! Eat shit, you fucking hay seeds.”

What a great piece of news! Now he was free! Free for at least another two years. Hopefully, surely, the war would be over by that time.

Thanks, LBJ, You made my day! He thought.

James was deep in thought as he drank his warm sweet tea. All that he had been through, being turned down by the local and state draft boards. Now he hoped that dumb Mrs. Grinnell would get the message from Washington. Get fucked, bitch. You are not getting your hands on this guy. He is going for peace not war. Yes, he would like to see the look on her face when she got the notice from Washington. He had won the morcha, as the Punjabis said.

He had pulled through all that and through the Peace Corps training. Now he would make good. For sure, he would make good. He would do it right and succeed. He would work and be proud of himself. Too bad that his home town could not be proud of him. For that to happen, he would have to get himself killed fighting communists. Nothing could be more foolish and stupid than that.

Appropriate enough, his bicycle had been purchased in Ludhiana and would be turned over to him in a few days. Perhaps his stars were changing. Two hits in a row. Now he was on a roll.

.

4 Just Now Coming

Chapter Thirteen: Kartar Sweet Shop

James woke up to a bright day for a change. He would go to Bhagat Bagh. He was happy that the draft deferment had now been settled. Now he would not be shipped back to America. He remembered the promise that Lalita would meet him in the afternoon at the sweet shop.

After some breakfast and tea, he walked out into the village path. Small children were playing in front of the thatched huts of the migrant farm laborers. He walked up into the center of the village. Near a village well with a circular cement cover, an old woman was pulling up a bucket of water with a rope over the big pulley. She had brought clothes to wash along with her daughter. They poured water over the garments and pounded them with a heavy stick. They kept fluffing each piece and pounding it again and again. Such a laborious task, James thought. What would they think of an automatic washer? How long would it be before such a device would appear in the village? It seemed to be an automatic response to view everything within the context of American standards, even though he tried to resist it. It suggested to him just how brainwashed he actually was. The tendency to use America as the standard was irresistible at this stage of his becoming native.

The washer woman called to someone in a nearby house in a loud and shrill voice. She was asking for something from her other daughter. Then there was the sharp voice of a woman from another house piling abuses on her. An argument was starting up which would likely go on for the whole day, or perhaps for several days. Well, let them fight it out, James thought. After all they need something to spice up their boring life. Their sharp voices could have cut through metal as they ate each other’s heads, as the Punjabis said.

James walked on eying a suspicious looking dog. One needed to take caution as these wild dogs became rabid from time to time. They often bit someone before they were killed. He noticed that many of the drains in the brick street were clogged and black with rotting slime. Now the drains had overflowed with the recent monsoon rains. The black slime flooded across the village path between the houses.

The village had been electrified for a few years, but looking at the system, he wondered how it functioned at all. There was a confusion of wires spreading out from the iron poles and intertwined with each other. The poles were made from two iron pieces bolted together by short iron pieces. One could not make out where the tangle of wires was going. James wondered if some villagers had jury rigged the wires to get free electricity for their houses and shops. This happened often enough.

Further on, there was a small village school. The pupils that he could see were all boys, seated outside on crude benches. They were writing on slates and small copy books. Another class was loudly chanting the letters of the Gurmukhi Alphabet. They will surely learn it that way, James thought. Chirping loudly like baby birds.

On the opposite side of the village, he passed through the large ostentatious village gate. It was decorated with painted designs with the name of the village, Happowal, written in dark blue letters above in Punjabi. Above were three small white domed structures patterned after the domes of a Sikh Gurdwara. One could not get away from religion. It suffused everything and every place in village life.

Outside the gate, two village women had come to cut maize fodder for the buffaloes. They were squatting on the ground, grasping the fresh succulent green stalks in their left hands, while they drew a small scythe across the stems with their right hand. They laid each bunch behind them. When they had cut enough, they collected the stalks in a pile and tied them up in a large white cloth that they could carry to the animals on their heads. This was a daily task that had to be performed all through the year. The stalks would be chopped with the big cutting wheel turned by a crank and mixed with chopped straw to make a palatable mixture for the animals. The bullocks became a gober-patty making machine with the proper mixture. How else would people cook their food? There was a severe shortage of wood.

Out on the main road, the task was to catch the bus. A large goods carrier passed, rumbling down the road. On the back in big letters, James saw written in English: “Use Dipper at Night.” He wondered how many of the drivers could actually read and understand it. And if they did, how many would use their dippers on the dark village roads?

When James arrived in the town, he checked in with the BDO to see if there had been any development. It seemed that there had been no change in status except for the bike. Everything else continued in a state of “just now coming,” or something along that line, and so he decided there was no need to waste very much of his day here. At least there was no bad news. Now that his bike had come, he would not have to always take the bus.

Along the main drag through the town, there was a seed shop where he had bought some garden seeds. It was a clean and well-run shop. There he met the shopkeeper, a sardar, who knew English and he had talked with when he bought some seeds. He was surprised to find that the shop owner had studied in the United States, first at his old university, and then switched to California. He did not like the Midwest. Jagjit Singh was quite modern and liberal.

He asked James to try to get him some of the new dwarf wheat seeds from the Peace Corps in Delhi. He wanted to plant them in his small plot of land, only a few acres. James made a note of it and said that he would ask the Peace Corps officials in Delhi if they could supply some. It was difficult as they were new and the demand for them was great. Jagjit talked with him and invited him to have lunch at his place which was in the local model town. This was a new section of the town with new modern cement houses. James agreed and he was happy that it would save him from going to the grungy hotel for lunch. Enough of that place, he thought.

James shopped around the bazaar and returned a little later. Early in the afternoon, Jagjit produced a bottle of whiskey and asked James to have a peg with him. James would have rather passed it up, but wanted to be social. After bracing themselves with the drink, Jagjit called for a rickshaw and they headed for his place. It was a couple of kilometers on the edge of town near open fields. They poor skinny, but muscular rickshaw walla strained to get the old machine rolling and then keep it rolling in the confused anarchy of the street. Inevitably he would lose the momentum and have to strain to start it up again.

Jagjit told the driver where to go and they turned into the compound of the Model Town. The house was a tasteful koti of two stories, not huge but spacious.

Before bringing the sahib into the house, he showed him his large garden near the fields that was watered by a tube well. Growing in the plot were cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, okra, karela or bitter gourd, sweet corn, pollock, and radish. James was impressed that they could have fresh vegetables every day, collected by a servant.

Returning to the house, Jagjit asked James to relax in the sitting room. Jagjit’s wife, Moksha, was also quite modern and was directing the servant woman as prepared lunch. She had just come from the local college, where she was a language instructor. Unlike the village women, she came out and sat down with them, not staying in the back. She laughed at the traditional conservative practices. James saw that she was quite attractive. She had studied for several years in London and so felt at home in the presence of an American. Perhaps social change might come to these wilds, but painfully slow. She understood the locals, but only looked with disdain upon traditions that held the locals back, in her view.

James asked her about the college and she told him about her classes. Most of the students were anxious to learn English. They all dreamed of going to the UK or America and were sure that they would find the opportunity. She said that he should visit the college sometime. She would show him around and to hell with the Neanderthals who frowned upon her talking to a man who was not her husband. She just laughed at such primitive minds.

The servant brought the lunch and they ate together, the simple vegetable dishes with chapatti. It was the first time he had eaten in the presence of a woman since coming to Punjab. At least since leaving the training center. After the meal, the servant brought some fruit. The peasants generally ate little fruit, even if they could afford it as it was not a traditional part of the meal. Jagjit asked James to rest after lunch and showed him an upstairs room with a wide mungie. James found an English novel in the shelf to read. He would ask to borrow it.

After his rest, James got up and tried to revive himself in the afternoon heat. It was difficult to shake off the drowsiness. The heat was still here for another two months or so. Then he took leave of Jagjit thanking him for his hospitality and promising to meet him at his shop.

Arriving back at the shops in his rickshaw, James noticed a crowd of people gathered in the space between the shops and the road. What was going on? Two men traveling through the country, from town to town, had brought a dancing bear that was now performing for the crowd. One of the men was shaking a small instrument in his hand that made a drumming sound. The bear was jumping up and down in time to this sound. The other man was raising a pole above the bear’s head to make it stand up on its hind legs and dance.

James was amused to see this going on and considered that it was a cruel abuse of the poor bear. The owners of the bear had found a way to live at the expense of the poor animal. Then he noticed that two other men had brought two small monkeys. The two monkeys were dancing and beating on a metal pan that was tied to their neck to make a drumming sound. These attractions had drawn a large crowd of those who had come into town from the villages. Some people had thrown down coins to see the show. After all, the peasants were starved for entertainment before the age of television.

James now arrived at the sweet shop. He enjoyed the treats, but was revolted by the grungy conditions of the place. He looked around, but did not see Lalita. There were no young women at all. However, he trusted that surely she would come. It was rare that young women came to such a place in Bhagat Bagh, but from time to time there were those who were more daring. Young female students would sometimes dare to stretch the social code, defying the male-dominated customs. Sometimes they would come and take one of the few tables and eat some samosa or sweets. Such freedom would be lost, of course, once they could be strapped into the straitjacket of marriage.

James sat down at an extremely soaked and greasy wooden table in the filthy, grungy, place. He tried to close his nose to stifle the stench emitted from the wooden table soaked with lussie. Outside, the cook was frying fresh pakoras in a large vat of oil. The fragrance of the cooking spinach, potato, and gram flower filled the air and whetted his appetite.

James asked for some of the hot pakoras and a Coke while he waited. After another quarter hour, two young women appeared like butterflies, borne on their cycles and lighted like some beautiful exotic birds that had just flown in from some tropical island. They were like beautiful species of birds that break the dull monotony of the countryside with their dazzling colors. Now the two coeds stood out from the chaos and the anarchy of the streets of the small provincial town. It was refreshing to James’s eyes.

He saw Lalita in a dark green Punjabi outfit. She had come with her best friend, Sharmala, who was dressed in red. They looked delightful, their shapely young legs in the tight colorful white pajamas and their low-heeled black shoes.

James’s poor heart took a leap and skipped a beat to see her again. The girls parked their bikes. They approached one of the tables, their chuneys trailing from their shoulders and sat down. It would be too forward for them to sit down at the same table with James, so they discreetly took the only other table. James had to do something to break the ice. They were talking and laughing a little nervously, hesitant to let their eyes stray to the American sahib sitting at the next table. They pretended not to be aware of him.

It was clearly up to James to perform the faux pas in terms of rural Punjabi decorum. He bravely rose and walked the short distance over to their table, bringing the small bag that contained Lalita’s chuney. Lalita folded her hands and greeted him, looking a little embarrassed or feigning shyness. James greeted the girls with a Sat Shri Akal. He noticed the others in the shop eying him suspiciously for his daring behavior. What was going on here?

Indeed, there were those elders in the town and the surrounding villages who were worried about the influence of the college on the morals of the local youth. Indeed, it was treacherous to have such a coeducational institution right here in the town. The village girls could easily meet guys at the college and be corrupted and even ruined for marriage. There was already a committee of local elders, white beards, who were swiftly making arrangements for an all-women’s college that would preserve the innocence of the local young women. They would, of course, name it Guru Nanak National College for Women. Here was sufficient evidence that such apartheid between the sexes was a vital necessity. Even college students hardly dared to meet in public outside of the college grounds. Generally even there they could not easily meet in the male chastity belt that was rural Punjab.

Hello, I brought your chuney,” James said, handing Lalita the small packet. Secretly, he had also written her a letter which he had concealed inside the packet.

Thanks again for your kindness.”

It’s OK,” she said. “It’s nothing. It was a chance to talk to you.”

It is very nice to see you again,” James said. He didn’t know what else he should say.

Nice to see you too,” she said. “This is my friend Sharmala.”

Hi,” James said, “Nice to meet you.” She too was a lovely young girl. Young beauties always seemed to flock together.

Did you have lessons today?” He asked Lalita.

They were both students at the local Bhagat Singh National College.

Yes, history lecture,” Lalita said. “It is boring. The professor is boring.”

Oh, that’s too bad,” James said. “But you can read on your own.”

He knew what she was referring to after experiencing those pretentious sardars who tried to teach them agriculture at Batala. They seemed to think they were little gods or something, the way they strutted around in their tightly tied big turbans. They tried to impress them with their knowledge of agriculture, but it just came out as a sort of comedy. It had made him want to laugh more than once.

James was not surprised. Like all students, James thought. They do not like to study when they can have more fun doing other things like meeting their boyfriends. They would like to push the boundaries of social decorum as much as possible. “Doin all the law’s allowin,” as Hank Williams said. However, it would not be quite possible to “set the woods on fire,” in rural Punjab. Not by a long shot.

It was an awkward situation. James wanted to be friends and talk with them, but could not do it in a natural way here in Punjab. He hated to say goodbye so soon, but felt that it would be suspicious to stay around any longer talking to them. They too were caught in the debilitating and stupid social bind.

Thanks again,” he said, and then sat down at his table. Anyway, he had told her in his letter that he wanted to meet her again where they could have more time to talk. He had also told her that he thought she was beautiful. And even a couple of subtle hints that went farther.

James wanted to take the young beauty into his arms and kiss her. The pain and blister burning his poor heart was more intense with them so close. No shit, this male chastity belt is really shit, he thought. What a society! How had it come to this? He had seen from his reading that Indian society was more free and liberal in the south of the country. Clearly, Punjab had been influenced more by Islam. More than half of the population was Moslem before the partition in 1947. That accounted for part of this sick apartheid system of separating the sexes in youth.

One might get by with much greater fraternization between the sexes in big cities like Delhi. Upper class youth could most certainly have more freedom. But Punjab was through and through a peasant society. There was no getting around that. Progressive, perhaps, in tube wells, dwarf wheat, and the Green Revolution, but a terribly backward society, socially. This was being driven home to him. It took considerable skill to be made to feel guilty for merely speaking to a young female. What could be wrong about that? India was indeed a very conservative society.

James knew that the young women were aware of him sitting there, but they had to pretend otherwise.

When some students came to the sweet shop from the college, James met Krishna, who was a third your student. James invited him to sit down and have tea at his table. Krishna said that it would be nice if he could come to the college. He would show him around. James was happy to make another friend and agreed.

Krishna took James on the back of his cycle to the Bhagat Singh National College which was a kilometer away. They passed through the confusion of the town. Near a wall, a barber had set up shop cutting a customer’s hair. Strange, but not so bad, anyway, James concluded. It was fine in the open air. Another entrepreneur was soliciting to shine shoes for the people who had some that were worth shining. A white Sahiwal Bull was wandering along in front of the shops taking advantage of the fruit and vegetable peels that had recently been discarded. They were, after all, walking garbage disposals. At another place fresh ears of corn were being roasted on hot coals for tasty chullies.

Next to the college grounds was a huge white Gurdwara. The Nishan Sahib or Holy Flag was flying at the entrance. This was the most prominent and elegant building in the town and was kept spotless, unlike the rest of the town. A large tank next to the structure was filled with water, now turned green with spirogyra. Such tanks were somewhat of a problem, it seemed, in terms of keeping them clean in the brutal hot and humid climate.

They removed their shoes and James tied a white cloth around his head to enter the temple. They entered a large room, the Diwan Hall, where the Sikh Holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, was kept on a raised platform and covered by the Chanani or canopy. This book was known as the Eleventh Guru, after the first ten. Another room was the Langar Hall, the place for eating. Secretly, James concluded that this might be the most, or perhaps only, useful part of the complex.

If they could only keep the flies off the food, the way they keep them off the Holy Sikh Bible, that would surely please the Guru, James thought. Unfortunately, it was not a priority.

Coming out of the temple, they entered the grounds of the college. There was a library and James was curious to see what sort of books were there. James was happy to meet the librarian and see that there was a good collection of books in English. There were many Russian classical novels in English. He met the librarian who told him that he was welcome to borrow the books if he liked.

Then Krishna asked him to play table tennis. He was not good at ping-pong and lost all the games. He realized that he needed a lot of practice. The young Punjabis were far more proficient and skillful. There was something that he might work on.

James was happy that he had met some friends that day. At the end of the day, he got a bus back to the village. He had not accomplished much, perhaps, but he had made some friends. This might be a basis for future work. And then there was the brightest side, his meeting with Lalita. She was resting easy on his mind. At this point, he could only dream. But what pleasant dreams. At least she could brighten up his hopeful fantasies.

Chapter Fourteen: Bhagat Bagh Rest House

One morning about five weeks after James Weldon settled into the big house in the village of Happowal, the servant boy, Bahader, met him in the courtyard and showed him the shed on the edge of the large open space, where he was living.

Sahib, your house,” he said.

James was shocked. My house? What does he mean by “my house?” At first James did not understand.

Then it hit him. He was not meant to live in the big house after all. He had just been a guest for a while, during which the bureaucrat, the BDO, was twiddling his thumbs and wondering where and how they could find a place for him to live. It was actually part of his official duty to provide the sahib a house, but not too easy to accomplish in India. Not everyone would want an American sahib living next to them in their village. And anyway, no one could figure what he was doing there. It was terribly suspicious. After all, the American CIA was very creative in the type of covers it used for its agents. Was he a spy, after all? Likely, the main thing was money. It should not cost anything to provide his house.

Now, it was clear that he had worn out his welcome in the big house. He had become a nuisance to the big sardar. It was the Sarpanch’s guest house where he put his political cronies when they stayed overnight at the village and he could not do that with the American sahib there. Moreover, the family had the responsibility of another mouth to feed, an American, no less. This must be putting a lot of pressure on the women of the family.

Inder Singh was a member of the state legislative assembly, the Vidhan Sabha, in Chandigarh. He was elected as a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal Party, a Sikh political party in Punjab. The American sahib sometimes sat with the politician and his son Balvinder in their quiet shady courtyard when his political colleagues visited him. He had no idea what they thought about the situation. Perhaps it was a problem for him as a politician. The political discussions went on for hours in the evenings while pegs of rum were offered to James and the sardar’s guests. James listened to the discussions without understanding them in Punjabi. Politically, he didn’t have a clue.

How it came about that the servant boy announced the situation, he wondered. Balvinder, being exceedingly kind and hospitable, could apparently not bring himself to break the news to the sahib. Whether he actually believed that James could live in that shed, he also wondered. It was not likely, he thought. Probably it was just a way out of their awkward predicament.

It was not supposed to turn out this way, with someone else providing his living expenses. The sahib got a living allowance from the Peace Corps. The American Government owned billions of rupees from PL-480 wheat sales to India. The US took payments for the American grain in rupees. Mountains of rupees piled up. The US government was said to have enough rupees to finance an entire five-year development plan of the Indian Government. They were not convertible on the international currency market. They just paid the volunteers a living allowance out of that fund. It was costing the United States Government almost nothing. The sahib was clearly supposed to pay his own way while in the country.

Oh,” James had said, when the servant suggested that the shed was his house.

Then Bahader took him there and showed him the inside of the place. It was more or less just a shed where the servant slept and the car was kept.

He had been left rather speechless. What should he say? He would have to take it up with the BDO. After all, it was his responsibility, officially, to provide him with an accommodation. The rub, perhaps, was that there was nothing in the block development budget for such an outlay. A free accommodation was pretty hard to find.

Arriving at the BDO Office, James waited for some visitors to clear out of the office. Then he went inside and greeted the BDO with a Namaste. After some pleasantries, James brought up the subject of his house. The BDO had already been informed of James’s pending ejection from his living quarters.

Mister James,” the Overseer Sahib, Randhir Singh, will come and take your things. He will move your things to the Rest House in the town.”

Oh shit, not that place, James thought. He had seen the place the first day that he came. It was in town, but not a place where one could settle down permanently. One would be living out of their trunk as a guest. He was now being kicked out into limbo, just when he might have been able to get started on his work.

Sir,” James said, “I actually need to have my own private house. That way, I can have my own place and have a cook. That is what the Peace Corps requires. It should also have a latrine, but if not, I can build one later.”

Hongee, hongee, Mister James. Don’t worry sahib, don’t worry, you will have your own place. Teek tok. Your house is just now coming, Mister James,” he said, wagging his head vociferously from side to side.

Don’t worry sahib, house is just now coming.”

Like shit, James thought. Where have I heard that before? Now his house was just now coming. It was rather a blow, but he would buck up his courage. There is no creature on earth more gullible than an American Peace Corps Volunteer. He would truck on to the prize. He would overcome these difficulties. He had to buck up his courage. He knew that things would not go smoothly all the time. After all, he was a pioneer, blazing new trails in making the world a better place. The easy way would have been to just go into the American army and kill communists in Vietnam or at least so-called communists.

The next day, James waited in the village for the driver to bring the jeep and take his things to the rest house. He had spent the evening packing everything up. He was ready to book to the rest house.

But nothing happened. No one showed up.

Where the fuck is that asshole? James thought. They say they will move me and then no one shows up.

The next day, James got out early after eating his now standard two boiled eggs and drinking cha and headed out to the road to catch the bus. He was early enough to catch one without too much chaos.

As James approached the Holy of Holies, the BDO was shuffling the thin crinkled papers under the big whirling punka that was stirring up air. Just as he arrived, a power cut hit and the fan coasted to a stop. The BDO continued on without missing a beat.

James entered, salaamed his Namaste, and waited while the BDO discussed a matter with a ragged peasant. James could see his head wagging from side to side. He was ensuring the peasant of something that was almost certain not to happen. Some other such another was just now coming somehow or other from somewhere or other, “hongee, hongee, hongee.” Sure, sure, sure.

Jesus, he must do that in his sleep, James thought. He thought about those mechanical manikins in Disney land, like the one of Abraham Lincoln that ran on electricity. His head moved and his lips too. It would be fairly easy to make one of an Indian official as the major function would be the head-wagging motion. The hand could also be made to stretch down and scratch the toes and so on as he considered his next lying claim. There would be a little dial where the frequency of the wagging head could be cranked up to a high rate of speed. James almost drifted off into a trance lost in his daydream vision.

Hongee, hongee, hongee, your cod is just now coming,” he was ensuring the peasant. “Plenty of time, plenty of time for your crops.” The poor peasant’s fertilizer was “just now coming.” The poor man left meekly. James wondered if he would ever see that fertilizer.

Mister James, welcome,” the BDO began. “The jeep was broken down yesterday.” It was a lie. “The driver could not come.”

It doesn’t matter,” James said, politely hoping that he would have better luck today.

Today I will visit a village,” the BDO announced. “You will go with me to meet a farmer.”

OK,” James said, hopefully. “I would like that. I need to meet farmers. But I have packed up my things to move to the Rest House.”

The Rest House seemed to have dropped off the agenda, in the event. It was clear that meeting farmers had a much higher priority than finding a place for the sahib to live.

We can move your things tomorrow,” the BDO proposed.

That is, if the jeep is not broken down, James thought. Rest House move just now coming.

Next week your house will be arranged,” the BDO continued, as if he had just checked into a crystal ball and seen the vision of a house materializing out of thin air before their very eyes. How the hell did he know that? James knew that there must be a million things that could happen to trip up that time table, if it did indeed exist. He had surely just pulled that out of his ass.

Yes, yes, James Sahib. Don’t worry. It will be done,” the BDO started, again wagging his head from side to side.

Yes, I understand, James wanted to say. My house is just now coming, just now coming, just now coming…

James again waited, getting bored. The minute hand of the clock had made a full round and started on another hour. The BDO met more irate, but humble, peasants who were seeking something that had just been coming now for so long that they were exasperated.

Finally, the BDO slipped his feet back into his sandals and headed for the small official block jeep. James climbed into the back. He had his diary along with him to take notes. He started to feel a little official out on this official mission with a real official. Shades of the British Raj.

The driver started up and pulled out into the stream of pedestrians and old rickety bicycles. They bounced along the narrow pucca road down past the field that James clearly recognized now as “shit central” where everyone in the vicinity appeared early in the morning for their nature call. The driver paid little heed to pedestrians and bicycles. It was their duty to flee or get smashed. Encountering a bullock cart was something else. They had to skirt around those. On the other hand, in the case of a large truck, it was the jeep that had to flee or get smashed. Mass and momentum ruled the roads. Mass times velocity squared or something along that line. He had not been a physics major for nothing. It was sure to come in handy somewhere.

In half an hour, they reached the small village of Karnana. The driver pulled off the pucca road into a dirt path that ran to the edge of the village. The arrival of the jeep carrying an important official, such as the BDO, was a significant event in the village. Women and young girls peered at the scene from the rooftops. Small boys in bare feet ran out and surrounded the jeep. To add more mystery to the event, the official was accompanied by an Angrez, a foreigner from America, no less. It could not have caused more stir if the visitor had been a green and purple monster just arrived from Mars in a space ship. James was an American, to be technical, but this carried little weight in the event. To the locals, he was simply an Angrez, an Englishman.

The BDO, the Overseer Sahib, and James climbed out of the jeep to the amusement of the locals gathered around in a circle and approached the gate of a large pucca house at the edge of the village. The house could not be mistaken. The name of the owner was written in large blue letters above the gate of the courtyard. “Sukhdev Singh.”

The big man himself, Sukhdev Singh, a local progressive farmer who grew maize in this season met them at his gate and welcomed the visitors. He gave the BDO a “Sat Shri Akal.” James too greeted him with a “Sat Shri Akal.” Truth was God, that much was settled. But what was truth, he was not so sure.

They were invited into the sitting room of the expansive koti. If the farmer was suffering from inadequate agricultural support prices from the government, it was not obvious from his expansive new house.

They settled into the room. The women, of course, were nowhere to be seen, now hidden in the back recesses of the house already cranking up the fire to produce cha for the guests. They would mostly remain out of sight, except for Sukhdev’s young daughter who was the most forward.

In the sitting room were a large divan and some large chairs for guests. The room had been whitewashed, but was now suffering from peeling paint on some of the walls from the brutal heat and humidity. It was a quite large room. On one side was a mantle, although no fireplace appeared below.

Above the mantle, quite high up, were hanging calendars, none of current vintage, unfortunately, with various depictions of Sikh hagiography. On one in the center, a fierce battle ensued, blood gushing in several directions, as the Sikhs poised their swords and overcame their enemies victoriously through the Holy Power of the Guru. On another was the shining luminous image of Guru Nanak instilling peace across the universal sphere, which was presumably necessitated by the fierce bloodletting brought on by the Sikh Wars. Never fear, if there was war, peace and tranquility were just now coming, courtesy of the omnipotence of the Guru. A glittering strand of shiny material graced the images to help drive home the point.

On the other hand, beside Nanak, Guru Gobind was not missing a beat. He appeared with massive curved sword in his belt, dressed in the Sikh colors of bright blue and yellow. He was brave. Brave beyond all description, beyond all human imagination, he was brave. That much was settled, or so it was believed by all Punjabis. The same went for all other Sikhs. They were all brave and all ready to do battle. They were members of the Khalsa Panth, holy warriors all.

James sometimes wished that they would shift their warring attentions to the flies, mosquitoes and unsanitary conditions, which might have actually been more of a challenge as well as more down to earth. It might also have done some good, unlike all this saber rattling, which turned out to be rather fruitless in the event. Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Unfortunately, their struggles with evil seemed confined to the realm of Sikh hagiography. The local vermin escaped unscathed.

On the mantle was a display of pictures, mostly black and white, of members of the family, some long deceased. In one large photograph, elderly family members were shown standing next to the propped up body of a deceased elder. Another picture showed the wedding picture of a young couple staring stiffly into the camera as if terrified. There was a small plastic image of the Taj Mahal.

James listened while the BDO conversed in Punjabi with Sukhdev Singh. Then, in order to greet the official with the proper protocol, Sukhdev arose and reached into his almari and produced a whiskey bottle now filled with desi sherab made from sugar cane. White lightning, Punjabi style. The farmer poured out the clear liquid, a shot for the BDO and one for himself. He started to pour one out for the American Sahib, but James declined the honor. The farmer assumed that he was merely being polite and again moved to pour out his portion, but James once again turned him down. James desired to be hospitable, but knew that he could not possibly stomach such a concoction. He was not much of a drinker, especially of something with the power of local moonshine. James felt bad knowing that it was a faux pas and in bad taste. How was he going to establish any rapport with these farmers if he couldn’t chug desi sherab, the local white lightening?

The BDO also did not seem exactly thrilled either, but knew his duty and went along. Sukhdev toasted the official and tossed his drink off in one gulp. James was clearly impressed. The BDO braced himself and chugged half of his shot.

They discussed the enterprise of growing maize.

America, very good maize production,” the BDO observed, now emboldened by the shot of moonshine. “Now we start to grow hybrid corn as in America. You can work on maize,” the BDO suggested.

I would like to,” James said. “I have grown maize on our farm in the USA a lot.”

James told him that in the US, broad leaf weeds were controlled with 2-4D, a herbicide. He suggested that he also do a demonstration here. The BDO said that it was a good idea and he could do it with sardar Sukhdev Singh.

OK,” James said, “I have also arranged to try it on a plot of Balvinder Singh’s maize in Happowal.”

Also, it would be good to spray for corn borer,” James said. “I can help do a demonstration. I can also set up the sprayer machine.”

James was starting to get the BDO interested and he was willing to work hard on the projects. James was starting to feel good about finding a niche in which to work, where he could be useful. He seemed to be completely unaware of the danger that the chemicals that he would be using might actually do more harm than good. But he was ready to forge ahead.

The next day, the driver appeared with the jeep at his house in late morning with the Overseer Sahib, Randhir Singh, to move his things to the Rest House in the town. The biggest item was his trunk where he had now packed most of his belongings. A sleeping bag that he had brought from the USA and one suitcase were also loaded into the jeep.

James felt sorry about leaving the comfortable house, but hoped that eventually it would allow him to get a place of his own. Maybe not as comfortable, he thought, but his own. James climbed into the jeep with the Overseer Sahib.

When they arrived at the rest house, they were met by the chowkidar, Pakhar Singh. James helped him bring his things into the big room. James looked around at the dismal setting. There was a large table in the center of the room. Around the edges were three large mungies completely bare. The chowkidar found a corner for his trunk and baggage. There were a couple of wooden chairs at the table with plastic webbing. It was clear that his living style would change significantly, living here.

First, there was no flush toilet in the place. One could take a shit or piss by sitting on a sort of wooden chair that served as a potty with a bucket below in a back space. The sweeper would come once a day to remove the “night soil.”

More discouraging was the fact that the rest house was the venue where the sub district magistrate (SDM) held court every week as he made his rounds. On certain days, the court would be set up in the room where James was now staying. On that day, he would have to pack up all his belongings in his trunk, including his radio. He could not afford to get it stolen. There was no place where he could keep his cash, except in the trunk. So he would have to leave most of it in his account in the bank, which was in Purana Shahar, the next town, some ten miles away.

James took leave of the Overseer Sahib and driver and settled down in the dismal dusty room. There was an inordinately high ceiling, giving him the impression of being in the bottom of some sort of dungeon. He unrolled his sleeping bag on the mungie woven with cloth strips to lie down and think about the situation.

The first order of business was to get something to eat, having missed his lunch in his normal quarters. The local town, Bhagat Bagh, was particularly poor in the way of dhabas. The default option was the “hotel,” that miserable dump. James was beginning to be demoralized already.

James got his topi and cloth bag and bucked up his courage. You can’t keep a good man down, he thought. But then, he had not been in India that long, so it could have been a premature conclusion. He repaired across the metaled road to that grimy dhaba. He wished that there was a place in town that made those big beautiful omelets that he could get over in Purana Shahar when he went to cash his check at the State Bank of India. And that sparkling clean little snack place with cold drinks right across the road was so beautiful compared to these grimy holes in this town. There was nothing like that in this town. The locals were highly talented in the category of running grimy places.

James ordered bakkari and bendi tori and tied into it with the help of fresh chapattis just off the hot tava. He practiced eating with just his right hand, but found it a little clumsy tearing off a piece of the chapatti with just one hand. One had to hold the thin piece of bread down with two fingers, while tearing a piece off with the thumb and forefinger. While munching, he thought the situation over. This day was pretty well shot. There was not much that he could do in the way of housing until that head-wagging official down there in that grungy yellow building, that Moti Lal son of a gun, actually got off his sorry as and did something to get him a house. He calculated that that was about as likely as that he would find a check for a million dollars waiting for him when the mailman came the next day. Meanwhile, he just as well get started on his work.

Now and then he cheated a little allowing his left hand to assist his right hand in breaking up his chapatti. That rule might make sense, he thought, if there was no water. But why could one not eat with their left hand as long it was thoroughly washed. Whatever happened to soap? Perhaps rubber gloves would do the trick, but that American invention was unknown here.

The next day, he returned to his old village and set up a demonstration plot using 2-4D on a small part of an acre. After a couple of days, he inspected the maize on Balvinder’s land and found a lot of corn borer. It was the same in Sukhdev’s fields. He decided that he should go and assist Sukhdev’s laborer in spraying his crop with Enderin. He would work even while in a state of limbo. He would go beyond the call of duty. He bought fruit in the local market.

The next day, he got up and bathed in the bath house. Pakhar Singh had brought him two buckets of cold water. After wetting himself down with cups of water, he soaped up and cleaned himself. It was refreshing, but he realized that it was going to be harder in the cold weather. How was that going to work?

The toilet was somewhat more difficult as there was a lack of privacy taking a shit or piss in the rest house. Still it beat the hell out of going to the fields, for his money.

He asked Pakhar Singh to bring him two boiled eggs and some toast in the morning. It would come from a local dhaba. He found a store where he could buy some marmalade to make it more palatable. As it was, the grub was quite inedible. Then Pakhar brought him a small pot of tea in a badly chipped and stained tea pot. The food was cheap enough. The problem was whether it was going to be edible.

James tuned in to the Voice of America on the twenty-five meter band of his transistor radio in the mornings. One morning he listened to the announcer giving the news that someone named Spiro T. Agnew had been chosen to be the Vice Presidential running mate of Richard Nixon on the Republican ticket for President in November. The interesting comment was that the name sounded like something conjured up on an Ouija board. American politics seemed to be disintegrating by the day. It was something foreign. A different world.

Between meals at the hotel or another dhaba, James would have to subsidize his diet with fruit from the shop of the subzi walla and the stale biscuits that he could find in the bazaar. Nevertheless, he would not be vanquished. He would persist in the face of diversity.

James rode his bike the next morning to the place of Sukhdev Singh. He had instructed him that he should purchase a pump sprayer to spray his maize for corn borer. It was the type that one carried on one’s back. James arrived and met Sukhdev’s farm worker. James spent the rest of the morning assembling the sprayer which had come in pieces.

He had to instruct the worker how to use the machine using his minimal Punjabi. This was a real challenge, but he succeeded in mixing the chemical in the proper proportion and getting the rig working. Then he showed the worker how to go down each row applying the spray.

James was invited to lunch at Sukhdev Singh’s house. It was the most delicious food that he had enjoyed for several days. He had not had a meal of real home-cooked food since leaving the home of Balvinder Singh. He was very hungry for some real food and it was impossible to find such fare in the local town. James stayed and worked the entire day until the job was finally done. He then rode his bike back over the dusty path out to the main road. When he arrived at the rest house, he was exhausted and lay down to take a rest.

In the late evening, he lay down and looked up at the weird room of the rest house. It was clearly the strangest thing that he had ever seen. Some light was creeping in from the vents at the top of the room from the street lights outside. The room was seven-sided. It was depressing. A terribly uninviting place. Those small lizards, killys, crawled around on the walls and ceilings. How long was he to stay here? He wondered. He had to find a way out or he would go crazy, stark raving mad. What could he do? He had been in this hell hole now for three weeks.

Finally, one day, a break came. The Overseer Sahib and the BDO announced that a house had been found for him. His house had just now come, the BDO informed him, as he wagged his head enthusiastically.

Miracles happen. There is a God, James thought. But perhaps one should not hastily jump to conclusions. Not in India, in any event.

Chapter Fifteen: House Just Now Coming

Whether anything would materialize from the head-wagging, James had no idea. It might turn out to be a false alarm, but he really had no choice. His digestion had taken a hard hit. The batching from the hotel and the other slap-dab places in the town had taken its toll on his stomach. He needed real food and that would happen only if he had a cook to take care of his place and cook his food. That would then free him up to get going on his projects.

After downing his two boiled eggs and unappetizing toasted double roti, James headed out to the BDO office. He knew that there was no need to go early. Indeed, nothing might happen the whole day. On the other hand, he could not take a chance. He would hold up his end and be ready to spring at any opportunity.

He entered the Holy of Holies and performed his morning greetings to the BDO. The BDO ensured him that the Overseer Sahib, Randhir Singh, was just now coming, after which the driver would be just now coming with the jeep, after which the excursion to his new house would be just now coming. All the ducks were in a row, according to this official version, everything working like clock-work. He must just relax and let everything fall into place. He would have to put his faith in kismet and the official bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, James would while away his time with the agricultural officers. He started around to their offices. On the way he could see Ravi typing a letter. He gave her a good morning Namaste. Her lovely smiling face was melting his foolish vulnerable heart. He could drool over that sweet smile for the rest of the day, like a fool, her beautiful fecund peaches pushing up beneath her thin chuney. He imagined those pink nipples that would stand up when he tasted them with his tongue. He salivated to think of her natural flavor. He imagined that she probably liked him. Maybe she was even sweet on him. Who could tell? Hope springs eternal. For sure, her raspberries would pop up if he could taste them with his tongue. The taste would be out of this world. She would melt in his arms. He couldn’t let his mind wander further in his day dream that was starting to unfold and tickle his balls.

In the bare office, the three agricultural officers sat at their crude wooden tables, which could hardly be called desks gossiping to each other. There was no detectable productive activity, as far as James could tell. Avtar Singh, the agricultural inspector for high-yielding varieties, began to talk.

Mister James, I will conduct a crop cutting experiment at village Behram tomorrow. The jeep has been arranged. Please come with me to see the fields.”

OK,” James agreed. He was ready to jump for any sort of excursion. And it could increase his knowledge of the area.

We measure off and cut a small plot of wheat or rice,” the officer said. “The grain is threshed and weighed to determine the yield of the field.”

In this season, it would be rice that was just now starting to be cut.

Yes, I would like to see how it is done,” James agreed.

Then the officers wanted to know the price in America of his watch, his shoes, his shirt, his jeans, and so on. James went through them all, helping them to convert the prices to rupees. He was tempted to draw up a price list that he could pull out and present when the question arose. In the event, this was often and by now, he had all the approximate prices memorized in dollars and rupees.

I need a map of the villages in the block,” James said. “How can I get one?”

Yes, Mister James,” Avtar Singh said. “There is one here in the office. You can make a copy for yourself.”

James thought that it was a good way to use the time productively.

Avtar produced a large piece of tracing paper from the stenographer’s office, half a meter square. James sat down at one of the desks and traced the block map with a red marker, showing the boundaries of the more than one-hundred villages and their names. The major roads and the railway line were also marked. Then he filled in the names of the villages with his Parker fountain pen that he had brought from the US. This took up most of the morning. James knew that it was going to prove useful in getting around the block.

The clock rolled around to noon. He felt famished and needed food. Still there was no sign of anything happening. There was no indication that the list of entities that were just now about to appear were in any danger of actually magically materializing out of thin air.

Somewhat depressed, James accompanied the officers to the only place in town. That sordid grungy hotel, once again, and the standard fare of bakkara, vegetable and chapatti. He had not yet produced any food that he was aware of, but his ravenous appetite was making inroads into the goat population of the area, it seemed. The allu gobi was just now coming into season, so his hunger could be assuaged with that. Potato and cauliflower were standard in the winter. Now, if he could just make inroads into seeing the house.

Meanwhile, back in the BDO Office, things were going on as usual. The BDO shuffled thin crumpled papers under the punka, which slowed to a stop from time to time from the power cuts. More peasants appeared, entered the inner sanctum and made their humble pleas. Ravi graced her office in bright red and yellow Punjabi dresses and cute shoes with low heels. It seemed to James that if the development of the block was proceeding at a languid pace, at least young Ravi made up for it. She was not lacking in the area of development as far as James could tell. He envisioned going in for a crop-cutting experiment of a different sort with her. He could make hay there. It was an enticing mirage, a mere fantasy in the severe chastity belt which was rural Punjab.

Earthly progress or not, the clock marched on, relentlessly. There was progress there, at least. The hour-hand had now passed three when the Overseer Sahib, with his bright pink turban and gray bush shirt that his brother had sent him from Leicester in England, materialized out of thin air. For sure, he had just now come. There could no doubt about that. James’s heart took a leap of faith to see him come marching into the office with certain resolve.

In fact, the block jeep with its driver had also appeared at the side of the building. Shortly after that, the BDO sent for James, who was busy getting more and more bored as the day wore on.

Mister James, Sahib, we will go to your house,” the BDO announced, slipping his bare feed into his chappals. Now it seemed that things had started to move with haste like a black monsoon cloud suddenly arriving and spilling its torrents of rain. No time must now be wasted in this enterprise. Every moment must be made to count. James, who had practically fallen asleep in the stifling heat and humidity, was now wide awake and alert.

James took his topi and cloth shoulder bag and climbed into the old gray jeep with the BDO and the Overseer Sahib. An elderly peasant just arriving had missed his chance for the day and watched sadly as his last hope, the barra sahib, left the premises for the day.

The driver headed out onto the road in the stream of buses, trucks, bicycles, scooters, and bullock carts. James had hopes that it would prove to be a felicitous excursion and perhaps help get him out of the BDO’s hair. Then he could be pretty much on his own.

The skies were dark, the air thick, hot, and humid. Clouds threatened more rain as they headed out. After three miles of metaled road, the driver veered off to the right through fields becoming green with newly planted cauliflower plants and ripening fields of rice. A field had just been planted with potatoes and irrigation water stood in the furrows. James calculated that these crops would produce massive amounts of food for the local markets.

As the jeep proceeded on the unpaved tractor track between the fields, the road became more and more rough. There were large ruts. Large pools of water appeared from the recent monsoon rains which it was difficult to skirt around. The jeep slowed and bucked, finally coming to a full stop. It was not possible to proceed further. The driver would not attempt to negotiate the deep mud and ruts ahead.

We will see the house,” the BDO announced. Never mind that the venue was inaccessible by a wheeled vehicle. The three, James, the BDO and the Overseer Sahib, got out and walked, picking their way through the mud and water. There were deep ruts made by a tractor and pools of water. Along a brick wall on a bricked platform were several big black buffaloes and a couple of brown cows tethered by chains to stakes in the ground. There was a large pile of dung patties close to the wall, now disintegrating with the monsoon rains. The whitewashed top of a Sikh Gurdwara could be seen further on in the village towering above the stucco houses.

At the edge of the village, just beyond the pools of stagnant water, a large white stucco building appeared a three storied structure.

This is the house,” the BDO announced. The Overseer looked proud.

Jesus! It is a fucking mansion, James thought to himself. It would be a great place to live. Those were his thoughts as a first approximation. The owner, a local sardar, had gone to England, the BDO explained. Now the place was vacant.

You can live here, James Sahib,” the BDO said. “But this village does not yet have beejli. It is one of the villages in the block that has not yet been electrified. But it is being done. By next year, the electric will come.”

Of course, electricity just now coming. Naturally, James thought.

In fact, there were still quite a number of villages in the block that did not yet have an electrical connection.

Shit, James thought. His heart suddenly sank. No electric? He was prepared to rough it but this, perhaps, was somewhat over the top. How would he manage to stay warm on those cold, damp, winter evenings? And how would he be able to read? He could only read in the daytime. And in the long winter evenings, he would like to read.

