The Flaneur: Down & Out at the Jaipur Literature Festival – Part Two

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1/20/2014 – 20:00 – Jaipur Hostel

Another unusual and traumatic day.

It began this morning during my 9 a.m. rickshaw ride to the Literature Festival. I was wearing sunglasses. I don’t remember the last time I wore sunglasses. But wearing them helped shield me from the chaos of early morning Jaipur. I rode through the mists and reaching hands and honking to the venue, paid, got out and walked about thirty feet.

It was then I realized my wallet was gone.

I ran back to the street just in time to see the rickshaw vanish into traffic. I sprinted after it, shouting like a mad man, then carefully retraced all 30 of my steps and tore my backpack apart again and again, as if somehow there was a secret compartment that might have eluded me.

I complained to a nearby policeman, but only after my account was finished did I realize he didn’t speak English. I kept repeating myself, as though somehow repetition would transform my message into Hindi.

He just looked at me.

Back out to the street I ran, sweeping the ground with my eyes, thinking of all the terrible things that would soon happen to me if I didn’t find my wallet.

As I stood in the middle of the busy highway beseeching the uninterested traffic cops a man in a hooded shawl leaned out of his rickshaw and in perfect English asked me where I was going.

I told him what had just happened. He told me to hop in and he would help me. He asked where the previous driver had picked me up, but I didn’t know. He asked where my hostel was, but I didn’t know – I always just handed rickshaw drivers the hostel’s card, which was in my wallet, and they took me.

Through means I still don’t understand he was not only able to locate where I had picked up my rickshaw, but also managed to track down the driver, who claimed not to have found anything.

In a final fruitless attempt to deceive myself into thinking there was a chance I might recover my losses, I asked the driver take me to the police station, where I filled out a police report. But from the beginning I knew my wallet was gone forever, along with 11,000 rupees, all sorts of train tickets and my only debit card with access to a bank account in the US.

I didn’t even have any money to pay the rickshaw driver.

Luckily, a few hours later a friend arrived to town, a Wisconsin native named Beau whom I’d met months ago while traveling in Xinjiang, China. He was with a friend named Aaron on a short trip around Rajasthan.

They met me at the festival and as we walked back to the hostel, to add to the humiliation of the morning, my foot broke through the grating of an open sewage drain and my leg got soaked up to the knee with greenish-black sludge.



 Back at the hostel, smoking a joint.

Beau just showed me a huge chunk of hash with all sorts of strange debris in it and asked me if he should eat it.

Of course not, I said, but he threw it into his mouth anyways.


Things are getting weirder.

We’ve journeyed into the streets in search of rajma and have somehow picked up a 28-year-old Latino from Miami. This is his first night in India, his first night outside of the Americas.

I’m not sure where he came from. He must have been talking to Beau or Aaron or someone and just followed us out of the hostel.

As we walk through the dark unlit streets full of cows and emaciated dogs, the Miamian looks terrified.

We’ve only gone 100 yards and already he is ready to turn back.

How far are we going? he keeps asking.

Just up the road, I keep saying.



At the dhaba now.

The Miamian is refusing to eat. His eyes keep lingering on our food. He seems so lost, so out of place. His tongue keeps unconsciously wetting his lips, then he’ll look at the unwashed hands we’re scooping up our food with and then over at the filthy kitchen, which is dirty and greasy and stained black from years of never having been washed, and I can see the nausea rising into his throat.




After dinner we had planned to go out exploring Jaipur but the nugget of hash Beau swallowed is beginning to take control of the evening.

He is stumbling down the street like a drunk man.

We have to get him inside.




Back at the hostel. Outside. Smoking.

Beau continues to fall down the rabbit hole.

Things are about to get a whole lot weirder for you, I tell him.




Beau is lingering on the edge, glassy-eyed, slipping in and out of some strange interior drama. He has began mumbling incomprehensibly, trying, for some reason, to recount the entire plot of Con-Air.

Aaron keeps mostly quietly.

The Miamian is making pedestrian observations about India.

I feel alone.



Beau just lurched up, roared, fell flat on his stomach on the cold, wet ground and is now crawling across the floor like a soldier with an intestinal wound, half laughing, half moaning. And now he is vomiting.

I leap up to hold a trash bin under his mouth to catch the vomit as he spews over and over and over again.

I have never seen so much vomit. He nearly fills half the bin before he collapses and just lies there, shivering, twitching.

We throw a shawl over him and let him lie there.



Aaron and I dragged Beau back into the hostel and almost got him into bed before he began vomiting again and we instead had to take him into the bathroom, where he lay gripping the edge of the toilet for another hour, vomiting every few minutes, quoting obscure film lines in between.

By the end of it the toilet and two different trash bins were full of undigested rice, rajma and yellow curry.


1/21/2014 – 13:28 – Jaipur Literature Festival

Last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Heavy, unseasonal rains washed over much of the city last night. The streets this morning have turned into rivers. Wings of sewage and mud spray up by the rickshaw’s wheels as I ride to the JLF.

The tents over some of the stages have collapsed and most of the talks have been moved into the cramped little courtyards of the nearby palace, giving the lectures a feeling of intimacy.

But today I find I have lost much of my interest in this festival. Most of the best authors have gone home and those who remain migrate from panel to panel lecturing on subjects they seem to know very little about.

Everyone looks sad and cold and wet. Like the stages themselves, the prestige of the festival is crumbling for me.

I half-mindedly attend a few lectures before my mind begins drifting onto the adventures that await me in the rest of Rajasthan.

I leave.

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