Showing posts from April, 2010

The Battle of Khausan

People are too chicken shit to travel to Asia. — Maddox I came to Thailand on the eve of civil war , amid an exclamation of headlines and bloody photography. The Red Shirt rebels had massed their ranks in the Rajprasong intersection, the center of the Bangkok commercial district, to protest what had happened in their country. They came down from the northern hills, from the city slums. Tens of thousands gathered around the crimson banners—urban and rural poor, living and sleeping on concrete steps under the brassy megaliths of corporate greed, the concrete citadels of modern consumerism, in a country where economic progress has left many behind. But this happens every year in Thailand. Last time it was the Yellow Shirts (the People’s Alliance for Democracy), who blockaded the airport and demanded political succor. One of the chief commandants of that campaign is currently the Thai’s foreign minister, one of the many officials that the rebels want removed. At issue today is a resurfaced

Tear Me Away

Prepare to meet Kali—in Hell! —Indiana Jones Once I heard a story of a lone Brit astride a Royal Enfield Bullet, a classic motorcycle, the chassis unchanged from the ’50s, and he was driving along India’s highways, fulfilling some post-colonial dream, when somewhere ahead of him on the dusty highway that runs between jungle and mountain he encountered what appeared to be a wall of oncoming traffic, an impossible and anachronistic vehicular rampart. At the far left of the road, in the slow lane, limped two heavy-humped oxen, long horns painted blue, pulling at a cart loaded with hay; a Hindu in a collared shirt riding a bicycle past this, a tuk-tuk ripping past the bicycle with a whole tangle of tied-upped chickens squawking on the back bench, then a half-rusted car with those old voluptuous streamlines around headlights and taillights passing the tuk-tuk, and finally a huge Tata truck, the king of the road, its bed weighed down with cardboard boxes, boxes piled so high they stood abov

The City of a Thousand Songs

Each leaf on the tree is a holy scripture when you have to teach the soul how to read. —Martin of Bolivia I left the City of Joy for the City of Lights: Benares, the Holy City, nine millennia old. I had heard legends of the corpse fires, the septic River Ganges, but very little of the culture and warmth and energy I found there. The City of Lights is also called the City of Learning, for both Indians and foreigners come to Benares to learn to play the classical Indian instruments—sitar, sarode, tanpura, tabla, harmonium, and their human voice—so that, unlike most of India, every foreigner who lives in the city seems to be there for a reason. The sounds of their rehearsals echo through the alleyways and sing out over the river. I took an overnight train to Benares from Calcutta. I was glad to be on the top bunk, since my feet always stick out and that way nobody trips over them. Still it was difficult to sleep, as my bed smelled like rotten vegetables, and the chai-wallahs walked up an