A kiss could be really dangerous sometimes

Richard kissing Shilpa

Richard Gere kissed Shilpa Shetty in public and had to go to court. It happened during an AIDS awareness program where Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood actress, was the hostess. Richard Gere has been working with lots of NGOs in India that educates people about AIDS. He came on the stage and started kissing Shilpa on her cheeks. At first everybody started screaming, clapping because they enjoyed for sure seeing a Bollywood actress get kissed. Since kissing is a very private activity, and is always hidden, it was a fun time for people.

But later some some Hindu organization sued Richard for doing sexual activity in public, and he had to go to the court several times. I am not sure what happened to this case, but one thing is for sure that neither Richard nor Shilpa would like going to court several times. The same kind of thing happened with� Rakhi Sawant (a Bollywood actress) and Mika (a singer). It was Mika’s birthday party and Rakhi was also there. First of all Rakhi kissed Mika on his cheeks, and then Mika kissed Rakhi’s lips.

Mika kissing Rakhi

After this kiss, Rakhi went to the police and lodged a case against Mika for kissing her forcibly. Mika said that she started first so he also kissed her. She kissed Mika on his cheeks and Mika kissed on her lips, that’s all. But Rakhi did not agree to hear anything. She was crying in front of media people, and was saying that Mika forcebly kissed her. She said that she was an Indian girl. She can get kissed on cheeks but not on the lips. It was one of the funniest things I had ever heard.� All this drama was just to get publicity. Later they compromised and case was taken back by Rakhi.

I met my friend Sharad yesterday who works at DHL, New Delhi. He books the parcels. He said that few days ago a foreign couple came and booked a 1.5 kilo parcel. As they entered in the office, they started kissing each other. Then they went to my friend and gave him the parcel. After giving the parcel, they were kissing until the booking process was done. Later they got a call from another office saying that they had found a packet of heroin booked by a foreign couple.

This call was to alert all other offices to not accept any package from such a couple. It made my friend remember about the couple who had booked a package. They checked the packet and found that it was also a heroin packet. This couple had booked the same kind of packet at two different offices. They did the same thing at all the offices- gave the packet and started kissing. Other offices had also accepted the parcel, but it was caught during the screening process.

I am sure foreigners know that we don’t kiss in public, but this couple was still doing it just because they knew that Indians would not be able to concentrate if someone was kissing in front of them. There are lots of stories in our religious books when demons sent girls to disturb saints and stop them from meditating. In some cases girls were able to do what they wanted to. Now it seems like we have to learn how to fight against this new Western weapon.

Effect of inflation on celebration of Diwali

Inflation is killing India nowadays. Everything is at least twice as expensive as the usual price. It was Diwali yesterday but it didn’t fell like the Diwali five or six years ago. Usually people like to buy lots of crackers, buy new clothes, bring something new to their homes but this year everything was so… I think most of the people just stayed at home, cooked food, decorated their home and that’s all. Very few people fired crackers. I believe that it is good for the atmosphere if there are fewer crackers, but there was still something missing.

A lot of people didn’t buy crackers because it was too expensive this year. Usually all the chemicals that are used to make crackers come from China where they are cheap. But this year the Chinese used all the chemicals for the Olympics and delayed supplying them to India. So Indian factories had to buy the chemicals in India which was expensive for them. This whole thing affected pricing of crackers a lot and made it at least two times more expensive.

One of the biggest reason behind people not firing many crackers is that everything is so expensive in India nowadays. People have a hard time, so they prefer to arrange their living needs first. I bought tomatoes and it cost me Rs. 50 per kilo. It was never ever expensive like this before. Uncle Udo says that tomato costs Rs. 70-80 per kilo in Germany. So there is not much difference in the price but there is a huge difference in the income of the people.

I know that foreigners spend more money than us on agriculture, so it must be expensive there. But why it is so expensive here? I asked a lot of people how did their Diwali went and most of them said that it was not good because of inflation. I don’t know how long will it be like this, but if it stays the same way for a long time then a lot of middle class people will become poor again for sure.

Diwali 2008

It was Diwali yesterday and I enjoyed it a lot. I had invited a few couchsurfers to celebrate Diwali with me. I invited two US students and two British travelers. They came to my home around 6 o’clock and were just sharing their travel experiences of India. Later uncle Udo also joined us. My mother did puja first and then we decorated the whole house with candles. Usually I don’t buy or fire crackers, but this year I had lots of crackers because a few of my friends had bought some.

