Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Baloo Means Bear
by venitha

"Always reading, ma'am," sighed Jittu, lamenting my boring, nose-in-a-book company.

"Welcome to my life," Jim told him.

I ignored them both.

A voracious reader and drawn to their homeland by wonderful Indian friends in the US, I read books about Indians, books set in India, and books written by Indians back when the Taj Mahal was just a favorite restaurant and not a wonder of the world I might actually see. I quickly followed our purchase of airline tickets to Delhi with the purchase of the corresponding Lonely Planet (I can't recommend this book highly enough - it is spot on), and before I knew it, well-traveled and well-read friends had armed us with an India library.

In Rajasthan, our car radio frequently blared Jittu's favorite Bollywood music, evoking images of dancers in whirling saris who, while mesmerizing, were hard to see beyond. Through my reading, on the other hand, one author after another proved himself the verbal cousin of the talented Rajasthani miniatures artists, boldly coloring and skillfully detailing facet after facet of this amazing country.

Elisabeth Bumiller added heart and soul to the hennaed hand prints left by wives sacrificed in sati.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala bought the Maharaja's palaces to royal life, while Rama Mehta tinged the lovely sprawling havelis with the shadows of women peering through sandstone screens to watch the men's courtyard below.

Rohinton Mistry humanized inhuman beggars, made me angry. Sarah McDonald unraveled India's web of spirituality, made me laugh.

Salman Rushdie... Well, what did Salman Rushdie not do?

Tragically omitted from my reading (though I have seen the movie - does that count?) is an author who is marvelously impossible to escape in India: Rudyard Kipling. Long-tailed black-faced monkeys scurry along its roof, and within Ranakpur's Jain temple thrives an impossible forest of marble columns. Rajasthan is a desert, but we are transported to the jungle and the legendary monkey temple of The Jungle Book.

We happily purchased this book in a dark and dusty Jodhpur bookstore, and Jim happily set to reading it, while Jittu happily taught him some Hindi.

"Baloo means?"


"And Mowgli? Bagheera?"

"Frog and panther."

"How about Shere Khan?"

"Shere what?"

I settled back, nose in yet another book, and happily ignored them both.

Click here for my India reading list.