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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").



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   bindis for benefactors
Friday, December 27 2019

location: room 112, Phool Mahal Palace, Kishangarh City, Rajasthan, India

After what I viewed as weak flavor in yesterday's lunch (and, to some extent, dinner), at breakfast this morning I asked our American guide Zach if perhaps they could come up with some hot sauce. Initially J expressed his doubt, but within about fifteen minutes they'd scared up a bowl of a mild red hot sauce as well as a somewhat stronger dark green sauce. This made it possible for me to season my breakfast curry the way I wanted it. Nobody else had been complaining about the lack of spice, though the moment the hot sauce appeared, others wanted it too.

Today's morning excursion initially took us on a drive past seemingly hundreds of stone yards, one after the other. They mostly sold marble mined from nearby mines, though some also sold granite. The look of these yards very much reminded me of the stone yard near Middletown, NY where Gretchen and I had selected the countertops for last year's kitchen remodel. That stone yard had been Indian-owned, suggesting Indians may well dominate the global trade in commercial stone. The morning's destination, however, had nothing to do with stone. We drove to the small village of Roopangarh at the base of a small stone-strewn mountain and parked near a school. Unlike the more urban places we'd visited, the village had only a small accumulation of plastic debris for the street cows to pick through. On arrival, we were greeted by a group of young teenage (or older tweenage) girls in uniform who put garlands of flowers around our necks, put festive dots (bindis and tilaks) on our foreheads, and tied friendship bracelets of red string around our wrists. I didn't realize until too late that I'd probably committed a faux pas by offering my left hand to the girl giving me my bracelet. But she tied it on there just the same.
Before doing more with those older kids, we first went across the street to a primary school, where several of the classes were doing their work on carpets spread on the ground outside so as to avoid the lingering nighttime chill inside their classrooms. As their great white benefactors, we were there to distribute the school supplies that had been bought yesterday on that activity I'd skipped. So the others in our group fanned out and handed out things like pens, mechanical pencils, and big fat erasers to the kids. Evidently such supplies tend to be hard to come by for India's school children, at least in small village schools like this one.
While our donations were helpful to these children, the fact that we were there handing them out and implicitly taking credit for our largess didn't sit well with me, and I did what I could to avoid participating directly. Instead I took pictures with my big camera and waved hello to the kids, particularly those who were in their chilly classrooms.
Eventually we crossed back to the other side of the street to continue our benefaction to the older children, some of whom were old enough to have faint mustaches. This time we were giving what appeared to be English-language workbooks as well as personal items, such as plastic combs (all the kids have pretty much the same kind of hair, which tends to be slightly wavy and black). The kids were all assembled and made to say appreciative things in unison, which, as you might imagine, did nothing to ease my discomfort. By the end there, the careful logistics seemed to break down and a group photo dissolved into numerous selfie sessions. None of the kids had any means of taking their own pictures, but they were quite familiar with the concept of appearing in selfies.
For lunch, we dined at the Roopangarh palace, which, like the Phool Mahal, is just outside a castle. (The story is that once the constant fighting between Rajasthani kingdoms stopped in the early 1800s, the royal families began building more comfortable palaces just outside their castles. Before lunch, we strolled around a large sunny courtyard, eventually seeing a number of monkeys, this time at closer range than some monkeys we'd seen earlier at Phool Mahal. This particular species had pink faces, camel-colored hair, and inflamed-looking genital regions.
Lunch at the palace was Chinese, though through the filter of Indian cuisine. We were told that Chinese food is very popular in India, though the locals frequently alter the spices subtly. In any case, the flavor was initially a bit dissonant to me, but then I decided I liked it and went back for seconds (and perhaps thirds). It's common in the United States for Chinese food to be overly sweet, but that was not the case with this Chinese food.
This evening back at the Phool Mahal, the princess of this kingdom (the daughter of the Maharajah we'd met yesterday) gave a presentation in the banquet hall about the art she designs. She showed them as slides on a computer screen, and they looked to be traditional motifs, often repeated to make the sort of decoration that might appear on a carpet or wall hanging (or even faux currency). Unfortunately, the banquet hall is walled with marble and has extremely echoey acoustics, so I couldn't hear much of what was being said, wasn't particularly excited by the art, and quickly became bored, though I tried not to be obvious as I began fucking around with my phone. The ladies on the other end of the audience (including Gretchen) later reported that they heard the princess quite well and were really into the art.

This evening before dinner, there was another performance by a small band of folk musicians. As had been the case on Christmas night, the instruments consisted of tablas, vocals, and harmonium. I don't remember how true this was on Christmas night but tonight it was clear why I wasn't much liking what I was hearing: it lacked dynamics and diversity of sound. Throughout every song, the singer was constantly singing and the harmonium was blaring away. The tablas (the best component of the songs) would stop briefly now and then, but this was never enough to break the monotonous uniformity of what I was hearing. Gretchen hated the music even more than I did, and it was good to whisper our snarky comments in each others' ears. None of this would've been so bad had this performance not been delaying dinner. It helped that we were being provided with an endless supply of beer and rum, but we were also hungry. Fortunately, when dinner finally came, there were pickled chilis available for those who wanted a bit more heat in their food. These had been available back in Bharatpur, but we hadn't had them since. It was good I'd asked about heat options at breakfast.


Little kids getting pencils out in the sun this morning.


Little kids' shoes at the school.


Older kids at the school across the street. Click to enlarge.


Gretchen handing out goodies for the big kids.


Roopangarh Castle rises above the back of the Roopangarh Palace. Note the scaled-down Mughal structure. Click to enlarge.


A rose-ringed parakeet had a nest in a hole in a tree near the banquet hall. Click to enlarge.


A five-lined palm squirrel in a neem tree. Click to enlarge.


A pretty cow with some colorful architecture. Click to enlarge.


Increasingly restive audience during tonight's folk performance. Click to enlarge.


Our room in Phool Mahal.


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