As the last posting showed, my Karma took a serious dent and although I was expecting it, I wasn't expecting to feel the repercussions of my mousetake so soon. Unfortunately for me, the cycle of karmic destiny inexorably turned and the needle landed on "Payback" the very next day.
My sister and her boyfriend, Robert, with whom I had spent a lovely few days in the North for New Year, ended their trip by visiting me in the South. Prior to their arrival I made loads of excited plans. I wanted to show them the campus and introduce them to everyone. I arranged for Vimala, who is in charge of the canteen, to give us a biryani lesson. I hired bicycles so we could visit all the local sites and go and spend some time in the villages, meeting some of the village people involved in the project, ie the self-help group women and some of the elderly people. Obviously, I wanted to show them the community centre and get them to meet Dr John.
Their visit co-incided with Pongal, which is a 4 day Tamil festival, a combination of New Year and Harvest Festival. Tamils celebrate all things new, together with blessing and giving thanks for the fertility of the land in a typically exuberant way. Every house is decorated with familiar floral pujas and sugar cane sticks; outside on the floor are beautifully coloured and intricately drawn Kolom - the chalk patterns traced on the dusty ground, which are usually monochromatic, but for Pongal take on a new dimension with vibrant colours creating interwoven images of flowers, butterflies, birds, animals or just geometric designs.
Each day there is a new activity. The first day, Bhogi Pongal, is a day for the family. Old unwanted items are taken outside and painted or washed to give them a new life. The farmers bless the fields prior to the harvesting of the crop. Surya Pongal, the second day, is dedicated to the worship of Surya, the Sun God who is offered boiled milk and jaggery (sugar syrup). The third day, Mattu Pongal, is the most important for the farmers, because it is dedicated to cows or Mattu.
These already highly revered creatures receive special attention on this day. They are scrubbed, their horns are polished and then they are painted, decorated and garlanded to extreme means. The whole of Tamil Nadu is awash with slightly sheepish looking bullocks, their horns brightly painted a rainbow myriad of spots, stripes and swirls, on the tips of which bob garlands, tassles and even balloons.
One of the legends of Pongal suggests a reason why cattle are destined, despite being worshipped, to work for man. Shiva, that most Manly of Gods, previously seen starring in the tragic episode about a small mud child and an elephant's head, had a faithful bull called Basava. Shiva wanted humans to show due deference to the Gods and thus, he entrusted, perhaps foolishly, his Bull with the task of telling humans that they needed to take an oil bath every day and eat once a month.
Repeating to himself, religiously, the mantra: "Bathe daily. Eat monthly", Basava, with misplaced confidence went down from heaven to earth to deliver the message.
You guessed it. He told the mortals to bathe monthly and eat daily. Shiva, not famed for his tolerant and forgiving nature, cursed Basava and banished him to live on the earth forever. He would have to spend the rest of his life ploughing the fields and helping the humans produce the food they would now, courtesy of his incompetence, need to be eating on a more regular basis than was planned. Thus, the association between man and beast was formed. I suspect that a further part of his punishment was that he would have to have balloons tied to his horns once a year to remind him of his stupidity.
On the last day, Pongal festival climaxes with the eating of a disgusting sweet rice porridge mixture called......Pongal.....which ends up being fed to the poor beleaguered cattle and birds "In Thanks", although, I suspect it's actually because it is so unpalatable.
So Lottie and Robert were arriving in perfect time to witness this crazy mayhem of livestock adornment and I envisaged us cycling around the villages, maybe being asked to lend a creative hand to a horn or two.
Unfortunately, the day they arrived, I was struck down with a lesser known form of the Mouse's Revenge (or flu) and retired to bed with a temperature of 38.5C. For the next three days, I was incapable of lifting my head off the pillow without a) a coughing fit b) sobbing uncontrollably in frustration and self pity c) generating unfeasible amounts of mucus from both nostrils d) feeling like shit.
For their entire visit, except for the last day, I was bed ridden and the best I could do was wave feebly from my pressure-sore inducing, crispbread-resembling mattress as they went and had biryani lessons on their own. Robbie Burns, who also clearly fell foul of the Rodent's Curse, never penned a truer word with the immortal lines "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley".