Of course, there was no need to bring up the issue, but there was no latrine. That was standard and went without saying. James did not entertain the hope of finding a place in a village with a toilet. And the BDO was quite skeptical when James stressed the need for a toilet. Indeed, it seemed that most people in rural Punjab preferred not to have one. Many brought money from England, America, Singapore and Australia and built large modern houses, with never a thought of adding a latrine to the structure. What was wrong with going to the fields? All those endless fields. So convenient and healthy. A refreshing walk in the morning to wake one up.

James suggested to the BDO that it would be quite difficult for him without electricity. The BDO seemed to think that he was being a little too picky. After all, there were types of lights that worked with kerosene and were considerably brighter than a candle. That could surely serve the purpose. One could even read with them.

It was a disappointment to James. True, the bad roads would improve once the monsoon rains ended in September, but it was clearly not satisfactory. Perhaps the very reason that the house was available was the backward state of the village.

James rode back to the office with the BDO. He thanked him for his time and effort and walked back to the Panchayat Rest House. James was uncertain as to whether he should pursue the housing agenda or get on with his work.

The next day he went with Avtar Singh for the crop-cutting experiment. This took up most of the day. They had lunch in the village at the house of a sardar, the progressive farmer who owned the land.

A young woman was making chapattis. In a round flat metal pan, she mixed the atta and water and kneaded it with her knuckles into a thick roll until it was firm. Separating off a portion she dipped the dough in flour and flattened it out with the thumb and forefinger of both hands turning it round and round until it was round. Then she flapped it back and forth between her hands until it became thinner and slapped it on the metal curved tava to cook. While the phulka or chapatti was cooking, she made another one. She flipped the one on the tava over to the other side until it was ready. The finished rotis were buttered and kept wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm.

James enjoyed the simple vegetable dishes with chapatti.

When they arrived back in the office, Surrinder Singh, a stenographer in the steno office told him that he had found a place where he could live. If it was true, James would be happy. He figured that he had now also worn out his welcome at the rest house and was becoming a nuisance there as well. The BDO was clearly ready and anxious to get the whole thing out of his hair once and for all.

Surrinder Singh was a modern Sikh who had cut his hair short. He said that there was space in the village agricultural cooperative society building where James Sahib could live. The BDO, ready to be done with the whole thing, instructed the Overseer Sahib to arrange for the driver to collect James’s gear from the rest house and take him to Rampur. James went with the Overseer Sahib to the jeep.

At the rest house, James hastily packed up his things and bid goodbye to the old chowkidar, Pakhar Singh. The village was only three miles from the town. Surrinder left the office for the day and followed on his bike. He had already received permission for James from the secretary of the agricultural society.

The driver reached the village by the small metaled village road. At the perimeter of the village, he joined the hard-packed dirt and gravel road around the edge of the village. The road ran next to fields and then up into the village between the brick and stucco houses. The driver stopped the jeep in front of a large iron gate. Above the gate were the words: Agricultural Cooperative Society, Pvt. Ltd., Rampur, Punjab.

Darshan Singh, the secretary of the cooperative society came out to greet the Overseer Sahib. He was informed that the American Sahib had arrived. The secretary, the head man of the society, was a large man dressed completely in white pajama and kurta. His large stomach protruded forward. He had a big bushy white beard and brown tightly tied turban. He was the Punjabi version of the gentleman farmer. Part businessman, part politician, part farmer, and a member of the rising Jat farmer class and caste that was being thrown up on the crest of the Green Revolution wave that was sweeping over rural Punjab.

In his fifties, Darshan Singh had a ruddy face, framed by his big turban and white beard. His clean white kurta was long, almost down to his knees. His white pajama was tight around his stout legs. His large protruding stomach spoke of a large and healthy appetite. He wore black peasant shoes curled up at the toes. A sort of elf shoe that Punjabi farmers sometimes wore. There was a thick steel bracelet around his wrist. As head honcho of the society, he was beyond his days of work in the fields, even though he was a large landowner in the village. His laborers took care of the work, along with his son, Tajinderjit Singh. The big farmers here were Jats.

James emerged from the jeep and gave a Sat Shri Akal to the sarder Darshan Singh. Jagdish, the society chowkidar, came up curiously as well as the night watchman, who was also an older man. The Sahib’s gear was unloaded.

James came into a large cement courtyard some thirty meters on each side. To the right, was the society office where Darshan Singh dispersed loans, seed, and fertilizer, to the local peasants who were members of the society. The society also gave the monthly ration cards for sugar, rice, and flour, subsidized by the Indian Government. Indeed the Sahib himself as a resident of India was now eligible for the government rations.

The peasants pressed their thumbs to an ink pad and pressed their finger print inside spaces at the end of a line in the huge record books kept in the office. Notations were made with cheap fountain pens in blue ink. Those who could sign their names had to do so with a fountain pen, although these were not a majority. A signature with a ball point pen was not allowed. There was a long column of thumb prints down the edge of the page, testifying that many of the peasants even in a progressive village were illiterate.

Straight ahead, there was a two story structure the width of the courtyard. The ground floor was a general store that sold household needs, cooking oils, butter, soaps, rice, flour, sugar, spices, candles, matches, and other staple household items needed by the villagers.

At the left was a room for the chowkidar during the day and the night watchman at night. The second floor above the store was where the two rooms that James would occupy were located. These were designated as the Sahib’s new residence. To the left was a stairway that led to the second floor.

James was invited up the stairs to see the rooms. He climbed the stairs and looked into the bare open space of the rooms. They had been vacant for some time and needed cleaning. The local pigeons had taken advantage of the spare rooms. The place was completely devoid of furniture. There were windows at the front. The stairs led up higher to the flat roof of the building. Inside, the cement rooms were hot as hell. They were a cement coffin and like an oven. It would be unbearable to stay there in the hot weather during the day.

Well, this is not so appropriate, James thought, but he decided to give it a shot. It would be a break from that depressing Government Rest House in the town. He would have to begin from scratch to furnish the place, but he could make it work. Somehow or other, he would make it work. There were people who would look after him and take care of him.

It might have been a miracle, but sure enough, his house had come. It was not through the efforts of the head-wagging paper-shuffling bureaucrat, but in spite of him. The Lord works in mysterious ways. In this case, kismet.

Chapter Sixteen: A Wonderful World

The American Sahib had now been moved into two rooms of the village cooperative building with absolutely no furniture nor services. Until he could start setting up his place, the cooperative society would give him a mungie that he could sleep on. Darshan Singh would provide him with some food until he could start providing for himself. The rooms were hot as an oven in the afternoon, but it was certainly better than nothing.

The chowkidar, Jagdish, showed him the other part of the complex across the village road. There was a pink painted building with a courtyard and a hand pump in the corner. This was the place where he would take a bath. As the place was open, there was essentially no privacy, but what the hell? They were doing the best that they could for their American guest, it seemed.

This would also be where he would wash up his dishes, once he had any, and could do some cooking. He was clearly starting from scratch. He had not a single household item to his name. It was now two months since he had arrived in the development block. The first task would be to furnish his house, or rather his rooms.

In the evening, he would lie down and read a novel. He had picked up the thick paperback somewhere. The setting was in New York City. A long way from Punjab, he considered. It was just a vehicle of escapism for him now. Darshan Singh sent his son, Tajinderjit Singh, and invited him to come to his house for some evening food, subzi and chapatti.

The big sardar lived just down the road from the cooperative society building. He had two sons, an heir and a spare, as they said in India. One was more rough, a peasant boy at heart, and was slated to take over the family farming occupation from his father. The other, now studying at the local college, seemed more refined or effeminate, and would go to England for further education. There was not enough land to support two families. They would not put all their eggs in one basket.

As for the women, like in most Punjabi households, James Sahib would likely never see them. They were back in the kitchen doing the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry. They had their own quarters. James accompanied the young Sikh, Tajinderjit Singh, to the Sardar’s place. The house was a modern pucca house with a front sitting or guest room. Back behind the house, there were several big black buffaloes tied up near a cutting wheel for chopping fodder. It was connected to an electric motor. A garden filled most of the rest of the courtyard.

James sat down on the divan. The room was furnished with locally made furniture. Calendars of the Sikh Gurus graced the whitewashed walls of the room. Even though the sardar had become rich now, riding the Green Revolution, the food was purely peasant fare. The meal lacked a sweet or even fruit that was in season.

James did not mind. Pumpkin, bendi tori, and chapatti were fine and healthy fare for him, along with the curds that soothed one’s stomach after the spices and the heat.

James walked back to his bare rooms in the cooperative for some privacy. The floors were dusty and needed cleaning but that could wait until tomorrow. He would have to go to the village store and buy a short handled broom or borrow one. He propped himself up on his mungie to read the story about New York City. It was more escapism until he had to face the reality of the Indian music.

For sleeping, James carried his mungie up on the roof under the stars. The cement rooms were still airless and stifling. This would be more pleasant. Again, he gazed out millions of miles into the universe. His life and existence paled to complete insignificance. He was just a microbe. If he had disappeared it would not have made a bit of difference to the world. Even if this world had disappeared, it would not have made a speck of difference to the universe. All of his concerns, toils, worries, were completely insignificant in the larger scheme of things. It did not make a bit of difference. He realized that. It was just a petty game that he had to play. There was actually no need to sweat anything, from a philosophical or cosmic point of view. James drifted off to a comfortable sleep in the open village air.

James woke early hearing the sounds of the village birds. The sun had not yet risen. He heard the Kaw-Kaw-Kaw of some crows. Already the pungent smell of burning gober patties filled the air with the now familiar scent. It was not exactly wood-smoke in the mountain air, but the Punjabi equivalent of homely comfort.

The sardar, Darshan Singh, offered him a village breakfast of pratha, mango pickles, yogurt and tea. It was no longer strange fare for James. The sardar was merely doing his duty of providing hospitality to a guest.

James had stressed to the BDO that he would need to have a latrine. But the truth was that such a place was terribly hard to find in a village. In town, they were not very common either, but they could be found in some modern houses. James needed to be in the village to be around the farmers that he would work with and so would have to build his own. Until he could get a toilet of sorts made, it would be back to the fields for him. Being a field-shitter, the BDO had not taken his concerns very seriously. At least the sugar cane had grown taller in the couple of months that he had been there. Now it was almost tall enough to provide sufficient cover.

He would start with first things first. He needed a small kerosene pump stove for cooking. Another essential item was a brass lota for carrying water to the field to wash after taking a shit.

James rode his bike to the town in the morning air. Along the way a farmer was still irrigating his field with a Persian wheel pulled by a camel. Once the camel was blindfolded, it kept walking in a circle round and round pumping the water. Shit, that reminds me of myself, James thought. The story of my life. And especially now. I have been walking around in a circle for the last two months and am now right back at the same damn spot where I started. Nothing could be done about it. Maybe he was doing it wrong, but he was doing the best that he could.

Arriving in the bazaar, James bought a small kerosene stove that one had to pump up with air and a tea set. Not much, but a start. At least it would allow him to heat water for tea. After lunch at the hotel, he rode back to the village. The following day, James rode to the bazaar again. First, he bought glasses and a water pitcher. On the way back to the village, he bought fruit. After lunch, he returned to the town a second time and bought a lota, a skillet, and some silverware.

This was a lot of riding back and forth on the small road to the local town. He started to notice that there were many young women students on their way to the college from the village. He thought that it might be possible to meet one of them on the road while pedaling along. He wondered if he would actually meet Lalita again.

It was a start. That was all. But now James needed money and some serious food. There was no fridge, of course, and never would be for him. It would have been relatively useless, anyway, with all the power cuts. One could hardly store any perishables in his hot place. Not much was available in the way of canned goods in the local town. Being almost out of money, James decided to get some money from his account in the bank and then head to Ludhiana, where the more fancy stores would have canned goods. This would not be a solution, but it might keep him going until he could get a cook and some help in providing his meals.

In a larger sense, he might have considered that what he was doing was quite wild and crazy. But in youth, such thoughts seldom arise. He was blazing a new trail. That it went straight to nowhere was something else. It was irrelevant. His goal had been to not kill communists and he seemed to be on his way to accomplishing that.

The next day, it was breakfast with the sardar again and then James took a tonga to the town. He quickly got a bus to Purana Shahar where his bank account was located and cashed a check. Then he walked back to the bus stop and caught a bus to Ludhiana. Arriving in the larger city, he bailed out in the heat and chaos. He first headed to Green’s Restaurant for lunch.

The bus stop that was chaos was only a short walk from Greens in the crowded street. The cool retreat beckoned. Here he would escape the stares of the peasants and the street urchins. He entered into the dark air conditioned haven and took one of the tables along the wall. Coming from the bright sunshine, it took his eyes some time to adjust to the cave-like darkness of the interior.

Somewhat tired of Indian food he decided to go for two “mutton hamburgers,” which were most certainly bakkara, not mutton. But he would not be that picky. He ordered a bottle of cold Golden Eagle beer. It was a little sanctuary from the harsh chaos that was the real Punjab outside those leather covered doors.

A few more souls had entered, mostly turbaned sardars, who had come to knock back a few pegs of rum or whiskey. They knew that those drinks were far better than the piss water that the American Sahib was drinking.

James settled down in the cool Green Meadows. This was heaven, maybe the only heaven that one could find in Punjab. A waiter appeared. James ordered his Golden Eagle at once. He could hardly wait for the cold golden brew to arrive. He wanted to feel that joyous tickling in his gut. He scanned the menu and decided on the hamburgers. Going native had rather reached its limits in the event. The beer began to tickle his nether regions and he wished that he did not have to get back out and face the harsh reality. The villages were the boondocks, really for the birds. That was for sure. My God, cow shit heaven. That was the idiotic existence that some tried to romanticize. The agrarian ideal. What a crock. James could not buy it. He could not live such a lie. He needed a tether. A life support line.

America was surely a cruel country to shit-can their youth the way they did, he thought. It was still a sort of barbarian country. Why couldn’t the USA be more European? Let them just fucking live. In America one had to do something for the state, either die for it, or suffer for it out in the wilds of a fucking third world country somewhere. Europeans, on the other hand, could have their cake and eat it too. Enjoy their cities and the good life. Let the world live its own life. They had done their damage in the world, colonizing the shit out of it. Now they had turned that grizzly task over to the Americans. But why should he suffer for it? When would America finally become civilized? They could not do it while being the masters of the global imperialist system. His mind wandered as the cold golden brew hit his thankful gut. He was veering from the safe patriotic path. He would have been, if he had ever been there.

There was a band playing Indian music when James arrived. Now they quickly switched to the Beatles and played “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride,” “All My Lovin,” and “Yesterday.” James was enjoying the hell out of it, even though the band was not doing a great rendition of the songs. He settled back and enjoyed the cool air conditioned surroundings.

After the food, he lingered, having a banana split. Finally, paying up for the damage, he bailed out from the heavenly retreat and went to the Keylan Store. Here he filled up his travel bag that he had brought with canned goods and jams. He found that they had Nescafe instant coffee too. He needed that. Then he went to a shoe shop and bought a pair of sandals. He needed these as his American shoes were simply too hot for India. It was like coming to a big city to see such a fancy shop as Bata, the French company store.

After that, he got a rickshaw back to the bus stand and bought a ticket for the Phagwara junction. It was a wild ride up the Grand Trunk Road, during which he felt like sleeping after the beer. The peasants were nodding off. At the junction, he encountered a mob. People were trying to catch buses in all directions, but especially in his direction, heading back to their villages. It seemed impossible. He decided to give it up for the time being and relax. He could take it a little easy for a while.

He walked across the road and sat down at a tea stall with his bag of groceries to rest for a while. He ordered a cold Coke, but it was not enough to satisfy his thirst. He ordered another. When it came time to pay for them, he handed the bearer some money. A two rupee note was torn and the shopkeeper refused to take it. James just tossed it on the ground. If it cannot be spent, then why keep it, he thought. Of course, he knew that the shopkeeper would not hesitate to pick it up. He gave another two rupee note to pay for the Cokes.

Then he remembered that the canned goods that he had bought were going to do him no good at all unless he could locate a can opener somewhere. And he had no tools at all to open them. He took his bag and walked over to another shop. He didn’t know what a can opener was called in Punjabi, but was able to make the shop keeper know what he wanted. They did not seem to be very common, to be sure.

The shopkeeper said that James might find one at another shop. Then he sent two small boys along with James to show him the store. It was quite a long way to walk, but James had left his bag. But it was no luck, so he walked back to the first shop.

Then another man at the shop said he knew where to find one and went to get it. James was again sweating in the humid air and sat down for yet another Coke.

The kids began to try out the English they had learned in school on him.

What is your name?” one said in his clipped accent.

James, James Sahib,” the American Sahib said.

What is your address?” the kid wanted to know.

James wrote down his address in the village on a piece of paper.

Then the kid wrote down his address and gave it to James.

In a little bit, the man returned and sure enough had a can opener, an old used one. James asked to pay him and asked how much. He didn’t know, so he gave him a rupee.

Now, James feared that he should be bucking for the bus again and getting back. He thanked the shopkeeper and picked up his bag to walk over to the small shack where the bus tickets were sold. When the next bus stopped on the corner of the junction, he bucked the line at the small grungy window with iron bars and managed to get the ticket by using his elbows to prevent peasants from worming in front of him. He didn’t like to do it, but there was just no other way. He did not like the special way they sometimes treated him, taking him around to the back and selling him a ticket that way. It was not fair to the others. But being fair, in this context, seemed quite irrelevant. Sometimes it was the only way. Just go ahead and play the role of a sahib.

Another fifteen bumpy miles and he reached the town and the bus stop. He was now getting quite tired, but there was no rickshaw around to get to the opposite side of the town where he would catch the tonga to the village. So he picked up his heavy bag and began to hoof it along the side of the crowded road. On the way, James decided he just had to stop at Kartar Sweet Shop and have another Coke. Man, I am living on sugar and Coke, he thought, but at least it seemed to be keeping him from collapsing. He wondered if it would kill him and when.

Again, James picked up the heavy bag and trucked on. A man on a bicycle saw his difficulty and offered to carry the bag on the back of his bike. James accepted his offer, thankfully, and walked with him to the tonga stand.

When he arrived, the tonga was almost loaded. They ran to the village as soon as they were filled. James climbed on the rather clumsy back seat of the horse carriage, scarcely able to find room for his bag which he placed on the tail board. He paid half a rupee to the tonga walla. Then the driver, in a tumba and sucking on a limp cigarette that he had rolled himself, clicked his tongue and applied the switch, pulling the tired and scrawny horse out into the traffic, across the road and onto the small metaled road that led to the village. He threatened the scrawny horse that he would fuck her mother and her sister and got the pitiful creature up to a trot.

It would have been a pleasant ride past the browning rice fields and freshly planted potato fields, if James had not been so exhausted. He was sitting by an old peasant in a tumba. In the seat facing forward were an old woman, a middle aged village woman and a small Sikh child of five with his black hair tied up in a cloth on the top of his head.

Eventually, the carriage reached the small tree where the tongas stopped. Unfortunately, it was not close to the village Cooperative Society. James had another walk facing him, a quarter of a mile around the village perimeter road. James lugged the heavy bag. This was certainly not going to be the way that he was going to live, for sure. Doing one’s own things, being independent, was clearly not the way to live in India. Not in rural India. He had better get those foolish notions out of his young idealistic head. The sooner the better. He was caught in the net to struggle for survival the same as everyone else. The only difference was that he had a source of income from the Peace Corps in Delhi.

After another quite long walk, he lugged his bag up the concrete steps of his new place and set it down in his room. Relaxing on his mungie in the hot oven of a room, he calculated the damage of the day. Four buses, two tongas, two rickshaws. Shit, what a place this is, he thought. He recalled riding on a tempu a few days before with thirteen people and a bicycle on top. Nevertheless, he was proud of himself that day for learning the ropes on the buses. It would stand him in good stead in future, he hoped.

Now he had some canned food and a few other household items, but still had only started to set up his house.

In the evening he found that Darshan Singh would give him a place to plant a garden near his house in his compound. There was also a place at the agricultural cooperative for some chickens.

James began to feel that he had wasted too much time already and should get started on some projects. The next day was Saturday. He rode his bike to the local town and bought some plates, saucers, and towels. Then he went down railway road to the carpenter shops to have a cabinet made. On Sunday, he found a barber in town and had a haircut. A few days later he bought the frame for a big wide mungie and some Vanaspati cooking oil.

Now he was starting to make headway in getting his house set up. But it was going slowly, piece by piece.

While he was working on getting some items for the house, he decided to go ahead and plant a fall garden. It was now late September. One morning, after having breakfast with the sardar, he irrigated the plot for his garden. The house was equipped with an electric pump to apply the water. It was too big to do by hand.

After six days, the ground was ready for tilling. He dug it all up one morning, with the help of Darshan Singh’s son, Tajinderjit. Then he fertilized the plot, applying urea and super phosphate. He treated the ground with BHC.

The next day he planted the garden in the morning. He first worked the fertilizer into the soil and formed seed beds for planting. He made the furrows two and a half feet apart and the beds wide enough for two rows of seeds on each. Then he planted turnips, radishes, carrots, lettuce, and beets. He was able to finish the work by noon.

He rode his bike into town to check in at the BDO office. In the carpenter shops he asked the price of the tables. He was going to need more than one for his house. On the way back, he stopped at the small shop were one could get sodas. It was then right to the seed shop where they sold all kinds of seeds and plants for setting out. He bought twenty-five tomato plants from his friend Jagjit Singh and brought them back. He set them out in Darshan Singh’s garden in the afternoon, but could not irrigate the newly planted garden for lack of electrical power.

Then the electric power returned at almost dark and he was able to irrigate the plot.

It had been a satisfying day in a way. He felt that he had accomplished something, although perhaps something very small. The word that he had arrived in the village had now spread widely in the village down the grapevine. But why the heck a rich American Sahib was coming there from America and busting his ass to plant a garden of vegetables in Darshan Singh’s house was beyond them. The truth was that James could hardly understand it himself.

Somehow there was an old refrain that kept going around inside his head from a song he remembered.

Then I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” Yes indeed, what a wonderful world.

Chapter Seventeen: Home Sweet Home

The way James finally got his own house was almost by accident. When he took a bath at the hand pump across the village road, he noticed that the old part of the cooperative society was nicely built with two large rooms and a veranda between them. When the office was shifted to the new building, the old part was used to store seed and fertilizer. James had noticed that the rooms were almost empty when a peasant came to buy some fertilizer. There was another building at the edge of the compound that served as a separate storage facility.

James was struck by the idea that the place would make an excellent place for him to live. It would be like a separate small koti. The courtyard could be used to make a garden. The hand pump could be used to irrigate a patch of vegetables. When he got a little more established, he could have a chicken house and latrine built in the space.

Sure, that would be an excellent solution, he thought. Now all he needed was the permission of Darshan Singh, the secretary. If he would just give him the green light, he would be on the way to shifting across the road.

He knew that he could easily do the work to clean up the rooms. One side would be his living quarters. The other side would be a kitchen and a place for his cook. He would give it a try once sardar Darshan Singh came to the cooperative later in the morning.

James made his visit to the field, but was still not used to the early morning nature call. He had located a sugarcane field not too far away that was now grown up high enough for cover. That was all that he could do for the present time.

James returned and took a bath at the hand pump. Back in the hot oven that was his place, he cranked up his small stove on the floor. He did not yet have a table. A borrowed mungie was his only piece of furniture that he moved up to the roof every night to sleep. After all, the humble mungie was the most common piece of furniture in Punjab that served not only as a bed, but a lounge, table, chair and for many other uses.

He found his few eggs and scrambled three of them for breakfast in a little oil that he got in the village market. He would have liked toast, but it was only available at one place in the town. The Punjabis called it “double roti” as it was thick. A chapatti was just “roti.” Even the double roti was difficult. One had to eat it quickly or it would mold. In India, in every house, women had to make roti from scratch for every meal.

The eggs were not so palatable, but that was all he had for food until he could do better. Now he was making concerted efforts to crank up his operation once again.

After the eggs, he put on a pot of water to boil to have some of his Nescafe. He hoped that the little stove would not explode in his face. He had heard of it happening, especially if one pumped them up with too much pressure. The coffee was not great, but better than nothing.

Now that it seemed that he had landed here for good, he went to the village post office and sent an inland letter to the Peace Corps Regional Office in Delhi asking them to send him a cook.

Now, it was after nine o’clock. He still did not have a clock, but his old Timex watch was still running. He heard the chowkidar, Jagdish, downstairs. Then the big iron gates opened. The sardar, Darshan Singh, appeared with a big ring of keys in his hand as he spoke to the servant in his rough village language, speaking through his big white bushy beard. He struck James as some character out of a story book. His Punjabi elf shoes, turned up on the toes, his tight white pajamas, clinging to his thighs and ankles. He appeared quite ridiculous. The sardar’s expansive stomach protruded. His white kurta puffing out around his thighs. He was perhaps a character out of a story book of Dr. Seuss for kids.

The sardar opened the office with a key from his ring of keys and sat down in the big chair behind the big desk. A pile of large record books were piled on the side of the desk. Each line across the double pages was followed by the large rough fingerprint of a peasant, for seed, fertilizer, or a small loan.

A peasant arrived and salaamed. Sat Shri Akal. James waited sometime and then proceeded down the cement steps that were already heating up considerably in the morning sun. The sardar was gulbotting about some current political issues having to do with land and the government price support for grains when the Sahib approached. To gulbot was simply to shoot the shit.

James gave his Sat Shri Akal to the sardar and a couple of his cronies who were sitting in the cool morning air. It was generally the Indian greeting followed by the Western greeting of shaking hands. Perhaps the Western greeting had now become the Indian greeting. James had never shaken so many hands in his life.

The Sahib wondered how and when to broach the subject of his visit. Perhaps timing was important. The protocol of human relations of which Americans knew so little. He thought that his request would not likely be turned down. Foreigners of almost any brand or nationality were generally so much more kind and gentle than Americans who so much lacked subtlety. Americans were generally brutality honest and straightforward face to face. It was so very different generally in most countries of the world where human relations were generally less confrontational.

When the conversation seemed to lag, James brought up the topic in his rudimentary Punjabi. He suggested that the now vacant building opposite the village road could be his house. After a fashion, it would get him out of the sardar’s hair and across the village lane. Surely this was a win-win solution for all concerned. The sardar listened, and then understood.

One of the peasants, it turned out, happened to know beautiful English and was amused at the sahib’s efforts to ask the request in Punjabi. He would help him out and act as a translator. This was what generally happened when he tried to use Punjabi. Either the person he was trying to speak to knew perfectly beautiful English or someone nearby would. India, after all, was primarily an English-speaking country. At least rudimentary English could be spoken by almost anyone who had even a few years of education in a village school. Nevertheless, the sahib’s effort to use the language was appreciated.

The sardar listened and thought about it for a few seconds. Then he called the chowkidar, Jagdish, showed him a couple of keys from his ring and asked him to take the sahib and check the rooms across the way.

James followed across the village road. The big room farthest inside was opened. There were two big wooden doors. James saw that there were only half a dozen bags of fertilizer laying in the room. Otherwise it was empty. There were nice windows, no glass, but iron bars and wooden shutters. It would be easy to make screens for them. The floor was dirty with trash and dust, but easy to sweep up. There were two almaris along the back wall, fine for storage. A fluorescent light bulb on the wall. This is perfect, James thought. It just needs a good sweeping out. It could be spruced up with some fresh paint when he got the time. The other room was similar. Fine for a kitchen and a cook.

Presently a chaprasie appeared and removed the remaining bags of fertilizer to the adjacent storage building.

Later in the day, James borrowed a broom to sweep the rooms out. The Indian ones, used by low caste sweepers, were lacking a handle. Why accommodate the chamars who swept? The place could easily be spruced up, James speculated. Some paint would do wonders. He could make it a sweet little home and he could certainly do the painting himself in the cool winter days. James was thrilled at the result. It was the most hopeful development yet. He planned to make the move the very next day. Fixing up and furnishing the place would take some effort, but he was up for the task. He would enjoy it.

First for the mungie. James had gone to the town, to the shop down railway road, and bought an extra wide one. He had Jagdish weave the rope with new twine to make a beautiful new bed. This only took a day or so.

The next day, Jagdish helped the sahib move his things across the road to the old building. It was relatively cool on this side, compared to the hot oven he had been staying in. James found a table and chair in town and brought them to his place by tonga. He fixed up a temporary toilet in the corner of his compound, enclosed by straw and bamboo chicks and a wooden sit-down toilet inside with a potty. It was crude, but this would serve his purpose until he could have a building constructed and make a flush toilet. It was testimony as to just how spoiled Americans had become, but he could not do anything about that. There was a limit to how much he could lower his living standard. He was starting to get set up. Being able to take a crap when the spirit moved him was a great leap forward. John crapper, the inventor of the closet, would have appreciated the sentiment.

After a couple of days his cook arrived in the village from Delhi. Certainly, this was going to be a great help. Now he would not have to do everything by himself. The cook, Bachan, was a small, dark fellow with a smiling mischievous face. He claimed to be a Christian, but James figured it was probably simply a marketing technique. How could one quite trust that devilish impish face? James was naïve enough to trust him, much more than was warranted, in the event.

After he arrived, James gave him one-hundred rupees and a list of things to buy from the local town. Then he sent him off on his bicycle. Now, at least, he would have food. Food, as in three meals a day, with home-cooked food, village food and chapattis. The cooks, some older ones who had worked for the British, claimed that they could make “English food.” Perhaps they could. In any event, it was inedible. James could not tolerate simply boiled vegetables with no spices. The Indian food they made, on the other hand, was fine.

Now James had made great strides in getting a place and getting it set up. He went to the town and bought an Usha electric fan. It would be great as long as there was electrical power and the Peace Corps would reimburse him for the 125 rupees cost.

One day, he was paid a visit by the Sarpanch of the village, Swaran Singh. He was a kind, elderly, gentleman, who fortunately knew English and owned land on the other side of the village.

Now October had arrived and James borrowed a kahi from Swaran Singh to dig up the soil. One morning, he turned to his work of digging up the space in front of his house for a garden. He saw that it was going to take a good deal of work, but he would work it up, fertilize it, irrigate it, and form the furrows and seed beds to plant another winter garden. This would be his project for a few days.

Meanwhile, his other garden at Darshan Singh’s place had started to produce red and white radishes, greens and peppers. He was waiting for tomatoes, but the prognosis was not so great for those.

Once the ground was ready and the seed beds prepared, James bought seeds and planted radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, and onions. He planted his garden and irrigated it to bring up the seeds with the hand pump. This took considerable work, but he was proud that he had done it. He looked forward to some winter vegetables from the plot.

Meanwhile back at the BDO office, only two Saturdays in each month were considered as official holidays. The others were supposed to be work days, but he did not take this very seriously. To help enforce this rule, the “Star Meetings” were frequently held on Saturday. James started to believe that they were indeed star meetings, as he became so bored in them that he was beginning to see stars.

This was the second one that James had attended. He could sometimes spend part of the time by fantasizing about lovely Ravi in the next office there. He wished that he could escape to that venue and spend his time with her. But that was just another fantasy. James was required to attend the meetings, although he did not have a clue as to why. Perhaps it was the only time that the BDO could require that he actually be in the office. The meetings never started at the time scheduled, which was generally eleven in the morning. They would often be delayed until after twelve noon and once they started, would drag on for hours as he became more and more famished for food. The meeting was all in Punjabi and so James was at a loss as to what was going on for most of the time. He had no idea what was being said in most cases. This was true, even though James was supposed to know the language. But it was not possible at that level. It was clear that the staff took a good deal of browbeating from the head honcho, Mr. Verma.

Today, all the VLWs were under pressure to produce two cases of family planning each from their circle of ten villages. This was difficult for them as the villagers generally did not have any use for family planning, at least not until they had produced the requisite two sons. Some VLWs claimed that they had procured one case. Only two could come up with two cases. But whether it was true or not, was difficult to tell.

James just wished that he could escape and fly back to his now more comfortable quarters. Now he had books to read and food and could always tie into a cup of coffee. The mailman would arrive almost every day and bring him some mail from some quarter. He was at last starting to get himself established.

5 Male chastity belt

Chapter Eighteen: Making Sugar

The sadhus arrive with their elephants, scale the large pipal tree, and hack off leaves and branches for their animals. The large beasts consume enormous quantities. The men bed down in the open square next to James’s compound. The next day they move on.

Old men sit in the sun along the village street. Blanket covered, they warm themselves in the bright sunshine and greet each other as “comrade.”

It was a bright cool day in December. The Sarpanch of Rampur, Swaran Singh, invited the Sahib over to his place on the north side of the village. He was an older gentleman of sixty-five, a Jat who owned a good deal of land in the village. His son Harjit Singh was taking care of the land with the help of his laborers who did most of the work of tilling and irrigation. His son ran the tractor part of the time.

Since James had come to the village, the Sarpanch had sort of looked after him. He owned land in the United States and had lived there for some time.

When James walked over to his compound, the afternoon sun was warming. He passed potato fields, their furrows flooded with water for irrigation. A peasant was out throwing fertilizer on his land by hand from a bag. Another peasant was watering his field the old way with a Persian wheel. The metal buckets attached to the chain brought up the water and emptied it into a rectangular metal pan. The water ran down through a narrow metal opening into a nullah and out into his fields. It was slower than a tube well, but did not need diesel or electric power.

James passed the tall smoke stacks of the brick kiln that were now belching thick black smoke. A village woman in a pale yellow Punjabi dress and chuney was returning to the village with a large cloth tied up with burseem carried on her head. It would soon be coming time to feed the buffaloes and cows.

The wheat fields planted earlier had now turned a beautiful bright shade of green. Some fields were still being planted and sectioned off with small ridges which divided the field for irrigation. Here and there were large trees with gnarled trunks between the fields and sometimes towering over a pump house with a tube well. Along a brick village wall dung patties had been recently plastered creating a decorative pattern on the side of the structure.

Sugarcane was being cut at the edge of the village in Swaran Singh’s field. Some other peasants were also now engaged in this winter-season enterprise of harvesting their sugar crop. Part of the crop would be processed in the village to make the brown sugar lumps called gur. Most of it, however, would be loaded onto trucks and taken to the local sugar mill at Purana Shahar.

The sahib reached the koti of the Sarpanch on the edge of the village. The elderly Jat was relaxing on the edge of a mungie watching the progress of his workers who were busy making gur.

Swaran Singh greeted the Sahib with a Sat Shri Akal, and James returned the greeting.

Bhart Jao, Sahib,” the Sarpanch said, inviting him to sit down.

In front of them, the workers who worked on the sardar’s land were making gur from the pile of cut green stalks of sugarcane. A black bullock walked in a circle hitched to the long pole that drove the wheels of the cane crusher. The juice was being collected in a large pan and poured into a larger cauldron for boiling down into brown sugar. Next to the crusher, a fire had been built in a hole dug out in the ground with the huge black caldron placed over the fire.

A worker was feeding the fire with dried cane leaves and dry stalks which had been crushed earlier. As the fire flamed up the juice boiled. The white foam of impurities was being skimmed off and discarded as the juice boiled and thickened. Once boiled down, the thickened paste was scooped out and placed on a cloth to congeal into solid lumps of brown sugar or gur. These could be used for cooking in the village and to sweeten tea. They could also be used to make village liquor, a sort of Punjabi version of corn whiskey.

The strong young peasant boys and old peasants had already enjoyed their fill of the sweet green juice of the sugarcane. A glass was filled and handed to the Sahib. How would an American like this delicious village treat? It did not look terribly appetizing to James. He took a sip of it. It was certainly sweet. But it was also very raw and green. He had no desire to drink very much of it.

Under a large tree nearby, an old man was resting on a broken-down mungie and smoking a village water pipe, or hookah. He wrapped his right hand around the metal pipe of the hookah next to his mouth and puffed.

Now the Sarpanch suggested another idea. He invited James to come in the evening for food. James thanked him and said that he would return to his place and do some reading. He would tell his cook that he need not prepare food for him. James enjoyed the village, but also needed his privacy from time to time.

At another place two peasants were putting iron shoes on their oxen. One had tied the animal down with ropes and another was driving the nails into the hoofs to attach the iron shoe. Once shod, the oxen would be taking grain to the market in the local town. The oxen were trained to walk under the wooden tongue of the ox cart and then it was attached to their shoulders.

At half past eight in the evening, long after dark had fallen, the Sarpanch sent his son to fetch the Sahib. The villagers tended to walk like cats in the dark with no need of light. But James could not see that well. The electrical power was off so he picked up his torch as he prepared to walk in the cool village night air. One also had to watch for rough places in the path or a hole here and there.

A peasant was irrigating his recently planted field of wheat with a tube well pump driven by a diesel engine with a rhythmic chug, chug, chug, in the night. They arrived at the sardar’s place. James greeted him with a Sat Shri Akal. Since the electrical power had gone, candles were burning inside his unkempt room. The place was cluttered with bags of seed and fertilizer.

The Sarpanch was sitting on a mungie next to a small low table with a bottle of local whiskey or “Binny’s Sherab,” a bottle of Golden Eagle beer and some glasses. Swaran Singh proposed that they have a drink. He poured the glasses half full of Binny’s and then filled them up the rest of the way with beer.

James, watching the procedure, thought to himself that this was going to be an absolutely horrible concoction. On the other hand, he must be hospitable. It would not do to turn down the offer. He picked up the glass and clicked it to the glass of the sardar and took a gulp. The Sarpanch poured half of his drink down his throat and wiped his mouth vigorously. He loved to drink like most Sikhs, even though it was forbidden by their religion. Perhaps they liked it the more because of that.

The servant arrived with the food, in spite of the lack of light. He sat two metal dishes of sarson da saag or cooked mustard greens on the small stand along with some mucky roti or cornbread chapatti wrapped in a cloth. The sarson da saag was flavored with ghee or butter poured over the top. Mucky roti aur sarson da saag was a winter dish in the village. The sardar had invited James to eat the dish with him a number of times and he had grown to like it now. It was relatively healthy for warding off the winter cold. The Binny’s and beer was also useful for this purpose.

James had not yet finished his drink when the sardar urged him to drink up and have another. James finished his food, but declined another drink, while the sardar enjoyed a second one. It was all James could do to down the first glass of the fowl tasting brew. He would have much rather just drank the beer, which he liked, without the Binny’s. Even the Binny’s seemed to go down more easily with water than with beer, according to his taste.

He knew that the sardar would go to bed quite early and so the party would not last long. When James had finished, the sardar asked his son, Harjit, to take James back to his compound. James thanked the sardar for his hospitality. He especially appreciated the food on the days when his cook was not in the village.

When James got back to his place, the electricity had come. He decided to read a while before turning in. As long as the electricity was working, he could use his small electric space heater for some warmth in his room. The electricity was expensive, however, so he had to use it with caution.

He went back to Tolstoy, War and Peace, which he had borrowed from a young peasant in another village who knew English. James had come to develop a liking for Russian novels while he had been in India and bought one or two from time to time when he visited Lyall’s Book Stall in Ludhiana. He needed these long novels to while away the lonely winter evenings in the village.

He generally turned in by eleven o’clock. Sometimes he wished that he had some female comfort in the night. That lovely warmth in the night of delicious brown velvet flesh, tender hidden forbidden morsels in the season known as “Pyar ka Mausam.” Visions of warm lips and more longing. He wondered if he would ever experience that rare treat. There was a film of the same name in the cinema, starring Shashi Kapoor and Asha Parekh, that his friends told him about.

The next day, James had been invited to a family planning clinic that would be held in the community building in Tajpur Village. The location was fairly close. The event was slated to begin at eleven in the morning, but one could not take such times seriously in India. It would be foolish to go to the village on time. Besides, it was disreputable to arrive on time. No self-respecting person would lower themselves to the status of arriving on time. Politicians could take it a few steps further and arrive much later, just to get more votes. Reputation didn’t matter to James, but he hated to waste his time in getting bored.

James rode his bike down to the village at half past eleven, but when he got there, nothing had happened yet. It was going true to form. That was what he expected. The affair was just now being set up.

On the way, two peacocks had landed near a house and were calling and spreading their colorful blue, purple and brown tails with the intricate designs. James thought that it was grand to actually see wild peacocks around the village. He had managed to get a few pictures of them, but only had a small Instamatic camera that could hardly get a good shot.

The BDO would arrive shortly after noon along with another jeep carrying the three young nurses dressed in white. James thought that the nurses might be the chief attraction for him. But then he saw that only one was quite good-looking. On the other hand, he had learned long ago not to expect anything to happen along that line. It was certainly hell to be in this rural male chastity belt society.

The idea of the family planning clinic was to teach individuals about methods of limiting the size of their families and induce them to use them. They should plan their families. Almost all youths were planning a family, in fact. But planning just how it was going to happen was something else altogether. It was all purely accidental from a planning perspective. They relied upon kismet and the astrologer, from time to time. From the perspective of a peasant, he wanted two sons, an heir and a spare. The girls who came along didn’t count. They were just a liability who took wealth from the family. Sometimes they were not even given proper names. Just icky, doodgy, teyji, and so on. First, second, third. If girls kept coming, the poor peasant would be wiped out. He would have to sell all his lands just to get them married off and that would be his ruin. It was no accident that there was a vital need for sex determination clinics, regardless of how unethical the practice might be. These institutions were starting to flourish in the local district towns.

In the corner of the compound near the wall of the school, kerosene stoves had been set up on a table for cooking pakoras in big metal vats. They were potato and spinach cutlets rolled in basin flour or gram flour and fried in hot oil. They were a delicious winter treat and James could eat a lot of them when he was hungry, like he was today.

The affair went on for three hours. Literature on family planning, condoms, IUD’s and vasectomy was handed out. Those evil French leathers were being pushed by the Government of India. Everyone ate their fill of pakoras. James saw a couple of people from the village that he knew and greeted them.

James was about to go back to the village and read when he met a young college student from the village Kamachon. Gurpreet Singh asked him to come over to his village, which was just nearby. They left and rode down the pucca road on their bicycles. At an old fashioned well, there was a camel pulling a pole that drove a Persian wheel. Most of these devices had now been replaced by tube wells, but a few of them were still being used. James liked to see the classical scene. He was glad that he could see this little bit of Punjab history before these practices passed out of existence altogether.

James knew that Gurpreet’s father was a retired officer from the Indian Army. The family lived in a big modern house in the open just at the edge of the village. Their place was more clean and tidy than most village compounds because they did not have any farm animals and were not engaged in any farming enterprises.

When James arrived, the retired colonel met him and after a bit asked him to have a peg of rum with him. He called for some glasses and ice. They were sitting inside a big room that was more elegantly decorated than most village houses. The furniture was modern and quite comfortable. There was a stereo and a large radio.

Just then, the officer’s young daughter appeared. She was smiling and dressed in a stylish Punjabi dress. She had dispensed with her chuney, which suggested to James that she was more modern and liberal than most girls. She lived in a village, but was not a village girl.

James was very pleased to see her in her bright red dress. She was young and attractive and not a bit shy. The sardar seemed happy to display his modern attractive daughter, perhaps to impress the sahib.

This is my daughter, Noor,” the sardar said.

Gurpreet did not take a drink, but sat and listened as the Colonel, Nirmal Singh, launched into stories about his time with the British. It had not been that long ago, after all.

James,” the sardar said to him, “We’ll have to find you a girlfriend. One can’t live as a Brahmacharya in this bloody land of Punjab!”

He let out a loud laugh. He must have thought that it was a big joke in the male chastity belt of Punjab. He wondered if the colonel would mind if he chased his cute daughter. He could fix him up pretty easily if he really wanted to. But the Sahib thought it was pretty unlikely. After all, he didn’t own any land in Punjab. That was the real black gold in the Jat villages of Punjab.