We went on the roof and fired crackers. It was first time in the last fifteen years that I fired crackers. I don’t like this because it damages the atmosphere. The smoke could be easily felt in the atmosphere during Diwali which I don’t like. I better like to decorate my home with candles, have good food, invite people over dinner etc… A lot of people in Varanasi gamble during Diwali night. I had also gambled last year at Bunti’s family place for the first time in my life. They had invited me this year also but I could not go.

Diwali is a very important festival for Aghoris. They do some special puja at the funeral place in the night between 12 and 1. I really wanted to see it but I again I missed it this year because the guy who was supposed to come with me didn’t call me. I was just waiting for him, and finally it was over 1 o’ clock so I couldn’t go. After firing crackers we had dinner. We had lots of good food, sweets, it was so nice last night. I really enjoyed it.

I had heard a lot about threats for foreign girls in Varanasi after it gets dark, but I never thought it was true. I have seen all the guide books telling that foreign girls should not wander alone in Beanres after it is dark. I always thought that it was wrong information provided by guide books. Abbie and Emily, the US students, were worried about going alone to their guest house. They wanted me to come with them. I went with them and I realized that guide books were true.

People were just commenting on these foreign girls. Somebody brought crackers and wanted them to fire them. Somebody was saying that they were so beautiful, somebody wanted to harrash them… It was overwhelming. I never knew that these things happen in Varanasi also. Maybe it happens in the downtown area only, because I have never ever heard of such a thing happening around Assi neighborhood. They were stopped by five-six people. Finally they reached their guest house and I came back home.

First Kiwi guest at home

A 55 years old guy from Auckland wrote me through couchsurfing about 3 months ago. He wanted to know about Varanasi. He said that he wanted someone to travel with him. Once he asked me if I would like to be his tour guide for all of India. I was so excited about this, and I immediately agreed with this offer. But later he said that he had lots of hosts in India, so he canceled his plan to hire me as his tour guide. We had been in touch online for the last 3 months, and finally he came to Benares on 6th.

I went to meet him at his hotel. He had brought me a ipod and a coat. He wanted to live at my place because he was interested in general Indian life. But he had already booked the hotel for two nights, so he said that he would come to my place after spending two nights in the hotel. It was Navratri time, so I took him to a tour of Varanasi. My friends and I go to see the pandals every year during night time. I took Chris also with me. We wandered the whole night, and came back home about 3 o’clock in the morning.

After spending two nights in a hotel, Chris came to my place. He wanted to go to the local church to buy old vestments, and other old stuff that have been used by churches in Varanasi. We went to the cantonment church which is only 15 years old. Chris wanted to meet the bishop, but the bishop was not in Varanasi. So we met his assistant, and his assistant said that they did not have any old stuff. He gave address of a few churches in Mumbai, Goa and south India and told Chris to go there.

Chris stayed at my place for 15 days. Actually he was planning to stay only for 10 days, but he had to stay more because he got sick. He said that he had eaten samosa somewhere on the street, and got really sick. He had diarrhea, vomiting and headache. I took him to the doctor, but it didn’t work for him. He needed extra care, so he told me to took him to a hospital. I take him to the heritage hospital. Doctors said that it was not an emergency case, and they did not want to admit him but Chris wanted to be in hospital for a few days.

Hospital charged Rs. 15000 (US $400) for their services. I had never heard of any hospital charging 15000 for diarrhea. Chris was admitted in special ward for two days. They were charging Rs. 3500 per day for the room, 600 for doctor’s visit, and a lot of other charges that even they did not know about. I have heard of the $100 hand shake in US hospital, but I did not know that there is a similar kind of system in my home town also. I was surprised at the money they charged. I asked Lane about it, and he said that it was still cheaper than western hospitals.

One thing was very interesting for me that everyone in the hospital wanted to know if Chris had health insurance or not. I asked the doctor why they wanted to know this, and he said that usually foreigners have health insurance, and if they have insurance the hospital charges them extra money. I am sure it must be an illegal activity, but it was going on openly as lots of other illegal works in India. They were not even shamed to tell me that they were doing an illegal work.