Luckily, I perked up a little bit for the last day, for which I had planned various exciting things, including going to my friendly tailor, doing a bit of shopping, going to the Pongal fair which had exciting rides and candyfloss stalls and culminating in staying over in Vellore at a Nice Hotel so we could have a good dinner and a couple of beers. I managed to galvanise enough energy to go into Vellore and check into, what turned out to be the most ridiculous hotel in the world. I also had just enough energy to potter around the fair, watching Justine fearlessly go on a ride which turned her upside-down whilst notionally tied into her seat by a granny knot in a single, puny-looking strap.
The fair was great, it has to be said. It was heaving with excited families, many of whom were sitting around on the floor picnicking on the wares of the many different food stalls. There were lots of rides, varying hugely in the fear factor. My favourite one, from a strictly spectator point of view, was a slightly down-sized maruti car in pea green going round in tiny circles containing a large number of beaming children, the greatest beam of all coming from the one sitting behind and turning the pointless steering wheel. The bumper cars, probably put in for essential training for rickshaw drivers, were also great fun to watch.
At the end of the day, we went back to our Ridiculous Hotel, where they wanted us to register at the Police Station in order to stay there; where their Room Service, which finished at 11pm, was not available for food at half past ten ("What to do, Madam?"); where, when we asked for plates and eating utensils for the food we had to go out and buy, they took half an hour to bring one plastic plate and a spoon and where, the receptionist had a wall eye and a pot belly and no charm. At least the bed was comfortable and my pressure sores began to recede.
The next morning, horribly early, I waved goodbye to Lottie and Robert, with whom, despite the flu, I had had a really lovely time. I then went back to bed not knowing that I was to re-awaken in the Ridiculous Hotel, to have to most Ridiculous Day yet in India.
My most Ridiculous Day started with the less deformed receptionist, who looked normal, but had the tenacity of a Rottweiler, waking me to tell me again that I needed to go down to the police station to register (I am currently already registered anyway, and have been since August). Suffice it to say that, my mood, consisting as it did of the potent mixture of Day 1 period, dregs of a virus and insufficient sleep was not conducive to a reasonable conversation. I told her over the phone and then I went down in person to tell her and, by then, her other charmingly unique co-worker, that, unless they wanted to carry me (I was fairly confident that they wouldn't want to do this) I WAS NOT GOING TO THE BLOODY POLICE STATION. Hotel relationship was severed with me storming out, screeching like a banshee.
Fuming, I stomped off and found a rickshaw to take me back to the relative sanity of RUHSA. The guy I found, when asked how much, said 100 rupees, clearly indicating that he had no idea where RUHSA was. As I wanted to stop at the supermarket and fruit stall, I said I would give him 150. Once home, having had an uneventful ride, just long enough to enable me to cool off, I gave the driver 200rs and awaited my change. Of course he tried to pull the "No-change-madam" ploy, so you end up giving them more than agreed. Today was not the day for him to try that stunt on me. My furious bate reignited, I stomped off (I did a lot of stomping that day) to find change myself. The driver followed me, pointing to his rickshaw, saying, "Madam, madam, inside". I stubbornly refused to and so ended up walking across the campus, stamping up little puffs of furious dust with each step, with a slowly moving auto following close behind.
By far the most ridiculous aspect of my Ridiculous Day occurred later that evening, after a small amount of recuperative sleep. I was feeling much better and was sitting outside my room, talking to Lottie on the phone before she got on the plane home, when another auto driver, Pandian, whom I had met a few months previously, having heard I was sick, arrived unexpectedly outside my building. Unfased by the fact that I resembled a startled and slightly greasy cockatoo with a very red shiny nose and Bed Head, he proceded to give me advice on how to get well again, all under the distrusting, watchful eye of RUHSA security, who take a dim view of the sexes fraternising between themselves. Their suspicion proved well-placed, when, between guidance on effective cold remedies and tips for fever reduction, Pandian expressed a desire that one day, God-willing, I might be his wife. So, my Ridiculous Day concluded with me having a Ridiculous Conversation with a relative stranger trying to justify why it was not likely that a Cumbrian GP would want to settle down in wedded bliss with a charming, if ambitious, rickshaw driver in Vellore.
The net result of all these events is a new found respect for the power of Mice. It's live and let live from now on.