Chapter Nineteen: Ranjit

Scent like a field of mustard anoints you, fair skinned woman.” (Punjabi people’s song)

The cold nights began in December. The evenings were cool and pleasant and one could go to bed and snuggle under a thick rajai stuffed with several kilograms of cotton. The days were bright, clear and sunny. The air was clear and invigorating after the months of suffocating heat. One could see snow on the high mountain more than seventy-five miles away in the Shivalik Hills.

James was glad to enjoy the cool sunny weather. He had gone to a small village, Gosal, to visit a farmer friend who was planting wheat. After the morning work, the farmer had taken him to his place and given him lunch. James was observing the planting of the wheat. Gobinder Singh’s wife could be heard behind the guest room in the kitchen preparing chapattis. He heard her flapping the thin dough from hand to hand and plopping them down on the hot tava. Gobinder’s daughter appeared with two bowls of steaming hot allu gobi. Potato and cauliflower was a delicious winter dish in Punjab. She returned with a stack of buttered chapattis wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm.

James tied into the delicious food that he had come to love. It had not taken his appetite long to adjust to the simple village food. Feeling thirsty, he drank a large glass of cold water from the tube well outside in the garden. Water from a village tube well was usually fine for drinking, as far as he could tell. So he stopped worrying about trying to purify it. In fact, he had never worried much about that. The Peace Corps officials had little idea what it took to actually live in a Punjabi village.

Gobinder Singh was planting his wheat the old fashioned way with a team of bullocks. James had been urged to train the farmers to do it with the new small seed drills, but the farmers found them difficult and did not trust that they would distribute the correct amount of seed. They found them hard to calibrate and even then, sometimes they did not work correctly. They had been doing it by hand for generations and the crop never failed, so why screw up a successful system? That was their logical reasoning. If it’s not broken don’t fix it. James had a tendency to agree with them. Modernization threatened to ruin everything as it indeed had in America. One should learn by negative example, as Chairman Mao had once said. Creative destruction may have been fine for profits and Joseph Schumpeter, but James hated to see the old things pass out of history. Why mess with the life style of the peasants who were happy doing things their own way. Just leave them alone.

The team of big white Sahiwal Bullocks pulled the primitive plow making a small furrow. Gobinder’s wife followed behind dropping the seed in the furrow. He would finish planting the field the following day and then drag the swaga, a thick flat plank, over the field to cover the seed and smooth out the surface of the land. He rode on the flat plank behind the oxen to level down the field. Then two men would partition the field with small ridges for irrigation. They used a device with a flat surface and a long handle that was held by one man and dragged by a rope by the other man to make straight ridges through the field. The system worked well. The critical factor was the type of seed used, if the aim was high yields. Mexican dwarf varieties, such as Sherbati Senora and the application of enough fertilizer had transformed yields, but destroyed the milling quality of the wheat produced. It was no good for chapattis. For profits, the farmer generally needed a loan from a local cooperative until the crop was harvested and sold.

In the afternoon, James said goodbye to Gobinder Singh and returned to the local town, Bhagat Bagh. He rode his bicycle along the dusty paths between the fields in the well-worn path until he reached the gradual elevation up to the narrow metaled road. Here, he joined the other riders, now in winter garb, with a shawl wrapped around them, but their tough brown legs were sticking out of their loose tumbas as they pedaled. Other young guys wore a pair of striped pajamas with a turban loosely tied around their heads. The young Sikhs were pricklier in their dress, sporting tightly tailored trousers, pointed black loafer shoes, a stylish jacket and tightly tied turban that made a point above their forehead.

In fact, the homely bicycle was a workhorse for the villages. Peasants carried bags of grain, fertilizer, seed and other supplies on the backs of their cycles. Others transported wives, daughters, sons, small children, or friends and colleagues. James had started to learn the ropes, how to survive this mode of transport, which was the only practical way to get around to the villages. He had to veer to the left from time to time, off the metaled surface, to avoid some crazy sadougie barreling toward him in a big wide rattling goods carrier with a wooden bed. They simply blasted everything out of their way. Sometimes they terrified those on bicycles from the rear, especially young women who they loved to tease on the roads.

It was also necessary to watch out for cars, badly driven Hindustan Ambassador sedans, or small fiats. Practically every car had its hired driver. Then there were the crazy tempus and powerful motor bikes that roared up the small road. Getting past a lumbering bullock cart was often a problem while the tonga horse carts went on around with the driver clicking his tongue and switching the miserable scrawny horse. It took some skill as the road was often filled with pot holes and jagged along the edges. Sometimes an inexperienced rider like him could lose the momentum and have to get down from the bike.

As he approached the town from the green winter fields, newly built pucca houses appeared at the side of the road. Further on, small industries appeared, a smelly leather tannery, a lumber yard, bamboo sellers, and a shop selling tube well pumps and motors, with grimy workers. A bicycle repair shop. Then some small grungy dhabas with greasy small boys and waiters. Some peasants in heavy wools shawls sipped tea and ate pakoras. Most Punjab towns were dirty and grubby farm towns. They were hardly garden spots.

Entering the town, James passed the local college, Bhagat Singh National College. Young male students in tightly tied turbans strolled in front, hand in hand in the warm sunshine. Some students emerged on their bikes, bare headed, who could have been Sikhs who had cut their hair, or Hindus. Others were on scooters heading off for a shop in the town or to their village. There were young coeds too, young women who lived in the town or nearby villages in bright red, green, yellow, and blue Punjabi outfits. They wore stylish tight-fitting pajamas under a snug kamiz that nicely showed the shape of their young bodies. Seeing the swell of their young bosoms, James suddenly imagined the ripe juicy peaches that lay just beneath, unfortunately concealed from his curious eyes. James was beginning to see these young Punjabi women as sexy, after six months in the country. It was not that way at first, but now a transformation had taken place. It seemed that he was becoming acculturated to the local society or something along that line. He was, in fact, getting horny as hell with the cool winter weather.

They were sexy pieces, as his new Punjabi friends referred to them. Strictly taboo in such a rural, conservative society, but there was such a thing as hormones, after all. They would not always be repressed. A thick long plaited pig-tail hanging down their back, sometimes of real hair, sometimes an ornament tied into their hair, they added color to the town. The thin chuney worn around their shoulders or their head just made them appear more sexy as far as James could tell. Some were clearly plain, to be sure, but it could not be denied that he was beginning to see many of them as cute, terribly cute, cute as a bug in a rug, and it started to enter into his young mind that it would be nice to cuddle up with one of them. The cool, pleasant winter weather, the refreshing cold temperature at nights, was conducive to cuddling up with something warm. As Punjabis said, it was “Pyar ka Mausam,” the season of love.

James passed the local pharmacy. The “doctor” was sitting at the counter near the front, reading a local newspaper from Jalandhar in Urdu script. He was ready to dispense his medicines even if some of them happened to be no more than a placebo. There were many fake medicines in the country, to be sure, and it was exceedingly difficult, probably impossible, to tell which were real. James had met the shop owner and was curious when he explained to him the device that was designed to enlarge one’s penis. A lot of men were coming for the treatment, especially from the villages. James was skeptical whether it too was a fake. Perhaps they just needed better nutrition, but that was often beyond their budgets.

He passed the small seed shop that also sold locally made soda drinks. There was one small table inside and four chairs where one could listen to the Hindi film songs blaring from the large old-fashioned radio. James had slaked his thirst more than once in that place. Those curious thick bottles had a little round marble in the neck and were opened by punching it down. There was an old bottling machine in the back where the sweet concoction was poured into the well-used bottles. He often heard it cranking out a rhythm, chug chugging, as the homemade soda was bottled.

There was the meat shop that sold bakkari, fresh goat, butchered every morning, out near the bus stand. The fresh meat was enclosed in little screened partitions. Never mind that the screened doors were continuously left open for the convenience of the flies. What the screens were for, he did not have a clue, as they served no purpose whatsoever, as far as he could tell. Curried, with hot spices, the goat meat was delicious. There was no doubt about that and James had by now acquired a taste for it. Hopefully the cooking got rid of the bacteria and vermin from the flies. There was the radio shop, competing with yet another popular Hindi film song, to the enjoyment of all those in a wide radius. A loud speaker in front of the shop was blaring out the sound with fantastic distortion. It hardly mattered, in the event. An electric shop was next to that where one could buy light bulbs. The beer and whiskey shop always did a brisk business all year in Punjab. Drinking might be forbidden in the Sikh religion, but this did not greatly deter the local sardars from indulging deeply, if at all. That was perfectly obvious. Many of them loved their drink.

Across the street, the local dhaba was making inroads in selling its dishes made for sale that day. Chapattis were made continuously from morning until late in the evening.

Suddenly, as James walked his bike along the side of the road, his new friend Ranjit suddenly appeared, coming alongside him. James had met him one day at the college when some guy had invited him inside the gates of the campus. Ranjit stopped his cycle and got down. His bright red turban was tied tight above his handsome light-brown face. His beard could clearly be seen, but had not yet filled out. His black pointed shoes hand been polished to a shine below his tight stylish trousers made in a local tailor shop.

James, Sahib, Sat Shri Akal. Casa halee? Teek tok?” Ranjit greeted him in Hindi.

Sat Shri Akal,” James returned the Sikh greeting. He was happy to make contact with a friend. It was no good being isolated as a monad in a foreign culture. It was the young, most generally, who made friends easily. He took James’s hand as if to shake it, except that it was hardly a handshake, at least not a western one. James felt his warm, limp, hand in his and Ranjit continued to cling to his hand, not willing to let it go. It was that warm, limp, Indian handshake that James was not yet used to, but was coming to expect. It gave him a somewhat strange feeling, so out of sync with the western culture of manly prowess. He found himself growing impatient as to when Ranjit would free his hand from his friendly clinging fingers. It was a sort of brotherly love, after a fashion. Westerners often saw it a smacking of homosexuality, but that was wrong, surely. It was not that. It was simply friendship in the Indian mode. There was a warmth between friends, not found in Western society. Even though many Punjabis were macho, projecting a brave image, they were at the same time warm.

Sahib, where are you going,” Ranjit asked. “Sahib, it is my pleasure to meet you, Sahib. We would like to talk to you. Will you come with us, Sahib, to Kartar Sweet Shop?”

Ranjit’s friend, Prem Kumar, had stopped with him. James also shook hands and said hello to him.

I was on the way to the village,” James said. “I was feeling a little tired after riding my bike on these roads. I am not used to it yet.”

Come with us, Sahib,” Ranjit invited. “We will enjoy something to drink and some sweets. We want to practice our English.”

It was not possible for James to refuse, so he went with Ranjit and Prem. They walked their bikes across the street between the huge trucks carrying enormous loads of freshly cut sugarcane stalks to the sugar refinery a few miles down the road. Small boys ran along beside the trucks to steal the green canes. Some even jumped onto the truck and rode for some distance while pulling out the stalks. The stalks were full of sweet juice for chewing. This only added to the general confusion in the street, taken as perfectly normal. James was often amused by the Indians’ love of wholesale confusion. The more anarchy, the better. The perfect country for an anarchist. Even the fascists here were anarchists, essentially.

Across the street, they approached the sweet shop. Indeed it was one of the most popular places in the town, certainly for men. Women rarely appeared, in fact, only a few extremely daring young women from the college, but that was rare. Mostly it was men. Peasants who had come to town for shopping or had brought some grain to sell in the mundi. Local young guys from the college. Local businessmen who came for tea and sweets and to discuss business.

To see the shop, no one would have imagined its popularity. It was for all practical purposes in an advanced state of dilapidation. It was probably the filthiest and grimy establishment that James had ever remembered seeing, including his stay in India. But it seemed to have nothing to do with the food. The sweets might have been infused with a plethora of concealed bacteria, as many Indian sweets were, but it did not deter their sale. It was a flourishing establishment.

The front of the shop was open with steps leading up to the worn cement floor. There were three small wooden tables inside, bare wood. The shop was, in fact, filthy. A fat helvaji sat in front frying jelabies in a large vat of oil. There was a large plate of freshly fried pakoras piled high. Another plate was piled up with freshly made samosa. Beside these were large square aluminum plates of various kinds of Indian sweets, burfi, golab jaman, and so on. The burfi was decorated with a thin film of silver on top, which one ate with the sweet.

Small boys, in filthy clothes, barefoot and in shorts, were serving the customers. Flies did not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity to sample the wares. At the back of the shop a large hole had been knocked out of the wall, as if with a large hammer. From time to time, the small boys dodged through the hole for something in the back. The walls that had once been white-washed were now essentially black with grime. To the side of the room was a large machine which was used to whip up the lussie into a frothy drink.

Ranjit and Prem sat with James at one of the small tables. In spite of the quite filthy and grimy surroundings, James found it pleasant to relax and let events unfold on their own. He looked at the small table and realized that it would be impossible to touch it, seeing the sticky layer that covered the whitish surface that was beyond cleaning. The flies availed themselves of the sugary surface.

He thought of the small drink and snack shop near the State Bank of India over in Purana Shahar. It was as clean and inviting as this place was filthy. He enjoyed going there for a drink after cashing his check at the bank. There was a powerful fan that literally blew any fly away that dared to enter the premise. But on the other hand, where were the customers? That shop was always empty of customers, while this Kartar Sweet Shop drew customers like flies. It didn’t make sense, unless Indians preferred a dirty shop. Or perhaps, it was just that the food was so delicious that it nullified any concern about cleanliness.

Ranjit called to one of the small boys striding back and forth from the front to the tables and asked for some sweet burfi and samosas. Ranjit and Prem asked for lussie to drink. James was not yet into relishing buttermilk and asked for a Coke, although it turned out to be a local concoction that was not really Coke, but in a Coke bottle. As it tasted a lot like medicine, he was not sure if he should actually drink it. It did not seem to actually be the real thing.

The burfi and samosas arrived, two samosas for each, and a plate of the white milk-sweet burfi. It was tasty. The small plates looked dirty, but it was mostly their bad quality that discolored them. James noticed the rough cracked edges of the plates. The samosa pastries were filled with potato, green pepper and onion. They were eaten with a hot sauce, a sort of chutney. James had already discovered that they were delicious and loved the taste of the sweetish red hot sauce that burned his tongue. He soothed his burning mouth with the so-called Coca-Cola, even though it was tepid and not as cold as he had wished.

Sahib, I want to go America,” Ranjit said, as they tied into the sweets.

How can I go America? Sahib, your friend at American Embassy can help me? Please help me, Sahib. Nothing for us here, India. America, great country. Help me to go, Sahib.”

It was clear that his friend Ranjit lacked a grip on the real world. As far as James could tell, he had not yet met a single Indian who did not have the same wish. Every last young Indian wanted to go to America and was ready to spring at once at any opportunity. To think that he could have some influence with someone at the American Embassy was such a wild notion that it made James’s head swim. Even if he had a friend there, things simply did not work that way in America. Not for ordinary people, anyway.

I really don’t know,” James admitted, “how you can go to America. I wish I could help you.”

Given the demand, it seemed to him that the odds were definitely against the prospect. However, it was true that there were thousands of Indians who were somehow managing to arrive on the shores of America every year. So there was surely hope if one was persistent enough.

My advice is to study hard and perhaps you can go as a student,” James suggested. “There are a lot of scholarships in America for bright students.”

Then as an afterthought he said, “If you have some friends or relatives in America, they could probably help you. But for me, it is not possible. I wish that I could.”

It seemed that in the late sixties, Nehru’s India had gone belly up, at least for most of the upcoming youth. They could see little hope for their country in future and only wished to escape to the West at whatever the cost might be. It was indeed a sad situation, James thought. So much for the new Independent India that had promised so much bright hope at the midnight hour of freedom in August l947.

Chapter Twenty: Khushpreet

The beauty of a maiden like the crimson of the rising dawn.”

The conversation in Kartar Sweet Shop came around to the subject of girls.

I like the way in America,” Ranjit said. “You have love marriage. I want love marriage. Here our families choose wife.”

James decided to ask a personal question.

Do you guys have a girl friend?” he asked Ranjit and Prem.

Here, sir, it is hard,” Prem spoke up. “We are not allowed to talk freely with girls. We have to meet them secret.”

Of course, many guys have girl friends,” Ranjit said. “I do too, but secret.”

Sir, there are many pieces, many nice pieces in the college. One or two in my village too. But if we meet them, we have to meet secret,” Prem said.

Then how do you meet them?” James asked.

Sir, it is strange for you,” Prem said. “But you know in the village, we go on the roof. The roofs of the houses are flat and we sleep there sometimes where it is clear and cool. From my roof, I can see across to where my friend lives. As you know, nice piece. We cannot talk, but see each other. We can sometimes send signals. That’s all.”

There are other ways,” Ranjit said. “The women come out in the evening to the fields to relieve themselves. We can sometimes meet secretly in the field or pass them a note as they pass close by. Sometimes we see each other on the road when riding bike and can pass a note. This way we can arrange to meet secretly in the night at a secret place, a friend’s house. It is hard but we do.”

This was interesting to James.

Have you met your friend?” James asked Ranjit. “Sir, we met two times,” he said. “She is a student in the Bhagat Singh National College and lives my village, Walipur. We met at night in my friend’s house when his mom and dad went to Delhi. We exchange a note secretly and then meet. I slept with her, but not for sex. Just for friendly, just enjoy. You know, sex is dangerous. But some guys do sex too.”

Will you see her again?” James asked.

I hope,” Ranjit said. “I love her, sir. But no chance to marry. She is Hindu and I am Sikh. Anyway, she is wrong caste, Brahmin. It is sad. Sometimes girls take poison and die if they get baby.”

It is so hard in India and Punjab,” Prem said. “Delhi is better. It is so easy to meet a piece in the city.”

All of this was interesting to James. He was learning something about the inside of Indian youth culture.

They had finished the snacks and the sun was starting to sink rapidly. Ranjit refused to allow James and Prem to share the bill. One could never go Dutch in India. Someone must be the patron. James thanked him for the treat.

Oh, it is nothing sir.” Ranjit said. “Will you come to my house, sir? I want you to come to my house. You can meet my father and mother and my sister. My father knows English. He was an officer in the army.”

Yes, sure, sometime,” James said. “I would love to.” He was feeling a little tired after the activity of the day.

Sir, please come today. Now, sir. My mother will give you food. You can have some nice time and we can talk. There are so many things I want to ask you about America.”

James was not terribly anxious, but realized that he needed to practice his Punjabi. Perhaps it would be an opportunity. Perhaps he could talk with his parents. It was difficult to refuse.”

Well, OK, I will come,” James said. “Thanks for inviting me.”

Ranjit’s village, Walipur, was only half a mile from his so it would be easy to get back to his village late in the evening. It was just a short walk on the dusty dirt road between the fields.

Prem had not said much in the conversation. James asked him what he was studying.

Oh, we all study the same things in the college,” he said. “It is boring. It depends on the class. I am in the third class and study history, English, literature and Punjabi. But, sir, I want to study politics. I will do it for master’s degree.”

James wished him luck.

I also want to study politics when I return to the US,” James said. “I majored in physics, so I studied science and a lot of math, but to understand the world, one needs politics and economics.”

They departed, saying goodbye to Prem. James and Ranjit rode their bikes side by side out to Ranjit’s village which was a couple of miles. Indians who they met and passed looked at the white gora curiously.

I must look strange and somewhat unreal to them, he thought. They stare at me and give me weird looks as if they cannot believe that I have actually showed up here.

Along some fields, rice was being harvested. It had been cut and left for drying. In many fields, wheat had been planted and flooded with water to bring up the seed. It was getting cool and villagers riding their bikes wore heavy shawls or woolen blankets to ward off the cool. Some had tied woolen scarfs around their necks, the kind that one could buy from the Kashmiris who were now coming down from the north to sell wool shawls and chop wood.

They passed large fields of green and white cauliflower. Now and then there was a well-tilled field of potato. Young sardars roared around them on their powerful Enfield motorcycles. Slow bullock carts lumbered along the small road on their way home from the town or fields.

When they reached the village, it was almost dark. They entered a dark narrow street paved with well-worn bricks. There were drains on both sides of the street, black with filthy sludge, the cleaning being neglected. They rode past a small poor bicycle repair shop and a small village shop that sold many household items. The road opened into a large square where there was a massive spreading pipal tree near a community well. Across the square, they entered an expansive and well kept clean courtyard through a heavy iron gate. It was a large, quite new and modern pucca house. They left their bikes in the courtyard. Ranjit invited James upstairs to his room, even though there was a large guest room for men on the ground floor.

As he started up the narrow cement stairway, he saw Ranjit’s younger sister at the top of the steps. Ranjit said to her in Punjabi that he had brought the American for dinner. James saw a young girl in modern Punjabi outfit at the stop of the stairs. At first he thought little of it, but as he came up the steps, he saw that she was quite beautiful. She was definitely cute with sharp, clear-cut features. Her face broke into a broad smile as she said in her best English “Good Morning.”

Sat Shri Akal,” James greeted her with the Sikh greeting. She was not so shy, as she shook his hand briefly. James felt his heart skip a beat and a strong tickle in his nether region as he looked into her large beautiful eyes. Yes, she was certainly cute. If not a beautiful woman, she soon would be. She could easily leave a blister on his poor heart.

What is your name?” James asked her.

Khushpreet,” she said.

It’s a nice name,” he said. “Very nice to meet you.”

My name means loving,” she said.

It was clear that she was pleased. Even though she lived in the village, she was not so shy and seemed capable of asserting some degree of individuality.

I didn’t know your sister would be so beautiful,” James told Ranjit.

She is two years younger than me,” he said. “She is studying in the second class in the college.”

She is beautiful,” James said. “The most beautiful girl I have seen here.”

Ranjit showed him around the house and his room where he studied. There was a small shelf of books, a radio, some paperback novels, some in Punjabi and some in English. Ranjit opened a drawer and took out an envelope. Here he kept some secret pictures of his girlfriend who he had met in the night.

I cannot show her to you tonight,” he said. It was too dark to see across the roofs of the houses. “But I will show you her picture.”

Ranjit left for a moment to talk to his sister. Then he took James down to the guest room to meet his mother. She was a middle aged woman, still nice looking in a homemade Punjabi dress. She was a doctor in a small hospital and health clinic.

About then his father came in from a small side room that he used as an office. He was a bearded Sikh, retired colonel from the Indian Army. He wore a large turban and walked with a military bearing.

Hello James,” his father said. “Welcome. You have come here from such a rich country. How are you getting along in Punjab?”

I am doing fine,” James said. “With the help of friends like Ranjit and others who are taking care of me. Sorry that my Punjabi is so bad. They did not teach us much. So I am often struggling to make myself understood.”

Never mind,” the colonel said. “India is an English speaking country. Thanks to the British. Bloody buggers! We are still an English colony, you know, even though we are supposed to be independent.”

So what are you doing here? This Peace Corps? Isn’t it a cover for the American CIA?”

Some people suspect that it is,” James said. “But most of us would have nothing to do with that. Actually, it is a food production project. There are eighteen of us now in two districts of Punjab. President Kennedy started the program in l961.”

What are you doing specifically,” the colonel wanted to know.

Working for the BDO,” James said. “We are supposed to be helping the farmers produce more food by using modern agricultural techniques. At least that is the purpose of the program.”

The colonel was suspicious. He was not convinced. To him, it was simply not plausible that young college graduates from American could teach Punjabi farmers how to produce better crops of wheat, rice and sugar cane.

But seriously, my son, how can you do that?” Giljit Singh asked. “Our Punjabi farmers already know how to produce huge crops of wheat and rice. All they need is more capital. Seeds, fertilizer, credit, insecticides, machinery. That is what they need.”

The colonel himself was the owner of some twenty-five acres of prime land in the village, now starting to become green with the recently planted crop of Sherbati Sonora dwarf wheat. He knew what the score was with the Green Revolution in Punjab.

You are right. I have thought of that too, since I arrived and talked to the farmers. They know how to grow crops here. The agricultural caste of Jats are expert farmers.”

Perhaps it is cover for a different agenda,” the colonel said. “You can see why people would be suspicious.”

True,” James said. “We are probably impostors after a fashion in that respect. We even have volunteers who have never been on a farm and studied English literature in the university. I have to be honest with you. The Peace Corps is a good idea, even if it doesn’t work the way it sounds. I had to find a way to avoid going to Vietnam.”

The colonel laughed. “I suspected as much. You are wise to stay out of that. Being from the military I know. War is the worst possible thing. America is a great country, but I’m afraid that they don’t understand the world. Not Asia. I was in the US for six months. Fort Benning, Georgia. They sent us for training. I think we ended up training them. But they are sincere people. Americans are good people. But they do not know much about the world.”

It is part of the ‘ask not.’ President Jack Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech,” James said. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Right,” the colonel said. “But under the rhetoric it is just the same old imperialism. You are clever, son. Like we say in the military, cover your ass. That’s what you have done. I like your courage.”

Come on, James. Let us have a couple of pegs before dinner.”

The colonel pulled a bottle of rum from the almari in the wall.

Khushpreet, Auo,” the colonel called. “Gilaasa, barafa laa-i-ye.”

Khushpreet arrived with glasses and a container of ice.

The colonel poured out two pegs of rum and dropped in some ice.

Here’s to your success, son,” he said. “Shaabaasha.”

Help us grow more wheat!” he laughed. “But what we really need is to get rid of this bloody PL-480. That would be big help to the farmers here!”

I am sorry. What is that sir?” James asked.

PL-480. You don’t know it?” the Colonel asked. “They trained you for agricultural, but did not tell you about that? Public Law 480, passed by your American Congress. An American dumping law, in essence. The United States dumps cheap wheat in India and takes payment for it in rupees. It sinks the prices for farmers in Punjab. It is ruining the Punjabi farmers. Please write to your congressman about it. Is that the American free market Americans want to push?”

The Colonel tossed back his rum and poured out another peg.

I didn’t know about that,” James said sheepishly. In the back of his mind, he thought perhaps it was not all bad, if it helped some of the poor in India afford flour for chapattis. The Punjabi farmers did not exactly seem to be in danger of being an extinct species.

Khushpreet appeared with a tray of food. James admired her young beauty and inviting bosom as she gracefully set out the steaming dishes of winter vegetables. He studied her tight stylish red pajama underneath her bright yellow kamiz. He noticed her cute small feet in her stylish half-heeled shoes. There was a silver chain around her ankle.

She returned with a stack of buttered chapattis wrapped in a cloth.

The Colonel poured out a second peg of rum for James.

Don’t worry, son,” the Colonel said, as they ate the delicious food. “You can come over any time you need a good meal and perhaps are feeling homesick. I know how it is to be far away from home. We will take good care of you. We like Americans. Good people. They are naïve, of course, know little about the world, let alone India. How could the bloody buggers know about this bloody country? They are so far away from almost everywhere in the world. And our bloody politicians. Thieves. Most of them should be shot. But we survive in spite of the bloody buggers.”

James thanked the Colonel for his hospitality. It was not late, but Punjabis in the village generally went to bed early and rose early the next morning, even in the winter time. James said good evening to the Colonel and went with Ranjit up to his room.

Well, I really must be going back to my village,” James said. “I have enjoyed meeting your family and having dinner very much.”

Sir,” Ranjit began, “you stay with us tonight. In guest room. All set up now. Khushpreet will bring you thick rajai for cold. It will be warm, sir. No use going to other village so late tonight.”

Well, I was not planning to stay,” James said.

It is dark, cold tonight, sir. You may fall ill. Go tomorrow morning in the sun.”

James was coerced again. He was learning that in India, being independent of the desires of others was not the way to go, and generally not even possible. They were in control. Nevertheless, he was feeling comfortable, almost at home after the conversation with the Colonel and enjoying seeing attractive young Khushpreet. It was not necessary to twist his arm very hard.

I have some homework that I must do,” Ranjit said. “You may read in your room if you like. Hospitality is duty in India.”

Thanks,” James said. “Enjoy your homework. “

He had noticed a novel in Ranjit’s room by Kushwant Singh, Train to Pakistan.

Can I read this novel by Kushwant Singh,” James asked.

Sure, please,” Ranjit said. “He is one of our famous writers and a Punjabi. He wrote about Partition in l947.”

Ranjit showed him the guest room. There was no easy chair for reading, but he could prop himself up on the large mungie to read. Khushpreet appeared bringing him the warm rajai, a thick quilt stuffed with cotton. She knocked lightly on his door. It was brave for a young Punjabi woman in such a conservative society.

James opened the door and saw her smile.

Sir, your rajai,” she said sweetly. She entered the room a couple of steps.

Thank You, Bahut miree bane,” James said, rather stupidly.

She was pleased. Now he had a chance to see her more closely. He saw the beauty that emanated from her young face as she gave him her darshan. She struck a heart string. As he took the rajai, their eyes met. He looked into her large bright eyes and something happened . There was an instant spiritual resonance between them. She was a virtual young angel. He was struck by her vibrant velvet brown flesh, the tasteful swell of her young bosom, her long dark hair tied up in a braid down her back. She had come without her dupatta. He suddenly wanted to touch her.

Here, I do it,” she said. Taking the rajai back from him, she unfolded it across the mungie. He watched her quick, yet graceful, motions. She is beautiful as a maharani, he thought.

James thanked her again and felt the sudden inclination to embrace her, to hold her close to him. He wanted to kiss her and feel his lips pressed to her warm vibrant lips.

When he looked at her again, it was with the look of a subtle kiss. She sensed his feelings for her.

Good night,” she said.

Good night,” he replied. “Thank you so much.”

She slipped out and closed the door behind her.

James could not get her out of his mind as he drifted off to sleep in the cool December air.

Chapter Twenty-One: The Kiss

What business do you have, maiden, playing amongst the boys?” (Punjabi song)

James spent a week’s holiday in Delhi at the end of the year. Khushpreet’s sweet image kept on burning a hole in his poor heart the whole time. When he saw the young women on bikes or in rickshaws along the street, he thought of her. Somehow he had to see her again. But he did not know when or how.

Back in the village, he spent two weeks fixing up his place in the cold January weather. He went to a paint shop in Bhagat Bagh and bought pale green paint to spruce up his room. He made friends with some more local farmers who invited him to take soil samples in their fields and gave him lunch. He would send the soil to have it tested at the state agricultural university. When the farmers advised him to take a rest in the afternoon, he wished that he could feel Khushpreet next to him. He yearned for her young warm flesh. He had somehow caught this filthy disease of affection, now turning to love, perhaps, through no fault of his own. He had simply been pulled into the mire and seemed to be sinking fast.

He tried to keep busy and his cook kept him fed. None of that so called “English food,” he had told him. Plastic and inedible. Make me Punjabi food, spicy winter vegetables and chapatti. If he was home in the afternoon, he would have hot instant coffee, mixed with chocolate powder and powdered cream. It gave him some warmth and a little caffeine buzz. Sometimes, his friend, Prem Kumar, would show up and have a talk with him.

The spring would arrive shortly, but now Pyar ka Mausam lingered on. There was surely still hope to see that little phantom that kept pestering his mind. That had gotten under his skin. In the instance, the possibility seemed as distant as the stars in rural Punjab. There was surely still hope. And the Colonel had invited him back, anytime. He seemed to be sincere. Indians were hospitable people.

When he caught up with Ranjit, preparing to return to his village in late January, he was near the college. Ranjit greeted him and took his hand, holding it even longer this time, with the same limp wimpy grip. Ranjit looked into his eyes and seemed tempted to actually kiss him on the lips. This would have been just a little too much for James. Perhaps there was some gay element in the friendship between Indian males after all. He could not quite sort out exactly what was happening there. Clearly in the back of his mind was his sister, Khushpreet.

Come, be my friend. Let’s go to my place,” Ranjit said. “I want to talk. Tell you my adventures. Please tell me yours. Where have you been?”

James remembered the pleasant atmosphere in his place but even more vividly, he remembered Khushpreet’s beautiful young face and her big bright eyes. Those rays had penetrated him to the core and shot an arrow right into his heart.

They rode out to the village side by side. His mother was home. The servant woman was cooking food for the evening. His father, the Colonel, had gone to Delhi for some necessary business.

James wondered if Ranjit had mentioned to Khushpreet that he would bring the Sahib to their place again. He wondered if she was expecting him again.

When they returned the house, Ranjit greeted his mother, and announced that James had come. They started up the stairs to Ranjit’s room. James looked around, but could not see Khushpreet. He was hoping that she would appear. He had not seen her now for several weeks.

Khushpreet, studying in one of the back rooms, pretending to be occupied, had heard everything and was excited that she would see James again. She determined that she would serve them food. It would give her the chance to see him. Indeed, she had remembered their first encounter that day and thought of it every day since. She remembered his meaningful longing eyes and had felt the darshan of his inner spirit. It was right at that moment that she thought that she had come to love him. At that very instant, she knew it. What else could it be? Now her young heart leaped with joy that she would see him again. Would it be the same? She did not know, but she was willing to rush in.

She knew that young people sometimes met in the night. She had friends who had told her about meeting a guy in the night and what had happened. According to them, it was mainly petting. But she knew that some friends had gone further. Her friend Jasmine had told her about how she had sex with Balbir Singh. She had not planned it, but he had slowly seduced her. The first time, it hurt, she said. But then, she got to like it. She couldn’t stop seeing him after that. She wanted him. And at the same time, a love marriage was out of the question. It went on, and then he stopped seeing her. He had left her for another girl and broken her heart. So she warned Khushpreet to be careful. A guy could put her in trouble and then leave her feeling lonesome.

The evening meal was quite late. It seemed like an eternity to Khushpreet before the food was prepared. She brought the food on a tray to Ranjit’s room for the two guys. She brought them vegetable dishes and a stack of chapattis. Later she would bring a sweet dish.

James felt excited to see her again and their eyes met as she set out the metal bowls of vegetable. She had come wearing her dupatta over her head in the cool winter air. After she put the food, James stood up and folded his hands and gave her his Sat Shri Akal. She kept her eyes down, in deference to her brother, but greeted James. She was also excited to see him.

James was nearly famished and ate the vegetable dish with several warm buttered chapattis. When they were finished, she returned with two bowls of halva sweet.

After the meal, James took his book and went to the guest room. Ranjit had asked him to spend the night. He noticed that the big warm rajai was already in place on his mungie. Khushpreet was already preparing, taking care of him. He wondered what her mother thought of it.

He settled down to read. He was feeling sleepy when he heard someone at the door. It was Khushpreet again. She had brought a tray of sweets and a glass of warm milk.

Sir, your milk,” she said. He knew that sometimes Punjabis drank warm milk before sleeping in the winter time. It did not appeal to him and he liked to drink milk cold, unless it was chocolate drink. With some effort, he could manage to get it down.

Khushpreet entered the room and sat the tray down on the small stand near the mungie.

Meree bani,” James said, thanking her in Punjabi.

She smiled. Now he was close enough to touch her. It was all he could do to resist. He loved her presence, but felt awkward. Something had to break the ice.

Aapa bahuta soni,” James said. Their eyes met. He had wanted to tell her that she was beautiful for the longest time.

On a sudden impulse, he reached out and embraced her and kissed her lips. He sensed that his action was not very graceful, but she did not seem to mind or even be terribly surprised.

He felt her pressing her lips back against his and they stayed locked together for some delicious moments.

When he released her, she picked up the tray.

I will come,” she said quickly and slipped out of the room. She did not want their activity to be detected.

James tried to return to his book, but was too excited. His mind was too agitated to concentrate. He nibbled on the milk sweet and sipped the warm milk, which was not terrible appetizing.

I wonder what she meant by that “I will come,” he thought. Would she be coming back to get the glass and plate, or did she mean that she would come to him in the night. He began to hope and anticipate that perhaps it was the latter.

He managed to drink the milk, nursed along with the milk sweet. After a few more pages, that largely escaped his attention, he turned out the electric light, removed his outer clothes and snuggled under the warm rajai. This was starting to be a sort of second home and he was enjoying relaxing here. The milk worked and he quickly drifted into sleep.

A couple of hours later, he was awakened by a gentle hand on his shoulder. Khushpreet had secretly slipped into his room and latched the door behind her. Now, it seemed they were safe. Well, thankfully, her father was not at home. It was a surprise and at the same time delightful to see her. She struck a match to light a candle on the stand. He could see her face in the warm orange light looking beautiful. She was wearing a loose fitting top and pajamas for night. Her head was covered by her thin dupatta. She came on the bed near him and he took her in his arms. Her dupatta was heavy with her exotic scent and he loved the rough sexy feel of the thin material. He felt his hand on her thick hair and their lips met. She was so beautiful to kiss. He started planting kisses all over her young face, her cheeks, her nose, her eyes, her chin. He looked at her in the flickering light of the candle. Now and then a cool draft entered the room through the cracks of the wooden shutters and door.

She touched his lips with her fingers and slipped a small round seed between his lips.

Chew it,” she said. “It is leechi.”

James chewed and the flavor filled his mouth with the pleasant taste.

She sat up, slipped off her shoes, and blew out the candle. She came into bed, under the warm rajai. James embraced her young delicious body. He held her and felt her warmth. He held her to him tight and kissed her again. Then he kissed her neck.

He was now aroused. He quickly stripped off his tee shirt and then his shorts. Now his young weapon throbbed like crazy. Now she felt of him cautiously, curiously, getting the feel of him. He wondered if it was the first time that she had felt a man. Then she felt her fingers exploring his body. She had some idea of what she should do from talking to her friends. She was not so innocent, as she toyed with his manhood, starting to tease him. Pressing him, she gave him a strong kiss on his lips.

Bahuta sonee,” she said. “You are very beautiful. A nice man.”

She turned back the cover and kissed his body, his chest and down to his legs.

He wanted to feel her body.

Take your kamiz off,” he urged her. “You are beautiful.”

Wait,” she said.

Maybe she is not ready, he thought. He went back to tasting her lips and then her neck. He felt of her silky black hair. It felt so lovely. He could feel her breasts through the thin fabric of her kamiz.

Come on,” he said. “You are nice.”

Slowly, she pulled up her kamiz and slipped it off. James felt of her warm brown skin and took her swollen soft fruits into his hands. He could not see them, but knew that they were as beautiful as he had imagined them to be, perfectly shaped young velvet peaches. He could feel her hardened young nipples that now invited him. What a lovely young delight, she was.

He moved his mouth to plant warm kisses on her delightful young breasts and began to taste her nipples. Oh, she was nice. He ran his hand down to feel her hips and derriere, inside her pajamas. He held her tight as her young breasts filled his mouth.

Take this off,” he said, feeling of her pajama.

He held her and went back to kissing her soft warm breasts. It was surely too quick to go that far. She was being cautious leaving them on. He felt her middle, the tight string of her pajama. Perhaps she would give him a feel of her body. He cautiously started to untie her string.

No, No,” she said. “Budge gay.”

Please, just to feel. Just to feel,” he said. “I want to feel your beautiful body.”

She wanted to please him, so she succumbed. Loosening her pajama string, she let him feel inside with his hand. She was so nice. He touched her young hips, legs, and derriere. She had trimmed her Delta of Venus to short stubble, leaving a small patch of her hair. He pressed his hand to her softness.

He touched her and kissed her lips again.

Let me kiss you,” he said. “You are so beautiful.”

He turned back the cover and kissed her.

Khushpreet,” he said. “You are so beautiful. You are sweet.”

She touched him gently under the warm rajai.

I want you, Khushpreet, I want you,” he said. “I want to love you. You are so beautiful. Sweet baby.”

Suddenly, she was about to take him down. He didn’t think he could hold out any longer. He held her tight.

Oh, God, see what you do to me? I love you, I love you. I always want to love you. Please be mine, Khushpreet.”

You are naughty,” she said. “But nice. I like you.”

He felt her small gentle hands on his body.

You are a nice man,” she said. “Come, come.”

Before the morning light, she put her pajama and kamiz back on and slipped back to her room. She would tell her friends about her adventure with the American sahib. Now she knew what it was like to meet a man. That was enough for the first night. That was the first time that she had met a friend in the night. It was as beautiful as she had imagined. She was already thinking about what she would like to do when they could meet again. She would ask her friends what she should do. It frightened her to think of it, and at the same time, she wanted him. He was a kind man. She was still just a girl. She was happy to be his friend.

6 The Harvest

Chapter Twenty-Two: Chicken House

The donkeys arrived in front of James’s courtyard loaded down with bricks for his chicken house and latrine. The big bags on both sides of the animals had been filled with bricks from the kiln that was a mile away. James had gone to the kiln the day before and asked for five hundred bricks to begin the project. He would need another five hundred before it was finished.

In the cool, crisp air on a bright day, James could look across the plains to the northeast and see clearly the snow on the mountains some seventy-five miles away. This was a lovely time of year and gave him the ambition to work on his projects.

Once his building was ready, he would get chicks from the farmer just down the road who had an incubator. Once they were raised, he would have his chickens for meat and eggs. A small part of the house would serve as a toilet and bath house. There would still be some space left in his courtyard for a winter garden.

James had spent the last week painting his place and sprucing it up. He was proud of the job he had done. When Darshan Singh saw him with a paint brush in his hand, he had the chowkidar bring over some more paint to put a new coat of paint on the woodwork all around the building. James had not bargained for that, but thought it was only fair, as he was not paying any rent for the place. It would help to pay his way.

Down the lane, school children were seated on the ground in front of the school learning the Punjabi alphabet in the warm sun. They had small slates and copy books and practiced making the letters. Some of the boys wore crude sweaters, blue and brown, from the local woolen mill. The young boy students sometimes met James on the village road when they were coming from school with their small copy books. Sometimes they would ask him his name. Soon some fifteen or twenty would be gathered up around him, just to see the sahib up close. He enjoyed being with the small boys. They seemed to be good kids, but he was sure that they were sometimes naughty.

In the village lane, comrades sat under the winter sun in wool blankets, using them as shawls, and pulled on their hookahs. They placed their right hand around the pipe next to their mouth and puffed, then passed it on to another as they sat on an old mungie. Some toddlers from inside the houses played around in the warm sun.

The fields of wheat were now full and green. Yellow flowering mustard was growing on the bunds between the sections of the wheat field. The countryside looked green and rich at this healthiest time of the year. And it was indeed, prosperous. The village paths had dried up and there was less bacteria to pollute the water. There were fewer flies and almost no mosquitoes. Down a village lane, one saw green fields on both sides. The wheat would start to turn brown in a little more than a month.

A little farther away, a diesel engine was running a tube well to irrigate the wheat. A big stream of water three inches in diameter shot out into a large cement tank. In the field, a worker with a kahi was opening and closing bunds with soil to direct the water.

Along the road, a small boy was herding black goats, taking them out to graze the sides of the road and waste lands.

The sweeper came in the mornings and swept James’s rooms and veranda. Sometimes there was not much need for it, but James paid for the service each month, a few rupees. In the past, the pay had been just a few chapattis from time to time.

James felt that he had now accomplished something and would do more in the coming year. He had established projects, working with more than a dozen peasants in the local villages. Some were big farmers, which meant they had around thirty acres of land, but others were small farmers with five to ten acres. James thought it was more important to work with the small peasants. He had begun by taking soil samples in their fields. He had the tailor make small cloth bags for the soil. Once the soil samples were collected, he would take them to Ludhiana to the agricultural university and get the soil tested. Once the results were returned, he would show the peasants what they meant. They told how much of each type of fertilizer should be used on each field for different types of crops.

James thought that this was a useful service for the small peasants. Even if they could not afford enough fertilizer, they would do as much as they could. They might also get a loan and in this way improve their crop yield. The farmers would invite him to their houses for tea when he visited them and sometimes offer him lunch.

