Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

by venitha

"Sweets for the sweet," I tell Jittu, handing him a small newspaper-wrapped packet of two procured from a Bhatia Market sweet shop in .

Jim and I had bought three ghotua ladoos from the famous Dhanraj Bhatia Sweets, and they were so yummy that I immediately ate Jittu's myself and even stole a large bite of Jim's. These guilt-flavored replacements aren't from the famous shop. They look the same, but of course, there are no guarantees in India.

"Thank you, ma'am," Jittu tilts his head with the appreciate Indian jerk to which I am growing accustomed, then turns our attention to the nearby English Wine & Spirits shop.

"Camels. Dancing. Stars. Is very nice. Need nice drink."

Our camel safari is tomorrow night, and apparently we should take some booze. Unfortunately, we've already cased these joints and been sadly disappointed. They stock whiskey and, um, whiskey, and a nasty Indian red wine. In spite of its recent destruction at the hands of the cheapest wines to be found in Singapore, my palette was offended by India's house red.

Jittu's disappointment in my lack of enthusiasm is clear.

"Everyone drinkee. You no. Sad." He doesn't believe me when I tell him I don't like the wine and even offers to buy it himself. This from a man who has told us that he earns 2500 rupees per month, about US$65, driving tourists through Rajasthan, a job for which there is demand only six months of the year.

Jim and I withstand the pressure at the first liquor shop, and Jittu promptly drives us down the street to the next, which offers exactly the same selection. Jim wisely recognizes this as battle not worth fighting, a la the ancient Hindu maxim Waiters leave you in peace when your teacup is full.

Jittu insists on purchasing three enormous bottles of beer, alcohol content 8%, one for each of us, for he will enjoy some rare downtime while we camp under the desert stars.

"You big man, boss. Need maximum beer." Jittu doesn't accept Jim's professed lack of tolerance, but Jim stands his ground, fixated on how much more enjoyable the desert sunrise will be without a hangover.

On the short drive back to our hotel, with Jaisalmer's spectacularly lit-up fort glittering majestically in the rearview mirror, Jittu tells us morosely that he misses his family, his wife and two young daughters. All through India's winter, he drives for one two-week road-trip after another. If he's lucky, he's home for one day in between.

"Love is life," he declares grandly, but sadly, without his usual laughing good humor.


"Do you think Jittu was drunk?" Jim asks as we make our way through our hotel's stately lobby.

"Nah. He didn't smell like alcohol."

I pause in thought.

"But maybe those were ladoos. In India," I quote Jittu, "everything possible, boss."