Celebrities at Talakaveri, I hate you like I love you.
There's a scene in Kung-Fu Panda where Po, voiced by Jack Black, attempts to climb the stairs to a temple in China. Perhaps, this comparison is a bit culturally misappropriated as we are in India and Talakaveri, is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Goddess Kaveriamma, but that's what I thought as our driver swerved and weaved up the mountains on a narrow road, fifty kilometers from Madikeri. As we left, just before sunset, the temperatures were still mid 90s (35c), but by the time we reached the top of the mountains, it was about 60f/15c with a cool breeze and heavy fog surrounding the area.
Shannon survived the trip well (from a motion sickness point of view), as she had abandoned me to sit up front, leaving me in the back seat alone (apparently someone does put Baby in the corner). With the front seat being less prone to car-sickness, she was now carrying on conversations, laughing with our driver and feeding Tai-Ji chewing gum as I was muted by the four windows of air in my face. I'll admit, I was starting to get depressed having come all this way together and finding our relationship was separated by the beaded seat covers of a Toyota Etios. I always get a bit emotional when I get attached to a place and the long-drive, combined with my own moderate nausea from the curves made me drift off in my head to those dark, dark places. Tai-Ji tosses on his sunglasses despite the lack of sun. "Super kewwwwl", Shannon remarks. Is she flirting with him? "Super kewl?", I ask in my head with a sarcastic tone. Her colloquial terminology, borrowed from my experiences, angered me a bit because Shannon normally hates it when I do it (stealing terms and phrases from other cultures). Now, she was using it in the most hypocritical manner. I just smiled on the outside but on the inside, I'm like, "really?". Shannon banned my use of my Spanish skills on my return from Spain, because it annoyed her at the taco shack. God forbid, I start head bobbling again... she'll just give me that look, "you stupid girl". Jealousy makes me a horrible person, I know that. My travels over the last few years have driven a wedge in between the both of us, with Shannon often feeling similar to my feelings this day. She hates me like she loves me, having not experienced what I have, she feels as though she's been in the "backseat" the last few years. This trip to which I'm grateful for, has gave her the ability to feel empowered again. It still didn't stop me from being an emotional, snarky, bitch.
Tai-Ji was now thrashing up the mountain, honking and passing cars, trying to get us there before sunset. "Dale Earnhardt of India?", I proposed to Shannon. As the contents of my stomach splashed from side to side around each curve, the blood flowed to my appendages like a specimen in a centrifuge. Meanwhile, I was trying to work out all the emotions flowing through my heart and head. India was a lot more for me. India was my mistress, a love held long before I fell into her arms this week. Shannon had spent the last few years dealing with my infatuation. Initially, rejecting every aspect of anything Indian which ultimately tore my soul into a million pieces. I went from biryiani and Bollywood to country music and hot-dogs, leaving me a complicated mess since returning home from university. Why couldn't the two loves of my life simply get along? When I was offered a high paying job in India, our relationship was anything but perfect. Had I taken it, I'd be living a upper-class lifestyle here in India but most likely it would have been without her. Something to which I could not bare. So I gave it up... my mistress, India... the job, the front-seat.... all of it.
In place of that, my life is now like that of Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) in the opening of scene of Furious 7. I pick the kids up from school, make dinner, clean the house and try to maintain sanity in a rural town in North Carolina. A place so far removed from action, modernity and reality, that I could write in the style of a Mark Twain novel without evoking hyperbole even once.
Barefoot, we left the car and entered Talakaveri, a site of pilgrimage for many and the source of the river Kaveri. The river, which legend says, accidentally poured out of a tipped vase filled with sacred water by a meditating Agastya (a rather revered guy, known for being the father of the Tamil language) while shewing a crow. What Agastya doesn't know is that the crow is Lord Ganesha (the Elephant deity), and blames the calamity on a boy that appears. He goes to smack the boy for his mischief but strikes himself when he realizes the boy is Lord Ganesha. The point of the story? Crows are assholes and even the father of Tamil was rubbish at keeping focus during meditation. I'm reminded by that brief period in my life when I tried to get into yoga, a fruitless measure as my 50 lb Labrador would lick my face or sit on me while trying to focus. Perhaps the real allegorical truth is this, shit happens, don't focus on the little things and mistakes can often lead to beautiful outcomes. To put it into a Western idiom, don't cry over spilt milk.
