India: Chaos, Color and Cholera

By Pepper Edmiston
Special to the Palisades News

Despite my promising Joe a lifetime membership to the L.A. Zoo, my husband insisted on seeing tigers in their natural habitat. So off we went to India.

The driver who met us at the airport turned out to be the only Indian we could communicate with and find common ground. “My top TV show is Breaking Bad!” said our driver.

“Ours, too!” Joe and I chirped.“Plus,”I added, “My favorite character on The Simpsons is Apu, who owns the Kwik-E-Mart!”

“Mine, too!”

The author, Pepper Edmiston, protects herself from the air in India.
The author, Pepper Edmiston, protects herself from the air in India.

For our entire trip, Joe and I were treated like idiots. We realized it was because everybody in India knows an IT guy who deals on the phone with U.S. customers asking

“Is my computer on?”
“How can I get my computer to like me?”
“Can I retract something I sent?”

When you call for help, you’re already tense because you know Americans and Indians speak a different form of English. You think, “If only we could talk face to face, my problem would be solved in a heartbeat.” Fuhgeddaboutit. Even if you’re touching noses, you will be misunderstood. This is a verbatim conversation with an English-speaking doctor who gave me eardrops. Lord knows what he discerned from my Valley Girl whine:

Me:“How many drops per treatment?”
Doc: “Paramedic.”
Me: “How long should I use it?”
Doc: “Mumbai.”
Me: “Are there side effects?”
Doc: “Chanting.”

Joe wanted tigers, so we visited five lodges, each in a different forest. We traveled hundreds of miles, seeing thousands of people, mostly living on the streets or in shacks. Watching humans drinking, bathing and washing dishes in the same troughs used by animals made me rethink the need for Evian.

The Strangler wraps around a victim tree and begins sucking nutrients out of it.
The Strangler wraps around a victim tree and begins sucking nutrients out of it.

Shocking as that was, nothing prepared me for the driving. All day, every day, people risk their lives on the roads of India by playing“chicken.”Painted dividers are only suggestions. Half of every ride was spent in the lane of oncoming traffic, causing my toilet situation?” Behold The Four Stages of Toilets in India:

1. Dirt.
2. Dirt with a hole, behind a leafless bush.
3. Dirt with a hole and two slabs of rock to stand on, behind a twig fence.
4. And, la plus belle, dirt with a hole and two slabs of marble to stand on, surrounded by concrete walls.

And, because it is almost never heard, the sound of flushing becomes music to one’s ears, like a rarely played Bach sonata.

Since I had been warned about the “restroom” choices, I purchased Go Girl!, a purple-hued, rubber device that allows a female to pee like a man, no hormones or surgery necessary. It is shaped like a funnel with a long protrusion. The first time I tried Go Girl! was a failure. So, while fully dressed, I demonstrated for Joe how I used it. Keeping a straight face, my husband explained that for peeing, the appendage should be pointed down; in real life, a protuberance facing up serves a different purpose.

To me, the most interesting thing in the jungle was the Strangler Tree. Starting out as an innocent seed, it checks out its neighbors and decides which tree will die. The Strangler wraps its growing tendrils around the victim and begins sucking nutrients out of its trunk, limbs and roots. Years pass until the Strangler is strong enough to stand on its own. Then it’s “Death to the Host Tree!” Sounds like motherhood to me.

The weather in India is nothing to write home about. The sky is a shroud of gray, smelling of toxins and smoke, and the average temperature is 100 degrees. But, one day, it rained! Lightning, thunder and buckets of water crashed down on everything! It was wonderful!

Of course, that was the day of our five-hour search for the elusive tiger. Our jeep had no roof or sides, just like the “restrooms.” Our ponchos appeared to be waterproof; they were not. In fact, their design allowed us to become fully drenched. Have you ever sat in wet underwear for five hours looking for a tiger?

Eyes blinded by rain and nostrils filled with foam, my goal was not to drown while riding in a jeep. After hours of this grand adventure, our guide mumbled something about: “Blah, blah, WET! Blah, blah, CAVE! Blah, blah, TIGER NO OUTSIDE! Blah.” That’s when Joe and I learned that Tiger is Wiser than Man.

It was a romantic trip for Joe and me because we had wonderful accommodations and often found ourselves alone. During meals, we had the time to stare into each other’s eyes until one or both of us got excruciatingly uncomfortable and lunged for our iPads. I tried to get intimate by suggesting we tell one another five things we love about the other person. Joe’s immediate response was “And then reveal five things we detest?”

As beautiful as the lodges were, they still stood smack in the middle of a jungle. Every place had the same warning sign: Beware of Poisonous Snakes. When I needed to use the “restroom” in the middle of the night, the question was not “Do I want to put my warm feet on the cold, hard floor?” Rather, it was, “Venomous snake or U.T.I.?”

One fine day Joe and I took a ride on an elephant. The handler rode on the elephant’s neck while we sat on its back. Joe, who has a magnificent voice, loves the sound of it. After the handler repeated three times “I am the elephant trainer and she is my boss,” Joe began a monologue on California flora vs. Indian flora.

While in India, Joe Edmiston and wife Pepper took a ride on an elephant.
While in India, Joe Edmiston and wife Pepper took a ride on an elephant.

Unable to control myself, I whispered to Joe, “This man does not understand one word you’re saying.” Joe disagreed. “Repeat what I say exactly,” I hissed. This is the conversation, which had a momentary humbling effect on my husband:

Joe: “I am going to kill my wife.”
Trainer: “Good! Good!”
Joe: “I am going to throw her in the meadow.”
Trainer: “Mister! OK!”
Joe: Do you think anybody will find her? Trainer: “No problem!”

On our last day in India we had a few hours before our flight, so we stopped at a large shopping center in Delhi. As we entered, it hit me: And, On the 23rd Day, God Created the Mall. Air conditioning! Flushing toilets! Toilet paper! Drinkable water! Food that would not incur the loss of an organ!

Only one thing was lacking in that dreamy place: the gorgeous, brilliant-colored saris that adorned every Indian female. Sadly, in the Mall, all the women wore modern clothes and looked just like me.

Many people visit India seeking their spiritual selves. Joe and I didn’t even know where to look. However, we ate amazing food, turning my muumuu into a spandex dress, saw beauty every day and, overall, had a wild time in a fascinating country. Plus, we bought a lot of neat stuff at the Mall.


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