The day that his construction was begun, he was simply taking it easy. He had given an order to the village carpenters for a large cabinet to be made for his kitchen. The carpenters had purchased the wood and were starting to build it. He knew that they did beautiful work from the screens they had made for his doors and windows. He had also bought a dolie, a framed container with shelves to keep fruits and vegetables. It served to keep the flies off.

If he purchased meat, it had to be eaten the same day, as there was no refrigeration.

In the late afternoon, after resting and reading, he got up and had coffee with cream and sugar. Sometimes his friend, Sant Ram, would appear, coming inside to greet him. He would sometimes kiss James on the lips. This made him feel a little uncomfortable, but it had nothing to do with being gay. It was friendship only. For lack of a woman, it sometimes had to do.

He would talk to his young village friends about several things in English. His friends would sometimes tell him about a cute “piece” that they could see from their roof across the village houses. They would wonder how they could meet her.

Then, he recalled the time that he had gone with Sant Ram to see Ravi. It seemed that he was also in love with her, after a fashion, and wanted to meet her. James did not know how Sant Ram knew about her, but he did. He said that they should go and visit her at her house. James agreed that it would be nice. Now the hot days were coming. Sant Ram knew where she lived in Bhagat Bagh above a shop in the bazaar. They would go on a Saturday when she would be home.

They arrived at her house around two o’clock. They went up the stairs to the top floor. Sant Ram knocked on the door. In a little bit, Ravi appeared. This was the upper floor of the building and did not seem to be a real apartment at all. In fact, it was just a single big room at the top of the building that had shops below. It seemed that she was living with her elderly mother who was ailing. James felt bad to see that she was living in such poor conditions. Her mother was lying on a mungie some distance away from where James and Sant Ram sat. James felt bad that they had probably imposed themselves upon her. She greeted them and made tea. She gave them some biscuits.

James drank the tea and ate a couple of the biscuits, but could not enjoy the visit as much as he had hoped. He was sorry to see that her life was so dismal.

Back at his place, the brick layers continued building the walls of his new house for several days. He had to go to Bhagat Bagh and buy more wood since there would be two doors, a large window and the roof. He also had to buy the hinges for the doors. Swaran Singh, the Sarpanch, went with him and helped him with the purchases. The project was coming along.

When it was built, he would put in his latrine. It would be a flush latrine, but with a bucket of water that one dumped through the Asian style bowl. This was the simplest way to do it.

By the end of the week, the structure was built and the builders made the roof. James asked the chicken farmer down the lane for twenty new chicks. Then he ran an electric wire from his room out his window to the chicken house and hanged a light bulb close to the floor for heat for the young chicks. He had bought feed for them in the local town. He put a bowl of water for them.

Now it was time to dig the pit for the latrine just outside the wall of his compound. James decided that he would do it himself. The next day, he started digging the pit. The first thing he understood was that the ground in the dry winter season was very hard. He could not dig the pit, which would be about one meter square, very deep without a shovel. He asked around, but could not find one in the village, so had to buy one from the town. When he started digging deeper into the pit, the village kids came to stand around and watch. The villagers thought that it was very strange that a “rich American sahib” would be doing such work. But James was determined.

His friends, such as Prem Kumar, came and made a few strokes with the shovel to help him out. In the end, however, it simply could not be done. The task was too hard.

So James hired a laborer to complete the digging down to a depth of two meters. Even so, he had made blisters on his hands. With that much accomplished, he now made a trip to Jalandhar to buy the bowl and pipes for the toilet. To get them back to the village was the real challenge. First he had to get them loaded into a rickshaw and take them to the bus stand. Then he had to have a coolie put them on top of the bus. Once the bus arrived in Bhagat Bagh, he had to get another rickshaw to take them across the town to the tonga stand. Finally, the tonga walla brought them out to the village to his place. It was a rather rough day, but he had accomplished it.

The next day, he dug the ground for the bowl and pipes and tunneled under the garden wall to the pit. He filled in around the bowl and pipes with gravel. Later he would lay a layer of cement over the gravel. He bought cement and sand. He mixed the cement and laid the floor inside the toilet around the bowl and the pipes. The he leveled it down. He was proud of his work and could use it in a couple of days, once the cement had dried. After using the latrine, one had to pump a bucket of water at the hand pump and pour it into the bowl. James tried it and found that it worked beautifully.

The final step was covering the pit. For this, James had to go to Bhagat Bagh and buy the wood to make a frame for the cement. He found a shop on Railway Road where they sold wood. Then he made a square frame for the cover that he could fill with cement.

The next day, he mixed the cement and filled the frame. This was another day’s work, but at last it was finished. Now he had made another leap forward with his latrine. Those from the cooperative society came to see the new edition. He was proud that he could accomplish his goal.

To his surprise, the chowkidar and some others who worked at the cooperative began to come and use his flush toilet. James wondered why they had not built one before, if they really needed it. Maybe it is a question that just never arose. This might not be much of a change, but perhaps in future when additions were made to the coop, a place for a latrine might just be added. In the late afternoon, James sat back for a rest and enjoyed his sweet coffee with cream and sugar. He decided that it was a well-deserved rest. Now there were some other things that he had to do while he was still the American sahib in the village.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Spring Harvest

It was now March. Already, the heat had arrived. “Pyar Ka Mausam” was about to end for another year. He remembered that night with Khushpreet. It was a nice memory. If I am still here in the next season of love, I might be able to meet her again, he thought. But it was impossible to know. Now the young boys brought the big black buffaloes to the village water holes to wash them down daily. Sometimes they rode on their backs and clung to their horns.

The wheat fields had turned a golden ripe. James watched the workers cutting the dry ripe golden wheat in the fields. Some had come from other states, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to work. Cutting the dry stalks with a small scythe in the right hand, they grasped a handful of stalks in their left hand and placed the cut stalks behind them. The wheat was then bound into bundles, large sheaves, and tied with ropes made of straw. James tried his hand at the cutting, but found that it was indeed grueling work, cutting the stems next to the ground.

The sheaves were loaded onto bullock carts or tractor trollies and hauled to the threshing area. The peasants were now shifting to mechanical threshers to separate the grain. The old method with oxen and a threshing floor was too slow with the new varieties of Mexican wheat. Many workers would lose arms and legs in the new machines which were not safe for the workers. They were generally run by the power of a tractor in a stationary place. The workers lifted the sheaves and dropped them into the threshers. The grain poured out below into a metal pan, which was then poured into bags and sewed up for taking to the market.

Threshing wheat in the mechanical threshers was a hot and dirty job. It should be done as soon as possible as the terrible searing and burning heat was bearing down.

The chopped straw would be collected into stacks and used for feed for bullocks and cattle when it was mixed with green fodder. In the villages, ropes made of rice straw soaked in water were woven in the village streets. They were long ropes that would be used to bind the stacks of wheat chaff or turie.

As the wheat harvest progressed, vegetables had been planted and irrigated. There were large fields of vegetables to supply the local markets. Field workers irrigated the vegetable patches, using a kahi, a handled instrument for digging the soil. They moved soil around to open and close the bunds as the water from a canal or well flowed through the channel to flood the gardens.

The wide canals were filled with water coming from dams in the hills. Village boys swam in the cool water, a green field of clover on one side and a golden field of wheat on the other.

Women collected dung from the buffaloes and cows and formed it into patties that they spread out on the ground and on the walls to dry. As the patties dried, they were collected and stacked on the side.

Beside the mud walls of the houses of a poor traditional village, men sat on mungies and smoked hookahs. They wrapped their right hands around the pipe of the hookah next to their mouth and pulled in the smoke, then passed it to another peasant.

The peasants would take a charpie out into a mango orchard or under a large tree near a tube well. Here they could take a siesta in the afternoon during the hot searing heat. It was coming the time of year when one must work early in the morning, take rest, and then work again, once the heat subsided in the early evening. The peasants would break off in mid-morning for food.

One day, James watched a khusra, a eunuch, dance in the village streets. A quite large crowd of men had gathered around to watch. He was dressed as a woman, of course, and made all the sexual moves that a woman would make.

Then there was a village sports match. One of the games was kabaddi. Teams lined up on both sides of a line. One team would send a raider to try and touch a player on the opposite team and get back without getting caught. If successful, the team would get a point. If not, the other team would get a point. This was one of the most popular sports in Punjab and there were many tournaments around the state.

At the end of March, James had experienced the Holi Festival. He did not realize that it was the day for the festival when he left the house. He had seen a fire burning the previous evening at the edge of the village.

The next day, he rode his bicycle to Bhagat Bagh. There was a festival atmosphere. Young people were running in the streets with some kind of colored powder or paint all over them, purple, orange, blue, green, yellow and red.

James wanted to meet a friend in Bhagat Bagh. When he parked his bicycle, a young fellow ran up and threw some red powder on his clothes. Then others were dancing around the street and throwing colored powder on him and others. It was all fair game during the festival of Holi. Then James saw his friend from the college.

Come on, Sahib,” he said. “We will buy some powder and play the game. You can throw colors on anyone today. It is all in fun.”

James saw that there was no getting around it if those were indeed the rules of the game, but he knew that he would feel quite hesitant to do this as a foreigner. He could not stop them from doing it to him, but hesitated to participate.

That’s OK,” James said, “It is interesting to see people go a little wild. They probably need it to let off some steam. But I would not feel right, throwing powder on strangers. I would not want to ruin their clothes, in case they would not want it.”

They went to a sweet shop. His friend told him what the whole thing meant in a rather complicated story, actually a Hindu myth.

He said, “the night before the festival, people build a fire in the street or a field called a Holika bonfire. The festival is in the night of full moon in the vernal equinox, and so marks the beginning of spring. The origins come from the town of Multan in Punjab.”

There was a demon king of Multan, Hiranyakashipu. He had an evil sister named Holika. So that is where the name comes from. The King had a son named Prahlada, who became devoted to the Hindu God Vishnu. But King Hiranyakashipu demanded that his son worship him. When he did not, the King became angry and wanted to punish Prahada who was now devoted to Vishnu.”

Reminds me of some politicians today,” James remarked.

True,” his friend said. “Then Holika, Prahada’s evil aunt, tricked him into sitting on a funeral pyre with her. But she had a cloak that protected her from any injury from the fire. When the fire began to burn and roar, the cloak suddenly flew off of Holika and came to Prahada. So Holika perished and Prahada was saved. This represented the triumph of good over evil. The next day, when the fire had burned out, the people applied the ash to their foreheads. But after that, the people use colored powder and paint. Prahada built a temple which was the Prahada-Puri Temple in Multan. Some people also drink bhang at the festival and get a little crazy.”

Too bad it cannot happen like that today,” James said. “Today evil generally triumphs over good. Politically speaking, at least.”

The land dried. The heat became more intense. One could not go out without a turban or a topi to ward off the sun.

What is this story about sadougies?” James asked. “Why do they say that they go crazy at twelve o’clock?”

Yes, the saudougies go pagal or mad at twelve o’clock noon,” his friend said. “Sardaran ke barah baj gaye.”

Why they go crazy at twelve o’clock is not clear. Some say the myth started when the Sikhs raided the prisons in the night to rescue their women after Nadir Shah’s invasion of India and their capture. Then the Mogul ruler, Aurangzeb, had the Ninth Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur beheaded. Maybe it was not because of the night raids, but just because Sikhs have long hair and tie it up on top of their heads. Then they wear a big turban. This affects their brains in the hot sun. There are various theories and jokes about this saying.”

I suppose the sardars do not like to hear these jokes,” James said.

Sure, some of them get angry,” his friend said. “But still people have fun with these jokes. You cannot stop it.”

Yes, like Pollock jokes,” James said.

A siesta was going on under the large village mango and pipal trees in the hot part of the day. After this, the work continued. Sometimes in the village, James began to hanker for a cold one. But it was difficult to cool beer in the village. There was no refrigeration anywhere. This technology had not yet come to the villages and even if the villagers had refrigerators, there was not enough power to run them, with the daily load shedding to give power to the factories.

James found a sort of solution to the problem. He could buy bottles of Golden Eagle beer and bring them to the village. From time to time, he would buy a block of ice and cool the beer in a bucket of water. This would be a heavenly treat on a hot day.

In the towns, the rickshaw pullers would also take a break in the middle of the day. They would flee inside the cool haven of a cinema and enjoy a Hindi film in the cheap seats up in the very front. It didn’t matter if they saw the same film over and over day after day. Some popular films would be playing every day in the same theater for a full year. James was amazed at this and it showed the power of Hindi films in the country.

During the intermission, the venders would come around and sell ice cream. The hall would suddenly be invaded with a hoard of hawkers selling all manner of snacks, candies, karati dal, drinks, ice cream and other things, creating a sort of wonderful anarchy and chaos. It seemed a little crude, but when one got used to it, he could just wait for the snacks to come around to him.

James woke up one morning to the skies turning brown as the dust filled the skies in June. It would become almost dark in the afternoon, the sun almost dimmed out by the dust. The dust began to seep into his windows and cover everything. There was nothing to stop it. When he rode his bike down the road, the dust got into his eyes and mouth. The terrible heat came and stayed through the night. The heat was trapped in the dusty air. It was eerie as in another world and miserable.

Then the Baisakhi festival came. It was the harvest festival of Punjab. Historically, the beginning was the day in 1699 when the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, laid the foundation for the Sikh faith, the Khalsa Panth. This day was also seen to be the Sikh New Year. Khalsa was the brotherhood of saint soldiers organized to fight the tyranny and oppression of the Sikhs. This began after Aurangzeb had the Ninth Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur, beheaded in order to help spread Islam. Then his son, Gobind Singh, became the next and last Guru. The new approach was initiated at Anandpur on March 30, 1699 to infuse courage into the Sikh warriors. They would wear turbans and saffron colored garments. They would also wear the “five ks.” These were the kesh (long hair), the kanga (comb), Kripon (daggar), kachha (shorts), and kara (steel bracelet).

After this, the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, became the last Guru and would serve as a guide to all Sikhs.

A slogan became: “Jo bole so nihal, Sat Shri Akal.” “He is blessed who says that truth is God.”

The Basaiki festival generally took place on April 13. There would be bhangra dancing and a langar, with lots of food.

Then the monsoon rains came generally with a fierce storm and hard rains. In the villages, brick walls blew over and limbs were ripped from the trees. Small birds were blown out of the trees and lay dead, scattered on the ground. There were large pools of brown and red water standing everywhere. Books and other items on window ledges inside the houses got soaked with water. Everything was in chaos. Inside the rooms, suddenly the insect population came alive and flared up providing a cornucopia of food for the killys that crawl around the walls and ceilings.

Venders in the town sell roasted chullys, sweet corn that is roasted on the cob. It was a nice tasty food to chew on while one was riding in a tonga or a rickshaw.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Picnic on the Beas

The morning air was still cool in the college grounds of Bhagat Singh National College when James arrived. His friend, Prem Kumar, had told him that his class was going to have a picnic on Saturday. There would be both guys and girls going to the event. He had asked James to come along. James thought that it would be a good opportunity and maybe he might be able to meet some of the young women in Prem Kumar’s class.

There were only a few students who had arrived. There would be transportation to the Beas River. James had ridden his bicycle into town and left it at the newspaper shop. Then he walked to Bhagat Singh National College. When he arrived, the guys had started to gather. Prem was there too. The guys were horsing around and having fun as young guys do.

James asked Prem if they would be going by bus. Prem laughed.

We are not rich enough to hire a bus,” he said. “We will be going in a lorry.”

Oh, that will be a different experience,” James said. “And what about the women?”

The girls will go in jeeps,” Prem said. There were fewer women in the class, in any event and not all of them were able to get permission from their conservative parents to make the trip. So there would be strict segregation of the sexes in travel, James thought. It seemed a little bit over the top to him. It was certainly an indication of the conservative society in rural Punjab.

When the truck arrived, a “public goods carrier,” the guys climbed inside, up into the high bed of the truck. James climbed up too, but it was not very easy. There were some fifteen guys standing and dancing around in the truck singing a Hindi film song. When they started, some braced themselves on the side boards.

James stood for a while, but found it a little uncomfortable with the bumps and jolts along the sides of the road. He decided to sit down in the bed. A couple of others, including Prem, sat with him. It was some sixty miles to the river.

The guys were now excited and began to sing their favorite Hindi film songs. They were having a good time. Several had brought along food for the picnic. By this time, James Sahib had been quite socialized into Punjabi society and felt at home with them.

When they reached the bank of the Beas River, the truck turned down a small road and let them out at a place where they could walk down near some large shady trees and into the smaller trees along the bank. Further on, there was a grassy area between rough rocks where they would have the picnic.

After some time, James saw that the young women were coming along behind in a separate group. They were carrying baskets of food. James hoped that at some point, the two groups would come together. He thought it would be quite boring if the whole thing turned out to be a sort of stag party with the two groups separated.

Then the young women came along and settled down a few meters from the guys. Still the groups remained segregated. James found the social situation interesting.

Then the girls opened a container of sweet Punjabi tea. Everyone was served in small clay cups that could be thrown away. Then pakoras were distributed. James thought that they were regular pakoras, but it turned out that they were bhang pakoras. The girls had picked the marijuana leaves near a temple where it normally grows wild for the temple saints. They had used it to make pakoras. Before long the students would be on a high with the aid of these treats. James tasted the pakoras and found that they were delicious and probably ate more than his share.

Then one of the guys announced that everyone should recite a poem, read a story or sing a song. Something to entertain the group. Everyone should make a contribution to the party. At first, James was at a loss as to what he should do. The best bet would be to sing something, but what?

Then Ajay took the lead and sang a well-loved old Hindi song from a famous film. “Phoolon ki Rani,” or flower queen. Everyone enjoyed his performance. The next, one of the young women, Noor, along with another girl, performed a Punjabi dance with Balraj singing. James was impressed as she was a good dancer and full of energy. He remembered meeting Noor before at her brother’s house. He had not expected this and it made things a little more lively. Some were good dancers.

Let loose and dance, girl! Spin with desire.” It was a traditional village song that some girls sang.

The next performer was Pradeep, who recited a poem from Bhai Vir Singh. Punjabi poetry was widely appreciated and some of the students were writing their own verses.

Welcome and go here. The world fair lasts but four days. This world is a waning shadow. Life is like a dream,” another song went.

Finally, it came time for James and they invited him to do something to entertain them. He had been racking his brain about what to do. He was not an entertainer. Then he thought of the song that he probably knew best. He hit upon “Hi Jolly,” a song about a camel driver in the USA in the nineteenth century.

I will sing Hi Jolly,” James announced. “It is a song about a camel driver in America one hundred years ago. You may not know that there were camels in the USA at this time, but it is true. The government brought them to transport goods between Texas and California. Hi Jolly was actually a Greek named Philip Tedro and was called Haj Ali or Haji Ali. But in the USA his name became just Hi Jolly. So the government hired him to head up the Camel Military Corps. The whole scheme fell through, of course, when the railroads were built a few years later. But the wild camels kept roaming the deserts for another hundred years. The song goes like this:

Hi Jolly was a camel driver,

Long time ago,

He followed Mr. Blaine way out west,

Didn’t mind the burning sand in that

God forsaken land,

But he didn’t mind the pretty gals the best.

Singin’ Hi Jolly, hey Jolly, Twenty miles a day, by golly,

Twenty more before the morning light.

Hi Jolly, hey, I gotta get on my way,

I told my gal I’d be home Sunday night.

The students gave James a hand for his performance. While he sang, he had noticed the eyes of a young woman who looked at him with interest and sympathy. One was particularly beautiful and he was wondering if he might be able to meet her somehow.

After the performances, it was time for the food. James was curious to know what kind of food the students would bring for a picnic in Punjab besides the pakoras.

They broke out the food. They had brought vegetable dishes, pumpkin and allu gobi. There was also lentils. For lack of plastic or paper plates, there were small bowls made of leaves that served as containers for the food. The chapattis were handed out. James sat down on the ground with the guys and enjoyed the food. Some had brought fruit, oranges and tangerines.

Then one young woman approached the guys and came to James. She had brought some more food for the guys. This was Ujala. James’s heart warmed to see her. She was the cute one that had been looking at him with such interest as he sang. Now she had the courage to come to the guy’s side of the event. James thought that perhaps as a foreigner, he could break the ice between the two groups, even if it was a faux pas. It would be easier for him to get by with it as a foreigner. They could forgive him. He did not understand why the guys were so shy, except that the social conventions were just so ingrained in Punjab.

James was starting to feel a little different and light-headed after the bhang pakoras.

Mr. James,” Ujala began. “Your song, very nice. I am happy to meet you. I am Ujala. She offered her small hand, which was a little unusual.”

Nice to meet you too,” James said, taking her hand. He was now studying her carefully. Her face was cute, even beautiful, not the round pie face that some young women have, but a very elegant and handsome face. He noticed her large eyes, like he had seen before in Indian miniature paintings. She had a small nose with a shining red gem. Her hair was coal black and long, platted down her back. He noticed her ear rings that were the color of her nose ring. Thin sensuous lips. She was wearing a Punjabi outfit of rough khadi and red pajamas. It was unusual to see a young woman in such fabric, but James loved it. Her breasts were not large but round and tasteful. Surely young and firm. She wore a silver bangle on her small arm. He noticed her beautiful hands. Her dark green chuney was draped across her shoulders and hung gracefully down her back.

What do you study in the college?” James asked, just to make conversation.

History, English, Punjabi,” she said. “We all study the same things.”

We are happy you came to our picnic,” Ujala said.

Oh, I am thankful to you,” James said. “I am having a great time.”

Maybe it is more fun in America,” she said. “We are too shy in Punjab. But feel free. Don’t be shy.” She laughed. Some of the guys who were listening laughed too. “We should dance and have fun.”

It was true that it had started to break the ice a little.

Then she sort of dropped a bombshell.

I am braver than the others,” she said. “I want to take a walk with you. I will show you the river. The Beas. It is one of the famous five rivers of Punjab. But not all of them are in India now.”

Sure,” James said. “A great historical river. It makes one side of the Doaba, after all. The famous Doaba.”

She seemed pleased that James knew something about Punjab, however little, from a Punjabi’s perspective.

She led the way and they broke away from the others. It was a few meters or so across the rocky bank to the big river where water was flowing and hurtling over some big rocks. James noticed that a couple of other girls had dared to come and say hello to their friends on the guy’s side. Some students were climbing out onto the big boulders in the shallow river near the rocky bank.

It gave James a special feeling to actually be walking beside Ujala in the open air and daylight. There was warm sunshine, but it was not hot. Before, he had only met a young Punjabi woman, Khushpreet, in the night. This was different and more daring. He hoped that it would not somehow get him into trouble. There was no limit to how exceedingly suspicious minds could be in Punjab when two youths of the opposite sex were seen together. She was indeed courageous, he realized that. As for him, well, maybe I am just naïve or stupid, he thought. I don’t know what I am getting myself in for doing this.

There were large black rocks along the river bank.

Let us sit and watch the river,” she said.

They sat down on the grass near the large rocks and watched the water flow. It had come all the way down from the high mountains. The grass was like a soft cushion. James sat down with half a meter between them. It was a pastoral scene, but it was not Europe. James was amused at how everything became related to religion and God and the Gurus in one form or another. The Beas River was no exception and most outings seemed to have something to do with one or more of the ten Gurus and the celebration of events in Sikhism.

I am different, maybe,” Ujala said. “Maybe I am a little pagal. I want to have more freedom.”

That is normal,” James said. “It is not pagal. All the young guys tell me the same thing. They want more freedom too.”

Most Indian men are not good,” she said. “They pretend to be good, but they treat women bad. Especially in marriage. It is terrible. You know. Bride burning. You know. It happens nowadays. I don’t want traditional marriage.”

Yes, I know,” James said. “It is not just Punjab and India. Many countries have the same problem. It is the woman problem.”

There is a song in Punjab,” Ujala said, “It goes like this.

I served jail time at my in-laws, innocent of theft or crime.’ Marriage is like a prison for Indian women.”

I like you,” Ujala said. “Please be my friend. My secret friend.”

She extended her hand to touch him discreetly and moved a little closer.

James touched her soft, warm hand. It felt tiny, soft as velvet, and delicious.

James raised her hand to his lips and held it there as he kissed it softly, not letting it go. He felt that he wanted to hold her, embrace her, but it was not possible. He thought of her leaning back in his lap and then he would bend down and taste those red delicious lips. She would press her lips to his harder and want more.

James, you are nice. You make me happy,” she said.

She took his hand and held it.

You have nice hands,” she said.

Look at the river. It is beautiful here. It is natural, not like a village. It roars down from the mountain and can be very dangerous when lots of water comes. Sometimes people get washed away when careless. They do not understand the power of the river. It can take one right downstream.”

Yes, it is very scenic, but also powerful. It is the first time I came here to one of the big rivers,” James said. “Now I can see it up close.”

Come,” she said. “Come with me.” She wanted to lead him by his hand, but did not dare. Farther down the stream there was a large forest of bushy trees. There was a small path. She took him inside. Now they were quite alone. It was his chance to kiss her, if he dared. He wondered if he should.

Suddenly, she held him. “Kiss me,” she said. “You can kiss me here secretly.”

She offered her young warm lips. James quickly pressed his lips to hers and then took her in his arms and held her tight. She felt her hand pressing against him. It was so delicious. He wished it could go on. She felt tiny, slim, and lovely in his arms. But he knew that it was a rather treacherous act, in the event.

Sweet, you are sweet,” James said. “You are so beautiful.”

He kissed her again and planted kisses on her eyes, nose, and cheeks, and then lips again.

It was enough for her, for the moment, it seemed.

He held her to his body tightly not wanting to let her go. It seemed that she was clinging to him. He felt the bulge of her bosom pressed to his body. Then she untangled herself.

Let us go,” she said.

She led him on and out into the open on the other side of the small forest. Now he felt warm to her. She was so beautiful in that outfit that was Punjabi, yet somehow different. He looked at her young beautiful body that was framed in the tight Punjabi dress. She was not a bhainsa, as the heavy set girls were sometimes called. It suggested a water buffalo. She has a lovely body, he could see. He knew she would be beautiful in a sari. She was a courageous young woman and he admired her for that. The women had to take the lead in social change.

They walked back to the area of the picnic higher up the bank. Some other students had managed to pair off with their friends, it seemed. It was not James who had broken the ice, but this courageous Ujala, who was ready to buck the mores of the conservative society, at least to some extent. They were doing all the law allowed, as Hank Williams said, and a little more too. Probably with the help of the bhang pakoras.

James knew that he was going to remember that day and that kiss for a long time. Probably forever. How could he ever forget it?

Chapter Twenty-Five: Kuldeep’s Story

I really want to fall in love, but I’m afraid of a threshing.” (Traditional Punjabi song)

When they got back to Bhagat Bagh, James still had visions of Ujala swimming in his mind. She was surely a beautiful young woman. How could he resist her young innocence, her purity, her bravery, her courage? She was there always and would stay ever gentle on his mind.

It is so different from an American woman, he thought. They are liberated women, but in the Western sense. It did not require such courage as Ujala to defy tradition. The restrictions were not so severe. They could be good lovers, but he did not fall easily for them. But Ujala, on the other hand, was a diamond, albeit in the rough, a jewel. Her eyes had thrust an arrow straight through his poor heart. It hurt. Her memory now hurt, clearly signifying the heart stirrings of that dread old disease of love. That was what was so different about it.

When Indians wrote above a building that “Love is God” they were not just talking about the love of God, religion, or the love of all humanity. But also about this sort of young love. Love with an American woman, while glorious after a fashion, was of a totally different character. It hardly had any strong grip on his heart strings. It was something shallow, not deep.

James started for the news shop to retrieve his bicycle when one of the guys from the picnic, Satpal, asked him to come and spend the night at his village. Actually, James only wanted to return to his comfortable place with his memories of beautiful Ujala. But he decided that it would be in bad taste to turn him down. Besides, he lacked the resistance to have his way. So he agreed and came with Satpal.

They rode out to the village as dusk fell in the cool air. It was dark by the time they reached the village. The Jat family which had a good deal of land in the village lived in a big new house on the edge of the village. They left their bikes in the courtyard and went up the brick stairs to the top floor. His sister Ajinder was downstairs in the kitchen with his mother. When she came up, Satpal introduced her. She said “good morning” in English, even though it was in the evening. It really did not matter. James was happy to meet her.

In the evening, they ate vegetables and chapattis and talked.

James asked Satpal,

Satpal, do you have a girl friend?”

I have sir,” he said. “But it is difficult in the village. I cannot meet her. She cannot come to me in the night because the village chowkidar is always around. It is big problem.”

Did you like the picnic?” James asked him.

Mister James, it was very good,” he said. “I got chance to talk to some of the girls. It was good you came. It helped us meet the girls. Punjabi life very hard for young people.”

It was the same old refrain that he always heard.

Mister James, I saw you with Ujala. Do you like her?”

Sure, she is beautiful,” James said.

Would you like to be her friend,” Satpal asked.

Sure, probably any young man would,” James said.

I will help you,” Satpal said. “We can make program. I am planning for it. You can meet Ujala and I will meet my friend. But it will be secret. I know good place and secret place.”

James did not want to commit himself at once. She was nice, but he would not forget Khushpreet to go with her.

OK, we will see,” James said. “Actually, I have met another girl.”

I will tell you a story about this village,” Satpal said. “It is a rather sad story, but a true story.”

Satpal’s story:

Kuldeep was a young woman who came from a Jat family. She had an arranged marriage to a Jat peasant older than her. He was a poor man that lived with his old mother. He owned twelve acres. She got some dowry from the family in the form of jewelry. Her husband wanted a motorcycle, but the family could not afford it. After two years, they had one child. But the guy, Gurinder, was disappointed that it was a girl. A daughter would do him no good and only take wealth from the family. Kuldeep’s mother in law piled all the work of the house on her. She was still attractive and had wanted to study, but there was no way to do it since she came from peasant family and was poor.

Then the baby fell ill and died. Maybe it was because they did not give it good nutrition, but it happens a lot with dysentery, especially in the hot season.

Gurinder had a younger brother who got a scholarship to study in a university in Delhi. Avtar sometimes came from the big city home to Punjab on his holidays. He would bring gifts to Kuldeep, secretly. She hid them from her husband. She wished that it was possible for her to go and live in Delhi like Avtar Singh.

When his examinations were over, Avtar returned to the village for a month. In the kharif season, Gurinder went to the field early to plant rice.

Kuldeep rose early in the morning and started the day’s work. First she had to make the tea even before daylight. Everything had to be cooked on the small mud stove under the stairway in the house. She started the fire using dry grass until it flared up and then added small dry twigs. When it was hot enough, she broke up a dry gober patty and added it to the fire. Then she made tea, heating the water, milk and sugar in a metal pot and then adding tea. When it boiled, the others had early morning tea.

Then she had to pump water for the animals. She went to the field and cut maize fodder for the animals and carried it back on her head. Gurinder turned the large wheel of the fodder chopper with knives to chop the stalks. Then Kuldeep mixed it with chopped straw and fed it to the buffaloes and cow. In mid-morning, she began cooking the vegetables.

She mixed the atta or whole wheat flour to make chapattis. After mixing the flower with water in a flat metal pan, she kneaded it until it was fluffy in a big roll. Then she broke off small pieces and shaped them with her thumb and forefinger into a round chapatti. She dipped it into flower and flapped it from hand to hand to flatten it out and put it on the hot plate to cook. The dung patty kept the heat at a moderate temperature, not too hot or too cold. Then she would turn the chapatti over and bake it on the other side. When it was done, she rubbed some ghee on it and put it inside a cloth.

The work was never done. After lunch, there would be no time for rest as the work to cook the evening meal would have to begin.

In the late afternoon, Gurinder returned to the field to plant rice. One day she went up the brick steps to the upper room where the lentils and rice were stored in metal boxes to keep them away from the large rats. When Kuldeep was getting the lentils for the evening meal, Avtar met her. He had been resting and reading in the room. Secretly, he had started to love her. He surprised her and kissed her. She quickly took the lentils and went back down to prepare the food. But the next day when she came up to the room, he kissed her again. Her mother in law was having a fight with the neighbor woman downstairs. She claimed that she had mistreated her daughter.

Avtar closed the door. The room was dark except for the light coming into the vents near the ceiling. Avtar kissed her again. She had started to like him. He felt of her round breasts like ripe mangoes and slipped off her kamiz. He quickly slipped off his pajama and made love to her.

She rushed back downstairs, but now she had started to love Avtar and started to hate Gurinder who sometimes fought with her and beat her. The next week Avtar made love to her again in the upper room. But she was afraid that they would be discovered. Nevertheless, it was not unusual for a woman to make love to her husband’s younger brother in a Punjabi village.

One day Avtar asked her to meet him in the sugarcane field when she came out to the fields in the evening. This was usually the best chance to arrange a clandestine meeting. It was nearly dark. She saw Avtar at the edge of the field of cane and slipped inside with him. They went inside further where they were hidden. He kissed her and quickly made love to her.

This went on for some time. Then Avtar returned to the university. But when he would come for a holiday, it was like Kuldeep had two husbands, one kind to her, and the other who was harsh and mean. She began to see Gurinder as a rough and crude peasant. Gurinder became crueler along with his mother and they punished Kuldeep. Sometimes Gurinder beat her.

One day Avtar met her in the room and told that he would take her to Delhi. He would arrange for her to escape. He gave her some money secretly. He had made a plan. Late at night after the others had gone to sleep, she would slip out of the house and go to the edge of the village. She would dress like a man and cover her face. When she came out of the house, he would take her on his motorcycle to his friend’s place in Phagwara. They would get the next train to Delhi, which left at five o’clock in the morning. By the time her husband could inform the police, they would already be on the way to Delhi. They would get off at a station before arriving at Delhi and take a bus the rest of the way.

Avter was sure that the police would come to his place looking for her in a day or two, so he took her to his friend’s house where she stayed.

Meanwhile, Gurinder had contacted the police that his wife had run away probably with his brother. In the morning, he went to the village post office, the only place in the village where there was a telephone and informed the police. Gurinder wanted his wife back. Without her, there was no one to do all the work in the house. In India, she had no right to run away, even if he was beating and abusing her.

The next day, the police appeared at Avtar’s apartment in Delhi and questioned him. He lied and said that he had not seen her and knew nothing about where she was. But he knew that the police would be watching and spying on him to locate Kuldeep. Avtar realized that in India, it was a hopeless situation. The police were sure to find her before long. If he visited her, they might discover her location and arrest her. Then she would be sent back to the village and beaten. She was no better than a prisoner under a heavy penalty of constant work and abuse.

Kuldeep could have no freedom in Delhi as the police were always on the lookout for her. Sometimes she went out with Avtar’s friend in the evening, wearing a chuney and covering her face. One day, Avtar disguised himself and was able to meet her at his friend’s house. He spent the night with her and they made love. She was happy with him, but had no freedom.

The police were on her trail and the next week they found her and she was arrested. She was taken back to Punjab and kept in jail in the Phagwara police station. The police contacted the village post office and Gurinder was informed that the police had found his wife and that she was being held in the goal in Phagwara. Her only crime was that she had run away from her husband who was abusing her.

When Gurinder came to take her back to the village, she was frightened. She knew that she was going to be beaten and maybe killed. After all, the number of bride burnings was picking up in India. If the family poured kerosene on her and arranged for her to be burned, then they would be rid of the problem.

The police did not care. They were very callous about the whole thing and naturally took the side of Gurinder. A case was filed against Kuldeep for adultery. Kuldeep wanted to get a divorce. But Gurinder bribed the judge and her case was denied. She was sent back to the village with her husband and was severely beaten. There was really not much that she could do as a woman in India.

James hated to hear the story, but did not know what could be done in the context of Indian society. It was inhuman, but the husband owned the woman like chattel property and she had no freedom to escape. The situation could not change until society changed.

After this, the family made Kuldeep’s life even more hellish. James wondered if there was some house for battered women where she could find a refuge, but there seemed to be no such place in Punjab. If she tried to escape again, then she would probably be killed.

A few months later, she was able to escape again and appeared in Delhi. Avtar took her to a battered women’s center in Delhi, but they had to keep her hidden from the police. This time the police could not find her. This was one of the sad realities in India.

James went to bed and thought of Khushpreet and Ujala. They were lovely young women. He would not want to mistreat them. He thought of meeting Khushpreet in the night. But whether it was good or not, he did not know. Love is God, he thought. And then slept.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Wedding

Daughters are wealth for another. Send them off happily, father.” (Traditional village song)

James wondered how many hundreds of years these village walls had surrounded the ancient village. It was almost like going back in time a century or two to visit these traditional villages near the Pakistan border. The classical mud and dung walls surrounded the whole village like the walls of a fort, classic, pure, simple, even elegant. The thick mud walls, renewed with a plastering of mud and cow dung every year, were durable and comfortable, cooler in summer and warmer in winter. The old houses could breathe, unlike the modern cement houses. Modernization with pucca houses had now transformed many villages of Punjab, burying them under an ugly mass of ragged cement and brick. There were still these traditional villages where the pucca house had not yet arrived. These villages were poorer, less prosperous, and the villagers lived largely in the traditional way. This was the classical Punjabi village.

Early March. Fields of wheat already becoming brown. The air was fresh, but warming by mid-morning. The small tonga horse trotted past spring fields. James got down at the old corner where the carriages waited in Bhagat Bagh. Tonga horses munched on clover and chopped straw. The nearby dhaba was preparing the bakarra and vegetables dishes for lunch. James walked past the old familiar shops and bought the Tribune from the news walla. A little past the morning rush, it was quite easy to catch the bus to Phagwara today. To avoid the crunch on the GT Road, he opted for the train to Ludhiana. There was no need to rush. He would get some lunch in the city and get the Ferozepur bus for the nearest stop to Dhindsa village.

A bus was just leaving, so he would take the next. He bought a ticket and got a seat before the cramming could begin. The bus quickly filled with peasants in tumbas. A few were with wives in expansive Punjabi dresses. Mostly villagers were on their way back to their villages from the town after taking care of some business or doing some shopping.

James arrived at the stop for the village by five o’clock. Here the land was sparse, almost desert like. The wheat was not as lush as that in the Doaba. It was another half-mile to the village down a dry dusty path.

James had been told the directions by Baldev Singh who had invited him to his wedding. James began walking out the dusty path. Presently, a tractor and trolley appeared taking guests to the village. James was asked to climb up. Riding in the lorry was another American, Robert Stark, who was teaching English in Chandigarh on a Fulbright program. He had been invited to the wedding by Baldev’s brother who was a student in Chandigarh.

He had traveled back at least a hundred years in those seventy five miles today. He didn’t mind. It was quaint and interesting. Purely peasant. He would not want to stay here long, but wanted to experience a traditional wedding.

James introduced himself to Robert. The men made their way to one room of the house where the mungies were arranged along the wall. The women were in the opposite side of the house.

After the simple evening meal of curried vegetable and chapatti, the fun began. Several of the guests had already been drinking desi sherab. There was some rum for those who did not want to stomach the Punjabi white lightening. James and Robert had a peg of rum. The more educated of the sardars, like Baldev Singh, knew English. Otherwise it would have been more difficult with James’s minimal Punjabi.

The traditional ceremony started with bhangra dancing and grew wild as the night wore on.

First the Punjabis danced. Several men gathered in a circle. One sang a bole, a sort of dirty rhyme with a punch line, and then they danced the bhangra, arms outstretched above their heads, raising the right leg higher than the left. It was not so elegant, a peasant dance. But pure Punjab.

Then it was the turn of the sahibs. First Baldev asked James and Robert if they would sing a song. Might have expected it, James thought. But after the rum, he was feeling like he didn’t care if he made a fool of himself. He suggested to Robert the song “If I Had a Hammer.” Robert agreed and they sang one or two stanzas of the song rather badly, they knew. The sardars clapped and cheered. Then the sardars sang more boles and James and Robert danced to them. James thought it was pretty easy to do Bhangra and even fun after he had some rum in him. This went on and James was rather enjoying it.

While they could not observe it, a similar party was going on in the women’s side of the house. Songs were being sung, sometimes bawdy.

In the bride’s village some forty miles away, there were also preparations being made. A henna artist was brought to paint designs on the bride’s hands and feet. Her clothes were being prepared for the wedding the next day.

Then late in the evening, the men were sent out to the sleeping quarters, which was hardly a room. Actually it was just a shed so they slept mostly outside. The weather was quite mild by early March.

To relieve themselves after drinking, the men took a trip to the surrounding fields. The fields of wheat were now getting ripe. They crashed, excited, but tired after the bawdy evening.

At half past five the next morning, it was time to rise and shine, time to rise and shit, to be more exact. Out to the fields for the nature call. Not the pleasantest of enterprises at that time in the morning after a night of drinking. But perhaps not so hard on the young men. Breakfast would be at the girl’s village.

A little later the jeeps were brought and the party of men crammed into three jeeps, as only Indians can cram themselves into vehicles. The trek was to a village near Muktsar called Jhikka. After some thirty miles, they turned to a smaller road, then finally to just a dirt path that ran along a canal.

Along the canal some small boys came running and shouting at the drivers of the jeeps. There was trouble up ahead. Another jeep, not in the party, had caved off the canal road in the sandy soil and blocked the way. There was no way to go ahead on the road. It became necessary for the jeeps to leave the canal road, down onto the flat, and then climb back up on the other side. This required the men to clear some weeds and brush so that the jeeps could get down. It took teamwork to push the jeeps back up by hand on the other side.

With ingenuity and determination, it was accomplished and the party forged on reaching the village. The groom and his father had transferred to a separate car and arrived with more prestige. It was a welcome development, as here a hearty breakfast was waiting for them. James was famished by this time as the others must also have been. There were quite a number of guests, but tables had been set up in one room. They were served with thick omelets, toast, liver curry, small cakes, sweets and tea. There was plenty and it was delicious. James worried about the expense to the poor family in the poor village, but he could not do anything about that. That was just the way society worked.

After the breakfast, there was some fun with the women singing teasing songs to the groom.

Groom, you’ve tied a colorful turban,

Mounds of black powder in your eyes.

Your eyes are squinty.

What are you looking at so crookedly?

Go wash your face in the pond.

Let it shine a little.

Another song went like this:

Groom, from what city have you come?

Where mangoes don’t even grow!

Your face is like an ape’s,

Where teeth don’t even grow!

The men waited in a room on the side of the house.

The hour of eleven o’clock arrived. The guests were invited to take their places in the tent for the ceremony. James and the other guests would have to sit cross legged on the floor for the ceremony. He hoped that it would not go on for too long. He knew that it would be hard to keep his legs from cramping, not being used to sitting on the floor.

Then the minstrels arrived and began to sing religious songs. Some late coming guests straggled in.

Then the two parties arrived, the bride and her family to sit on the left and the groom and his family to sit on the right, in front of a platform with the Sikh Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib. The Guru, it was said, was to be the focus of their lives after this and they were to be two individuals with a single soul, united together. It would all be pure bliss from then on and so on.

The minstrels sprang to life again and now sang a song giving the biography of the groom. This was followed by a song chronicling the life story of the bride. All the time, they sat humbly.

Then the Sikh priest read some selections from the Guru Granth Sahib. When this was finished, a ribbon was tied between the bride and groom and they slowly circled the Sikh Holy Book four times. James watched with some interest. In fact, it was the first time that he had seen this ceremony take place in full.

Finally, it was all finished and the guests slowly rose and filed out. The men went to their quarters and started to drink desi sherab and rum. They didn’t need much of an excuse. In a little bit, there was a line that formed inside the house for the presentation of the dowry to the groom. He humbly collected the rupees from friends and relatives in a towel. After their contributions, some of the men touched his face and head affectionately.

