Thursday, February 10, 2011

The irritation factor

It’s Friday February the something-or-other, probably the 9th or 10th or something. Time can become quite irrelevant here. If it’s light it’s daytime, if it’s dark it’s probably night, unless you are in a meditation cave on the hill.
It’s early, just after 7.00am and I have just let rip on some of the staff for the first time, though I have got close numerous times. There are about a million staff here it seems and I have this real thing about how they talk to each other very loudly all the time, often from one end of the grounds to the other, often day or night. This hotel is sold as a very quiet, peaceful  eco-resort and for the most part, being 5km out of town, is just that, that is, except for the bloody irritating staff !
Indian people speak very loudly for some reason, perhaps they are a bit deaf from the car, truck and bus horns on the roads that are constantly and excessively used, add that to the constant chatter going on round here and it can really get to you after a while. It comes from all angles. You have the staff entrance out one side of the eco-units (I’m not sure exactly what constitutes an “eco-unit” other than the fact that there is seldom any hot water when you want because they turn it off to save energy, or so they say, more likely just being cheap) then from other angles you have the cleaners, the gardeners and all manner of other staff. The staff entrance is an opening in a wall and is particularly noisy as staff come and go through there all the time, as they do so there is an almost constant jabbering between them all as well as right out the back where all sorts of goings on accompanied by the same levels of yap. This can be from 6.00am right through to after midnight. Worse still, the staff all have cell phones of course and when they want to have private conversations they come out of their area and into the hotel gardens, right beside the beautiful covered yoga and meditation areas (even when you are out there practicing) and start up the jabbering with extra volume.
Jabbering is a really good word to use here as I am convinced they are saying nothing of value to one another, they are just….well….jabbering. Anyone who has been in lengthy queue at an Asian airport surrounded by jabberers will know exactly what I am talking about. So they jabber, jabber, jabber away round the place, often standing around in small groups in general jabbering conversation , barking out orders to a subordinate or this thing where communication from one part of the grounds to the other regarding whether the water is actually running through the hose or not (which can take up to 5 people to organise !)
&.00am, the cleaners and the pool guy are standing right below my upstairs unit having a jabbery, loud conversation as they do and today was just the wrong day to be doing that as far as this guest was concerned. Ensuring first that it was not a group of guests, though today that probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Opening the door and before I could even get started, I was greeted immediately with “good morning sir, room cleaning ?” My very simple but response to that, followed by an equally short, sharp instruction using a small selection of internationally recognised single syllable words sent them instantly flying in all directions without hesitation. Message delivered, clearly received, I will now have more words with the general manager.
Trouble is, when I spoke to the GM a couple of weeks ago about this his first response was “please speak up, I am almost completely deaf in this ear and half deaf in the other” (Southpark Face gets inserted here !) I have a feeling that change is impossible around here and whilst I am careful to pick my battles with these trained monkeys, this is a biggie ! There are three things that have bugged me here (well about 379 things actually) but only three things seriously. Firstly seeing as I got a fantastic deal via an internet site for 37 nights they tried to charge me more when I arrived. That was the single worst and most disgraceful travel experience of its type I have had. Secondly, they advertise the swimming pool exclusively for guests yet let any westerner who will pay good money come and use it. Some days it is so crowded you can’t get a spot around the pool let alone a sun lounger. Then there is the noise from the staff. As I say, in India there are endless little irritating things going on all the time, most of which you tolerate as best you can, that’s where I say that I pick my battles.
Speaking of picking my battles. I got into a fight with an old wandering sadhu last night outside the ashram. Most of these so-called sadhus, I have decided, are beggars in orange clothes with bad hair. This one guy wanted some money and I said a flat out “no” to his face. Well he starts into me jabbering away at full speed in Tamil which I understand perfectly of course ! Well I do understand the words “rupees” and “helping” and the gestures that suggest it’s feeding time so “give me some you rich-bastard-westerner !” I gave him my best chopping action and growled out “no sadhu, beggar…no sadhu, beggar”. Well that really helped didn’t it ? But I must have got my point across because then he really let rip and as they do they look for a rock to throw at you when you refuse to give them something. I had images of a punch up with an old sadhu but that didn’t end well for me at all as I was imagining 40 orange clothed, dreadlock adorned sadhu-beggars in a mass brawl with this lone westerner. Little hairy brown men being thrown everywhere, onlookers outside the ashram cheering the “holy men” on and me being the baddie no matter what ? Wouldn’t work !
Needless to say I am going to have to watch my irritation levels for the next week or two. This is perfectly normal. The longer you are here the more the whole thing tends to eat your lunch if you are not careful. It’s part of the Indian journey and takes you to your absolute limits of patience and tolerance and then way beyond. You definitely get sick of the beggars, including the sadhus, as they are worse in my view. Then there are the children who always want a pen, a biscuit, a sweet or two rupees. Aside from that just about everybody sees the westerner as rich and therefore is an opportunity to “get something”. A very nice waiter here asked me to fund his MBA a few days ago. Having almost completed his BA via correspondence he needs to do his MBA full time for two years at a cost of just 50,000 rupees per year (about NZ$1400 per year) and that’s just for the course fees etc. Now that is irritating, especially when you are trying to eat your dinner. It’s kind of sad a a bit confusing but that’s an example of what you get all the time. Perhaps I should have said no to his request straight out but seeing as I was eating dinner at the time I told him I would think about it, as you do, and talk again with him tomorrow. I have since discovered that is as good as agreeing to pay up and the next day was handed his personal details including a bank account number (insert Southpark Face !) His story of seven sisters, father dead and him having to study while working full time and all that is all very moving but really, what can we do ? I’ve always said, this country needs to wake up to itself and look after it’s people. Too many do-gooder westerners have given into this and now it’s expected it all the time of course.  When we try to help, are we really helping ?

That’s my bitch session for the day. I think I need to go to Arunachala and remain calm so as not to end up inflaming this right now, I need to pull right back, relax a little, put all this madness into perspective (and again, all those who say “exactly why India is not on my list of places to visit” will be saying “exactly why India is not on my list of places to visit”

The update (a  couple of hours later) 
I spoke with the GM, this is the second time with this) and he immediately and impressively took charge (as they do) I just came back from breakfast and there were groups of staff standing around talking (loudly of course) probably about their new instructions, how to shut the **** up ! They see me coming and scuttle off like cockroaches across a kitchen floor hoping not to get squashed underfoot. They should be seen and not heard, perhaps not even seen. They are going to put signs up out the back as well so we'll see.

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