It was as if the water spoke to me and I suddenly felt much better as we raced to the temple. Quite adapt at the process of of bindi application by now, I took Shannon by the hand and placed my finger in the paste. I placed my finger to her forehead and marked her. She did the same. It was quiet moment, spiritual in a way, but something special. We felt connected for the first time in a long time. She was finally sharing my passion, and quite honestly, I think she liked it.
Indeed, we were beginning to be surrounded by dozens of people trying to get a glimpse of something. We had no clue what was going on. Shan noticed the trembling girl who began taking selfies at something behind us. I was starting to freak out a bit. Is it someone famous? Did Shannon just knock over the sacred river vase? What the heck is going on? At this point, I'm looking around quite stupidly trying to figure it all out. I too wanted a glimpse of whatever cool shit was taking place. In my head, my inner fan-girl is secretly yelling, "please let it be Shah Rukh Khan, please, please..... pretty please." (For those who don't know, SRK is probably the most famous Bollywood actor). The crowd had grown as the father of the girl encouraged his daughter to move forward. Shannon, as if she's in my mind, breaks all hopes to meet King Khan, by whispering to me, "it's us". - "What?", that makes nooooooo sense! Then, like some really strange Angelina Jolie at an orphanage in Cambodia moment, Shannon bends down to the girl who was about to cry and asked, "What's your name?". In my head, I'm contemplating, "What the Hell is going on here? Can anyone explain to me what's happening?". - "Can I take a picture with you?", the girl asks me and Shannon. "Of course", Shannon replied as though she instinctively knew how to handle fame. Now, the entire family huddled around, and this happened (don't mind the horrific hair):
Followed by this:
...And several more (selectively censored), which, I think that you can get the point. The whole thing began to snowball into an absolute craze. Others began taking notice of the photo-op, and I think they began trying to figure out who we were."Who is that enormous fat white giant?", I now contemplate was their mindset, not wanting to miss out on the selfie of a lifetime. Some wanted to photograph us just because everyone else did and others appeared too scared to ask (Shannon started waving them over). I turned to Shannon and asked "what the hell just happened?", as we gained a moment of quietness. Among the many questions we were asked was, "Where are you from?" (duh, Trump land), "What do you do?" (Can't you tell? Being faaaaaaammmmmooooous!), and my most favorite "Are you Indian? (to me).... (Hell yeah I am, I'm the whitest tallest one, but I'll take my adopted status), and "Is that your daughter?" (to Shannon). Shan was seriously pissed off by that one. Shan has since tried to figure out the math on that one, but I think it was fair to say we both got our share of compliments and confusion. Days earlier, my rubbish short hair and stature earned me a "sir", more than once (which always makes you feel like crap, immediately signifying your dyke status in a lesbian relationship) and neither of us came on this trip in our most fittest condition (I had a broken arm, rib and ankle during the months that led up to this trip). However, we took it all in stride. I'll never be 5'3, super-tan, or in my mind beautiful. What I am, is what I am, because that's all I can be.
In my life, I've been a pauper, I've been (mildly) famous. I've been hated, I've been loved. I'm a mother, a mechanic, I'm a fixer, a world traveler and a skeptic. As we walked down the steps from Talakaveri, the only thing I knew was that I was glad to be here with her. It wasn't necessary to define it. It didn't need to an Instagram filter. It was as if all the small things had faded away and we had finally reached the point of our vacation where we were laughing at our own stupidity, our mistakes, our flaws and most importantly, our own humanity. The day was far too strange for it to make any rational sense and we quietly rode down the hills of Talakaveri with Tai-Ji at the wheel for whatever was next. Come what may... the good, the bad, love, jealousy, loss, it didn't matter. A river must flow, that's it's job, just as this life, wherever it may take you, must become whatever it shall. Far too often we try to contain the river, mold it into captivity, place it in a vase.... but in the end, it will all come pouring out, demanding it be free as a river should be, for its purpose is to flow.
Part I: Beyond the Beautiful: Bangalore
Part II: Kissing Bangaluru, Tasting Kerala and Brahmins' Coffee Bar
Part III: Balance in India: What begins must end. - Cubbon Park, Commercial Street.
Part IV: The Revenge of Karnataka on the road from Bangalore to Coorg
Part V: Sightseeing in Coorg and Farting Indians.