This went on for the better part of an hour, while the wedding feast was being prepared. The poor father of the bride was taking a quite big hit for the day, it was quite clear.

James settled for a peg of rum. He was dying to relieve himself after the morning tea he had drunk, but it was not to be for some time.

Again, the men were invited to settle in the room with the long tables and the food was served. It was delicious. James, along with the others, ate his fill.

When it was finished, they went back to the guest rooms to lounge on the mungies. By this time, it had become quite hot and James began to feel quite drowsy after the rum and the heavy feast. He dozed off more than once in the heat in the close room.

Eventually, the time came for the sad moment when the bride would leave her home. James got his camera and rushed to make some pictures of this. One could only see the top of her head, however, covered with a shining red and gold chuney in the crowd of peasants. Big rough peasants stood on the side in flowing tumbas.

James suspected that the poor girl’s troubles might be just beginning, but hoped that it was not the case.

After this, the guests piled back into the jeeps for the long trip back. James was lucky this time as he was asked to ride in the Hindustan Ambassador auto with the father of Baldev Singh. Then they started the long trek back with a stop off at the Moktsur Gurdwara. Waiting here for the rest of the party James discovered that there was a bathroom and that he could finally relieve himself.

On the way, the vehicles stopped near a field for the party to do the same. They all fled to the fields like a flock of birds and squatted down.

Back in Baldev’s village, they would spend another night and be off the next morning.

James and Robert were to catch the early train for Ludhiana at a little after six in the morning. But they would have to arise at half past five. There was no way they could manage it, however, after such a weekend. They overslept and had to walk out and catch the bus. From here they were only able to catch a bus to Moga. Here, they would have to switch. Robert would catch a bus to Chandigarh, and James would take one for Ludhiana.

By the time James got to Ludhiana, his back was killing him, not to speak of his bladder, which was about to burst. The wedding had taken some toll on even a young guy in the end. At Moga, the conductor was a wonder and must have been cheating on taking fares from the state. He had perfected the art of cramming the maximum number of people into the smallest space. James had to suffer through this.

James was unfortunate enough to climb up into the bus just after the last seats had been taken. The conductor kept up cramming the bus instructing the riders what to do to cram into a tiny space. It was impossible for James to stand up straight in the bus and had to ride bent over for miles and miles, giving him a serious back ache by the time the bus reached the city.

Something should be done about that, he thought. But then, who was going to do it? It was not as if there were no other problems plaguing the country.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: World

Those who know love happily claim the consequences.” (Village song)

There was nothing planned about the rendezvous. It happened quite by accident. It was still early when James rode his bike into Bhagat Bagh to do some shopping. Quite by chance, she was there on the road. Today, instead of passing, she daringly stopped along the road and James did the same. They talked. Khushpreet was feeling courageous. She was a brave young woman daring to snub her nose at the social conventions of a rural and conservative society.

Sat Shri Akal,” James greeted her.

Sat Shri Akal,” she replied. “Nice to meet you.”

Nice to meet you too,” James said.

There is a new film,” she said. “It is in Purana Shahar Cinema. Will you go with me?”

James was surprised at the invitation. He could he possibly go to a film with her? Such an innocent thing, to be sure, two young friends going together to see a film. It would most certainly be a love story, like all Hindi films churned out by Bollywood. Yet to go with her was completely taboo in rural Punjab.

It was incredibly tempting. What could possibly be wrong with it?

I would love to,” James said, still not believing that there was any possibility.

How can we go?” James asked her.

We will ride bikes,” she said.

OK,” James said, being sucked in. In spite of his reservations that he was making a terrible mistake he was willing. The proper thing to do was to say he was sorry, but could not go today. But it was simply too tempting. It was practically irresistible.

Khushpreet rode her bicycle ahead along the road in the opposite way they had come and James followed. It was ten miles to the town, not a long way to ride by bike. But to be seen together was going to be highly suspect. James tried to stay back, putting some good distance between them.

It was a pleasant morning, the air now heating up. He had learned how to ride these roads even with a lot of traffic. Most danger came from the dangerous lorry drivers who liked to come close and play games with one, especially with young women. So it was riding off of and back onto the metaled pavement as they road. The exercise was invigorating in the spring air, in spite of the heat. James felt hopeful. That he was being a fool, he put out of his mind.

There were large trees on both sides of the road, each with a white painted spot on their trunk and a number. The forestry department had a record of each tree somewhere. They were all registered. The valuable trees might otherwise be poached for lumber. Wood was critically short in India where everyone cooked their food by fires.

Approaching the town, small workshops and factories appeared that made farm machinery. They passed a large compound and building that was the local sugar refinery, now processing the last of the crop from the winter cuttings. The cinema was at the edge of the town in a large new building just behind the bus stop. Khushpreet rode toward the building. James followed down off the road and into the lane. Large posters in front advertised the most recent film. A handsome Hindi film actor, larger than life, in white suit and tie danced, while a cute chubby actress crooned the latest song. The current offering was Duniya or “World” with Dev Anand and Vyjaintimala.

In front of the expansive new building, there was a vast sea of bicycles. Villagers and locals from the town had flocked to see the film, even though many had already seen it once or more. It didn’t matter. A single film could play in the same cinema for more than a year with the big Bollywood stars. There was no limit to how much money a single Hindi film could pull down in a country with a population of hundreds of millions like India. The only rival in the country was cricket. Along with politics, films and sports had the highest billing.

It was not an age phenomenon, as in Western countries. It covered everyone from toddlers to the aged. The people loved popular Hindi film songs to be blared out in thousands and thousands of bazaars from one end of the country to the other from radios.

Khushpreet and James were somewhat late for the show. They now parked their bikes at the edges of the hundreds of others at the edge of the lot. Now there was no need to appear to be coming alone. They were indeed together. There was no way to deny it. Khushpreet bought two tickets from the suspicious ticket seller who was eying James, lagging somewhat behind. The best seats in the house were already taken, those in the back. Only the cheap seats down front were available. Not a good omen. They would have to sit together in plain sight of hundreds from the town and local villages. The grapevine would go wild.

It was perhaps equivalent to announcing to one and all that one was a badmarsh. They entered into the darkened hall and were ushered to the correct numbered seats by an usher with a torch. They sat down in the plush seats. Heavenly comfort. The film had already started.

The film played on. Drama, a family affair, songs and dance. James watched. It was mild stuff. The massive audience of peasants was absorbing it like dry parched earth takes in the monsoon rain. What was on the screen bored him. He could not have cared less about the film, the plot, the dancing and music. It was heavenly, on the other hand, being beside Khushpreet in the dark watching the film, even though it was impossible to show any affection toward her.

When the film finally ended, after almost three hours and an intermission, Khushpreet and James waited a little while for the massive throng of peasants to file out. Getting their bikes, they started back the way they had come. James wanted to lag behind and let her go ahead, but she wanted to ride with him. People were looking at them with suspicious eyes. She did not seem to care. She was thumbing her nose at the peasants. James had no idea how far and wide the news of their escapade had spread by this time.

James did not know if there would be any fallout from his clear faux pas. The worst yet, maybe. One of the worst possible, perhaps. When he reached the short cut road, he waved goodbye to Khushpreet and turned off the road. He would take the shortcut to his village through the back road that ran along a big canal. James bumped along the fields and reached his village in late afternoon.

He now settled down to rest in his place. It had been a daring expedition and he would see what the consequences would be. He was soon to find out that the news of his escapade had gotten back to the village even before he did. The villagers were already informed of it as the word spread down the grapevine line wild fire. It was going to be more instructive than anything so far. He would learn more about the local society through his own experience.

The next day, his friend, Prem, came to have a coffee and talk. He told James what he had heard. The story was all over the village. It was if it had been broadcast over the air. The story had not only spread, but had now been exaggerated, blown up to quite astounding proportions. The story was going around that the American sahib had been seen on a motorcycle with Khushpreet on the back. He was going down the road, according to the story, with a whiskey bottle in his back pocket. The story exactly revealed the mental map of the local peasants, of what was a serious breach of social decorum. They were imagining what they would do, given a chance. Indeed, it was a scene fit for a Hindi film, with James playing the role of the badmarsh.

James was horrified to realize that the tale had come to such proportions. He had quickly been transmogrified into a full-fledged badmarsh and lies spread about his behavior. James wondered if the news had already reached the BDO by this time. It would perhaps cause some alarm in that quarter.

James was now quite demoralized and realized that his foolishness had gone way beyond being simply a faux pas. Perhaps he would not have done it on his own, but together with Khushpreet, the temptation had simply been too great. In any event, the damage had now been done. They were both guilty, but it seemed that James had the most to lose.

Thinking it over, James figured that if the news reached the Peace Corps in Delhi, he was a dead duck for sure and there would be no alternative to just kicking him out of the country. He was now, he feared, ruined in the eyes of the locals. Persona non grata.

Perhaps it would be wise to just admit his folly and hang it up on his own. There would be no point in staying on. One thing was certain. He would not try anything around his village after this.

The social consequences of his actions had hit swiftly and hard. It was a quick education in just how conservative the society really was. True, it was not Saudi Arabia. It would not be off with his head or the girl’s. Perhaps somewhat more liberal than Pakistan, but nevertheless, he had learned the limits. He had, in fact, gone far beyond them. He feared that he had been totally discredited in the eyes of the locals.

Well, let us see, he thought. If the end comes, it comes. That’s all. It is out of my hands. If the police come to investigate, to incriminate me, they will not find anything. James burned all of his old letters. Better destroy any incriminating evidence just in case, he decided. He would know at some point.

After some days of this, the demoralization began to wear off. He decided to go ahead with his work. He would just let it go as far as it would go. The chance that it would at some point blow over, that he would escape the consequences, seemed slim. But on the other hand, his sin had not been so much the relationship. It was true that the foreign element was risqué. But the real sin was not the alliance, but rather that he, rather he and Khushpreet, had dared to do what they did in the open. Doing it openly, that was the real sin. Such things would certainly be done, but the proper decorum would be to do them in secret. Even though they would not be, in fact, secret, others would go along, pretending that they were secret. There would normally be no damage done. This was the normal protocol. Indeed, even among married couples, under the wraps, life was more normal than what appeared on the surface. Cheating often went on. But hypocrisy was thick and strong in Indian society. Most Indians, indeed, would deny that it ever happened, even when they knew the facts. It had been stated honestly by Nirud C. Chaudhuri. “No Hindu will speak frankly in English for fear of divulging what he does not want a foreigner to know.”

It was not strictly true. James’s young friends had divulged a lot of secret things that went on behind the scenes in the village. To that extent, he had wormed his way into the society and so could be clued in. They were often victims of the hypocrisy of society.

In general then, it was only going on behind his back. There was no real honesty and no confrontation. Indeed, it had been a serious social infraction, but not a crime as such. There was no physical evidence of other than openly meeting with a young member of the opposite sex. That was a social infraction, but not a crime as such.

It turned out that a few months later, the BDO called James in and asked to talk to him. He told him that some people in the village wanted him to move out of the village and into the town. Perhaps it was Darshan Singh, the secretary, who was behind this, or perhaps some others who he did not know. James figured that Swaran Singh, the Sarpanch, would probably see it as silly, but as the head man in the village he could not go strongly against the wishes of his constituents. So he would just have to go along for political purposes.

James thought that by this time he did not have much to lose. He was already in his second year. But his work to build up his place, build a chicken house and latrine, would now go to waste. It would be a blow to be thrown out of his village when there were only a few more months to go. But James would follow a strategy he hoped would work.

Well, that is fine,” James told the BDO. “As soon as there is a suitable place that I can move to with a latrine, then I am willing to go at once.”

James figured that the bureaucratic lethargy would now work in his favor for a change. Now the tables had turned.

Moreover, since it was up to the BDO to provide him a place to live, it would likely cost the block some money. They would have to appropriate the funds of which most likely, they were short. If it took so much effort to buy a bicycle just for him to use, how were they going to shell out for rent? James thought that there was probably little chance that a place would be found for him.

One day the BDO sent James with the servant to show him a couple of rooms in Bhagat Bagh. It turned out that this place in the town would not be ready for several weeks and maybe not for several months. And, of course, there was no latrine. It was unlikely such a place existed in the town. That plan quickly fell through and the whole idea of him moving was somehow forgotten. James went ahead with his work. He was primarily engaged with the soybean project at this time.

It was likely a case of everyone acting out their part, James decided. They were doing what was necessary to save face, with no one actually willing to take any action or put themselves on the line.

Living in the spaces of a hypocritical society, one lived right on and everyone just looked the other way. The flurry that went on behind his back was like a monsoon storm. It blew up a lot of dirt and leaves, unnecessarily, for a few days, and then moved on. What was the damage that he had done? He had only given some enjoyment to Khushpreet for a few hours and that was treated like a crime. He had done absolutely nothing to harm the young woman. But the bark was worse than the bite when it came to Indian society. Perhaps it was because he was a foreigner. For an Indian to take such liberty would have been more serious. He would soon be moving on and out of their way for good.

7 Delhi wine

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Tooth Ache

It had become necessary to make the trip to Delhi. James had a problem with his tooth that had been giving him pain. He would have to see the dentist in Delhi. He didn’t trust the ones in Punjab very greatly, and anyway, he thought that he needed to get away from the boondocks for a few days.

Getting there, nevertheless, took some arrangement. He could go either by bus or train. He decided on the bus which left Jalandhar usually in early morning arriving in Delhi in late afternoon. This meant that he would have to stay overnight and catch the bus the next morning. He didn’t mind. It would get him out of the village.

He decided to make the arrangements at the local travel agency. He would take his time. Why rush it? It was not wise in India. Tuesday seemed like a good day. He informed his cook that he would be going to Delhi and would not be back before the weekend. It was necessary to take care of his tooth.

In April, the weather was now hot. He felt horny as hell when he woke up in the morning. Now Pyar ka Mausam had ended. In the mornings, he would turn the cover back and let his bulging member throb to the ceiling. No one could see as he kept the wooden shutters of his windows closed at night. He touched his nuts. Oh God! He must be over-stocked with seed. Visions of those young women came into his mind, causing him to throb harder. He would have to divert his mind to keep from exploding. This was surely no way to live. “Young age and asceticism, what an insult of life,” as Mirza Ghalib, the philosopher, had written.

He just couldn’t take it any longer. Something had to give. He hoisted himself out of the big wide string mungie, feeling his feet on the rough bamboo mat on the floor. The clock said seven o’clock. He opened the latch of the gray wooden door and stepped out onto his veranda in a pair of Indian pajamas. He walked to the corner of his small courtyard where there was a hand pump. He pumped the metal bucket full of water, removed his pajamas, leaving on his shorts and poured a couple of plastic cups of it over his body. He could not be seen from the street. Still, he better keep his mind off those young beauties that he lusted after. If lust was a sin, then he was surely headed straight for hell. But then, it must have been a dirty trick for God to play on men that way. What was he? Some kind of masochist?

The cold water on his flesh was invigorating in the now warm spring air. He took the bar of green soap from the cement ledge and soaped himself down and poured over more water. He was starting to get himself woken up. Then he brushed his teeth with the tube of Colgate toothpaste. The old British company, Hindustan Lever, still operated in India. He rubbed some shampoo on his hair from a small bottle and washed the oil out of his hair. He dried off and combed his hair on the murky cheap mirror he had attached to the wall of the pump enclave.

His bathing over, he felt better. Back in the room, he changed and put on his clothes that he would wear on the trip. Seating himself in his one chair he sat down at his desk cum dining table and switched on his transistor radio to Voice of America. Richard Nixon was now the President of the United States. James had listened to the election returns, when he won the election a few months before. Now the President had taken over the White House from Lyndon Baines Johnson. It had not been a cheerful day for a Peace Corps volunteer on that November day on the exact opposite side of the globe.

The honeyed smooth propaganda spun out in a cheerful tone from the official voice from Washington, indeed, the “Voice of America.” Everything was running smoothly if one was to buy that smug self-satisfied view of the world. The professional voice seemingly urged the rest of world to get on the bandwagon and march to the glorious future under the banner of the benevolent leader of the international community, the United States of America. Indeed, no country or peoples could deny that it was the path to freedom, democracy and prosperity. This was the gospel of the stars and stripes, red, white and blue. American Pravda. This was the way to start the day!

James heard the door of the room across his veranda open. His elderly cook, Mussie, shuffled across the veranda in his plastic chappals to salute him. He had replaced Bachan, who had turned out to be a thief and a molester of young village women.

Good morning, Sahib,” he said. “Salam.” He saluted him.

Salam,” James saluted back. He sort of enjoyed this game. Acting out the role of being a patron with his servant. Indeed, an American Sahib. It was embarrassing. A fraud. Laughable. On his measly monthly living allowance that would hardly last a couple of days in any developed country of the world. Some of these old cooks had worked as cooks for the British and now worked for these young American Peace Corps volunteers. The Americans had replaced the British as the colonial rulers of the country. Just under a different label, was all. Still, it could not be denied that America was now indeed the global empire. The American architects of the post-war world had divided it all up after World War II. Every region had its own function. Southeast Asia would play its role and provide raw products. The US would manufacture the goods. Europe would be the big market for US technological products. Asia, the market for cheaper products. Latin America, also a large market. Africa would be left for Europe if they wanted to take up the task of integrating it into their economies. The USA was not interested there. Independent development, on the other hand was strictly verboten. Any nation trying to go its own way and do things on its own would simply be labeled “Communist.” That was the forbidden virus which could not be allowed to spread. It was also the cardinal sin of India, at least partially, with the help of the Soviet Union. But the US could not do much about it. Import substitution industrialization was a no-no, from the American perspective.

It was embarrassing. It didn’t make James feel proud. He felt a slight touch of guilt. But what could one do? It was actually necessary to have a servant here. It was shit. One could not just batch and survive out here in an Indian village. He had tried that, living on potatoes, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers and apples.

Eggs for breakfast, sahib?” Mussie asked.

Hongee, dough undee, obaaldee,” James said, attempting to practice his Punjabi.

Doubel roti, jam. Coffee lee-ay-auo, mere bane.”

James listened to the honeyed smoothly modulated voice of the American woman in Washington, DC. Spinning out the honeyed lies across the universe. The VOA. Now the Voice of the Republicans.

Mussie arrived with the water for instant coffee. James put a spoon of Nescafe into his mug, added powdered cream and sugar and poured in the water. He put another half spoon of the poison shit for a little extra jolt. He liked to have a couple of strong cups in the morning to get him going. It was not real coffee, but the best he could do here. He would start to get a little buzz from it by the time the eggs and toast arrived. The mornings had become pleasant.

He listened to the news. Chatter about Tricky Dick, now the President Dick or perhaps Presidick. Presidick Nixon. Possibly the worst possible result, James reflected. The good guys gunned down and now the Dick had been elected President. The ever ongoing war. Now it would go on. Who knew for how long? Where was the fucking light at the end of the tunnel that those pundits in Washington liked to talk about? What was going to happen now? Ho Chi Minh, the son-of-a-bitch was still trying to do it his way, in Washington’s eyes. That was a no-no. He had believed that stuff about independent development. Even taken ideas from the Declaration of Independence in the USA. That just could not be tolerated. Doing that stuff had gotten him labelled as a “Communist.”

The Democrats were demoralized. Spiro Agnew was now the new Vice-President or Vice-Presidick, perhaps. Who was this big-nosed son of a bitch anyway? The struggle for Civil Rights continued. Now seen to be a great success story, positive, on track to the bright future for every American and so on and so on. Pappy cock. More manufactured balderdash. Time filler. The Great Society was history. Now on to the next lofty plateau in the greatest country on earth.

Nixon, it came out, had just announced that his program would include closing down the Peace Corps! Shit. That asshole! James thought. But he will never be able to do it during my two years, he thought. He will not be able to pull the people out of the field and send them off to Vietnam, even if he wanted to. There was enough nonsense coming down the honey-voiced pipeline to make him rejoice that he was no longer in America, the land of the free and the home of the depraved politicos in Washington. He could have used some female American companionship, to be sure. There were lovely things about America. He thought of those long-lost days in the university. All those lovely young coeds with their cute asses. Fuck. He had been such a fool. They were there, groves of them and he had missed his chance. All physics, equations, vectors, elementary particles, optics, magnetic radiation, quantum mechanics. Elementary particles, my ass. He had missed the particles that were the most elementary of all. Pussy. Why the fuck hadn’t he gotten himself laid just once, just once, in all those four years with all that juicy pussy just there waiting to be had? What the fuck was he thinking of anyway? What a stupid son of a bitch he had been, after all. But now it was too late. It was all down the tubes. And here he was on the opposite side of the world and hard-up as hell. It would probably have shot some hormones into his grades as well. But if it didn’t, nothing to lose.

He had majored in physics, but knew little about life. Now that was becoming clearer to him. He was starting to get the picture.

Now he started to day dream. He had visions of getting back into that student lifestyle. Back to the university. The leisure of being a student again beckoned, if he could but survive India. He would get some money to study. Once the war was over! It could not go on forever. One long war forever, Amen. That was modern America.

He heard the village waking up beyond his courtyard wall. Men were returning from the now drying fields after making their morning nature call. The peasant women were returning after cutting fodder with a large pouch on their heads. A bullock cart passed his gate. He heard the peasant’s cane laying whelps on the poor dumb animals.

O tierre pahan, Tierre maa,” emitted sharply from his thin curved cruel lips, sharp Punjabi curses in his high pitched voice as he sat on his haunches on the cart. He was taking a load of wheat to the mundi to sell. He would be there by noon, lumbering along the two miles at bullock speed.

Sadougies greeted their friends in the village street, “Comrade, Sat Shri Akal, Namaste.” Greetings combining religion and communism in the same brief greeting. To what extent they were serious about either God or Communism, no one could tell. It did not matter. Neither could have the slightest effect on their miserable lives, in the event.

The eggs and toast arrived served by his faithful servant. James made himself another strong coffee. The eggs did not last long, but he took longer with the toast piling on the delicious marmalade with the orange peels. He had found that wonderfully clean small shop in the bazaar in Bhagat Bagh that sold various types of jams. Slowly he was learning how to live and discover small pleasant things.

Breakfast finished, he took a puff on one of the small cigars he had found in that shop in Delhi. It was time that he should be heading out for his trip to Jalandhar.

Mussie brought the duster and brushed the dust from his big leather shoes. James had packed a small bag. Toiletries, a change of shirt, pants, underwear, a paperback book, the Newsweek magazine that had just come. He would get a couple of newspapers on the way to further poison his mind, if the Newsweek had not done the trick.

It was now feeling too warm in the morning sun. He took his money from the almari and buried it deep in his inside pocket. He said goodbye to his cook and picked up his handy shoulder bag. It came in handy for small things.

Out into the road, he would have to hoof it for transportation. There were no rickshaws in the village. It was a couple of hundred meters to the tonga stand, which was the normal transportation to the town if one was not riding a bike. He walked down the village road, which was being hardened and readied for metaling. Thick dust covered part of the path. Villagers were seen squatting in their pajamas and pissing into the side drains. He ignored them while they concentrated upon relieving themselves. Some villagers merely stood and stared at the strange foreign beast that had mysteriously materialized in their village, seemingly out of thin air. The arm of American imperialism was indeed long with myriad tentacles. Perhaps such were the cloudy thoughts in their minds. He folded his hands and gave them his Namaste as he passed, the greeting sometimes hesitantly returned. He wanted to show that he was a good guy, after all, harmless, friendly. No shit. Would they really believe that he was honest? So much of Indian behavior seemed to be pretense. One could never be sure of the substance behind it.

He continued around the perimeter of the village. At the west end where the road curved around to the north, there was a row of poor low caste chamar houses. There were always urchins, the evil eye bead tied with a black string around their swollen bellies, naked, playing with the small rocks they found in the road. He always felt bad about them. What could he do about them? They were the outcasts of the village.

There were green fields to the west and north. He continued to the corner, the junction of the metaled road that ran to the town. Here, next to a small tree was where the tongas stopped and waited for passengers. The tonga walla was here with his horse and tonga, feeding the small horse a bunch of clover mixed with straw. Three passengers, had arrived, two women and a man, in the tonga. As soon as the vehicle filled up, they would be off.

The tonga walla greeted the sahib with a Namaste, hands folded, ready for travel. He offered him a part of the seat facing the front. It was a comfortable place to ride. James climbed up, using the small iron mounting step and settled down in the worn red leather seat. The peasant, his wife, and another older woman moved to the back.

Just then, James saw the elderly Sarpanch of the village, sardar Swaran Singh, ambling along slowly up the road from the north side of the village, carrying his shoulder bag. He had a trimmed white beard and light brown turban. A kindly smiling face. A gentleman, surely.

The man knew some English and had been to America. Indeed, he had relatives there. It was lucky for James that the head man of the village was friendly to him and looked out for him, after a fashion. He had always invited him to share a drink of Binny’s sherab and a vegetable dish of mustard greens and corn bread on cold evenings when his cook was away.

Sat Shri Akaal, Good Morning, Good Morning, Sahib,” he greeted him.

James greeted him with a “Sat Shri Akaal,” the Sikh greeting.

The sarpanch exchanged some comments with the tonga walla in Punjabi, cracking a couple of jokes that made everyone laugh. He slowly climbed up next to James.

Sahib go to Delhi. Do giddy giddy over there,” he joked, making a hole with his left thumb and forefinger and poking the finger of his right hand through the hole.

James laughed. “No, no, I have a problem with my tooth,” James said.

You, young man,” The Sarpanch said. “You have fun over there after seeing dentist.” He laughed. “Do giddy giddy. Do giddy giddy. When young, do giddy giddy.”

He clearly regretted that he too was not still young.

Another couple of peasants arrived with flowing tumbas wrapped around their shaven legs. The tonga walla climbed up onto the shaft on the left side of the tonga, took his switch and started to click his tongue. Slowly, the small horse moved out into the metaled road and into a walk. The driver switched the horse to force her into a trot. They moved past cool green fields on either side of the road, the wheat now almost all harvested, and the sugarcane fields now growing again.

The road was not yet crowded. The driver stopped at a small village on the way to let a couple of passengers off and collect another. In another fifteen minutes, they arrived at the town. There was a crowded smelly corner which was where the tongas stood. It was the junction between Railway Road, Garshankar Road, and the larger road to Phagwara. A Punjabi style restaurant, rather a dhaba, made spicy goat, vegetables and chapattis. Here James got down and started to pay the driver fifty paisa for the fare.

No, no,” the sarpanch said. “No need,” he laughed. He had already paid the fare for James.

The sarpanch met a friend at the corner and they got a pedal rickshaw headed for the mundi, the crowded grain market near the railway station. He needed to collect some payments for some loads of grain which he had sold. He would spend most of the day straightening up his business matters and drinking tea with his friends.

James, now off on his own, headed for the bus stand at the opposite end of the strip of shops along the main road. It would be good to have a few days outside the village and be in a city for a change.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Jalandhar

James walked the two hundred meters along the crowded road in front of shops that were now open for business. He felt full of energy and ready to travel now if he could just get a bus ticket quickly for the bus up to Jalandhar. Sometimes it was not so easy, as one had to catch one of the buses coming through, but today he was out early and so should hit it right.

He recognized some shopkeepers that he knew along the way and waved to them. There was the druggist in the chemical shop there with the big sign in red. Devi Lal and Sons, Ltd., Druggists. He waved a good morning to him as he sat upon his throne in white and read the morning news in Urdu. He remembered coming to his shop a couple of weeks ago to see about some vitamins. Ram had again shown him that strange contraption that he claimed could enlarge one’s penis. It was popular with many of the local peasants.

He passed Kartar Sweet Shop. The helwaji was busy arranging the sweets and frying jelabis in hot oil. Cha wallas were distributing the brew to peasants and travelers who had just arrived. It was tempting to enjoy a tea, but he should be moving. Past the news shop. Here, he stopped and saluted the seller, now his friend, with a Namaste. All the morning papers were spread out along the front counter, fresh off the press, along with a number of tabloids. James picked up the Tribune from Chandigarh and the Hindustan Times. Then he spied the red headlines of one of his favorite tabloids, Blitz, a communist rag that poked fun at the government. It was a weekly publication that he never missed buying when he saw it. It was great entertainment on the buses. An honest little newspaper that was usually right on the mark, as far as he could tell.

Fifty meters ahead next to the big pipal tree was the place the buses coming through on the main highway stopped. Across a small lot there was a grungy window where sometimes tickets were sold. Often the buses were already packed and only a few more could force their way into the mass crammed like sardines.

In five minutes he saw a rattletrap blue and white Punjab Roadways bus approaching from the East. It was not so crowded this time in the morning and he plunged in and got one of the last seats. The conductor would sell tickets inside the bus on the way.

Chelloway Chell, Chello, Chello!” The young Sikh conductor shouted at the driver, an aging Sikh in large blue turban and graying beard. The driver grabbed the long bent gear shift and attempted to ram the machine into gear as the gears clashed. It took two or three tries before the gears meshed and they were off toward Phagwara. The thin young Sikh sold tickets to the newcomers from a small fake leather pouch, dispensing small tickets as he walked up the aisle between the seats. Whether they were genuine or bootlegged was another question. Sometimes the driver and conductor could collect the fares and cheat the state out of the revenue using fake tickets. A bus inspector might get on unexpected somewhere along the line, but no worry. He would often be in on the scheme himself.

When the conductor reached the seat where James was sitting, he took his two rupees and gave him back fifty paisa. James settled back as the bus bumped along the rather rough metaled road. There were many pot holes, not likely to be repaired soon. When meeting another bus or a goods carrier truck, the bus would have to move halfway off the road to the left to allow the other vehicle to pass, increasing the bumpiness of the ride. Sometimes there were holes along the side. James was impressed by the rich fields of ripened wheat, almost all now cut. There were vegetables being grown for the local markets. A lot of food, there, he reflected. A lot of delicious vegetarian dishes that he was coming to love.

Piles of large round rocks along the road. Poor laborers sat and broke them with hammers, like prison convicts. What a waste of humanity.

Halfway to Phagwara, the driver pulled off the road and stopped, while the conductor slipped into the local village to pick up the driver’s lunch in a cloth bag from one of the houses. The driver collected it and journeyed on.

James read about the latest scandals going on in the Congress Government in Delhi. How many lakhs and crores of rupees had been embezzled, it was alleged, by various government ministries. Perhaps it was the price of moving the government at all, purchasing the big guns for the military. Without kickbacks nothing would get done. They all had their price, these politicians, even the most honest ones. Their price was just a little higher. Political parties sometimes even “bought” members of Parliament from other parties when the price was right. Indira, the Rain God, fought the battles with a sincere face, but most had understood by this time that politics in the era of Indian Independence was somewhat of a farce. They took what they could get and most of the time got screwed. That was par for the course in almost any country he could think of. The Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, was a victim of her own people and history.

In another village a wedding was going on. The lucky bride, dressed in a new suit recently made by a tailor in the local town, was riding on a horse. A long necklace of rupees was hanging from his neck. Villagers, half in turbans, followed behind the horse, along with a band, blowing old horns and making a cacophony of noise as they moved to another venue. Undoubtedly, the anxious young bride was waiting with the village women, being prepared with henna and gold ornaments. It would be both a happy and sad turning point in her life, involving considerable risk that she was helpless in doing anything about. She was bound into the social nexus.

At Phagwara junction, they joined the GT Road. The crossroads was a small realm of mass confusion, if not outright anarchy. Indeed, it was an exceedingly unlucky spot for anyone wishing to catch a bus to anywhere from there. James had sometimes given it up and headed for the railway station, where it was easier to catch the train.

James noticed a veritable mob gathered up near the GT Road awaiting the buses coming down the super highway from Jalandhar heading for Ludhiana. When a bus arrived, it was generally already packed. As the bus swooped to a stop on the side of the road, the mob surged forward toward it. Sometimes only half a dozen individuals could squeeze into the bus before the conductor would yell curses at the mob, push them back and close the door. Some would force their way anyway, clinging to the side for some distance, refusing to take no for answer. The situation was impossible for women with babies, who sometimes lost their balance with the baby and fell in the midst of the mob, dropping the baby in the dust. Tempers could flare. It was madness.

In James’s Punjab Roadways bus, almost everybody was headed for Jalandhar, so they continued on, only slightly more packed than before. They now careened up the GT Road dodging slower traffic on the road and barely missing the oncoming buses and good carriers. How the driver avoided creaming riders on bicycles and scooters was a mystery. These riders were certainly living dangerously, James thought, but then what choice did they have. It was a normal part of life in India. Those who survived, survived.

Reaching the outskirts of the city, traffic picked up. They rolled past the military cantonment, a relatively clean area, and then to the outskirts of the city. The bus rolled into the old bus stop, which was nothing but a bare place with packed earth off the GT Road. Getting down here, James took one of the pedal rickshaws and asked to go to the main bazaar. When he asked the fare, the driver just said “Yo jinna morga.” Whatever you want to pay. James knew what that meant. Something like three times what an Indian peasant from his neck of the Punjab woods would pay.

So James asked again. The driver gave him a price, exorbitant, to be sure. James offered him two rupees, which was something like double what any local would pay and the driver pedaled. James didn’t mind paying them double. Indeed, it was expected from a gora like him. But then, he was living on the local economy too, and the living allowance the Peace Corps paid him was based on that. His appearance as a white sahib was deceptive when it came to his income of seventy five US dollars a month. Indeed, the 550 rupees a month would hardly get him through the month when he had to pay a hundred rupees for his cook and give him extra money for clothes, weddings and various other occasions. At the same time he was paying for improving his life style with small improvements to his house. He had managed to get screens made and buy some furniture. The Peace Corps promised to pay but dealing with the bureaucracy to get the reimbursement was hardly worth it. So James did not bother.

James got down at a big corner near where there was a big book store where he liked to browse. A big sign in the front said “Rama Krishna and Sons, Booksellers.” Indeed, the place was filled with many interesting old books, mostly on India. He picked up a couple of old volumes of Rabindranath Tagore, Gatanjali and Glimpses of Bengal. They were written in such gentle beautiful poetry. Even the letters of the author were reproduced here. They would do to while away some hours on the bus and take his mind, perhaps, off some of the mass confusion, indeed anarchy.

James noted some other titles that he would like to have for future reference. He could not take them with him on the trip, but would visit the store later. He could not lug them all the way to Delhi and back.

With his new old books, he walked around the corner to Greens Restaurant. He settled down and looked at the menu. It was pretty clear he would have his favorite. Punjabi chicken and rice, washed down with a big bottle of cold Golden Eagle beer. This was real living after life in the village. He loved this spicy dish. He settled into the plush seat in the air conditioned restaurant and browsed some lines of Tagore. Had he died and gone to heaven?

He ordered the Punjabi chicken and waited for his beer.

The waiter brought his Golden Eagle and a mug. He tied into the delicious cold brew. Oh God! He could just chug that shit for eternity, it struck him. He started to look up to a brighter future. On the other hand, there were all those months facing him in the village for more than another year. Could he make it through all that torture? He would have to meet more farmers. Improve his Punjabi. Start more projects. Be more disciplined and so on, but now the weather was again becoming intolerable. What about all this Peace Corps balderdash? Was he really going to accomplish something out there? Shit, I am about as useless as tits on a boar, he thought as he took another gulp of the golden nectar. Those farmers don’t need any help from me. They know how the fuck to make money. All they need is a tractor and the other inputs. More land, more improved seeds. Fuck that. He would concentrate on the essentials. Saving his own sorry ass. That was the fucking bottom line. No shit! That was the bottom fucking line. No guilt of killing peasants in Vietnam. Enjoying some golden cold brew from time to time. That was a hell of a lot better than getting his ass shot off and coming back in a box. They would put him six feet under and put a little dipshit American flag on his grave and the poor sucker would soon be forgotten about. The poor sucker. Dying for one’s country, my ass. Dying so those with capital on Wall Street could make their profits off those little peasants over there in Southeast Asia. Get them into factories pumping out products to sell in America. That was what it was all about. Who were they kidding? The Indians were a little smarter than that. They had kept America at arms-length. Stay out of this cold war game. Play both sides of the isle. Get aid from both Washington and Moscow, but don’t sign with either. Or better, sign with both. The beer began to bite into his gut. The beginning of true wisdom. Budweiser. Wiser by Golden Eagle, in the event. The sharp penetrating eagle eye. He would put up with it. It would pass, this historical era. History played hell with one’s life sometimes.

And there would be a chance to travel to other parts of India. He would take a month’s leave when he had built up enough time. Get John to go with him to see some of the country. It was a cheap country, after all.

Some big-bellied sadougies arrived, looked around scratching their balls. They smacked their lips. They settled at one of the tables and ordered whiskeys. They were telling jokes and laughing, warming up for before lunch. They were the only ones in the restaurant besides him. Usually women did not appear, except as part of a family.

His chicken arrived. Hot, spicy in a thick sauce, along with warm rice. It was more than enough to fill him up as he worked on the cold beer getting a little buzz. This relaxed him. Some Hindi film music had started shortly after he had come in. The high pitched sexy voice. James imagined her dancing around on a rainy hillside in Himachel Pradesh or Kashmir. He relaxed enjoying the leisure.

Then he noticed someone coming in the door. Who was that? Another westerner, it seemed. Then he recognized Juan. Juan was the only Hispanic in the group. Stationed in a village out somewhere near Hoshiarpur, or perhaps Adampur, as he remembered.

Juan spied him and came over to his table.

You too? Taking a little break from your village, I see,” Juan greeted him.

Have to,” James said. “Have a problem with my tooth. I didn’t want to go to that place in Ludhiana. I thought it was better to go to Delhi. I’ll take the bus tomorrow.”

Lucky son of a gun,” Juan said. “I hate this fucking country. Real problems in my place. I am still trying to get a new cook. I got rid of the old one who was cheating me and he couldn’t cook anyway. The Peace Corps was supposed to send me one. He didn’t come. I am cooking my own food. Maybe it is better.”

I had a lot of problems too,” James said. “Finally got a place to live thanks to one of the guys in the BDO office. Not great, but my own place. I finally got my bike. Went with the VLW and met some farmers. The rich ones, that is. They really do not need our help.”

The whole thing is a farce. We know that,” Juan said. “Just keeping us out of Vietnam, That’s all. I don’t really care. My BDO asked me why I am here. He thinks I must be a spy. And he says that I am not doing my job. I don’t even know what my job is.”

I know,” James said. “I am counting how many bullocks pass my place every day and reporting that valuable piece of intelligence back to Washington. We know a lot about the place that they want to know.”

Just as well be cynical about it, James thought. On the other hand, at some level it was not so wild to suppose that the Peace Corps could serve as cover for some who were in intelligence. The Agency for International Development was clearly used to provide cover.

I’m thinking to leave,” Juan said. “I don’t think that I can do anything here. I would be better off to stay in Mexico till the war winds down.”

Oh, I don’t think you should give it up so soon,” James said. “It will work out. It is worth the experience learning something about this country. Then you can do what you like once you are back.”

For me it may not be worth it,” Juan said. “I am not going to be a diplomat or anything like that. And I will not be working for the government.”

The waiter appeared and Juan ordered some food and a beer.

Well, I have decided that the beer is not bad here,” James said. “I think it is pretty fucking good. It sure revives a wilted plant when it is forty-seven degrees centigrade out on the roads. Can you believe one hundred and fifteen degrees Fahrenheit? ”

He took the last sip of beer in the bottom of his mug and look at it sadly. He regretted seeing that it was depleted. He had a good amount of time to kill.

I’ll join you in having another beer,” James said. “One just sort of evaporates when one is going through this Punjabi chicken.”

James motioned for the waiter and asked for another Golden Eagle. The first had given him a soothing buzz. After a second one, he would not be feeling much pain as he headed for a rickshaw. He had better go for it. He chugged the second beer and finished his food feeling considerably refurbished. The hell of it was that one lacked female companionship in this country for the most part.

In a little bit, the two sahibs asked for the bill and paid up, leaving a tip. The waiter brought a small dish of anise seeds or saumph and sugar to flavor one’s mouth. They washed their hands in the small finger bowls of warm water.

They went out into the blast furnace of an afternoon.

I have to crash at a hotel here tonight,” James said. “What about you?”

I will do a little shopping and take a bus back to the village,” Juan said. “I have to get back before dark.”

Well, good luck. Keep in contact,” James said. “Drop me a letter and let me know what you decide. But you should wait a while and give it a chance. There are not many of us left now.”

When Juan headed to the bazaar, James got a rickshaw to Kings Hotel and asked for a room for the night. With the buzz from the beer, he dropped off to sleep for a couple of hours. There was no TV so it was either sleeping or reading.

When he woke up, he read one of the books. In the evening he went into the restaurant and had a light dinner.

In the evening, he read some of Tagore before turning in. He asked the desk to give him a wake-up call at half past six the next morning. There was no telephone in the room, so it would be with a serving of morning tea. He was hoping that he would wake up on his own. At least, he would be up in time to catch the bus for Delhi at eight. If there was time he would get a snack at the bus stop.

The next morning, he checked out and got a rickshaw to the station. The bus was waiting at the terminal. He had a guaranteed seat on the comfortable bus and looked forward to being back in Delhi. Civilization at last! He was thinking.

Chapter Thirty: Jan

The auto rickshaw geared up and roared out of the bus terminal toward Connaught place and the hotel in Lodhi Estates. It had been a restful trip, broken only by lunch on the way at one of the Kwality restaurants in a district town in Haryana. It was nearing five o’clock when James checked into the Lodhi Hotel. The clerk checked him in and asked for his passport. The bell boy took the key and showed him his room which was just down the hall in another section.

He relaxed on one of the beds in the double room. Oh God, this is real comfort after Punjab, he thought. I will only be here a short time, but it is going to be heavenly. The first thing was to take a hot shower. That was one thing that he was missing in the village. There was no way that he could have that. So he would have to come into the city from time to time.

After resting and a hot shower and shave, he walked out to the road in front of the hotel. He was no longer feeling grubby. This area of Delhi was green and neat with manicured lawns in front of the hotel. The contrast with crowded dirty towns in Punjab with water buffaloes, cows, goats, and piles and piles of dried gober, could not have been sharper. He asked to go to Connaught place near the Regal Cinema. The old Kwality restaurant was right around the corner.

Refreshed, he enjoyed the ride, the hot evening air on his face, the heavenly scent of the city, smoky fires, vendors, soot, smog, urine, human shit, all mixed together in a delicate fragrance that inspired his soul. The ride was more exciting than the wildest ride in a Disney park, as the wild driver swerved and dodged between vehicles. It was wise for a passenger to keep one hand clinging to one of the metal bars of the machine as one could be tossed to and fro. There were few traffic lights, mostly traffic circles, as vehicles negotiated the crowded roads constantly blowing their horns.

They arrived in front of the Regal Cinema, amidst the anarchic confusion and James paid up. The driver asked for an extra two rupees, showing him a schedule that he pulled out, claiming that the city had added on a new tax. James had no idea if it was true, but thought what the hell. These sons of bitches always take their pound of flesh, especially if one was a sahib. There was no escaping it.

He walked around the corner with his shopping bag, past the carts loaded with karati dal, peanuts, walnuts, bags of popcorn, and various other goodies. Past the pan sellers, the goali sellers, the hawkers of gurbani, religious tracts and small books, various small gods and goddesses. Around the corner, hawkers of a variety of other goods. Directly in front of Kwality restaurant was a huge display of paperback books, invariably bootlegged, mostly from western publishers. Sold illegally, in terms of international law, but a thriving business, nevertheless for the many businessmen, westerners, academics and various others who frequented the restaurant.

