Here's a little blurb of the manuscript I've begun to roughly draft.
26.11.2007 - 27.11.2007 30 °C
The boys used a white powder to wash their teeth. They stuck a middle finger into the clump of powder in one of the boys'palms and went to rubbing their teeth. They were of a different caste than those bathing in the river, it seemed, who were jumping and splashing and swimming in the chill of a day yet to begin.
I stood there, waiting again for the washing of the elephant, something I'd come to understand as a kind of joke, a kind of amusement for the locals. ‘Yes, yes, half hour, ten minutes,’ one would say. Others pointed to the temple in Hampi Bazaar, ‘elephant, yes.’
These boys spoke no English, but as they surrounded me, middle finger in mouth, the look of an almost fearful fascination was obvious. They spoke amongst one another, avoiding eye contact, and only the older boy, the ring leader, chanced sticking out his pasty hand. I shook it laughing, and asked about the elephant. ‘Yes, yes,’ they said. ‘No, elephant,’ I say, and hang my arm from my nose, raising it and blowing air from a bottom lip folded over the top. The rudimentary blast invited more perplexity. These white people are wacky.
There is a saying about the elephant in the living room. Someone would ask the wife of an addict why she didn't leave her husband. And in reply to her excuse that she hadn't really noticed, they say, 'but didn't you see the elephant in the living room?' And so this ritual of waking up at dawn and going to the river to see the bathing of the elephant became my elusive, yet ever-present, reality.
The elephant existed, I had been promised, and you could even go into the temple, give it a rupee coin, and it would disappear the coin and pat you on the head, sending you along on your way. But the problem was that I suddenly saw the absurdity not of waiting to see an animal get washed, but of me wanting to watch this daily ritual. I was the spectacle in this village, the ubiquitous influence so shockingly present after ages (from my perspective) of being a fixture, the elephant in the Eastern living room. I was the undeniable sign of the West, something that has been there a long time but only noticed from a distance.
So if India was about the absurd, from whose perspective did we see it? What I saw as absurdity here I knew was commonplace to the locals. Bathing in rivers, brushing with fingers, washing clothes and animals... this was quotidian. Coming to watch, sightseeing, was not a hillside of steps and temple ruins, it was the bathroom- the girls bathed at the bottom of the steps to the right, the boys to the left, and women washed clothing at the riverside, twirling the multi-colored garments and slapping them on the rocks, laying them out on the angled stone risers between the granite-terraced hillside. Coming to see the remnants of which now served for many villagers' rustic-at-best bamboo houses, the often erotic old carvings on monkey riddled towers, this was something only crazy, rich white people did. And no matter how much money India got, no matter how much influence infiltrated their lives, they would still bath in the river. They would still wash the elephant.