After spending two days at the hospital, Chris just wanted to come out. He said that nurses didn’t care for him, would not change the drip, don’t give him medicine and don’t give food. I talked to the doctor, but they wanted Chris to stay in hospital for at least two more days. But Chris did not want to stay there even for an hour. Chris told doctor to let him go, so finally they gave a few medicines and discharged him from the hospital. Chris was so happy to come back home. Chris went to Mumbai on the 24 th.

Pittsburgh girl studies Hindi

One girl name Abbie from Pittsburgh contacted me through couchsurfing asking about Hindi classes in Varanasi. I suggested her to go to Mr. Virendra Singh. She had written to Bhasha Bharti, but Bhasha Bharti did not reply her. I asked Mr. Singh if he had time for another student, and fortunately he had one hour free. Abbie was still in Bhopal when she wrote me. I told her to contact me after she arrive in Varanasi. I thought it will be good for her if she met Udo, the other Hindi student staying at my place.

She called me on the 21st. I brought her to my home to introduce her to Udo but he was not home then. I took her to Mr. Singh’s place. After talking to Mr. Singh, Abbie said that she would like to study with him for rest of her time in India. She had already studied Hindi for three months in Indore, but she did not learn anything. Her Hindi teacher was not a real Hindi teacher. He was a mathematics teacher. I am sure a mathematics teacher can not teach Hindi.

Abbie went to Khajuraho after having one lesson with Mr. Singh but she will be back by next Monday. She still has three months left in India, which is good enough to learn basic Hindi. I hope that she learns something with Virendra Singh. She also wanted to stay my place but I could not host herbecause all of my rooms were already booked. She is staying at Ganga Yogi Lodge some where near Sonarpura, and their charges fit her budget as well.

Udo from Germany learns some Hindi

I have been hosting a student from Germany. His name is Udo, he is 58 years old and wants to learn Hindi in Varanasi. Uncle Udo contacted me about a month ago. He got my email address through hospitality club profile. Uncle Udo used to be a professor of German. He has worked for different universities in England, Germany, and Japan. Now he owns a language school in Munich, but he doesn’t teach there. He works for the government to assess unemployed people for the government help.

I asked uncle Udo about why he wanted learn Hindi at the age of 58. He said that once one of his friends had given him a Hindi grammar book as a birthday gift, which he never looked at and just kept in the cupboard. Two or three years ago when he was cleaning the cupboard, he found that book and decided to learn Hindi. He says that starting to learn something is the best idea if you want to keep your mind working in old age. I liked this idea. Uncle Udo started looking for online help to learn Hindi three years ago, so he knows all the sounds and he has a very good idea of the grammar.

Udo uncle asked me about Hindi classes in Varanasi, and obviously I suggested Professor Virendra Singh. Virendra Singh was not in Varanasi that time, but he was supposed to come by the first week of October. So I told uncle Udo to keep doing his research to find a Hindi teacher so that in case if Mr. Singh is not present in Varanasi, he can still have a teacher. He told me about Mr. Binit Mishra whom he found online for Hindi teaching. He told me that Mr. Mishra lives somewhere near my home, but I had never ever heard of this man.

Udo uncle came to my house on the 6th of October. On the very first day we went to meet Virendra Singh at his place, and fortunately he was back in Varanasi and had started teaching. We met Virendra Singh, and he said that he could teach Udo uncle for one hour everyday. Udo uncle was happy to get him. He said that since he had also been a professor, he needed a real professor to teach him. And this was the only reason he did not contact other schools in Varanasi.

Udo uncle goes to Virendra Singh every morning for one hour, and he so happy with Mr. Singh’s teaching. He says that Mr. Singh is the best Hindi professor he has ever met. Now Udo uncle has started speaking Hindi: he is still not perfect but has many progress. His Hindi is far better than what usually people learn aftert going to classes for fifteen days. He wants to go to Khajuraho and Gwalior before he leaves India. He will leave home after ten days. He is planning to come to Varanasi again maybe next year to learn Hindi and attend festivals like Shivratri and Holi.

Guide Association forbids new guides

Now there is a problem again with the tour guide training program, which was supposed to start on October 6th. Now the Guide Association of Jaipur has sued the government for organizing the tour guide training program for only 45 days. They say that the government should again organize this program for four months, as they did with the old guides. Even though this year’s training program will also last for four months, it will not be exactly as it was the last time.