Indeed, when a best seller appeared in the United States or England, the same book would appear in a bootlegged edition in front of the restaurants, exactly the same, except in a cheap illegal edition at a fraction of the price within days. Indeed, it was a useful service, especially, if one was living on an allowance based upon the local cost of living.

Looking down, James saw some of the titles. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Dale Carnegie, and another by Norman Vincent Peale, Stay Alive All Your Life. Now that’s a good idea, he thought. Obviously, he had blown it on that score joining the Peace Corps. On the other hand, the military could have been worse. Other volumes informed how to run a successful business or how to get rich in the stock market overnight. Wall Street garbage. Pie in the sky.

Inside the restaurant, dinner was just beginning to be served after seven o’clock. He settled down at a corner table, enjoying the atmosphere. He felt a little lonely, being there by himself. The waiter brought the menu. What should he go for? He was getting a little tired of chicken, so went for one of the vegetable dishes with rice. He ordered a beer.

Back at the hotel he would read. Then he settled down for a restful sleep.

The next day, he got a rickshaw and went over to the regional Peace Corps Office on Ring Road to find out about his dental appointment, which would probably be the next day. He had asked the secretary to set it up by sending a telegram, which he hoped had safely arrived. This was a Wednesday, so it should be on Thursday or Friday.

He paid the driver and walked into the Americanized office feeling a little strange. He was a little like a fish out of water, everything looking very official and indeed, American. All the furnishings seemed to be indeed from the USA. It was a jolt, after being immersed in Indian culture now for several months. The blond white American secretary said hello to him. She said that she had received his telegram and checked the time of his appointment. She gave him the address, where he would go near Connaught Circus.

Admiring the way she looked, James realized that he was seeing the young American woman differently than he had ever looked at one before. After seeing Indian women for several months, she looked exceedingly white, even pale. Hell, that is the way I look to Indians, he thought. No wonder they look at me so curiously, as if I was something out of a fucking wax museum. The way she smiled and moved was also striking. Indeed, he had seen only one female secretary since leaving Delhi. He noticed her American clothes, the light top that she was wearing that emphasized her young breasts and cleavage and her tight-fitting jeans. He could actually see part of her plump white tits that she apparently liked to reveal. His imagination filled in the rest. She communicated with him as another human, rather than a woman as such. He was not sure if it was better or somewhat of a loss, but there was a sharp cultural difference.

We can send you even today, if it is an emergency,” Suzie said. “The doctor is quite good at taking care of the needs of Americans here.”

That’s OK. Tomorrow is fine.” James said. “It is not giving me any pain at the moment. I think that I just lost a filling.”

He moved toward the small reading room where volunteers sometimes came and lounged for some time when in Delhi. I’ll just relax here for a while, he thought. Suzie offered him a cup of American coffee. Real coffee, not that Nescafe fake shit. It was a shift of atmosphere, purely Americanized. But instead of enjoying it, he realized that he was starting to feel more comfortable when he was with Indians. He scanned the paperbacks in the shelf and thought of borrowing a couple, but didn’t find much that appealed to his immediate interest.

A few minutes later, an attractive woman arrived. He had not seen her before, he was sure. She asked something to the secretary and then introduced herself.

Hello, I am Jan,” she said. “I am Peter Smith’s wife. Are you one of the volunteers from the Punjab agriculture project?”

Oh yes, I am,” James said. “Nice to meet you.”

Again, James noticed her free and easy manner with him and her clothes. Completely open, he thought. Not at all like Indian women that present such a submissive aura. She too was in a pair of well-worn jeans, although they made her well-developed legs look beautiful. On top, her tee-shirt was blazoned with the seal of the University of Iowa and emphasized her soft peaches inside.

James noticed her blond hair, cut quite short and blue eyes. Her face, small clear features, and more tanned and rough-hewn than Suzie.

Oh, she is attractive, quite cute, James reflected. She shook his hand and felt a definite tickling in his balls as he looked into her eyes. He wished that she would hold his hand longer as his Indian friends did when they presented that limp wimpy Indian handshake. But she took it away. He would have liked to take her into his arms and hug her.

You came in June, I think,” she said. “I remember Peter talking about your group.”

Yes, food production,” James said.

Well, I have not had the chance to meet the group,” she said. “One of these days we will be inviting you to our place. Usually on Christmas or New Years, when volunteers come to the city.”

That would be great,” James said. “How do you like living in India?”

Actually I enjoy it,” she said. “It’s an amazing place and we have made a lot of friends in the diplomatic community, mostly. And I am learning Hindi, well trying to. I have no regrets for coming.”

Are you from Iowa?” James asked. “Oh, I met Peter there, at the university. I grew up in California, actually. A California girl, you can say.”

I suspected as much, James thought. She does not strike me as Midwestern. She was several years older than him. Early thirties, he judged.

And how is Punjab?” she asked.

Trying to get established, still,” James said. “Things do not fall into place as easily as one would hope, such as getting a place to live, a cook, a bicycle and so on. After all, one has to work through the Indian bureaucracy. I have met some local farmers and am working on some projects with them. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am not giving up.”

I admire your courage,” she said. “To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have the courage to do it. You are brave.”

Or maybe stupid,” James said. “At least we are not in Vietnam, on the other hand. That is another consideration.”

Yes, that’s true,” she said. “And what brings you to Delhi? Just needed a break from it?”

Had to get to a dentist. I’ll go tomorrow. But I don’t actually mind the break. It is a real change from the village.”

I’ll bet,” she said. “Well I’m glad you got the break.”

James saw that she was surely younger than Pete, but a good ten years older than him. Early thirties, he figured. How did that Iowa corn farmer land her anyway? A beauty. He looked into her eyes. He firm plump peaches were covered by the thin top, but she had given him a fleeting glimpse of their tanned round spheres when she had bent over. He could see the outline of her nipples. Perhaps they had stiffened.

Would you like to go back to Iowa?” James asked.

Oh, no way. I got enough of that,” she said. “Pete was farming his father’s land, but decided to hang it up some years ago with corn prices so low. I got a job there teaching high school. We were living on my salary. There was no money in farming, after paying for the machinery, seed, and everything else. It was just a hard-working hobby with nothing left once the crops were sold.”

I know the story,” James said. “I grew up just over the border in north Missouri. I helped my father raise corn and soybeans there. We sometimes made a little money by using old broken-down machinery, that is, when the river didn’t get the crops.”

Well, I must say that it is not the greatest place in the world to live, after I have seen some other places in the world. Working for the government gives one a lot more security in some ways.”

James was admiring the way she looked in her snug-fitting jeans and would have liked to reach over and feel of her soft plump peaches inside her thin yellow top.

I am going to have my driver take me back to my place. Is there any place that you need to go? We could drop you on the way,” she said.

Oh sure, maybe you could drop me at the Lodhi Hotel if it is on the way,” James said.

Oh sure,” Jan said. “You can keep me company.”

He stepped out with her to the waiting car. The driver was sitting on his haunches talking to the gardener. James saw that it was an official US Government car.

When the driver pulled out, she said, “Oh Pete has gone out on the road. He will not be home before the weekend. You are welcome to stay at my place. We have an extra room for guests. Why pay for a hotel. I am sure your Peace Corps allowance is not enough for that. And I would enjoy your company while he is gone.”

James was surprised at her hospitality, but pleased. It would certainly be very comfortable and save him some money. He had nothing in mind in staying with her. He would only be a grateful guest.

Are you sure?” he asked. “It is terribly kind of you. I would love to if you can put up with me. I would not give you a hard time.”

Oh, not at all. My pleasure,” she said. “I enjoy having guests. I would love to show you my place… and maybe some other things. Pete would not mind. We try to make volunteers feel at home as much as possible.”

In that case, I will check out and bring my bag,” James said. “I only have one small bag.”

Jan asked the driver to go to the Lodhi Hotel.

At the hotel, James quickly grabbed his bag and checked out. When he was back in the car, she seemed exceedingly warm to him now.

That is good,” she said. “Now I won’t have to feel lonesome in that big place.”

The residence that was provided for them was modern and spacious set back from the road in a garden with flowers and small bushes. The driver pulled up in front and let them out. They took the stairs up to the flat which was on the third floor, the top floor. It was a nice flat in the diplomatic enclave where most of the foreign expat community lived.

She ushered him into the flat. It was spaciously furnished with a couple of large plush leather divans and stuffed chairs. There were large windows with a view of the street and the gardens. James noticed a well-stocked liquor cabinet off the kitchen. The cook was scurrying around in the kitchen making lunch. Down below a gardener was taking care of the grounds.

One can get spoiled living in a country like this.” She said. “It is called a hardship country. But the truth is that the real hardships are back there in Iowa and Missouri. Living here is a piece of cake, what with government taking care of one and having several servants. I could never enjoy this kind of leisure in the US.”

She took him by the hand. “Come, here, I’ll show you the room. Put your things there.”

After he put his bag down, she came to him and said. “It’s nice having you here. Don’t be shy. I like you. She suddenly hugged him, pulling his body close to hers. She looked into his eyes intensely. You have beautiful brown eyes. She touched his face. Ask me if you need anything. Otherwise I will have to fight with you,” she teased. She pretended to punch him playfully. “Look at that. I think you are in pretty good shape. We can have lunch before long. Make yourself at home and enjoy it.”

By this time, James had felt himself thicken inside his trousers. That little hug was so delicious. So unlike the way an Indian woman would behave. What if he just took her in his arms and squeezed the shit out of her. He was so tempted to do it. He wanted to plant his lips on her bright beautiful lips, but she was married, after all.

Jan turned on the stereo putting on a Beatles album for background music.

Oh God, it’s good to be in one’s own home,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” She excused herself and put on a different top, now that she was not going out. When she returned, James could see the top halves of her ripe white peaches inside her thin bra cradling her well-developed fruits inside her low cut blouse. He could detect those pink nipples possibly now erect and almost ready to push up and out. He suddenly wanted another of those hugs.

It is getting so hot now,” she said. “Sometimes it really feels hot. I cannot dress heavily here in the house. But I have to cover up more when I go out.”

Come, James. I’ll show you my paintings. I studied art in the university and I am doing oil paint here. That’s how I spend a lot of my time. Mostly I paint from pictures. It is pretty hard to take the easel out here. It just attracts too many curious people and it is hard to work. I have tried some village scenes. Please make some pictures of your village and bring them to me. Scenes that would be suitable for painting.”

Most Punjabi villages are not that scenic,” James suggested.

Again, she took him by the hand and took him into the room that she used as a studio. She had more than a dozen paintings; some of them were leaning against the walls. James was not an expert on art, but liked the paintings. He was in the mood to like almost anything that she did, in the event.

I think they are beautiful,” James said. “I like them. You are surely talented. You will need a mansion for all your work. Will you be able to take them back to the US?”

Sure,” she said. “One can just roll up the canvas and easily take it. I will try to sell some here, perhaps. I don’t know. Maybe some diplomats would buy one or two.”

Now he was standing so close to her to see that her cheeks were rosy and flushed. She looked to be the picture of health. Fecund too. Her bosom did not leave very much to the imagination. James could not avoid feasting his eyes on her lovely young mangoes pushing up from inside her top. He could not have avoided them if he had tried. He didn’t try. They were certainly beauties and he wished that they had been there for the picking. If that was sinning, he would not hesitate. He was ready to enter through the gates of hell and take his chances.

Well, that’s my hobby,” she said. “You are very young. A real nice clean young guy. She again looked into his bright brown eyes. Your strength is in your eyes. You have beautiful eyes.” She quickly kissed him on the cheek.

I think you are cute and sweet,” she said. She gave him another one of her hugs and he felt her soft but firm breast pressed against his shirt. Then she ran her fingers through his hair, teasing him.

James looked down. Yes, it was that beautiful piece of flesh that he was looking at that was pressing against his breast. It was an incredible delight.

I like you,” she said. “What do you think of me?”

I think you are the most beautiful young thing that I have seen since I landed in this country,” he said. “You are lively and fun too. I think this is my day. Every dog has his day.”

I won’t treat you like a dog,” she said.

So, come and tell me about your projects in Punjab.” She led him back to the large room and put on more music.

That was one of the last things that James wanted to remember at the moment. The hell with his projects in Punjab, he was thinking. Right now he was thinking of what was happening to him in Delhi and those rural boondocks out there in the Doaba were in some other very remote world.

I don’t give a fuck about them, he wanted to tell her.

You know, this country is so dirty,” she said. “I just can’t believe how dirty Indians are, that is the masses out there,” she said.

James took it as a very American perspective. Certainly the country was dirty in many ways. But on the other hand, the people prided themselves on being clean. Whatever one said about India, the opposite could also be true. It was truly a land of contradictions and he wondered if Americans could ever actually figure it out. Even the Indians had a challenge in doing that.

Chapter Thirty-One: Delhi Wine

The enticing smells from the kitchen filled the house. Jan had come to like Indian food and found that it was far better than the so-called English food that her cook sometimes made.

Do you like Indian food?” Jan asked.

Sure, I am used to it now,” James said. “The Peace Corps sent me a cook. I really cannot cook for myself all the time in the village. Sometimes I get something in town. There is a place called the “hotel.” It is just village food. It is a dirty grungy place, like most Punjabi dhabas. Pretty bad but vegetable dishes are usually edible.”

Oh, I can shop at the Embassy,” Jan said. “They have all the American stuff there. But I don’t go very much. Sometimes there is something that I would like to have, like American cheese, chili beans, and so on. But we pretty much live on the economy, even though we have that privilege. We prefer to go native to some extent.”

That’s good,” James said. “It is surely the best way to get to know a country and get the most out of being here. Sure there are some American things that one would like to have from time to time. But I can do without them while I am here.”

The cook emerged from the kitchen.

Memsahib, Khanna ready,” he announced.

He was now making chapattis. They went to the kitchen and got a tray with chapattis, allu gobi, potatoes, and cauliflower and returned to eat in the big room.

I guess I am really going native, part way” Jan said. “But the food is actually quite healthy if one does not use too much fat and oil. I am getting Kumar to cut back on that. That is our cook.”

Well, it is home cooked food,” James said. “A great relief from the fast food that has taken over America.”

That’s for sure,” Jan said. “I just think about it sometimes. The American economy would not work if women had to prepare all the food for the family like here. America has destroyed its food. That is, the fast food corporations have. Americans have no idea how the rest of the world eats so much better than them. It was not like that when I was a kid.”

After they finished the vegetables, the cook brought leechis that were tasty and sweet.

Let’s have some wine,” Jan said. “That is one thing I always get at the embassy exchange. California wine. I can’t do without that. Some wine is made in India now, but the quality leaves a lot to be desired.”

Jan got the cold white wine from the kitchen and poured out two glasses. James was not used to drinking wine.

Here’s to your little Delhi holiday,” Jan said.

And to you,” James said. They tasted the cold nectar.

It really tastes delicious,” James said. “I wish one could buy it up in Punjab.”

You poor soul,” Jan sympathized. “You have to come to Delhi more often.”

Well, if I could see you every time, they couldn’t keep me away, he was thinking.

I wish,” James said. He was looking straight at her breasts, and was sure that she had slipped her breasts out a little more. It couldn’t be the wine producing an illusion already.

The first glass started to tickle his gut. Jan poured him a second glass. Listening to the mellow fifties and sixties music, they finished the bottle. James was feeling mellow.

There was a slow song. Elvis, Love Me Tender. The most romantic song ever, James thought.

Hold me and dance,” Jan said suddenly.

James jumped at the chance. As he swayed with her, she pressed her warm body to his. Now he felt her soft flesh. He was dying to kiss her. She surely felt his arousal as he pressed his body to hers.

Come, I’ll show you something,” she said suddenly. “But first I’ll get some more wine.” She returned with a fresh bottle.

Bring your glass,” she said.

She led him into a back room, which was her bedroom and latched the door behind them.

Looking into his eyes, she quickly slipped her light top off. James saw her two lovely peaches cradled in her thin bra. With a quick motion of her hands she opened the catch behind her back and slipped her bra off. Earnest was both surprised and pleased. They were so beautiful, those soft breasts. He could hardly believe that he was looking straight at them. They were not terribly young, but mature and beautiful.

She smiled at him. Being inexperienced with women, he did not know what he should do. She had expected that he would quickly pounce on them and taste her budding tips. He only stood staring at them.

She moved closer to him. “You are such an innocent young man,” she said. “You are pure, you sweetie. You are free to touch them. I want to feel your hands on me. Like this.”

She took his hands and placed them on her plump breasts. “You can enjoy them. I am offering them to you. They are yours as long as you are here.”

James felt her soft flesh in his hands. He was excited by their beauty. He moved his face to her and kissed her lips. Then he kissed her harder as she tasted his lips and they embraced tightly. He felt his hand on the warm flesh of her lower back. Her velvet flesh was delicious. Now he moved to plant kisses on her rosy cheeks, her nose, her soft eyes and forehead. He kissed her lips again, this time more passionately.

You are beautiful,” he said. “You are sweet.”

He embraced her tightly, kissing the tip of her breast. Her nipples were now beautifully erect. By now he had swollen in his jeans.

In fact, he was gone. Her seduction of him was complete.

You are pure, pure and innocent,” Jan said. “Where have you been all your young life?”

It was true that he had missed most of the joys of life up to this point.

James quickly slipped out of his clothes. She quickly slipped off her jeans. Now she was only wearing a tiny pair of red panties. She saw that James’s was aroused. Jan lay back on the big bed. James came to her quickly. She let him take her.

Oh God! Oh God, come on, honey,” Jan said, “You are so good. I want you, James. I want you. Give me more. I want it hard.”

James was inexperienced and didn’t think he could hold out very long.

Oh Jesus, You’re nice,” he said, stupidly, an understatement.

James felt his explosion coming. He couldn’t control the strong muscle spasm in his loins as her honey cup took him down. He exploded suddenly.

His strong spasms slowly subsided.

I’m sorry,” he said. “It was too quick. I couldn’t hold out the way I should. Oh God, I think I needed it too badly.”

You poor dear,” she said. “That’s OK. Don’t worry,” she said. “It was beautiful. You were beautiful. You are beautiful. I am going to teach you how to love a woman. How to love me.”

I will make it up to you, I promise,” James said.

No don’t need to apologize,” she said. “I just wish half the men were half as well hung as you. Farm boys always do it better.”

I want to smoke,” she said. “How about you?”

I will have one too,” he said. “I don’t normally. But sometimes it is good.”

He slipped off the bed in the nude and refilled their wine glasses. His cock was still thick but now limp.

It’s nice seeing you in the nude,” she said. “I like seeing a young man in the nude. You look beautiful.”

He came back and sat on the bed starting to suck down more of the white wine. He lit her cigarette, then his, and took a puff.

As she smoked, she started to fondle his cock and balls. He felt her slim fingers on his nuts.

These are pretty nice,” she said. “I was pretty sure that you would have a nice package when I looked into your big brown eyes. One can usually tell about a man.”

She kissed his shaft and tasted some of the cream still dripping out.

It has to be hard for a young man out there in those villages,” she said. “You must get horny as hell. Your big balls were full to overflowing. You creamed me so full. Like you had saved up for months.”

She felt of his balls. “These are so nice,” she said. “She kissed them again.”

Slowly, James’ cock revived back to life. He gulped down the rest of the wine and finished his cigarette. He was fully erect again now.

He pulled her to him. “I am going to fuck you again,” he said. “I want more of your pussy. I love your pussy, Jan, my baby.”

Take me, take all you want,” she said. “I want it.”

You can do it from behind,” she said. She kneeled on the bed. He stepped off the bed. He fed his scepter into her soft mound from the rear. She was still soft and wet.

That’s nice,” she said. “Fuck me. Do it hard. You fill me up so beautifully.”

He plied her honey cup with long delicious strokes. He filled his hands with the soft buns of her ass, pleasuring her slowly but intensely.

Oh that’s good. So good,” she said. “Give it to me, honey. Give it to me. I want it all. You can get it all out.”

She slowly reached her climax and felt the warm waves of pleasure washing across her body.

Oh yes, oh yes, James, oh yes, come, honey, come, come inside me. Give it to me. Give it all to me. I want all of it. Oh God, you stud. You do it good.”

James pounded her lovely young ass hard and felt his explosion coming. He went for broke and then felt the load of his seed bursting out.

Oh Jesus, I came, I came again,” he said. “Your sweet rose really takes it out of me. You did me good. Oh God. It was what I needed. You really know what I needed.”

His cock slowly gave up the ghost and they settled back on the bed in the nude.

I don’t know. I didn’t expect this,” he said. “I am glad that it happened. You are so nice.” He tasted the soft flesh about her Delta of Venus where she had trimmed her hair to short stubble.

You are beautiful. A beautiful woman. I love you. I wish I could love you every day. You are so kind to me.”

Don’t worry, my baby,” she said. “I like you.” She touched his now limp cock and balls.

Don’t worry. I will meet you again some time. I will not forget you. I will meet you when you come to Delhi sometimes.”

Yes, I hope so,” he said. “I need a woman. But love, I don’t know. This love business is a filthy disease. It only gets a man in a pinch. I am such a sucker. I fall in love too quickly. It has happened to me before. But you are the best. You are beautiful. So beautiful. Oh God, I want more of that.”

My sweet baby,” Don’t worry.

They stayed in bed with the sheet pulled over them and sipped another glass of wine.

Don’t think that I go to bed with every young man who comes along,” she said. “You are the first volunteer that I have ever gone to bed with. Honestly. I liked you and saw that you were lonely. You needed some tender loving care. I wanted to make you feel better. I didn’t know if you would make love to me but I am glad you did. Sure, I am married, but it hardly matters. I love Pete too, but sometimes I need to have another man. I know some other women do too. I need some change, some excitement in my life.”

He took her in his arms and started to love the warm comforting feel of her body.

In the evening, she suggested that they go out to a Chinese restaurant that was in the area and then to a recent film at the Regal Theater.

When they came back, she took him to the bedroom. She asked him to take his clothes off and stand in front of the big mirror. She lay down on the big bed in just her lace panties.

I just want to look at you,” she said. He stood near her big mirror fully erect. She watched his stiff staff throbbing toward the ceiling.

That is so beautiful,” she said. “I love to see you that way.” She slipped her lace off and came to him.

Now put it inside me,” she said.

When she bent over slightly, James slipped inside her juicy pink mound.

Oh, that’s good, that’s good. Give me more; give me more harder, honey. Oh you, are good, darling.”

James wanted to hold out as long as he could to give her pleasure. She leaned over and touched the chair as he took his time with long lovely strokes. Then she started to moan her pleasure.

Oh yes, oh yes, darling, let me have it. Hard. I want it all, give it all to me!”

James pounded her hard and felt the muscle spasms in his loins go wild.

Oh God, I came,” he stated the obvious. “I came good. You are so beautiful.”

It was nice to sleep with a woman for a change. He slept soundly, but woke up in the night, remembering that he was with her. He reached for her and touched her warm soft breast. She reached and touched him seeing that he was aroused. She took his distended cock and slipped it inside her. He felt her comforting warmth and moved gently. He was awake now and pleasured her till he heard her breathing hard. When his explosion came, she felt his warm balm soothing her deep inside.

They fell back to sleep.

8 wild ride

Chapter Thirty-Two: Dharmsala

The Punjab Roadways bus slowly began its torturous climb up through the foothills. They crossed rocky streams with water rushing down, across small bridges, even crossing a low stream through the water where the bridge had washed out. They passed small villages and small fields in the low valleys, now harvested, the yellow grain drying on the flat roofs of the houses. The bus was crowded with mostly peasants, but also traders on their way for some business.

As the old bus began to twist around the hills, peasant women thrust their heads out the windows and lost it. They were overtaken by motion sickness. The scenery was becoming more spectacular. A high mountain range appeared to the north covered with snow, the sun reflecting from the peaks.

It was late in October. James’s friend, John Brass, who was a volunteer in another village, had come with him for a week in the hills. They would take a trek on the trail above Dharmsala. He had met John the evening before in King’s Hotel in Jalandhar where they spent the night. They would take the train in the early morning.

Before sleeping, they asked the desk to give them a wake-up call at four o’clock. But it had come late at half past. This would be a knock on the door, as there was no telephone in the room. They barely had time to check out quickly and catch a rickshaw to the train station.

James quickly rushed to buy two third class tickets for Pathankot on the Kashmir Mail. Peasants were bunched around the small grimy window of the station and he could not push his way through the mob. He managed to finally get to the window and get the tickets at the last minute. He rushed along with John for the train, but now all the cars were full and the passengers inside had locked the doors. They refused to let any more passengers enter, even if there had been any room. The doors of a couple of cars were open, but it was not possible to squeeze a single other person into the packed cars.

James and John were scurrying helplessly along the packed train unable to find a way to pack inside. The train slowly began to move as they stood on the cement platform with their baggage. A train guard saw their problem and came to their rescue. He asked them to come with him to the baggage car which was just behind the engine and coal car.

The two sahibs caught the steps as the train began to pick up speed. The guard helped them up with their bags. They rode here with the guard for the three-hour trip to Pathankot. The railroad man was a veteran of the Northern Indian Railways, having worked there for more than twenty years. It was now a pleasant ride thanks to the special treatment they were given. It was a lucky break that sometimes happened at the last minute in India.

The smoky train puffed away past green fields of tall sugar cane and newly plowed fields where wheat was being planted. A peasant was out with his two big white oxen and plow while his wife dropped the wheat seed in the furrow behind the plow. They passed smoky villages on the northern plain, waking up with cow dung fires, the smoke hanging in the pungent air. At road crossings, busses, trucks, old cars, bicycles and motorcycles waited. The towns were starting to wake up.

The train pulled along the crowded and noisy platform at Pathankot.

The sahibs bailed out with their luggage and thanked the railroad guard, now their friend, for rescuing them and getting them on the train for an enjoyable trip.

They now quickly joined the throng of disembarking passengers in the chaos. Ragged red-coated coolies with official metal badges with numbers were carrying huge suitcases, burlap bags, and bedding, on their heads. Overweight mothers in saris and Punjabi dresses gathered up their brood of children and hurried them forward. Men chewed betel nut and spat, adding to the red splotches that could be seen all along the cement platform and down the steps. Now things began to sort themselves out, as rickshaws were loaded with women, babus, and bags. The drivers strained to gain some momentum and weave their way down the cluttered dirty streets.

James and John took one of the remaining rickshaws whose drivers were still scrambling for passengers. The lucky driver expected to be fortunate by getting a higher fare from the sahibs. Not knowing how far the bus station was, they had no idea how much they should pay, but thought it was not worth haggling. They quickly took the offer and headed out. They had learned the cardinal rule to never take a rickshaw before settling the price beforehand. It was not so much the price that mattered, but just to avoid the hassle that would otherwise ensue. It worked so much quicker and better this way.

At the Dharmsala bus stand, they bunched with the crowd bucking for tickets. It could not be called a line, but rather like sand trying to pour through an hour glass. James managed two tickets. Then he climbed up the ladder on the back of the bus while John handed up the baggage, two suitcases and sleeping bags. He had now gotten used to doing this. It was sometimes easier than asking a coolie to do it.

Then they piled into one of the last vacant small seats in the bus, along with the peasants. They noticed a French hippie couple on the way to the hills. Cute girl, young guy with fuzz for a beard. Out for adventure discovering the world. It was, after all, the right time in one’s life to do it.

James enjoyed the ride, in spite of the women continuously thrusting their heads out the windows to vomit. Clear water rushed down the small rocky streams. The temperature became cooler as they approached the junction at Kangra. A high range of beautiful snow-capped mountains now appeared to the east.

The bus wound its way up higher, sometimes around tight hairpin curves. They looked down into small valleys with tiny fields. At a stop along the way, small boys and hawkers approached the windows of the bus selling nuts, fruits, lussie, cha, soda, spicy karati dal, newspapers, and film magazines.

Arriving at Dharmsala, after another half hour, up a narrow crowded street, the bus stopped near a small building in the bazaar that served as the bus stop. A shower of rain suddenly burst from the clouds. James and John quickly scrambled out of the bus with other passengers to retrieve their baggage from the top of the bus before the sleeping bags became wet.

The one-room bus-stop served as a shelter as the rain now pounded down. Then just as suddenly, it stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. James and John walked up the hill to find the Tourist Reception Office to see about their reservations in the Tourist Bungalow. They arrived. Sure enough, their names were on the list. They were given directions. The hotel was over on the hill on the other side of the market.

The two sahibs walked up through Kotwali Bazaar along the main road. The atmosphere had changed almost completely from the scene in the dirty, crowded, Punjab peasant towns. They noticed a few Tibetans along the street and in the shops. Small shops lined each side of the road. There were a couple of small restaurants, a small general store selling grocery items, cloth shops, tailor shops, a barber shop, insurance office, and tourist agencies. There were cha and sweet shops and a leather shop.

Largely still a poor peasant population, a couple of young more stylish women caught James’s eye. Up ahead, they found the Tourist Bungalow, a big two-story house built of white stone blocks.

James and John had booked a double room, but the chowkidar who looked after the place was nowhere to be found. They located the room assigned to them and simply moved in. They saw that it was a tolerable room for resting and sleeping. They left their baggage and attached the padlock to the door.

It was after noon and they were now hungry. They walked back down to Kotwali Bazaar and found the Evergreen Restaurant, a small clean establishment. They ordered vegetarian dishes and enjoyed the food in the cool mountain air that was now quite refreshing and invigorating after the long hot summer in Punjab. A couple of Indian families came into the place with their small children. Indian tourism had yet to develop, but was picking up with the expansion of the middle class. Then they saw the French couple who had also discovered the place near the corner.

I hope they brought some warm clothes, James thought. The girl’s skimpy top revealed her cute small white breasts below the strand of Indian beads she was wearing. She had long dangling ear rings and crossed her legs in her tight fitting ragged jeans. Her bare feet in Indian sandals. Nice golden hair tied up on top of her head. A cute face. Just a child, James thought. But now beautiful. A European hippy. She was sharing a beer with the skinny guy. She was a nice little treat to curl up with in the cool mountain air, James thought. But he was not so lucky.

They found the food to be fine, simple, vegetable dishes, along with the chapattis. They were now acculturated to Indian food. Somehow it was always refreshing to leave the dirty cluttered agricultural towns of the Doaba.

After lunch, they started back up the hill to the Bungalow. As they walked up, the clouds that had rolled in and darkened the sky began to pelt down large drops of cold rain. Before they arrived, a barrage of large hail was beginning. They quickly sought shelter and watched the ice particles peppering down for half an hour until the ground was covered with these big hailstones. Then torrents of water began to rush down the hillside. It was to be expected as there was one hundred and fifty inches of rain a year in these foothills.

With the storm, James and John went to their beds under thick quilts and napped. They were feeling sleepy after the early morning adventure in the train. James drifted off and caught a good hour of sleep.

Dinner was provided in the Bungalow at half past seven o’clock. The food was brought by a ten-year old kid in the small dining room. It was North Indian food, rice, spinach, allu-gobi and chapatti. They noticed that the kid was doing a great job. James, seeing the way he worked, wished that the adults could be half as efficient.

The next day was a Saturday and they awoke to a beautiful sunny morning to survey the green hills around the small city. James managed to take a sort of shower in the icy water in the Bungalow. There was no such thing as hot water. Nevertheless, the cool air was invigorating. Refreshing, after Punjab.

The kid arrived, bringing two large tomato and onion omelets, buttered toast and tea. After breakfast, they left the Bungalow and headed up the small road on the steep hillside. It was a hard climb, even for young men. Small birds twittered in the thick foliage almost like a jungle. The hard rain the day before had washed down the road. The hail had left the path strewn with leaves stripped from the small trees.

The sun rose higher and it became hotter. James easily worked up a sweat. Almost a mile up the trail was a sign which indicated the entrance to the residence of the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

The trail beyond this point became steeper and more rocky, finally, just a foot path. They passed a secure installation with high wire and police guards. Perhaps police or military, they did not know. Small mountain men with their small horses were working to mine large blocks of stone from the hillside and loading them onto the horses. They were packing them up the hillside. Terribly hard work.

Suddenly, James and John reached the top of the trail and entered a small Tibetan bazaar. It was extremely clean and tidy. Ahead of them was a high red and white Tibetan shrine some four meters high. James and John found it interesting and very different from the shops in Indian markets. There was an old “General Store.” According to the sign, it was established in 1869. Now it was selling everything from liquor to hairpins and many grocery items.

McCleod Gunj was established by the British in the 1850s and named after David McLeod, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. It was a British garrison town, but was largely abandoned after a devastating earthquake on 1905.

I suppose this store must have been run by the British, originally,” John said.

I expect so,” James said. “It is something very much out of history. And a beautiful place. Hopefully tourism will not destroy it. Along with modernization.”

Across the street was a vegetable and fruit bazaar. Next to it was a Tibetan hotel. Further along was another Tibetan hotel with a restaurant.

James and John sat down in a small shop to have tea. Then they saw a beautiful young Tibetan woman who came to serve tea. They could not help but notice that she was dressed in a tight sweater which clearly revealed the shape of her young firm breasts. It was clear that she was not wearing a bra. James salivated to see her taut nipples pushing up beneath the thin fabric. She flitted around the establishment efficiently. James started to feel a tickle in his nether regions, which testified to his approval.

In another shop, there were carpets and crude, rough, Tibetan shoes for walking in the snow. James was not in the market for much, but bought some incense and incense holders and a pair of the snow shoes just for memories of the place.

At the Tibetan hotel, they decided to have lunch. A main item on the menu was chow chow. They were served fried egg noodles and a dish of bakkari and tomato slices. There was red pepper to spread on top. James had become more used to the spicy Punjabi food. What they served for tourists was quite bland. They knew that most tourists liked it that way.

The two Americans hiked farther on past the bazaar where the road ran through a sort of old forest of large pine trees with lush green foilage all around. There was a thick carpet of grass and moss on the ground. That the area was once inhabited by British became clear when one came to the old British cemetery and the old stone church in the trees named “The Church of St. John in the Wilderness.” It seemed that the place had been abandoned for many years.

Off the road and back among the pine trees, it was a beautiful and tranquil spot. The entry was an old wooden gate hanging on stone posts. In front of the church was a huge bell on stone pillars. It looked nostalgic, a little piece of British and Indian history.

This must have been a summer hang-out for the British,” James said. “They did not spend the summers in the severe heat down on the plains, like us.”

It is beautiful,” John said. “But this little piece of paradise could not go on forever. It is just a small slice of history in this country.”

They walked to the old British cemetery in a cleared space between the trees. James examined the British names engraved on the stones. Clearly, the clergy and members of the missionary team had been buried there. They found tomb stones going back to 1875.

Then James discovered a cluster of graves of British who were killed in the large earthquake in 1905. Biblical passages were engraved on some of the stones. There seemed to be at least twenty graves of people killed in the earthquake. The newest graves were in the late 1940s. On one spot, a father and his two daughters were buried. They had died within five days of each other.

James and John picked their way through the thick briar patch to get back to the main road. From there, the road wound back down the hill to the main bazaar. They walked a mile down the road to a small community and bazaar. A school was just letting out. Small children flooded out into the road. They were mostly Tibetan. Nearby, Tibetans were washing clothes and spreading them on the hillside to dry.

Tibetan laborers were working to build up the side of the road where it had caved off. When a bus came down, James and John were able to catch it and ride back down to Kotwali Bazaar.

They had decided that they would hike up to the Forest Rest House at Ilaqa the next day, but needed to get the permit from the Divisional Forest Officer of Kangra District. Back in the bazaar, James and John walked to the office and got the permit, even though it was on a Saturday. Then they walked back to the bazaar to buy their supplies for the trek. One had to take up their food to eat on the way and at the Rest House.

The next morning, when they woke, they could see the sun reflecting from the snow-capped peaks rising high above the small town. They packed their food into backpacks. They bailed out of the Bungalow to make the trek up the mountain and took the bus up the first one-thousand feet to McCleod Gung. It was another four-thousand feet climb to the Forest Rest House. The first leg of the trek was eight kilometers to Triund, 2872 meters. After that, it was another five kilometers to the Forest Rest House at Ilaqa.

Above McCleod Gung, they walked past historical old British Bungalows. They were told by local people that some British still lived in them. The British had built large water storage tanks in the hills for a water supply. The road wound up through a pine forest. James and John walked up the trail, beginning to feel tired by the time they reached the edge of the pine forest. In more than one place, the trail had been wiped out by land-slides. In one place, a huge boulder had rolled down the hill to completely block the path.

They sat down on a big rock and snacked on the chocolate bars at the edge of the pine forest and drank water. Further on, the trees became small bushes along the loose rock along the trail. The small rocks were shining with fool’s gold. Then the trail would up around the edge of high cliffs for a fantastic view of the valley below.

Small rock houses of the local Gaddis appeared down below with small ears of maize drying on the roofs. A Gaddi peasant was seen plowing with bullocks in a small terraced field near the houses. They were planting their fall wheat. Mountain goats grazed on the steep, rocky, hillsides.

James and John came to a steeper place where the trail was built from small boulders and rose up in stair steps between huge boulders that were clinging to the hillsides. Sometimes these were in danger of breaking loose and tumbling down. James had to stop and rest from time to time. Looking above them, high in the rocks on the steep hillside was a pack of wild monkeys. They were scampering around the rocks looking at the two sahibs. In a small bush they saw the heads of the small monkeys peering out at them. It was as if the small tree was heavily loaded with fruit that was the monkeys’ heads. Now and then, one of the monkeys would scream at them. It seemed that they did not like intruders into their territory.

Further up, the weather started to become foggy. James and John looked down on clouds in the valley below. Then the fog became thicker. One could hardly see more than twenty meters ahead on the trail. Then the path ran around the edge of the mountain. Above was a rock overhang made by a huge boulder that provided a sort of shelter where goats and sheep could bed down during the night.

Around another turn in the trail, the Forest Rest House appeared high above them. It appeared to James that it would be impossible to reach on the trail, but then the trail cut back in the opposite direction and zig-zagged so that one was climbing almost vertically. It was extremely rocky here with small trees and bushes.

With a final struggle up between the rocks, James and John made it to the top of the trail and emerged into a beautiful cool and green Alpine meadow. The grass was thick and lush here. There was a small pool of water. Just above this meadow was the Forest Rest House.

Beyond was a high rocky snow-capped peak seventeen thousand feet in altitude. James felt like he was in a different beautiful world. They were rewarded after the steep trek up the mountain. James and John walked across the green meadow to the Rest House and met the chowkidar. They gave him the tea they had brought up and asked him to brew some for them. Then they broke out some biscuits they had brought with them.

There was only one other guest room in the Rest House, where four Indian men were staying. It was a cozy small house with a fireplace in the lounge, a dining room and a kitchen. The rooms also had fireplaces. The inside was made of beautiful pine wood, the outside made of rock. Barrels in the back held water from the frequent rains and snow.

While they were having tea, it began to hail covering the ground in white with small balls of ice. Then it stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. It was a brilliant scene, far from the heat and misery of the Punjab plains.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Lion of Punjab

You didn’t actually make love to her, did you?” John asked.

I hadn’t intended to,” James said. “But she wanted to. She really did want to make love. I don’t know if she was actually a virgin. You know, these young people do have friends in the village and meet each other secretly. I expected that we would just play, and mostly that is what we did.”

I can’t believe that you actually managed to meet a girl like that,” John said.

I don’t know,” James said. “Something came over me. I couldn’t imagine how sweet she would be. That sweet brown piece of candy. And being verboten made her that much more appealing, it seems. We snuggled up together in the cool night and I thought I would just pet her like before. They call it Pyar ka Mausam, you know. But really, I was horny like crazy, kissing her lips and her stiff young nipples. That soft velvet flesh was just like candy. She touched my tool and squeezed me. I was about to explode and she was going for more. Then I just went crazy. She was so sweet. She really wanted me. But mostly, we just played.”

I don’t know what would happen if someone got caught,” John said. “What do you think?”

I have no idea,” James said. “I expect the Peace Corps might kick us out, depending upon the situation. I don’t know. I don’t know if the villagers would do anything.”

James had told John about what happened in the village with Khushpreet and asked him not to mention it to anyone.

Anyway, it happens a lot in the villages,” James said. “My friends tell me that. So unless there is a serious mishap it seems that it is tolerated. It is probably not possible to suppress male hormones more than they are now in Punjab. So they expect that some hanky-panky will go on. Maybe it is allowed as a pressure valve. And anyway, it happens among married men and women in the village too. It is like every other human society in the world, I guess.”

Probably couldn’t get much more repressive than Punjab,” John said. “Well, maybe Saudi Arabia. Maybe she is angling for a way to come to America. You know they warned us about that in training.”

That’s bullshit. What do they know?” James said. “I never think that is the case. I don’t think there is any such calculation. It is possible, but it is not fair to accuse a young woman of that. Everyone falls in love, you know. Especially when they are young and not sophisticated. I am talking about me too.”

My mom warned me to the inch of my life not to come back to America with an Indian woman,” John said. “She said that whatever you do, I could never tolerate that.”

But that is just racist,” James said. “If you stay here long enough, then you are going to start loving an Indian woman. After all, the British, many of them, did too, but they did not generally marry them. There is a large community of Anglo-Indians in the country. Some women are lovely, beautiful young women, same as in any other nationality.”

Sure,” John said. “But I couldn’t dare to give my parents the shock. It would just be too much.”

But surely, it should be up to you,” James said. “Your mother should not have anything to do with it. You are an adult capable of making your own decisions. Otherwise they would not have sent us off to live alone in India. Your parents have probably never met a single Indian. They have never been to India, so they do not know what they are talking about.”

Well, I have to get out of this bloody country before it happens to me,” John said. “I cannot say that it wouldn’t happen. I have been attracted to one or two that looked very cute.”

It is so easy,” James said. “I never had an American woman grab me the way she does, my heart-strings, I mean. For American women, I want to love them, pleasure them, but I have never fallen for them the way I did with this girl. I don’t take it very seriously with Americans. I don’t know exactly why it is different here. Is it their innocence that makes me want their pussy? Or maybe they are not really so innocent after all. But they are sweet. After all, it is written all over the buildings in Punjab. ‘Love is God.’ I guess I would go farther and just write ‘Fuck is God,’ if I could. That would be more to the point.”

James had let John know his secret up above the plains of Punjab.

After the downpour of hail, James had gone out in the whitened meadow and made some pictures of the rest house and the high snow-capped peaks higher up, now illuminated by the sun.

The chowkidar built a fire in the fireplace as the sun was going down. Then he cooked dinner. They sahibs had brought soup in a can and he made chapattis. There was no electricity so they enjoyed the bright fire flickering in the evening.

No electricity and certainly no TV. Going with absolutely no TV for two years, James realized that it was a great boon. It forces one to read and probably opens up some space for thinking too, he considered. One’s intelligence would take a great leap higher if weaned from the distraction and fragmentation of television. It is a great tool for ruling, James thought. To prevent the people from actually thinking and figuring out what is going on. Filling every moment, every gap in their consciousness, with useless chatter and generally with nonsense. A ruling class could not ask for a more effective tool for controlling the masses and keeping them brainwashed than television. It was no wonder that Wall Street and the Pentagon had everyone by the balls in America.

Outside, the stars were clear and bright and the village lights spread out like an illuminated carpet in the valley below. The towns appeared as extra-bright clusters of lights as when one flew over the country on a clear night. Here there was no Platonic Cave for illusions. At least, not in the form of a television.

They were short of bedding, James and John soon realized. At four in the morning, they woke up as it was too cold to sleep. There was only one thing to do. They would take down the curtains and use them as covers.

Morning came. The bright sunshine beamed down above the high snow-capped peaks. The chowkidar gave them the food they had brought, canned sausages, bread and tea.

Are you going to meet you friend again?” John asked James.

