Sunday, August 02, 2009

India unbound

My friend Renee Chinquapin has spun her energetic prose into venturesome story-telling again. She’s just put out another self-published book that really, really, needs, nay, DEMANDS, a larger audience.

(Publishers and lovers of engulfing, bracing prose should contact her at

Her press run for this slim volume was 60, and she has two copies left after giving most to friends.

Her first book, “Bogotá to Buenos Aires: Riffs, Raps and Revelations on the Gringo Trail” was a similar stunner about her travels in South America. This one, called “Near Death India,” throws the reader unawares into the swirling sub-continent.

Here’s a sample from early in the book:

Winston Churchill quipped that India’s no more a country than the equator, so fractured is it by language, culture, sect, huge history and brokeback geography. What mind can grok a billion plus souls squatting by dung flies? Flooding third-class railroad cars? Sleeping on the street? Mending nets on the beach? Drying coconut meat? Training for war in Kashmir? Recapitulating colonial ontogeny in a million bureaucratic labyrinths heaped high with dusty unread reports and requests?

India’s an impossible jumble of overlapping galaxies of self-regulating chaos linked by cricket allegiance and sari-splendor.

All I can do is be here, now, as Ram Dass so wisely advised. Be here in this empty, tiled downstairs living room with lazily revolving ceiling fan barely blunting the blazing tropic sun outside. But immediately my mind leaps into action, wondering to where the toilet hole in the bathroom flushes? What lives in the tap water? How many gazillion ants swarm in the stripped-down kitchen? Is my mattress really horsehair? Why are there no sheets or pillow case? Are the bedroom shutters nailed shut to thwart thieves fishing for tourist goodies through open windows?

There’s no one to ask.

Outside, delicate poplars sway above a steady stream of tiny, three-wheeled trucks, unmufflered motorbike taxis and rented scooters. Dark-skinned Dalit (Untouchable) women beg. White-shirted, bespectacled mercantile Christian local men stride by, eyes set on profit.

I can no more know India than I can know quantum physics or God.

So be it.

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