Last time there were only classes for the whole four months, and this time there will be classes for 45 days, orientation tour for 15 days, and students will have to submit their assignment report. This is the only difference between the last training program and the current one, but old guides are not happy with it. They want government to organize the program in same way, which means classes for continuous four months. Now the court has ordered government to stop the training program till further order.

I think the current program is far better than the old one but… I know that old guides are afraid of young blood in the industry, and that is why they want to get this program delayed as much as they can. Even though India has a lack of professional tour guides, and the commonwealth games are in 2010, these guides don’t want new people to come. I have seen guides sleeping in front of their clients, or chewing Paan (betel nut) and keeping their mouthes shut, and letting a escort talk to the clients.

I am sure that they are afraid that if new people come into the industry, they will be done. But these things will not stay for long time because the present training program was only preparation for the commonwealth games. So government has not a lot of time and I hope that they will do something soon. And after everything is settled, either old guides will have to improve their working skills otherwise they will be kicked out of the industry for sure.

Past terrorism disrupts today’s festival

It was last day of Durga Puja yesterday and I went to see the Durga pandals (tents) with my friends. I have been going to see the pandals for the last 10 years. We usually leave home at 9 o’clock and wander to different pandals at different places, which takes almost the whole night. We come back to home around morning time. Traffic is restricted because of the huge number of people who come to see the pandals. I think half of Benares comes to see this festival. We always go on our bikes, so we had to stop our bikes at different places and wander on foot.

I was hoping for the same kind of attendance this year also, but I was surprised to see that only ten percent of what I was hoping for had come. I had never ever seen this few people during Durga Puja. We could easily drive our bikes on the road, which was kind of strange for me. All of my friends were prepared to walk but the roads were empty, so we did not have to walk. I am sure that people did not come because of all the recent bomb blasts in different cities and our local news papers also wrote a lot about terrorists in Varanasi.

We all were sad to see that finally terrorists won, and we lost the game. I remember the day after the bomb blast in Sankat Mochan temple, where more than a hundred people died. It was first time in Benares’s history when a bomb blast happened, but everything was normal again the very next day. The temple had the same number of people, and everybody said that they would fight against terrorism if police and the government helped them. But after watching the number of people during Durga Puja, it seemed like now people don’t have that passion to fight against terrorism.

It reminds me about the scam when Jaipur police arrested a mullah (Muslim teacher at Madarsa) in Benares 2 months ago for being a suspect in the Jaipur bomb blast, and police had to release him later because all the Muslims came on the road and started protesting. Government also ordered police to release him because they were afraid of their vote bank. Even though he is one of the suspects, he is still out of jail and doing whatever he wants.

Afzal guru, the guy behind the terrorist attack on Indian parliament, was also sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of India but the Central Government of Congress put this decision on hold by petitioning our President, who is a Congress candidate. In the same way a lot of terrorists are still enjoying their lives in jails. We hear that they have very good lives because of the special orders by our politicians, and our police are also bribed by them.

Sometimes I think that maybe people like Afzal Guru and the mullah who was arrested and later released because of the Muslim’s pressure are involved in bomb blasts. All the political parties want to make Muslims happy because Muslims are a very good vote bank for them. I don’t know when things will change but it seems like it is not going to change soon.

Gwalior for tour guide training

I went to Gwalior on the 27th to get counseling for the tour guide training program. I reached Gwalior at 10.30 AM as my train was delayed by 2 hours. Counseling was to start at 3pm so I had almost 4 hours to visit the city. I had already heard about Gwalior fort so I took an auto and reached it at about 11.00pm. Gwalior fort was huge, I had already been to a few forts but I had never seen any fort like this one. It was situated 300 feet up on a hill. There was an inclined road starting at the entrance gate to reach at the fort.

Gwalior Fort

I think the road was almost 2 kilometers long. There was a beautiful Mansingh Palace, Sas-Bahu Temple, Sikh gurudvara and a Teli temple. Since I had 3 hours left when I reached there, I thought that I would be able to visit the whole fort, but I was wrong. This fort was huge and I could not visit all the places inside it. I was looking for a guide book or some information about the fort but there was no assistance for tourists. There was a ticket counter at the entrance gate where it was written that ticket costs only twenty paise. We stopped using twenty paise coin about seven-eight years ago, so it seems like they have not updated anything since then. There was only one coffee shop in this whole campus.