I don’t want to in the village,” James said. “But I have to meet her again. There must be some better way. I think Khushpreet’s friend knows a secret place where we can meet. There is a village health clinic with small rooms that seems to be almost abandoned somewhere not too far away. Her brother Ranjit told me that he has the same problem. Or perhaps in her friend’s remote village. I am starting to find out how the system works among the youth in these villages.”

When they went out into the Alpine meadow in the bright sunshine, some Gaddi goat herders were just starting down the mountain with their herd of goats. There were some three hundred in the herd. They were the traditional seminomadic tribe of the area. They wore a heavy coat made of wool that flared out at the hips. Their legs were bare, but they wore heavy shoes. The two young shepherds were around twelve.

James and John talked to them in Punjabi. They said that they did not go to school and never got any mail. They mostly ate milk, cheese and yogurt. But also corn, rice and dal, and made chapattis. So maybe their diet is not bad if they have a few vegetables, James thought. Well, it is not American fast food! Both of the boys had a long brown rope ties around their waist. Their goats had long hair like Angora goats.

James and John then began the long trek back down the mountain, some thirteen kilometers, to McCleod Gung. The trip down was considerably faster than going up for sure. On the other hand, it was just as hard on the muscles, holding their weight back on steep trail. From the Gung, they got the bus on down to the town.

Again they had a late lunch at the Evergreen Restaurant. It was good after all the exertion in the invigorating air. They walked back up to the Bungalow, now feeling their sore muscles from the trek. Again the rain came down in the afternoon. It was nearing the end of their week’s holiday.

The next day, the sahibs checked out of the Bungalow and went to the bus stop to get a Punjab Roadways bus to Jalandhar. They got the tickets and settled into the rough cramped seats in the well-worn old bus. It turned out to be quite a wild ride. On the bus they met a German volunteer on a program similar to the Peace Corps. He was teaching at a Gram Sevak Training Center in Punjab.

The old bus was cranked up by the young driver and started down the hill for Kangra. Sohan Singh was somewhat of a young Sikh show-off. On the way down, James noticed that there was a beautiful view of the high peaks to the east as they came down toward Kangra. However, it was difficult to enjoy the view due to the wild young driver who was trying to set a record time for the trip from Dharmsala to Jalandhar. He drove like he would tear the transmission out or perhaps lose the brakes. Just before Kangra, the cocky driver hit a young guy on a bicycle on the right side of the bus. The driver kept going and did not intend to stop until several guys in the bus shouted at him to stop. He then slowed to a halt some hundred meters ahead. A piece had broken off the old bus. When the vehicle came to a stop, several men jumped out and ran back to pick up the poor guy now lying on the road. Two brought him forward, half carrying him between them. His broken cycle was also brought and put on top of the bus. The poor guy, now in shock, could not stand up on his own.

The driver did not seem to know what to do, but just wanted to escape any blame for the incident. The German guy suggested that they take him to a hospital, but it was not to be. Callously, they just put the guy off at the bus stop along with his bike. James and John, along with the German could hardly believe that they were treating the guy that way when the driver was clearly at fault. The poor guy was left to get to a hospital on his own for treatment.

What a bloody country,” John said. “They just leave the poor guy behind when they injured him and could have easily killed him.”

James was determined to get the name of the driver and file a report on him. He wrote down the number of the bus, a Punjab State Roadways bus, and the number of the license plate. Then later he asked the driver his name. But then he wondered if it would be safe to report the incident to the police. If the guy or his relatives came after him, it would not be hard to find him and run him through with a kirpan. So he thought maybe it was not a good idea, living out there in a remote village. There was not really a lot of law and order out there in rural Punjab. People took revenge into their own hands often enough.

After Kangra, the bus trucked on. James was hoping for better, but further on, the road was narrow and winding through the Shivalik Hills. The driver was again trying to make it to Hoshiarpur in record time. On the blind curves around the hills, James thought that he was sure to collide with another bus or big truck. Further on, the two sahibs heard another thud.

My God. What was that?” John said.

He hit a cow,” someone in the bus informed them. What had happened to the cow, no one knew. It was yet another hit and run on the same trip. Then presently, the driver met another bus on a narrow place on the road with a sharp drop-off below. Neither the young Sikh nor the sardar in the other bus would back down. One would have to back up to let the other pass. It was now a contest of egos between the two pugries with neither the young sardar nor the older driver willing to lose face. At least five minutes were wasted as the two drivers shouted abuses at each other in Punjabi.

Finally, the older guy saw that it was no use with the young obstinate guy and backed up his vehicle. Both drivers had lost several minutes of time uselessly, just because of their machismo. Then the driver trucked on, but in the same reckless fashion.

Farther ahead, a tunnel had been blasted through the mountain, but it appeared that there was no concrete reinforcement at all to keep it from collapsing. Finally, they came down from the hills to the flat plain. There was a quite big river up ahead, but the bridge had washed out. The practice was to drive the bus right across the stream of water near where the bridge had once stood. One could only see the useless posts of the old bridge still standing some hundred meters down below. There was some twelve inches of water in the river bed, so it was not difficult to drive right on across it.

Eventually they arrived at Hoshiarpur to pick up more passengers. James and John got out to stretch their muscles. Another bus had just run over a small dog that was now flopping around on the pavement, badly injured. Several men and young boys were standing around and laughing. One of the guys was throwing water on the poor injured and dying dog. It was a disgusting scene.

The last stop was Jalandhar. It was a relief to finally reach their destination. James quickly got his baggage off the top along with John’s and went to the ticket window to get a ticket for Bhagat Bagh. John also headed down the GT Road for his village.

It was near nightfall when James finally made it back to his place with a tonga. It was good to be back after the adventure. He was now anxious to plan a bigger trip around the country to places that he wanted to see.

His cook brought him some letters. One was a small inland letter. James saw the handwriting and knew that it must be from her. He hoped for some sweet words from Khushpreet.

She wrote that she was missing him and wanted to see him again soon.

You are my Raja,” she wrote. “You are sweet in the night. I want to be yours and give you everything you want. I will be your Rani, Queen, and love you. You are beautiful. I love you.” K

Chapter Thirty-Four: King’s Palace

James conceived of a rather daring program where he could meet Khushpreet away from the village. He had discovered before too long that it was possible to send messages either by inland letter to her village or sometimes to meet on the road, having an idea of which times and days that she might appear on her bicycle. In this way, the sahib found a way to communicate with his friend. He hoped that his letters would not be spied upon when he sent her a letter by mail, but could not be sure. He knew that she came to the college around nine o’clock in the morning.

One morning in April, he managed to pass her a message on the road. He rode his bicycle slowly, hoping that she would see him and catch up. This day, she appeared in a purple Punjabi outfit with white pajamas. She looked cute in her light spring outfit. Already the heat had arrived. The wheat harvest was getting underway in the adjacent fields. Summer had now come.

When she came up behind him, she was riding with a friend. She turned his way and smiled. James was delighted to see her.

Good morning,” she said, somewhat shyly. She looked around to see if there was anyone along the road that might be a danger and spying on them.

Good morning,” James said, “I will give you something.” He had a folded note that he had written in his pocket and quickly gave it to her. She took it discreetly and quickly slipped it into one of her books in the basket of her bicycle.

It would not be good to be seen together, so he said “see you later.” The two young women rode ahead, while he lagged behind at a slower pace. He was happy that he had seen her and most of all that he had given her the note. He hoped that no one on the road had taken notice of it. Why did such innocent and natural things have to be so clandestine in this country? He wondered. It was after all, a very socially conservative part of a very socially conservative country.

When Khushpreet arrived at the college, she parked her cycle and went into the library to pretend to look for a book. She sat down at one of the tables where she could read the note privately. James had written,

Dear Khushpreet,

I am thinking of you. It seems like a long time since I could meet you. I really want to meet you again, but it is so difficult in the village. And now the hot season is coming. I would like to meet you in Ludhiana. We can meet in King’s Palace Restaurant. You can make some excuse to go if you need and go there with a friend. We can have lunch. It would be nice with you. I am dreaming of seeing you. Please tell me if you can go on 21 May. We can meet around one o’clock in the afternoon, if you agree. I think of you always. I love you.

J.

Three days later, the dock walla brought James a letter from her. He opened the letter and read quickly,

Dear James, Englishman,

I read your nice letter. I am also thinking about you. My sweet friend, I am missing you. I am so sorry, but I could not meet you on that day because we have exam in the college. Can you meet me on 25 May in same place? It is Friday. I will take bus. I will take friend with me. It is not good to go alone for girl. Please tell me soon. Meet me on road at nine o’clock on 18 May Friday and give me letter. I kiss you. I love you.

K.

James wrote her a reply. He could not mail it but would pass it to her on the road.

Dear Khushpreet,

I read your letter and am very happy. That is wonderful. I will meet you on 25 May, Friday. Remember King’s Palace in Ludhiana. You can take rickshaw from the bus stand around one o’clock in the afternoon. You are beautiful. I love you. You are always in my thoughts day and night.

Love, J

On Friday, James rode up the road slowly toward Bhagat Bagh. It seemed that she might be late. He had ridden a good part of the way and she did not appear. He decided to wait near a tree. He stopped and pretended to be fixing his bicycle. After ten minutes, he saw her coming with a friend in a bright yellow Punjabi dress. He again rode and caught up with her.

Good morning,” he said, “It is OK. OK for Friday.”

Thank you,” she said, as if a little shy. She quickly took the note that James gave to her. Then she slipped a note to him. She was suddenly suspicious as she saw an English teacher from the college who was just passing. He seemed to have an angry frown on his face. She thought that Prakash was a mean teacher and didn’t like him. He was not friendly to the students. She was afraid that he might be suspicious of her behavior and so could not look at James. She quickly rode on ahead with her friend.

What a shitty situation, it is, James thought. This society treats grown-up adults worse than children. One could not even have a young woman as a friend.

Now James was happy that he had made the program. Now he would just have to wait for another week and try to make it work out. It was a daring venture, but he was courageous. In the end, he was a naïve foreigner, so maybe this would cover his sins at least to some extent. One never knew in such a society.

James rode on to the BDO Office and said his greetings to the BDO. He told him that he would try to get some more soybean seeds for the farmers. Some of them had been successful in the last year, but he could only give them a small amount of seed. He was trying to arrange to get them from Pant Nagar University in Uttar Pradesh.

Shabash,” the BDO said. “Please give some to Baldev Singh, the inspector, and others when they come.”

Certainly,” James said. Actually, it was only a ploy. He was pretty sure that he would not be able to get any seeds. The year before he had only managed to get 25 kilograms of seed by going all the way to the University in Pant Nagar.

James took leave of the BDO and slipped back to the gusalkhana. Here with a little privacy, he could read the note from Khushpreet. She had written,

Dear James, Englishman,

I want to meet you soon. Always think of you. You are nice. I remember nice nights together. Your kisses more lovely you gave me make me very happy. You are my Raja.

Love Always, K.

Why does she always fuckin call me an Englishman? James thought. She knows that I am an American. But it is all the same in Punjab. Anyway, it is cute. He could not hold it against her. He was just now salivating over eating that little brown piece of sweet Punjabi candy and she had got him strung up by the nether regions, in spite of anything that he could do. Motherfuck, he thought, being a man means nothing less than always thinking with one’s cock. God just as well have put man’s brains down there, since that is all the brains that he seems to have when it comes to the question of a woman. Nevertheless, whatever. Fuck it. He was ready to think with his cock. In fact, he had tried, but failed to do anything else.

Anyway, now it was his ace in the hole for the coming week. Friday would come, but slowly. James was happy to see that the meeting was now set and hoped that it would work, in spite of everything. On that day, he would make sure to get out on time to be able to buck the buses.

In this season, it was very hot for working. If he visited a farmer, he would generally be invited to stay for lunch and then take rest. Usually, lunch would be simple village food, some vegetable, usually a type of pumpkin, chapattis, and curds. It was fine for lunch and James relished the food. It was comfortable to lay back on a big mungie in a cool mud village house and sometimes drift off to sleep. It was simply too hot to be out in the sun in the middle of the day in this season.

James met a friendly man in a small village close-by who had been living in Fiji for a many years. Ashok was a heavy set and jolly man. Now he had come back to his village and was in the process of arranging the wedding of his daughter which would take place in a couple of months. He invited James to his place anytime and when he came, gave him tea. He would often invite him to stay for some simple lunch. He was continuously moaning about all the things that were required for the wedding and saw it as a bloody system.

He was buying huge bags of rice, sugar, lentils, flour for chapattis, ghee, and many other things that he was storing in large metal trunks to keep the rats away. He was also buying fabrics for saris and gold and silver jewelry for the dowry. All of these things were now piling up in his store room. Such a bloody system, he kept complaining.

James never saw the wife and daughter as they were back inside the kitchen area for the women. Ashok kept complaining bitterly about the cost of the wedding. He would have to buy and make food to feed the entire village. He said it would be at least twenty-thousand rupees, some three thousand US dollars. It was a lot of money, but as a father, he was a victim of this bloody system. James did not believe that Ashok was a rich man, but who could tell? Perhaps he had made a lot of money in Fiji.

In this way, James learned much about the village customs. Later he would expand his knowledge by reading Malcolm Lyall Darling, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt. Darling argued that they went together. The more the peasant prospered, the more he fell into debt, and probably in the end lost his land altogether. This was true, of course, if he only had daughters, instead of sons. There was a vital need for sex determination clinics, from the perspective of the peasant. If it turned out to be a girl, one must avoid the loss if at all possible. It was the worst possible cyclone or typhoon that could possibly hit the poor Punjab peasant.

Now the fateful day came. James left his house early and got the early bus from Purana Shahar. The bus was fairly fast, being early and James arrived in the anarchy of the regional town well before noon. There was plenty of time to have tea and a samosa and do some browsing in Lyall’s Book Stall that he loved to visit. He could always find some interesting books there. In this case, he ran across Henry Miller and his trilogy, Sexus, Plexus and Nexus. He discovered that many people in India were familiar with the writings of this author when he would open his books on a bus. James found the books entertaining and amusing. Highly irreverent, like him.

Now he was used to the Punjabi sweet goo tea, not the black tea that one added sugar and milk to for taste as one did in a hotel. James began to feel a little tickle in his balls as it came time to head for the King’s Palace. He took it as a warning to be cautious, a warning that he might be in danger of catching the dread old disease of love.

James had only gone once before to the place with John when they had come to see a film. He just wanted to take a look at what went on. He decided that it might be far enough out of the way to risk meeting someone there clandestinely. That time he had drunk a couple of beers and had a lunch, watching the rather pudgy belly dancers and the sardars getting plastered with their pegs of whiskey.

James walked out into the chaos of the street, putting his Henry Miller in his bag. He got a rickshaw from the book shop. For the venue of Kings Palace, the price had shot way up. James managed to get the driver down to only double the normal rate, which was normal for a gora like him. He figured it was good enough for government work and settled back for the flight, after a fashion.

In the event, there were considerable obstacles to a rickshaw ride in this small city. And here it was all human power only. Auto rickshaws had not yet made their advent here. Down past that horrendous crowded bus stop, right in the middle of the street, part of the GT Road that was getting to be unwieldy. A bottleneck. Just beyond were two men performing with a pair of dancing monkeys. This caused more confusion with the crowd of peasants gathered around to gawk with their mouths open. Another hundred meters down the road, where the road veered to the right, was a flyover, crossing the railway tracks. The path up was steep, too much for the small human donkey. James would have to get out and help the poor son-of-a-bitch. He simply could not pull the machine up over that ramp with a passenger. James got out and walked along to the top. At the summit, he climbed back into the rickshaw, now the risk shaw. The driver cranked mightily and started to coast down the opposite side. Whether he had brakes, who knew? They sailed down and then almost catastrophe. They were about to smack into a herd of big black water buffaloes with curved horns. The poor driver found it difficult to slow down enough, dodging between the bulbous black bodies. Jesus Christ, Fuck! Is he going to cream my ass right here in this fucking street if this mother collapses? He had experienced that the fragile wheel of a rickshaw could collapse. James clung to the sides of the seat. Luckily, they made it down the ramp. They bounced across some rough bumps and then again it was smooth sailing. The driver did not want to lose any of the momentum that he had gained, as it was his sorry ass that had to pump in this now searing heat!

Jesus Fucking Christ! What a trip! The Kings Palace was another half kilometer, a fancy-looking place, right next to a hotel. “Kings Palace Restaurant and Bar,” the big sign in front said in English. James bailed and paid his rupees. Would she arrive? He was twenty minutes early.

The eucalyptus trees were emitting a pleasant pungent fragrance. There was a black padded door with brass tacks and red frame. A fancy handle. James opened the door and entered the darkened space. A sardar in livery was in attendance just inside the door of the air-conditioned King’s Palace.

The doorman saluted. James felt like a fucking fool, entering the place. What was he supposed to do? Yes, he would be admitted, being a white, surely with sufficient rupees in his pocket to pay the fare. The color of his skin testified to that. But what would the sardar think when he saw his two cuties arrive, providing they did arrive, of course.

The show was not yet underway. Still in the age of innocence, the waiters were poised for action. Even the ladies with the attractive bellies had not yet disclosed themselves from the inner chambers. James vaguely remembered the layout of the place. There were some musicians and small tables below. A small room upstairs with a couple of tables overhung the space below. Only a couple of sardars sat at one of the tables below.

James proceeded, salaamed the waiter, and started up the stairs. He took a table in the small space. There was no objection from the waiter. He ordered a beer and told the waiter that his friends were just now coming. More sahibs, presumably, the waiter expected.

My friends come later,” James explained. This seemed to please the waiter.

James had gone through almost the whole Golden Eagle beer in the rather dead premises when the two lurkhees arrived. The sardar at the door was clearly surprised, if not alarmed at the development. James’s heart took a leap that was felt to the roots of his nether regions. The girls spied the sahib in his lofty chamber, observing what was happening closer to the earth. Apparently they were explaining that their friend was here. Up there! The security allowed them to proceed, irregular though it was. It would be no good if the local police got wind of it, but barring that, things would go forward. With this type of place there was bound to be some risqué business. One would expect that some customers would come under the rubric of badmarsh, although it was not the case with James. He was not a criminal, although he was twisting the binding social conventions to their limits and beyond.

James got up from his seat, salaamed, and gave them a Sat Shri Akal. They seemed rather embarrassed, but James’s courage was now shored up by the alcohol that had now hit his gut and starting to percolate up to his brain. He was delighted to see the beautiful Khushpreet again. She had a friend with her that he had not yet met. Khushpreet introduced Daljeet.

Nice to meet you,” James said.

James invited Khushpreet to sit next to him. Daljeet sat across from her friend. The beer had already hit his gut and forged up his courage. Nevertheless, the moment was a little awkward.

You made it,” James stated the obvious. “How was the bus ride?”

Very hard,” she said. “Buses very bad in India.”

I know,” James said. “I ride them all the time. But now you are here.”

Are you a student too?” he asked Daljeet.

Hongee, third year,” Daljeet said. James noticed that she too was cute, but not as beautiful as Khushpreet.

And what do you study?” James asked her.

Business,” she said without hesitation. “Most students study business at the college.”

That’s good,” James lied. He wished that they could study something that would make them think and learn something about society, but this was par for the course nowadays. Anyway, it would certainly serve them better than a subject such as history or philosophy. That would not help them get a job, for sure.

Just then, James heard something below, then a sort of rough guffaw. Someone broke out with a hearty laugh. A party of three sardars had just come through the doors, greeting the doorman as an old familiar friend. They were standing and laughing. James saw the ruddy sardar eying the surroundings. It was not clear if he had yet spied the young women in the premises. He looked toward the musicians and scratched his balls. In his tailor-made pants, his bush shirt and his black pointed shoes, he seemed ready for action. It had not yet registered upon him that the young Punjabi fruit sitting in the balcony was with a gora, an Angrez, no less. That would surely be scandalous in the eyes of these sardars, debouched though they were.

Was he living dangerously? James wondered. He surely was, but these guys would just be good drinking buddies if he met them after a couple of pegs of whiskey. They would not run him through with a kirpan, he calculated, but would be concerned with preserving the moral purity of the young women, suspicious of his intentions.

Now the band and the dancers on tap sensed that it was time to begin the show. The sardars seated themselves at a small table and ordered a round of whiskey.

The band struck up a popular Indian song. The fleshy women with the bellies appeared and began to gyrate to the music. The sardars greeted them as old friends as they smiled, showing their large white teeth. Their black beards were stuck down tightly to their faces. Their large turbans, red and blue, suggested manly, perhaps, sexual prowess.

The first round was polished off quickly. Another round followed as the alcohol began to grease their jovial mood. They cracked lewd jokes, raring back in their padded chairs and guffawing. They were clearly enjoying their debauchery, carousing, while at the same time they were socially conservative when it came to their families, marriage, relationships between sexes, family honor, money, wealth and so on. They were liberal only in their appearance and in the way of their own liberties.

They now ordered up Punjabi chicken while the dancers shook their bodies, arousing their lust.

Meanwhile the waiter returned to James’s table. James too succumbed to the temptation for Punjabi chicken. An unfortunate day for the Punjabi chickens, unfortunately, but not much could be done about that. It was their unlucky kismet, in the event. They might make out better in their next reincarnation. James asked for another bottle of cold Golden Eagle beer, which would help it go down. Thanks to Mohan Meakan Breweries right here in Ludhiana, he would not be deprived of the golden nectar.

The young women ordered vegetable dishes, although James suggested that the chicken would likely be delicious. They also refrained from alcohol. While things were being further greased up down below, another party arrived, this time a group of Hindu businessmen. They seemed more sober and discreet, but nevertheless ordered a round of gin. Business was thriving in the city. Being baniyas, they were closer to sober Jews when it came to money.

No other woman had appeared. Indeed, it was not likely. It was essentially a stag joint except if someone had made a clandestine arrangement to meet a woman discreetly. That, however, was quite rare. It generally happened in other ways. The venue of the sugar cane field was more normal as well as a good deal cheaper as long as one did not get caught.

James now managed to feel somewhat at home with Khushpreet. He dared to touch her hand and then kissed it discreetly. It was small and soft. He wished that he could touch her all over.

The girls sipped Coca-Cola. The food arrived. James was famished and tied into the Punjabi chicken with a freshly baked nan.

James enjoyed eating with the young women for a change and wished that Daljeet could have come with a boyfriend. Perhaps she did have one, but he didn’t think it was appropriate to ask.

The sardars below were becoming louder as the pegs of whiskey went down. The music had been cranked up a couple of more notches. Then one of the sardars decided to make a fool of himself by dancing the bhangra while the belly dancers shook their bodies to the music.

Khushpreet and Daljeet began to laugh. They were clearly enjoying seeing the sardar with a big belly dancing. With his legs thrusting forward and his arms out, he was cutting a quite comical figure, inspired not by the Guru, in this case, but the whiskey. James wanted to talk more with the girls, but was rather at a loss as to what to ask them. There was no point in trying to discuss politics. So there was not much conversation, once the normal questions had been asked.

The two big beers were quite enough to mellow James out by the time the food was finished. He hoped that Khushpreet was happy. He could hardly kiss her here, but he moved his face close to hers. He squeezed her hand tight and told her that he loved her.

Finally they ordered some ice cream that came in a bowl with pink and brown wafers sticking up inside it. When the dishes were cleared away, finger bowls of warm water appeared and two small containers of soumpf or anise seed and course ground sugar was offered to freshen one’s mouth.

Finally, James called for the tab and took the hit. It was, after all, for his pleasure.

Still, the party lingered for a little while. Khushpreet was soft-hearted, and seemed about to cry when the time approached for leaving. James was sad when he saw her wiping away a tear with her cloth napkin. Why should she be sad, he thought, with such a coup as they had managed to pull off in the so-called chaste chastity belt of rural Punjab?

James simply could not understand the heart strings of a young woman. Perhaps he was a fool to be playing with such things, such things as her heart, the way he was, but he could not help himself from being infected by the old disease called love. It had gotten to him too. It was either the water or the social context, more likely. This going native in Punjab was hell. But what the hell? Poor Khushpreet’s friend had gotten a taste of the place that she had not seen before. James told Khushpreet that he would send her a note. But who knew how or when? He would do whatever was possible.

Chapter Thirty-Five: Dussehra Festival

They eat goats and get drunk, the sons of sardars.” (Village Song)

A huge crowd had gathered in the field next to James’s house. The crowd was separated with the women on one side and the men on the other. Now the October nights were cool. The bright sun was hot in the days. Peacocks could be seen near the fields in the villages calling and spreading their wide fan-like tails. The farmers were taking a break from preparing their fields for the fall planting of wheat.

James was having a coffee in the afternoon when two of his friends, Sant Ram and Prem, came to talk to him. The crowd was gathering for the biggest festival of the year, Dussehra.

His friends asked him to come to the festival with them. They went out together to the field. The young guys rather daringly walked down the side of the field where the women were gathered to see if they could get a better look at the young “village pieces” they had been telling James about.

James followed them cautiously, taking the opportunity to “do as the Romans do.” After all, they could not condemn him if the young Punjabi guys were on the wrong side of the field with him. What they were doing may have been verboten. But it was only a slight infraction of the strict social code of sexual apartheid and they were nice young men, not drunken sardars, after all.

On the opposite side of the field, the boys in colorful costumes were acting out the story of Lord Rama and Ravana. Dussehra is the celebration of Lord Rama’s victory over the evil demon king of Lanka, Ravana. The story goes like this. Lord Rama wins the lovely Sita for his wife. However, Ravana has a sister named Shoorpanakha. She falls in love with the two brothers, Rama and Lakshamana. She wants to marry one of them. But Rama cannot marry her, since he is married to Sita. And Lakshamana refuses to marry her. Shoorpanakha then threatens to kill Sita so she can marry Lord Rama. This makes Lakshamana angry and he cuts off Shoorpanakha’s nose and ears. Ravana then kidnaps Sita and takes her to Lanka to avenge his sister’s injuries. Rama and Lakshamana then fight a battle to rescue Sita. The Monkey God, Hanuman and his army of monkeys, give them a hand and Sita is returned to India after a three day battle. So Dussehra is the celebration of Sita’s return to India. It is also seen to represent the triumph of good over evil.

The whole drama is acted out by the village boys in costumes. James thought that the story was a little childish, but not unusual in religious mythology. It was pretty much par for the course.

This festival was one of the few times of the year when the women of the village could dress up and come out in the open freely and not be confined to the houses. Here in the two days, they could enjoy a degree of freedom. Several volunteers from the village, young guys, had been organized to help keep order. Their job was primarily to keep the men on their side of the field and the women on the other. It was known that some of the big rowdy sons of sardars, after drinking sherab, might easily grab some girl from the crowd. A large number of people had come from several villages in the area.

After the afternoon drama, the women returned to their houses for the evening meal. Around eight o’clock in the evening, they appeared again as the villagers gathered up for the evening program. This was a show with minstrels, mainly khusras or eunuchs. They would also put on comedy skits. The men sat in the front side by side in the open field. A sort of stage had been prepared with poles and a string of electric lights between them.

The women and children gathered on the nearby rooftops to watch the program from there. They also climbed up to the top of the roof of James’s house with the help of a bamboo ladder.

The khusras were dressed as women, painted and primped with make-up. James noticed that they looked more appealing than most of the village women except for the young college students. Another person acted as master of ceremonies and there was a “joker” for the comedy skits. The singing and joking was sexually suggestive and sometimes lewd. The men made wise cracks and joked about the “loose women” in the village.

The band with a drum and a harmonica was lively. The khusras danced and sang, keeping rhythm with the silver bangles on their feet. Between the dancing, a comedy show was acted out with the joker. The show went on until past midnight when most of the women had gone back to their homes. The men stayed for a while and came home later.

Periodically, one of the khusras would go back through the crowd of men collecting money for the performance. It was a voluntary contribution and when one made a contribution of more than a rupee, their name would be read out over the loud speakers and the amount mentioned.

This evening was just the preliminary celebration. The official day of celebration would be the following day. Things were just started to get warmed up.

The celebration started early in the morning the next day with the band striking up some festive music before James got up from bed. There was a loud cacophony of discordant sounds coming from the stage venue. Everyone in the village was in a festive spirit. The villagers put on their Sunday best clothes and prepared to celebrate the festival.

Some of the men were already starting to get drunk before time for the noon meal. They passed around desi sherab and some had come with bottles of Binney’s Sherab, a cheap local whiskey.

James wanted to watch the festival, which he could mostly do from his place since it was in the big field just outside the wall of his courtyard and in front of the community center building. So it was unfortunate that the BDO has asked him to come to Bhagat Bhag to see the Dusssehra festival with him there. James had no choice but to agree to this arrangement, but he was sorry he was going to miss the festival in his village. People from many villages around had come.

James did not know if the BDO was just being polite to invite him, or if he would perhaps actually go with him to the festival. James rode his bicycle into Bhagat Bagh after lunch to Moti Lal Verma’s house. It was the first time that James has seen the BDO’s older daughter, who was around eight. He had only seen the younger one, around two years old.

When James arrived, the BDO was just eating his mid-day meal. Perhaps I have made a fax paus and come too early, James thought. The smallest daughter was running around the courtyard with no pants and eating allu-gobi from a small dish. She was being messy like most kids and no one was supervising her. She was smearing the vegetable, heavy with yellow turmeric, all over her face arms, and other parts of her body and onto the floor. She was smearing it on everything that she came into contact with. James was not inclined to play with and humor small kids like her and so was rather ignoring her, which was in bad taste.

James listened to the family discussing him, understanding most of what they said. It was said that he was an Angrez, a gora and so on. A very strange person from America. Another man and woman who James did not know were there as guests. The second daughter, around eight years old, became all bubbly and giggly when she saw James Sahib and began to laugh at him. She had obviously never seen anyone who looked like him with his white skin.

After eating, the BDO approached and asked James if he would be kind enough to take some pictures of his small daughter. James was willing, of course although it was not normally the way he would have used his scarce film. He had to have it sent to him by his mother in the USA. It was simply not available at reasonable prices in India.

The small girl’s mother scrubbed her daughter clean, cleaning up the mess she had made with the allu-gobi, and dressed her in a clean dress and pajamas. Then she placed her on the bench near the wall so that James could make her picture. There were some ugly flower pots with sickly plants in them struggling to survive. James did not think that it would be polite to ask the BDO to move them from the scene even though they did not enhance the picture.

When James tried to get a shot of the small child, she started to wail wildly right away. There was no way that the parents could settle her down, apparently being afraid of what James Sahib was going to do to her. It was as if he was going to butcher her or eat her right on the spot. James thought, perhaps, the picture taking could wait until another time, but the parents were in a different mood. They were determined to make it work. They simply would not give up. James tried again several times, but to no avail. Clearly, his skill with kids was not that great.

The parents then tried a different tact. They brought the child’s doll and some other toys and tried to cheer her up. This too was destined to be a failure. The proper thing to do, James thought, would have been to photograph her in her natural state when she was a happy child smearing allu-gobi over herself and everything that she came into contact with. One could have surely gotten some good candid pictures that way. This, of course, would not have pleased the parents.

Finally James suggested that her sister should hold her on her lap. He would make some pictures of both of them together. Finally, this worked and the parents were happy. Now they would wait until James could have the pictures made for them.

After this, the BDO suddenly broke the news to the Sahib that he could not go to the festival after all and that James should go along to the event with the mali or gardener. Perhaps it was because the BDO now had guests who he could not leave, James thought. In any event, James took it as a stroke of good luck. Now he could get back to his village and see the festival there as he had wished in the first place.

James told the BDO that he was sorry that he could not go with him, to be polite. It was a lie. By now James had come along somewhat in social decorum and learned to tell some lies now and then to make things go smoother. Now James started looking forward to seeing the festival in his village of Rampur.

James took his leave from the family and guests, giving his Namaste. On the way back to the village, it was necessary to pass through the crowded festival now unfolding in Bhagat Bagh.

There was a huge crowd of people gathered in the field and spilling out onto the roads. It was hard for James to walk with his bicycle. Many more people were now arriving from every direction in the amazing confusion that only an Indian festival can achieve.

Then James saw that there had been an accident. A large goods truck trying to get past the crowd had slid off the road and into a drain filthy with thick black muck. The entire back wheels of the truck were buried in the black slime. The truck will never make it out on its own, without being pulled out, James observed. An unlucky day for the driver or maybe not. In any event, he was now free to enjoy the festival.

As James kept walking, one of his shoes came apart. He could not go on this way. Fortunately, he knew where there was a chamidar or leather worker who could fix it. He found the shoe repair man and got him to sew up his shoe and tack it back together. James walked on past the sweet shops. He was amazed at the fantastic colorful displays with a dazzling array of different types of sweets arranged in front of the sweet shops. A massive amount of money was being spent on sweets for the festival. That was clear. He imagined that the sweets would now likely be better than at most times as they had been made fresh and there had not been enough time for the bacteria to build up inside them that came from all the flies.

James headed back to his village on his bicycle. Back at his humble home, he left his bicycle and walked out into the crowded field to see what was going on. There was a mass of confusion. He did not forget to check the women’s side hoping that perhaps there might be a chance that Khushpreet could be among the crowd of women who had come from the surrounding villages. He saw many young women that he thought might be her, but they were not. So he lost hope of seeing her there. It could only be a heart-longing if he could, he thought. So it was probably just as well. He would not be able to say hello, in any event.

Now a new drama was being acted out on the side of the field where there was a sort of stage. The huge crowd from the villages was watching, but not very intensely, it seemed. There was a lot of aimless wandering around. Perhaps the drama got to be a little boring like a high-school play. Now it was clear that there was a lot of drinking going on. It seemed to James that at least half the men were inebriated to some degree. Some were staggering around blindly drunk and hanging onto the shoulders of their friends, who were not a whole lot better off than them.

What was feared was that the drinking would cause old unsettled feuds to flare up when villagers met their enemies. James noticed that many of the men were carrying kirpans, guns, and stout bamboo lathis. It seemed that it was now the “wild west” of India without law and order.

James mingled in the crowd and greeted many of his friends that he had made over the last year and a half. Unfortunately, his Khushpreet, did not appear. There were some young girls that he could recognize from the village, however. Mostly, it was just men, so mostly it was going to clearly be a stag affair as would be expected in Punjab.

James met a college student from Phagwara and talked to him. Since there was a tradition that one must buy sweets on Dussehra, the student suggested that they go to a shop for sweets. When they went, however, the shop was crowded and all the sweets were sold out. They were just then making more.

In the afternoon another part of the celebration took place. Huge paper and cardboard effigies of Lord Rama and the King, Ravana, had been built and set up in the field. They had been constructed by the youth in the village. They were large, several meters high. Some men now set fire to these effigies and they were burned. After watching the fire burn them, the women started to file back to their houses for the evening meal.

When James returned to his compound, he found the mistri or carpenter, Gulzar Singh. The carpenter asked the Sahib to make a party in the evening because he wanted to get drunk along with his brother and the Sahib. It would not be the first time there had been such a party at the Sahib’s house and the carpenter could not drink at home because the women in the house would object.

James told him that he would make a party with him to eat bakkara and drink Binny’s Sherab, but that tonight was not a good night for it. There were too many drunken men around the village, so it would not be a wise thing to do. The carpenter was disappointed, but accepted it. He would take a rain check on it.

Prem Kumar and Sant Ram come over. Prem brought some bakkara and James’s cook, Mussie, cooked it. They all had a meal, but it turned out that the goat was tough. It must have been an old one, James figured.

The program that was coming up in the evening, the final night of the festival, would be the big finale of the whole affair. In the evening, the women started to come out of their houses and gathered up on the rooftops around the field. A bamboo ladder was brought and women and children scrambled up the ladder to the flat roof above the Sahib’s house. It was soon filled up with people. James could not see them, but he heard them up there above his room. James decided that it was probably a good idea to stay inside his compound.

The field outside was now thickly packed with men, mostly peasants from the local and surrounding villages. Most had been drinking through the day and some were quite drunk. They carried kirpans, guns and thick bamboo lathis. They knew that they had to have a way to protect themselves when going to such festivals in case some sardars outside their circle decided to come after them. There were several policemen standing around the field, but they looked far less determined and fierce than the sardars. It was not clear if it was good enough for government work. There seemed to be some tension in the air.

In the late evening, the drama started. James sat on his veranda smoking one of his cigars that he had brought from Delhi. Here he had a good view of the proceedings. After some time, it was not very interesting to him, and he receded into his room.

Then suddenly, there was a loud commotion and all hell broke loose in the crowd of men.

A fight! A fight!” Mussie shouted.

James rushed out to his veranda and saw that every man in the field was now on his feet. Near the front of the crowd, dust was rising in a cloud around the electric lights. Lathi sticks were flying as someone was apparently being flogged mercilessly. The thick sticks were flying in the dust-laden air amid the shouts, abuses, curses, and screams of the women on the roofs.

Then things died down and the show went on. Perhaps this was the time when the police who were there gave it up and took refuge. There was no way that they could control events if the fight started up again. They were far outnumbered and without weapons except for a lathi.

Things seemed fine for another fifteen or twenty minutes. Then suddenly the fight broke out again. The men were yelling, cursing, and shouting. The crowd seemed to egg them on as the fight got fiercer. James wondered if they wanted to watch someone being flogged to death by the thick bamboo lathis. It seemed to be an amazing attraction and much better than the show itself.

In any event, the show was now clearly over for the night. Some poor person, a man, had been attacked. Perhaps it was a matter of settling an old score. The show had been totally disrupted.

Suddenly, the electric lights went out. The crowd started to disperse. Some men were running away. The women and children scrambled down from James’s roof. It was bloody hell outside the compound and James saw it all going on. There was much shouting, cursing and talking that went on into the night. James gave it up for the night and went to bed.

The next morning, James and Mussie slept rather late. When he woke up, James heard a lot of talking and commotion outside his compound. The Sahib went out to his courtyard to use his latrine. Along a wall near the community building, a crowd of men and boys were sitting and watching. Some policemen were roaming around in the field.

There was a charpie next to the wall with some person wrapped up in a blanket. A boy of around twelve was sitting on the small bed next to the person in the blanket.

James wondered if the person was dead. Mussie had talked to a peasant and said that he was not dead, but just badly injured.

The police had gone to arrest the men who were responsible for beating up the poor man. It was evidently the lumbardar and his sons who lived on the other side of the village who were the guilty party. Perhaps it would not be an arrest, but the police would simply try to collect “blood money.” It would be something like one-hundred rupees to give to the injured man. They would try to get him to agree not to continue the feud with his own party. Darshan Singh, the Secretary of the Cooperative, along with the police, had apparently decided to settle the affair out of court by just paying him blood money.

It seemed that the police were not of much use in the affair and it was being said that they hid in the house of Darshan Singh when the fight broke out. They knew that they were out-numbered with the drunken sardars all carrying weapons. Some ten to twelve men had attacked the poor man and there were only two police there. So they were afraid to try to stop it.

The man who was attacked was a poor man with several small children. His parents were dead and he had no brothers or sisters to help him financially. He just had his wife, so now they had no way to even eat.

James then saw a group of men settling in the field on their haunches near the charpie. They left and then after some time a bullock cart was brought and the charpie, with the man, was loaded onto the cart and taken away. They were not taking the man to a hospital, but to his house in the village.

The poor man had been beaten to the inch of his life and still had not had any medical attention after some twelve hours. Now he was just taken to his house to either live or die. It was the way the poor can easily be discarded in the country. Their lives, after all, were not considered to be worth saving. The man had no money for medical treatment and could not afford to go for his rights. Effectively, he had no rights, in the event. The authorities and the police, rather than being concerned for the man, were mainly concerned with smoothing over the incident so that there would not be any more trouble for them.

Three days later, James learned that someone in the village had proposed that every family in the village should give five rupees to help the injured man. A doctor in the village had gone to see the man and claimed that he was very badly injured and perhaps would not live.

The next day, James went to the nearby village of Walipur to take soil samples for a man who had come with his family from the Philippines. He was now building a house in the village near where his friend, the farmer, Hari Singh, lived.

They were having a sort of party and gave James sweets as the house was nearly completed. In talking with the man and his son, he found that the family was quite conservative, socially. His young teenage son was in conflict with his father, which was not unusual. The son wanted to be independent, but the father was trying to control his life. The son wanted to go to England to study, but the father wanted him to study Bhagat Singh National College. The young guy had no interest in studying at the local college. The society seemed too conservative to him after living in the Philippines.

James went to see his friend Sant Ram in Kapurthala on the weekend. He had made a program for the sahib to meet him at his home there and eat some meat and drink rum. However, many uninvited guests suddenly showed up and crashed the party. There were some seven people; this made his friend a little upset. But it often happened this way in India.

The next day, James went with his friend to the grounds of the Maharaja of Kapurthala in the city. It was the palace grounds of the old royal family that had now been converted into a military college. They toured the grounds and made some pictures. After this, James headed back to the village to catch up on some of the projects with his farmers in the villages. Now he checked up on their soybean harvest from the summer. He made the rounds to the villages and checked on how the crop had turned out. Life went on as the winter weather approached.

Chapter Thirty-Six: Miss Brown Hospital

The sharp instrument the Indian doctor was using to lance the boil on his ass was giving James excruciating pain. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but now he had to deal with it. Nevertheless, draining the mass of puss out that had built up in the boil afforded him welcome relief. But he doubted that it was going to end so easily. He was informed that he had an abscess and would probably have to have surgery.

It had been a hell of a day making the trip to the Christian Medical Center in Ludhiana, generally known as Miss Brown Hospital.

The day before, James had been riding around to several villages on his bicycle arranging to help farmers spray their crops that were badly infected with wooly caterpillars. Whether it was really that serious, he considered that it was part of his job to do something about it. Now the temperature was cool in late November and he had no excuse not to be working hard.

But then his ass began to feel sore from the narrow bicycle seat. He expected that it was just temporary and would go away, but the second day it became so painful that it was difficult to ride the bike.

He came back to his place a little after noon and had lunch. He rested, but the pain grew worse. It was difficult to concentrate on the book that he was reading.

By evening, he decided that he would have to make a trip to the hospital to check out what the problem was. He could tell that he had a large swelling on his ass just next to his anus and that this was giving him the pain.

He woke up in the night. The pain was so bad that he could not sleep. By morning, it had grown worse. He told his cook that he was going to the hospital in Ludhiana. He could not ride his bike and did not know if he could even ride the tonga to Bhagat Bagh to catch the bus. Perhaps the tonga could come to his place and pick him up, he thought.

His cook went to ask and when he returned said that the older sardar who lived just down the village lane was going to Bhagat Bagh in his car and would take him. James thought it was a good opportunity. His small bag was prepared and he waited.

After a few minutes, he saw the old car approaching. The sardar was a small guy wearing a turban at the wheel. James noticed that the car was making a terrible noise like there was something badly wrong with the transmission. Now the sahib’s plight had attracted the attention of some villagers. The sahib was sick. There were no medical facilities in the village, except for an Ayurvedic doctor in a small dirty shop. From time to time, two nurses came to the community building across the field from his place, but their job was mainly to pass out condoms and pills for family planning.

Darshan Singh’s young son was observing the scene, standing nearby, and apparently finding it amusing. He laughed at the old car, scratched his balls inside the tailored trousers from time to time and made comments to a friend. The sardar had to go to the end of the lane another hundred meters and turn the car around near a field. Then he came back past James’s place rumbling with the gears grinding.

James heard the gears clashing as the elderly man in a tight brown wool sweater over his kurta, loose pajamas, and sandals, attempted to get the car into gear. He finally succeeded and rumbled to the front of the compound.

