If you can imagine sardines packed in a tin and enjoying it, you have conceived an apt metaphor for the madding crowd at the Manali mall, where they pass time by gaping at the flabby legs getting oil massage.
Van Vihar’s stately stacks of deodar trees guard the place, and as the eye lifts from this bizarre bazaar of humanity, it is relieved also by the eternal snows of the peaks that lord over this vexing scene. At the rate at which humankind is warming the globe, the snowline may not be forever. We cannot take it for granted.
Disinterested in nature’s beauty, some of these “sardines” peel off and make for the “gori route” of Old Manali. Sipping filter coffee at Dylan’s there, we witnessed the smeared soles of this crowd: Punjabi lads ogling “hippie firangis” as if the gorgeous wenches were sprawled on nudist benches. It was not Himachali rainbow trout they were hoping to hook but these pink-andwhite salmon imports.
Some threw lewd remarks at the “loose” white women to attract them with their “bold virility”, while another youth scratched his crotch for a pair of blue eyes. The ladies knocked them off their radar as the holy cow trawling our streets shakes flies off its backs contemptuously with a flick of the tail.
A lass, blessed as she was with curls that released like a waterfall of tresses the colour of autumn leaves, had Delhi belly issues. She dived for relief in the café’s dirty toilet after getting the owner to dig up a fresh roll of toilet paper from under the sofas.
As she came out looking distressed, her boyfriend greeted her with comforting kisses and whispered sweet nothings into her ears. That got the desi boys all worked up and frothing in envious excitement.
I felt sorry for those youths, that they will know women as mothers, sisters and wives but never as friends: one of the perils of perpetual all-male company. After this inept fishing expedition, the gang retreated to “biskey and murga” binges on the Beas banks and drowned themselves in an alcohol-sodden fantasy.
My wife drifted to a handbag shop and tried to caution the owner not to charge her “foreigner” rates. The canny peddler told her politely that “these foreigners” were not loaded and we Indians were “better off ”.
“Israeli tourists are world’s best hagglers,” he said, “They come in droves to shake off the rigours of compulsory military service, holiday in cheap cubicles, and get hopelessly high on dope.” Quietly, my wife paid the marked price, less a measly discount.
Back at our resort, a 40-minute drive from Manali’s functioning anarchy, the Indian families were isles of reclusion.
I tried to exchange pleasantries with them in the dining hall or on the wellappointed lawns fronting the Beas but rooted as we are in our insecurities and lack of self-confidence, the chasm was not bridged easily.
An exchange of courtesies at breakfast was replaced by stony look-throughs the very evening. In contrast, the fair skins were courtesy personified. The forigen visitors greeted the less-obviously-lecherous strangers with a smile. It got me looking inside.