They organize a sound and light show every evening that I really wanted to attend but I could not because I did not have enough time. I liked Sas-Bahu temple a lot. There were lots of carvings on the walls of it. I was amazed to see those carvings which were made about 500 years ago. I saw a lot of Sikhs in Gwalior. There was a group of young Sikh guys inside the fort who came to me and asked to take their photo. After taking the photo, the youngest guy, only thirteen- fourteen years old, came to me and said that I must begin waking up early in the morning. I was shocked to see that how he knew that I don’t sleep in the nights and wake up so late.

Then he said that my friends are not good, they never feed me and always look to get fed by me (Hindi expression when somebody wants to loot you). As I heard this, I immediately realized that he was also a looter. He was also telling the same story that all the looter astrologers say. Then he asked me for money, he wanted fifty rupees. I said I don’t want to pay him, then he asked for twenty five, then ten, five and finally he wanted only two rupees but I didn’t give him any money. He was a young crazy looter person.

After Sas-Bahu temple I moved to Man Singh Palace which was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar in the year 1508. Later Mughals won this palace and used it as a Sahi Jail (sounds like a jail for important people like kings). This was the only palace I had ever seen that had colored tiles on the wall of it, it was beautiful. A few people met me asking if I would like to have a guide but I did not take them as I had only thirty minutes left but now I think it was worth taking them. This palace was very confusing like Bada Imambada of Lucknow. Finally my time was over and I had to leave for the counseling place.

As I reached at the Institute, I saw a lot of people over thirty five years old and a few of them were over 50. I thought they were parents of the students but I was wrong, they were they guys who had qualified the exam. A few people told me that these old guys have been working in the tourist sector for years. I think they did not need to go through any training because they were already working in this sector for years. But they are often stopped by government guides and ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) officers at monuments, therefore they also wanted a license.

The institute was very nice, very fancy. It had a computer lab, library, auditorium and a lush green apartment. All the rooms and auditorium were air conditioned. The counseling was divided in two parts- document verification and registration. The registration process was going on in auditorium but I had to get my documents verified first in a different room. There were three employees of the institute checking all the documents of the students. I had to show them attested Xerox copies of all the certificates along with the original one.

After completing this process, they gave me a form where I had to write my name, roll number, marks obtained in the exam, choice of batch, and center. They told me to fill up that form, and go to the counseling hall. I wanted to get training at the New Delhi center in the second batch but there were only thirty seats for New Delhi center, which were already taken by other students. So, I got selected for the second batch training at the Gwalior center. They charged Rs. 2000 as a training fee which includes library, computer lab and teaching fee as well.

My training will start on the 5th of January and will last for 45 days. After this period there will be a one week tour. After that I will be given a city or a tourist region and I will have to write a report about the history and monument situated in that city. I will get ten weeks to complete the report. After writing the report they will organize an exam and the students who qualify on that exam will go through an interview. After passing the interview, the tour guide license will be issued.

It was 5o’ clock now and my train to go back Benares was at 8:40 so I left the Institute and walked to the Railway station. The Railway station was about 5 kilometers away from the institute but I decided to go on foot so that I could see the city. Gwalior seemed like nice city; obviously it was not as big as Benares but it was much more organized. The traffic was nicer than Benares; housing seemed better; there were gardens; trees; I think it was more like other big cities of India. Benares is completely different from Gwalior.

I met a Benares guy on the train who had also qualified on the exam. He has been working as an escort with Japanese tourists for the past 2-3 years, but he was not happy working with he said that Japanese don’t give money. But now he was so happy that he will get a license, and he said that he will not work with Japanese people anymore. He wanted to work with either American, British or some other rich country’s people. He said that Spanish are also like Japanese people, dont want to give money.

Spain is the eighth largest economy of the world and the fifth largest of Europe, and they sound like nice people. Japan is also a very rich country but he didn’t like either of them. He said that over 75% of Japanese- speaking government guides in Delhi can’t read or write Japanese. They learnt language by speaking only and later they qualified on the exam, which happens only in English. But it will not be possible by next time, because next time exams will be conducted in different languages for different language speaking people.

It was a short but very busy and successful trip. I completed the counseling process, I visited Gwalior fort, and I took a walk in city. It was nice, so I think I will enjoy my time in Gwalior during the training period.