James climbed into the front seat, carefully nursing his sore ass and they headed down the unpaved village lane. Skirting two sides of the village, they reached the corner and joined the pucca road where the tongas usually stood.

Out on the metaled road, the sardar managed to get the car into high gear. It turned out that there was no second gear, or at least it was not working. They sailed along for a mile or so. In fact, the other major deficiency of the old automobile was that the horn was broken. Just as well try to drive a car without wheels as without a horn in India. It was necessary to get the slower traffic off the road, especially the bicycles. For this, one needed a horn. Nevertheless, the enterprise was going reasonably well until they reached the junction where the small village road met the bigger road.

Up ahead were four bullock carts bunched up together lumbering along at the bullock pace. Coming up behind the carts, the old car began to bog down. It would be necessary to get it back into the first gear to get around the carts when the road was clear. This proved impossible. The old car rumbled, jerked and coughed, and then the engine choked down and died, coming to a complete stop. All attempts to restart the car failed. The sardar asked for help to push it. James bailed out and helped push the car along the flat road, although his ass was giving him terrific pain. The old car jerked and coughed, the engine threatening to catch, but refused to come to life.

Car out of petrol,” the sardar declared.

James doubted very much that this was the problem. What did that have to do with all the grinding, rumbling, and clashing of the gears, plus the fact that the second gear did not work at all. James was now a little irritated, although the sardar had done his best to help him.

You have to get rid of this old car,” James told him, a little irritated. “It is no good. It will only give you more trouble.”

Nevertheless, it was the only car in the village and so carried some degree of prestige even in its defunct condition. James had made a mistake in insulting the man’s car.

No, good car,” the sardar insisted. “Out of petrol.”

Like shit! Out of gas, my ass, James thought. The transmission is out in the son-of-a-bitch and it won’t start. Plus, he better get the horn fixed.

There is a problem with the gears,” James stated the obvious.

No, needs petrol,” the sardar said.

Out of gas or not, James knew that the old son-of-a-bitch was not going to run very soon.

We go to Bhagat Bagh for petrol,” the sardar said.

It was too late for James. That would take too long. He had to catch one of the buses from Bhagat Bagh and soon. His ass was now starting to kill him. But now he was stuck here on the side of the road with another mile to go to the town.

In a few minutes, a young sardar came along on a motorcycle and offered him a ride on the back. It was going to be painful, but it was the best that he could do. He sat on the side of his ass on the back as the motorcycle buzzed along, hitting bumps and potholes here and there, but making time. There was always someone that would come to one’s rescue if they could. It was a good thing about the country.

The sardar let him down where the buses stop. James thanked him and waited for the next bus, hoping that he could somehow cram inside one. They were generally already packed when they came through from Purana Shahar, but one had to take their chances.

When a Punjab Roadways bus stopped, he crammed in, elbowing his way forward. He could not afford to be a gentleman in his condition with the pain in his ass. Either standing or sitting, it mattered little. It was going to be painful either way. At the next village, he managed to get a seat when a couple of people got off. He minimized the pain by sitting on the side of his ass and praying that he was going to make it before collapsing. Still, there was a lot more shit to go through before actually getting to that hospital. He had to bail out at the GT road and try to get the bus going in the opposite direction.

Here as the buses came down from Jalandhar, there was always a crowd on the side of the road making a rush for the buses when they careened to the side of the road and stopped. If they stopped, which was not always. James tried for several buses, joining the thundering herd each time, but failed. It was the survival of the fittest, or perhaps unfittest. Sometimes three or four souls would manage to squeeze in, but that was all. James was in pain, but it was no deal. He tried again and again for an hour or so, until he finally decided that he had to give it up. It was just impossible today. What was going on today? Was there some event? Almost everybody had to go somewhere almost every day. With the absence of telephones in the country, almost everything had to be face to face, and so it was a great boon to the bus companies.

James gave it up, deciding to catch the train. It was some three hundred meters to the station. He crossed the GT Road and got a rickshaw driver to take him. Oh God! The pain had only increased now. He knew there would be a train around noon or so, and he would have to catch that, one way or another. He had to. There was nothing else to do.

He crowded into the throng of bodies around the grungy ticket window and managed to get the ticket for the small train. He waited, but there was a mass of bodies waiting to surge forward when the train arrived from Jalandhar.

When it arrived, he was swept forward in the mass, just another piece of foam on the human wave that surged toward the waiting carriages. He squeezed through into one of the cars. Every seat was taken, the aisle crammed with those standing. There was no way. Maybe just as well, he thought. It was going to be painful in any event. He just prayed for fortitude, that he would not collapse.

Standing, he felt the small train begin to move. There would be two more stops on the way. The pain had now increased. Most of those around him looked to be in relative comfort. Nothing out of the ordinary for them. Just another normal day in the life of the average Punjabi. One would have been mad to actually seek comfort in such a country unless they were rich.

He closed his eyes and endured, past villages and newly planted green wheat fields, sugarcane, walls plastered with dung patties, and herds of buffaloes. Bending over, James realized now that the train was crossing the Sutlej River Bridge. Thank God, he thought. Not so much farther to go now. He heard the metallic sound of the rails as the train crossed the bridge. He would make it before fainting and falling over, he hoped.

After another twenty minutes, they arrived at the platform in the city and he joined the flood of people pouring out of the train. It was now a rickshaw ride to the east side of the city where the hospital was located. He was going to make it. He didn’t bother to haggle with the driver. James was ready to pay whatever he asked just to get to the hospital. Now the driver threaded his way through crowded bazaars, students on bikes, Hindustan Ambassador sedans, a military jeep, a tempu, a police jeep, and other rickshaws. Typically everybody doing their own thing.

It was slow going, but they were getting there. Ahead, filling the street, was a large herd of big-bellied water buffaloes. They were coming down the wide street toward them. Docile enough animals, but with strong, thick, curved horns. The driver made his way between the swollen black bodies. The beasts were used to the street and traffic. There was no danger, only the inconvenience of being slowed down in his quest for relief from the pain.

Eventually, he saw the big hospital up ahead. The driver pedaled on and stopped in front of the high gates, now open. It was an impressive large red brick building. The grounds were crowded with patients, doctors, nurses, and those seeking treatment.

James paid the driver and quickly entered the building up through the crowded hallway to the desk that served the rich and foreign sahibs like him. There was another desk for Indians who were not paying as private patients.

Now he quickly filled out the form and waited. In fifteen minutes, he was taken into an examination room by an Indian doctor. He was told to take down his jeans and shorts and lie on his stomach. Now the doctor examined his swollen ass. The expansive boil had now swollen more, probably aggravated by the torturous travel that he had endured since early morning.

The doctor told him that he had a boil and now an abscess. They were now quite common, for some reason, possibly the bacteria in the water. There had been a plethora of recent cases in Punjab. The doctor said that he would have to lance and drain the boil to give him some relief, but it was likely that in a few days he would need surgery, given the location next to his anus.

The doctor retrieved the sharp sterilized instrument. James braced himself for the pain. Then he felt the sharp point puncturing his skin. The doctor sopped up the thick puss from the abscess. With the pressure relieved, James began to feel better almost at once. The doctor gave him a prescription and released him, but told him to come back after the weekend if it was again swollen. It was a Friday. In that case, he would need surgery.

Well, whatever, James thought. I have to take care of this thing. If he had to go to the hospital for a few days, it would not be so bad. He could read and it would get him out of the village, after all. That would not be all that bad.

After buying his medicine at the small window of the dispensary, James got a rickshaw back to the bus stop.

It was late afternoon, when James arrived back in his place in Rampur. It had been a hectic day and painful, but now it was only the soreness that continued. He would mostly stay in bed for the weekend and read a novel. It was pretty likely that he would be returning to the hospital on Monday, he figured.

On Saturday, the mailman brought him an inland letter from Khushpreet. The thought crossed his mind that he was being punished for his immorality, going to bed with that young woman. Had he somehow caught something from her? No, there was no question of that. That was ridiculous. An evil thought. His beautiful Khushpreet was beautiful and pure. It was just a coincidence. He would have to work through.

Since his ass was again swollen and sore on Sunday evening, James planned to go back to Ludhiana on Monday morning. This time he was hoping for better luck with the buses. The good thing was that it was not as painful this time. His cook took him to the tonga stand on the back of his bike. He took a small bag along and some reading material. The two novels would last him a while.

When he arrived at the hospital, James registered and was given a private room. He would spend most of his time in bed, reading. The next day, Doctor Lawrence, who was British, told him that he would have to have surgery. It would be on Thursday.

Oh Great, Thanksgiving Day,” James said.

Well, we’ll fix you up,” the doctor said. “The abscess has to be cut out of the anus. It will take a few days to heal up while you rest and take the Sitz baths. But you will be fine after that. You are free to walk around the hospital and get some exercise.”

James spent the next two days mostly reading. He was rather enjoying his holiday from the village and checking out the young lady nurses. He was enjoying it more than he thought he would. The day before the surgery, the male nurses came and prepared him by shaving his bottom. It felt strange, but it was part of the procedure.

The next day, it was no food or water. In the afternoon, the orderlies came and put him on the gurney and took him down the hallway. Then he was given the anesthetic.

When he woke up from the operation, he was feeling fine, but still a little drowsy. After a little bit, an orderly brought his evening food. He was now very hungry and enjoyed it. He was able to do a little reading before sleeping.

Then the next morning, the Sitz baths started. He had to sit in a solution of warm water twice a day. It was somewhat painful, but James had leisure time to read. He could walk around the hospital and out on the grounds in the warm sunshine. The next week, his cook came and brought his mail. It was good to get some letters from home.

When he ran out of reading material and was feeling better, he decided to escape one afternoon to do something about it. He left the hospital grounds and took a rickshaw down to Lyall’s Book Stall. It was not so far. It was nice being out in the crowded bazaar again with young students around him. He thought of Khushpreet. He had to meet her again soon. Oh God. He needed her. She was going to be his. He would have her, have her the way he wanted when he met her again. He wouldn’t care what happened. She was going to be his. She would not be able to escape. She would be in his arms all night. He would squeeze her so hard. He would like to take her home with him.

He even cheated and had a couple of samosas with hot sauce across the street in the small tea place. That was a no-no, but what the hell? Some kids in the hospital were making Christmas greeting cards with Indian scenes. James bought some of them to send to his friends in the USA.

Ten days after the operation he was released and made his way back to the village. He decided to take it easy for a couple of weeks or so until he could ride his bike comfortably. Fortunately, he had a cook who could keep him fed and his young friends in the village came around to talk.

The experience had taken a little starch out of his resolve to work hard, perhaps making him a little lazy. He started to dream of Khushpreet. Another five months and he would finish the whole thing. He would spend a month of that on the road taking the leave that he had coming. He would shore up his plans to go with John starting in February. He decided to go to John’s village in a few days to plan the trip.

The last time they had taken leave in the summer had not worked out so well, unfortunately. They had taken the trip to Kashmir and stayed on a houseboat for a week on Dal Lake. Then they moved to an old classic hotel. It should have been the best time in the year for such an excursion, but it had not turned out that way. The weather did not cooperate. In fact, it had kept raining the better part of two weeks.

From Jalandhar, they had taken the train to Pathankot and then a bus to Jammu. After one night in a hotel, they took a small propeller plane up to Srinagar. It had been an enjoyable flight up over the small fields and hills. After a night in a hotel, they went to their houseboat which they had reserved for a week. It was the thing to do in Kashmir at the time. One had to hire a shikara or small boat to get to the houseboat. A cook brought their food to them.

It was a pleasant place and rather cozy in the dark rainy weather, if a little boring. It had been cold and damp the whole time, so not terribly enjoyable. James spent a lot of the time reading, but then, he could have done that anywhere. The beautiful high mountains were not visible due to the constant rain and clouds.

After a week, they left the houseboat and got a taxi to an old classical hotel where many tourists from Eastern Europe were staying. It was something straight out of the British Raj. James and John were now starting to get bored. The room had an old fashioned bath tub like the British had preferred. There was no way out of the valley now as long as the rains and clouds kept up. The planes could not fly and sometimes the roads washed out. Eventually, after a few days, they got a flight to Delhi and ended the holiday. The next time, they would go in the opposite direction to the south.

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Summer Wine

In a grove of bushes,

Encounter me sometime, lover,

Oh, when are you going to have made for me

A diamond nose stud.” (Village Song)

There was one section of the village fields where the women went to relieve themselves. This happened in the early mornings and early evenings. Just as dusk was falling across the village, the women would pass the gate of James’s compound on the way to the fields. He would hear their talk and laughter.

In the evening, James felt tired and lay back, unable to keep his mind on the book he was reading.

Then, he saw her pass. Was it Khushpreet?

The young women walked together, sometimes in twos and threes. Sometimes he saw her with her cousin, Amandeep.

One evening, it happened that James decided to take a walk. It was February, a dark and cloudy evening. The heads of wheat were starting to turn brown in the surrounding fields. He walked along the dirt path between the irrigation canals.

Suddenly, she appeared near a field of wheat. Her head was wrapped in her chuney. She was wearing a Punjabi dress, the loose type worn in the house. He saw her long thick black braid down her back. He recognized her at once. On a sudden impulse, he suddenly came to her and embraced her. He held her tight. The natural scent of her hair and body was exciting, erotic. He couldn’t resist the impulse to kiss her. He quickly tasted her lips. She did not resist as he touched her face and neck. He let his hand slip down inside her dress to touch her brown swollen peaches. He felt her soft firm velvet breasts. He pressed his hand to her and felt her taut nipples. She pressed his hand tight to her breast. She was delicious.

He led her gently to the nearby sugarcane field. Inside fifteen meters, they could not be seen. He was now aroused. She kissed him hungrily. He quickly slipped his hard member out of his jeans. He felt her hand squeezing his erection.

Nice, nice, your lun,” she said. She squeezed harder.

So big, nice. Come, Come, touch me, my phudi.”

She had slipped her pajamas down. James touched her rose. She was warm and soft.

My husband, come,” she said. “Come, come.”

James held her tight. It was warm and beautiful.

He smelled the scent of the ghee in her shiny black hair as he held her, moving gently.

Her lips were sweet. He could not go on long.

His heart beat wildly as the passion took him.

He felt the ecstasy, letting it explode wildly. And then it was over.

He held her tight. She was so beautiful.

He suddenly realized that he must get away. It was treacherous to be found in such a compromising situation with a young village woman. The suspicion of conservative village minds knew no limits. He told her softly that he loved her and quickly retreated to turn back to his place. It was then that he realized what he had done and that he might regret it.

In the evening, he tried to read, but kept thinking of her. Later, when he lay down under his rajai, he could not go to sleep for the longest time. He needed relief from the land of the male chastity belt. He needed relief from the sexual tension. It was so beautiful. The love she had given him, a healing touch.

Eventually, he dropped off to sleep. Sometime later, he was awakened by a scratching on the screen of his window. He woke up, grabbed the torch from his table, and rushed out to open the gate of his compound. He saw her suddenly appear and quickly ushered her into his compound. He latched the door behind her as quietly as he could, and led her by the hand into his room. Once inside, he turned on his torch, found a candle and matches and lit a candle. He would not risk turning on the electric light.

She stood next to him. It seemed like a miracle. All danger of detection had now passed out of his mind. He had reached that stage of careless indiscretion in which a man begins to think with his nether regions.

Not wasting time, he slipped out of his pajamas at once. He was madly aroused as he kissed her soft sweet lips.

Honey, honey, I want you, want you so much,” he said, stupidly. He knew that she wanted him. She had come for him. He felt her hand on his body. Oh God! That was good. He felt that he was almost ready to explode. It was incredibly exciting.

Come on, come on,” he said. “Lay down with me, baby.”

He blew out the candle and helped her slip her kamiz off in the dark. Her young firm peaches were bare underneath the thin fabric. He tasted her nipples. Then without hesitating, she opened the string of her pajama and slipped it off. He lay down on the wide munjie. She came beside him. He felt her warm body.

Oh God, I will make love to her tonight, he thought. She was offering him her young delicious body. She was ready for seduction.

Honey, honey, my baby, I want to love you.” James kissed her warm lips hard. He squeezed the warm firm her body in his hands. He squeezed her tight to his body.

My sweet baby,” he said.

He loved the feel of her small Delta of Venus, the short stubble she had left. She kept herself trimmed. She had prepared herself for him.

My English man,” she said. She felt of his thickness.

It is big. Too big. Nice. I like it. You’re nice man.”

You are beautiful,” he said. “I love you.”

You are beautiful too. Beautiful man. Your thing is beautiful.”

He felt her touching him.

Squeeze more. Tighter,” he said. “You won’t hurt me.”

You are nice. You are a woman,” James said. “I won’t hurt you.”

I want to enjoy,” she said.

He kissed her breasts. He felt her legs up to her hips. He realized that she hadn’t shaved her legs. He could feel her short hair. He remembered that it was the men that shaved their legs. The women did not in Punjab. He felt her young hips and derriere and up her back and shoulders. Her thick long hair was braided down her back. He cupped her beautiful soft breasts in his hands and kissed them repeatedly. Her nipples stood up erect. He tasted them one by one. Then he moved his hand down to touch her below, touching her everywhere.

Come on, come on now,” she said, breathing heavily. “Come, come now. Now.”

She pressed her body to him.

Maybe she wants to get me into trouble, James worried. Is she looking for a way out? A way to get to America? The evil thought ran through his mind. No, she is just a naïve young village girl who now thinks that she loves me. Does she really know what she might be getting herself into?

He tasted her eyes, tasted her lips, moved slowly. The pleasure was intense.

It was good. She kissed him.

Come, come James,” she said. “Love me. Love me. I love you.”

James pulled her young body closer.

Suddenly, a wild dog barked and James awoke. He realized that it had only been a dream.

Oh God, the pleasant dream was swimming inside his head.

He suddenly wanted her again. He would have her again. He needed her.

Those eyes. They were burned into his memory. Her young breasts had surely swollen more since he saw her last. He was now hard. He pulled the rajai back and let his manhood throb skyward. Sure. It was so thick and sturdy. Almost any woman would like that. Why not? It would give them pleasure but what about love? That was the problem. That filthy disease. It could get one into trouble. He should be wise enough to just be a man and not a hot blooded husband at his young age. Love and freedom were not compatible. That was the contradiction.

His cock was still hard, but it would have to wait. Having got a little taste of that young pussy, it was like an old cow that had gotten a taste of sweet corn in the summer. He put it away.

He warmed some water and took a morning bath. His toilet now doubled as a bath house. He put his clothes on. Then he scrambled three eggs and fried some slices of double roti in the skillet for toast. Sometimes he enjoyed making breakfast for himself. The nocturnal frolicking had raised his morale without tarnishing his morality, as far as he was concerned. It had given him hope. It had made him happy. Another five months and this Peace Corps gig would be over. Surely, the threat of going to Vietnam would be over by then. He would not have to face the prospect of going to Canada.

Now, if he could just buck the heat until summer. Anyway, one month would be taken up by his trip around India with his friend, John. That would just be enjoyable travel and fun.

He made himself a strong cup of Nescafe and settled down at his desk for breakfast. He turned on his radio to listen to Voice of America. The Voice of Nixon, in these days.

There was the Dick again. He had just given another speech. “Victory With Honor,” he had said. He had now launched the program of “Vietnamization” of the war. The Vietnamese would now do it. More of them would die. But there were still half a million American military in Vietnam. Henry Kissinger had met with the North Vietnamese negotiator in Paris again. It was all murky. Nothing clear at all what was going on. Except that America was still bogged down in the hopeless quagmire and more American troops were being killed. Many more Vietnamese were dying.

Politicians, James thought. Those sons of bitches could never admit the truth in any event. They always thought with their votes. Now Nixon had started bombing Cambodia. Bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail in both Laos and Cambodia. But the more the US bombed, the more “Vietcong” appeared in the South. It was not working. Maybe even the war was spreading. Nevertheless, James was hopeful. He would find the way.

The other good thing was that it was Sunday. He was taking the day off. No Peace Corpsing today. The day belonged to him. He wrote a couple of letters. One was to his family to keep his parents informed. Another, he wrote to his sister. Then in the afternoon, he read.

Late in the afternoon, his friend, Prem, came and used his place to study. He was preparing for exams. Prem told him that he had met a girl in the village.

She is a nice piece,” he said.

James was curious to know more about that.

What are you planning with her? Anything?” James asked. “If you start loving her, can you marry her?”

Sir,” he said. “You know that love marriage in India is hard. Our families will not agree. It will cause a big problem.”

So what can you do?” James asked.

Sir, India very bad. We have no freedom. Here in Punjab, very bad. Sometimes better in big cities like Delhi, but not here. Sir, I want to go to England. England very good, Sir. Or America. India very boring for us. I am a student. Bored.”

Good luck,” James told him. “I hope that it will be possible. So you will leave the girl behind?”

Sir, we have friends here. Many young boys have friends. But not for marriage. Just friendship. We do not have hope. Very bad, sir.”

Because India is a very conservative country and society,” James said. “And the village is more conservative.”

India, very bad for young people,” Prem said. “Sir, America very good.”

There are many problems there too,” James said. “Problems everywhere.”

Still, better than here,” Prem said. “I will try to go to America.”

Sir,” Prem continued, “there was a girl last year in village. She had a friend. Older man. When she got pregnant, very problem. She took poison. I knew her. Very pretty. Now she is dead. Nothing happened to man. He is married, living near me.”

Yes, very sad,” James said. “But that is life in India. Villages are very conservative.”

The conversation went on and James tried to understand more about the lives of the young people in the village. They had more coffee and discussed the situation. James too had been caught in this spider web of social conservatism. There was no way to escape it in India.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Season of Love

Girl, you say ‘giddha, giddha,’

There will be plenty of giddha.” (Village Song)

One day James’s friend, Ranjit, caught up with him in town. It was a late December day in Bhagat Bagh and large trucks were coming through the town loaded with freshly cut sugar cane stalks. They were taking them to the sugar mill for processing. It was almost a year after James had met Khushpreet in his house in Walipur Village.

Come, James Sahib,” he said. “Let’s go and have tea.”

At Kartar Sweet Shop, they ordered cha and a plate of samosas. James was feeling hungry and knew that samosas with hot sauce would taste delicious. They each had two samosas while they talked and drank the warm tea.

James, my mom and dad have gone to Bombay to visit their relative and do some business. They went by train yesterday,” Ranjit said. “Will you come to my village?”

So you are there alone now?” James asked.

Just me and my sister, Khushpreet,” Ranjit said. “It is a good chance. I sent a message to that girl in the village, Amrit Kaur, who is my friend. I asked her to come tonight.”

Oh,” James said. “Well, I hope it goes well. It is a lucky chance for you, so you should enjoy it.”

Why don’t you come and stay with me tonight,” he said. “You can sleep in the guest room. The evenings are cool. Pyar ka Mausam has come again.”

James was hoping for another chance to meet Kushpreet. He had been on the wagon for several months playing it straight, busting his ass trying to complete projects with the local farmers. Especially, he had worked hard on the soybean project. The farmers had now harvested them and some had made flour from them. But now he wished for the chance to meet his friend again. Through all those grueling hot months there had been no chance. Surely, she would come to him in the night if he stayed.

Come with me,” Ranjit said. “We can have food there. Our servant will prepare it.”

James agreed that it was a good plan. With him preoccupied with his village piece and his parents away, he could easily meet Khushpreet more freely than when they had to be so secretive. He wondered if her brother was trying to set him up, but there was no mention of Khushpreet.

Life had been getting increasingly boring by this time. He had been through so many projects with his circle of friends that there was not a lot of excitement left. Some of his efforts had been successful, but often they just collapsed in wasted effort. He was a little tired of busting his ass. Now a cool night of comfort would be refreshing beyond description.

James savored the second spicy samosa and watched the young lurkees riding past along the road in their bright colorful Punjabi outfits. Those cute dresses were so colorful, yellow, red, purple, and he liked those tight white and red pajamas that clung tightly to their young shapely legs. They showed the delicious shapes of their young legs. They looked cute with the long braid down their backs. They wore a chuney over their head looking good enough to eat. They could be spicier than the delicious samosa that was giving a spicy tingle to his lips. He wished that he had a friend like Jan to go to sometimes. She was a friendly and liberated woman who would go to bed with him and love his brains out so easily and never give it a second thought. She loved the pleasure and when it was over, it was over. It had a healing effect that was beautiful, but it left a lot to be desired. With an Indian woman, love had a different texture. This was completely different. It was not just the intrigue, but surely that was part of it. The forbidden nature surely made it that much more desirable. Just like the threat of hell made sinning that much more appealing and exciting.

But on the other hand, these young innocent girls could actually start to love one. And one could fall into a world of shit, catch that old filthy disease of love and actually start to love them. There was no getting around it. They were sweet. Some were innocent. Some were virgins and wanted to find out what it was like to have a man. They wanted to have a boyfriend, but did not expect that it would ever result in marriage or a permanent relationship, no matter how much they loved each other. Marriage was an animal of a different kind altogether. Before marriage they would enjoy love. After marriage, it would be something other than love, for the most part. They were totally different animals. No doubt about that. This young innocence would be the happiest part of their lives. Some took it too seriously, indeed. Some could not take it and took poison, rather than go on and marry some guy that their parents had chosen as a good match. In marriage, they would be marrying a family, not an individual.

James sometimes wondered how many of these innocent love relationships actually resulted in full-fledged sexual relations. That some did was clear. It would be up to the girl to protect herself because the young guys were clearly ready to go for sex if the opportunity arose. But if the girl got pregnant, only she would suffer the consequences.

Some of James’s friends had already told him that they had managed to have sex with a cute piece in the village. It was clear that some of them loved their friend, but would never imagine that it could result in marriage. At most, they might run off together somewhere. But eloping would be a big scandal. The girl would be ruined and come back pregnant. But nothing would happen to the guy.

On the other hand, if a young girl had a relationship with an American Sahib, she might be able to escape. If he took her to America, it would not be so much of a scandal and she might gain some freedom, depending upon the nature of the Indian family. But all that depended upon the American. It might work in the city. The village was much more difficult. There were so many aspects of it that were risky.

This young girl, Khushpreet, was sweet. James knew that she had left a blister on his poor heart. He had been dangerously infected with the filthy virus of love. As much as he wanted to avoid it now, he was being drawn down into the vortex. He could just as well have said the hell with it. I am not going that route. It will just drag me down and make me miserable. I will find a way to go to Delhi and hook up with Jan when I cannot take it any longer. But then Jan might be gone too, if Pete was assigned to another country or returned to the US. That could happen anytime.

Now the temptation was too strong. Ranjit knew that the Sahib wanted another chance to meet with his sister. If he took her to America, then Ranjit would have a good shot at going too. Perhaps there was some of that idea in the back of his mind. But James did not really care. There were many ways to go to America for those who were determined to go. There was no need to be suspicious of people’s motives.

He would sure as hell go with Ranjit in the evening. It was not exactly going native, but he had gone part way. He remembered that big motto up above the school there along the Railway Road. It said “Love is God.”

He wondered what they meant by that. What kind of love were they talking about? Did they mean sexual love too or just Platonic love?

The sweet shop had many customers. The town was lively. Bhagat Singh National College was in full swing with students attending classes. A stray Brahmin bull was wandering in front of the shop devouring the discarded vegetable scraps and fruit peelings thrown out in front of the shops.

James scanned the Hindustan Times that he had picked up at the news shop. It was mostly political news, like in most over-politicized third world countries. Indira Gandhi was running the economy with an ever more tight hand, having recently made a preemptive strike and nationalized the banks. The farmers kept complaining about the government purchasing price for their farm produce, wheat and rice. They were up in arms over PL-480, the American law that allowed American wheat to be dumped onto the Indian grain market for Indian rupees. James could not take their complaints very seriously. It seemed that most of them were doing pretty well with the Green Revolution seeds producing large yields of wheat.

James enjoyed riding out to the village with Ranjit. They rode along the crowded narrow road with many villagers returning from the town. Did they really have business there, or were they only getting themselves out of the house on a pleasant fall day?

James and Ranjit arrived at Walipur just as darkness was falling. A small shop was frying pakoras in hot oil that produced a delicious fragrant aroma in the lane leading up to the large koti. Ranjit’s family was rich by Indian standards and lived in a large house. They had enough servants to do everything that was required in the house.

It was a servant that opened the large iron door. James and Ranjit parked their bikes in the courtyard and started upstairs. James looked around for Khushpreet, but did not see her. A village woman was preparing food on the small baked mud stove in the kitchen. The dung cakes that were smoldering, along with the fragrant smell of wood smoke, gave a pleasant pungent odor that filled the house. The odor blended with smoke from other houses in the village. This was pleasant to James, making him feel comfortable and warm. He started to feel like he was ready for love.

James went up the concrete steps with Ranjit to the upper floor. It was here that he saw her. She was standing and watching shyly. James folded his hands and greeted her with a Sat Shri Akal. She greeted him back, pretending to be shy, with downcast eyes. She looked so small and vulnerable. She looked beautiful. Was she so innocent or a devil in disguise? One could never tell. Surely she was not dumb. Also not as shy as she pretended to be. She had her own agenda. James’s poor heart skipped a beat to see her. He knew that he had thickened in his jeans, just to encounter her. It was not at all like meeting Jan, the American woman. Jan could turn him on, but did not excite him the way Khushpreet did. Jan could be open, joking, and even crass, so one did not take it very seriously. It was altogether different with Khushpreet. She seemed to be pure and innocent. This drew James in. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her and kiss her and make her his beautiful young sweet piece of brown candy.

James drank in the image. She was wearing a bright colorful yellow dress and bright red pajama on her legs. There was a matching thin red chuney over her shoulders. He saw her thick black shiny hair and the long braid down her back. All that hair was really hers and loosened would almost reach the floor. It would feel delicious on one’s body. Her smooth complexion was chocolate brown. Her skin was beautiful, James saw. She was a delicious color, not too dark. He loved her cute petite nose and big beautiful bright eyes. She had trimmed her brows to a thin line, reminding him of one of the Bombay film stars he had seen in a Hindi film. He saw that she was beautiful now in the fading evening twilight. He could see the swell of her bosom under her kamiz. Her young soft peaches had surely swollen since he last saw her. He imagined those soft round mangoes and wanted to kiss them as he had already done a few months ago. There was a sweet, an earnest, smile on her face seeing James. If he was only free, he would rush to her and embrace her, showing his true emotion. But to exhibit such affection was taboo in Indian society. In the event, he embraced her with the yearning look in his eye and she embraced him back. He was starting to live dangerously. He was being dragged down, but he did not care. It was terribly pleasant.

She lingered momentarily as they exchanged greetings.

Nice to see you again. How are you?” James asked.

Teek,” she said, moving her head from side to side, which would mean “no” in America, but meant “yes” in India. Then she went back downstairs where the food was being prepared.

The two guys talked in the room until time for dinner, which was served quite late.

Ranjit told James about his classes in the local college.

I have to study,” he said. “I have to memorize all these things, speeches and dates and so on for history. What is the point of all this memorization that we will only forget? And why do we have to study Blackstone today?”

James had been told that when writing essays on Blackstone, students often referred to him as “kali patter,” the literal translation of a black stone in Punjabi. It was funny, but not a joke. It was pathetic, but really happened often.

Most of the material that we are expected to learn is useless today,” Ranjit said. The students knew it and the professors knew it, but the bureaucrats in the state education ministries would not change the curriculum, even though they too knew that it was useless. Perhaps, they did not change it precisely because it was useless. After all, that was the beauty of it. It could do little damage, being useless. A relevant education, a real education, could shake things up. Perhaps even threaten the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats.

James could see his point. Wasn’t it the same with all educational institutions, well almost all of them? James thought back on his education. Where was he going to use the calculus and trigonometry that he had learned in life? Where was he going to use the knowledge about how to extrapolate the values of sins and cosins, tangents and cotangents? The point was to keep them out of the job market for a few years and teach them discipline. To take trivial and useful things seriously and neglect the important things. They had taught him such useless things in mathematics that he would never use. Why had they not taught him how to ride a bike and swim? Or how to cook? Or the different ways to make love? No, those were too useful and too important to teach in school.

A little after eight o’clock, Khushpreet appeared with the food. There were two types of winter vegetables. Sarson da Saag and allu-gobi, along with a stack of corn chapattis. There was a small bowl of curds. It was healthy and delicious food. James was hungry and enjoyed the food.

After the meal, James prepared his room, spreading the heavy cotton rajai over the wide mungie. It would be cozy to sleep under. Thankfully, there was still electricity, although there could be a power cut at any time. He read the old novel that he found in Ranjit’s room feeling cozy under the cover. When it was quiet, he could hear the village sounds. Wild dogs were howling at the edge of the village. The chowkidar walked through the street in front of the koti calling out warnings to any potential thief. The small shops had closed a long time before and except for this, there was silence.

At eleven, James turned off the light, removed his outer clothes and settled under the warm rajai. He wondered if she would come. Surely, she would not let him down.

Ranjit prepared to meet his young friend from the village. At half past eleven, he would slip downstairs and unlatch the iron gate and wait for her to appear. She would have to slip past the village guard undetected. Once her family was asleep, she could slip outside of her house and make her way secretly and silently through the dark streets. When she arrived Ranjit would smuggle her up to his room. It would be much easier tonight, with his parents gone, he hoped.

James left the door to his room unlatched hoping for Khushpreet’s arrival. He hoped that she would not let him down. Under the cover, he snuggled and waited, feeling aroused from time to time. Would she come? What would she bring? Would she slip cardamom into his mouth? It was getting close to midnight when he heard the door open. She slipped inside and silently latched the door behind her. When James heard her enter, he turned on the torch next to his bed and lit a candle on the small stand next to his bed.

She quickly moved to his side and sat on the side of the mungie. She had thrown a wool shawl over her body. James reached out and touched her as her subtle scent reached him. It was not perfume, but the natural scent of a young woman. James’s hand touched her chuney. It was infused with her pleasant scent. She removed her chuney, placing it on the side. James could see her attractive young face which was beautiful without makeup. She brought her hand to his lips and slipped something into his mouth. It was not cardamom, but some buds of cloves. James chewed the cloves and looked into her big beautiful eyes as his mouth started to burn.

She removed her shoes on the carpet which was next to the bed.

Khushpreet, I hoped you would come. I wanted to meet you again.” He spoke quietly to her. “You are so beautiful.”

I come into bed,” she said. “Can I come?”

Come,” James said. She started to open her kamiz. Before she pulled it off, she blew out the candle.

While she undressed, James slipped his tee shirt and shorts off beneath the big cover. Oh God, this girl could turn him on so easily.

James could just see her silhouette in the dark as she removed her kamiz and pajamas. Was she removing her other things too? James was not sure until she quickly slipped in beside him. He touched her soft velvet flesh. Surprisingly, she was wearing only her panties. Maybe she is ready, James thought. Maybe she wants me tonight. It was surely daring for a young innocent woman. Was she really hot for him? It seemed that way.

Now she came into his arms. Their lips kissed as he ran his hand down her velvet body. He felt her warm moist skin all the way down to her legs. He moved his lips down her neck and tasted her swollen young peaches. Her pink tips had now become erect and he tasted them with his tongue. They were bigger than before. He could tell that she was now breathing more heavily.

Khushpreet,” he said. “Khushpreet, my baby. You are sweet, so sweet.”

You sweet too,” Khushpreet said.

Now she was touching his body gently.

It’s so big,” she said. “Oh, it’s nice. Nice.”

He felt her squeezing him under the rajai.

Now James began to plant kisses on her young face, ears, neck. He kissed her round swelling peaches. He felt her hand squeezing him tighter. He moved his mouth lower and kissed her. He loved that feel, the feel of her short stubble where she had trimmed herself. He wondered if she had perfumed herself or left the natural flavor.

She was young and innocent, but now seemed ready for new adventure.

No, No, don’t,” she said. She held his hand.

Please, please,” James said. “You are sweet. Sweet candy.”

My sweet piece of candy,” he said.

He held her tight to him.

Oh God, I want you,” he said. “I want you, sweet baby. You are sweet. Sweet Khushpreet.”

He now touched her, so soft, so delightful. He had to have her.

Come,” she said. “Come quickly.”

It was beautiful and natural. The pleasure that he had craved so long was suddenly his.

When the ecstasy died away, James could see her round young breasts in the dim moonlight that seeped through the cracks in the vents. Khushpreet had given him his heart’s desire.

They snuggled together and went to sleep. He woke up just when the Japji was being read from the Gurdwara that was just near the house. The loudspeakers came to life and the Sikh priest was intoning the Sikh scriptures. James awoke. He reached out. Yes, she was still there. He touched her velvet flesh. She was still naked, like him. He pulled her close to him and held her tight. The chant from the temple was soothing and somewhat mysterious. He was happy having her warm, young body in his arms as the Sikh Priest intoned the scriptures. He held her young sweet body tight to his and started planting kisses all over her velvet body. Every part of her young body was delicious to his touch. He knew that he loved her, for better or worse. He wished these pleasant morning moments could go on forever.

It was lovely pleasure. But the parting was pain. Love is God.

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Varanasi:

The Brahmins and mullahs throw dust. Truth is left behind.” (Village song)

On Christmas Holiday, James made the quick trip to Varanasi.

Early morning in The Holy City. It was winter cold. Hindus came for a dip in the cold turgid water. The spot in the river was one of the most polluted on earth, but was considered Holy. The pungent scent from the dying embers of a ghat fire filled the air.

James sits on cement steps high above the river surveying the scene. Heavy fog envelopes the river along the ghats. A small band of pilgrims have come from some remote town. They seem to be inebriated. It is only the excitement, inebriated by the Gods. Perhaps bhang. They sing. They chant Sanskrit verses from the Vedas.

Small shops are open in the dim moisture-laden air. They sell red and gold head coverings, flowers, religious ornaments, brass bells and ornaments. Small images of the gods.

James rises and slowly walks down the steep stone stairs toward the ghats and the river in the cool air. He feels like he is an intruder. He does not belong here. He is an infidel in this Hindu-Saffron milieu. He walks slowly down the river bank. There is a beggar. He gives him some coins. Long haired sadhus sit in thin saffron cloth. Meditate. The air is cool, penetrating, chilling.

Small school children come out. They sell small paper boats with a candle. One can make a wish and send them out on the river with a burning candle inside.

James does not take the boat. But he gives the children money. The children tell him in Hindi that they will buy school books with it. That would be great, James thinks, if it is indeed true. More likely, he suspects that it will help feed their family. That is fine with him too. What does it matter?

James remembers Gandhi and the song that he sang. He had now learned the words.

The children knew the song, as did all Indian children and helped him sing.

He sings for the children:

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram,

Patita Pavan Sitaram,

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram,

Patita Pavan Sitaram,

Sitaram, Sitaram,

Bhaj Pyare tu Sitaram,

Sitaram, Sitaram,

Bhaj Pyare tu Sitaram,

Ishwar Allah Tere Naam,

Sabako Sanmati De Bhagawan…

There is sadness to the song, somehow. Less militant than Punjab. Did Gandhi really believe in the words or is it pretense or politics? Who knows?

As the daylight comes, James snaps some pictures. There are hotels high above the bank of the river. Classical buildings from centuries past, now falling into decay. Temples. A strange mixture. Commercial ads appear on the steps of the famous ghats. Even ads for “Holy Pills.”

Below on the river, boatmen wait for customers. They will take them out on the river. They make their living on the water. A cha walla comes along with his pot of tea. He pours it out in small clay cups, for a few paisa. The sweet Indian tea warms one in the morning cold. The small cups, thrown down, shatter on the ground. No danger of pollution.

James winds his way back from the river through the maze of narrow crooked lanes. One can easily lose their way. Become lost. There are cows tethered in the corners near broken brick buildings. Dung droppings and drying dung patties. It is a city of Holy cows, Holy shit.

Touts appear, urging him to their “shops.” They sell fake silk, fake silk saris, silk mixed with cotton, other items which James has no interest in. He has not enough knowledge of silk to detect the real thing. James agrees to one small taut who has been bugging him for two days. He goes with him to his shop, but it is not a shop. Just a room with some items. James gives him some money and tells him that he is too busy and has things to do.

Please take the money and don’t bug me again.” James says. “Please leave me alone. Find another tourist who is an easier sell.”

It is a chaotic city, now rapidly becoming clogged with traffic. Shops, cows in the street munching the garbage scraps, Brahmin bulls, sari shops, manikins in the windows and even out on the streets draped in multi-colored saris. A flood of pedal rickshaws and auto rickshaws dash through the streets. There are small effigies and images of gods at every turn and every corner, incense burning before them. James spies a westerner now and then who has stayed too long. Become destitute of money and now almost fully native. They look as bedraggled, poor, and run-down as the average Indian. It is not a good way to go, perhaps. But it happens quite often.

James rides through the Moslem sector. Thin men in white skull caps. The holiness of the Holy City is perhaps lost on them, but they co-exist. Cows graze the streets for vegetable and fruit peels which drop like Manna from heaven. Drop from the windows of flats, actually, high above the street. Walking, James is almost struck by a heavy bag of peels that drops in front of his face from four floors up. The hurtling package barely misses his head. James wonders if this frightening incident was an accident.

Near residences, brown monkeys run between the houses and climb up on the verandas to steal clothes and whatever else they can find. They sit above watching one pass. They too are residents of the Holy City and claim their right to their livelihood.

Mid-morning, the fog burns off and the sun comes out. The air is still cool. James realizes that one must go to a better restaurant or a hotel for any decent food. There is an aversion to onions and eggs in this city. Around the tourist hotels that cater to tourist tastes, the food is best avoided. One must go strictly Indian.

All over the city, small shrines to various gods along the street. An ever pervading saffronization. The streets are a photographer’s paradise, wonderful and interesting pictures from all angles. Hindu consciousness, or something along that line, seems to predominate. Is taken for granted. No one has to think about it. It is simply part of the milieu. Along the street, small shops, no more than cobbled up shacks, sell bidis, supari, zarda, cola, Coke-Cola, Limca, razor blades, cigarettes, paan, and a million other things.

James buys spicy bhoojia. He is fascinated by the street scenes, but the religion, the saffron, seems to overwhelm. A city of monkeys and rats.

James meets a professor in a tea stall. He is invited to a party, a sort of picnic on the river bank. The air is cool, moist, misty. Chilling. There are academics and fashionable ladies in silk saris. Staff members from Banaras Hindu University. There is a re-emergence of Sanskrit. An upsurge of saffronization. There is much food, snacks, Cha. But the weather is dismal for an outside affair.

Near dusk, the party pauses. A young academic studying Sanskrit blows the conch shell. Sanskrit scriptures are chanted.

Later, there is a sitar concert with a lecture in Hindi. James grows bored and almost sleeps. He is glad when the affair ends late in the evening.

Revived after a long sleep, he takes an auto rickshaw across the city and gets stuck in a buffalo herd in a narrow lane. There is no way to pass. Streets lined with people, standing, walking, smoking, drinking, talking, praying, pissing, chanting. Along the street, astrologers tell fortunes and futures. People come here to pray and to die, the Hindu Jerusalem. They bring the ashes of their dead to put into the river.

There is not a beer to be had in the city, except in the evil Western international hotels. The five-star hotel hell holes. James thinks that he must soon be on the bus back to Delhi. He feels stifled, unfree, in this saffronized atmosphere. Punjab is more secular, open, free-wheeling. Uttar Pradesh is like a country unto itself. The heavy weight of Indian politics. Saduism, an alternate world view. They live in their own world.

Chapter Forty: The Communist

James discovered that a young student and intellectual in the village was a communist. He was clearly the brightest young man that he had met in India and the most knowledgeable. His father, a la