Monday, July 18, 2005

A lack of taste

I had planned to visit Kochi and Kozhikode in Kerala, but despairing of a long wait at the station, I boarded the bus to Mysore.

This city is the site of a particularly over-the-top palace. The Maharajah had it built in the first years of the twentieth century. Designed by an Englishman. Constructed with materials imported from across the planet. It may well be the epitome of European opulence combined with the boldest of Indo-Saracenic. It's bizarre. It's tacky.

The exterior is a riot of arches, turrets, covered walkways. The interiors of certain rooms reminded me of the Palacio Real in Madrid. This is not a good thing. Many rooms are based around the colours of the peacock. Which, naturally, look great on the bird. Not so good on the walls of the reception hall. It is Versailles on the cheap, but I think Imelda Marcos would approve. Indians do not believe in the old adage 'less is more'. There is no such thing as a 'surface' in India. Pleasant enough to look at once in a lifetime; living in it would produce a permanent migraine. I think Italians might like it here though; it resembles the some of their more outrageous baroque churches. Three otherwise bored guards attempted to exchange piles of Australian twenty cent pieces with me. Sure, just what I need. I politely declined. They didn't like that so much.

Another building on the grounds promised a peek at the Maharajahs personal possessions. With reticence, I entered. Indians do not do museums well. Bit I was not disappointed. I may have been the only visitor this century. It was pure Caravaggio claro-oscuro. Nice in a painting, less rewarding when you are trying to make out what you are staring at. Is that a full set of European armour? A wax replica of the Maharajah? In fact, it's a guard asleep on his feet. Why can't they ever get the light right? It's either over zealous flickering neon tubes or a thirty watt bulb for an entire stadium.

Hilarious. Every guard I encountered in the dusty twilight of the building was dozing. Rip Van Winkle, caretaker of the Crown Jewels. To play silly buggers, I climbed over a roped-off display and relaxed on a solid silver chaise-lounge. It felt very decadent, very fin-de-siecle. The attendant didn't budge. I though perhaps he might be dead. I delved into my notebook, only to be rudely interrupted a few moments later by curmudgeonly North Americans. They stared disapprovingly at my lounging in a verboten area. I stared disapprovingly back at their outfits, all Bermudas and Aloha shirts. I pretended not to speak English, sucked my cheeks in and tried to look French. I think it worked. The Aloha shirts withdrew. The attendant still didn't budge. I think he was dead.

Sated with tasteless displays of wealth (the Palace, not the North Americans), I ambled about the market and purchased scissors of the 'finest quality.' Yes, I'm sure they are. You see, in a moment of pique, the searing heat and rotting coconut oil in my hair got to me, and despairingly, I had raced to the barber's. After almost two years of almost uninterrupted growth, I cracked. It had taken a very long time to pass the bouffant stage, and several more months until I stopped looking like a 70s German porn star. But looking like a cross between Davids Hasselhoff and Lee Roth had taken its toll, and it might have been a good idea to have at least washed my hair more than once in four months.

Like the hairdresser said, 'Your head smell very bad, hair very dirty'. 'Yeah, well, I'm not paying you $1.10 for your nasty comments, so just get on with the job at hand'. I now sport a No. 2 crew cut. I fear I might resemble Rove. This is not a good thing.

I look healthier, less sleazy. But the grey hairs are back, hence the finest quality scissors. Long hair had disguised the little bastards, but now I was going to have to battle with them. As anyone turning grey knows, grey hair grows faster, and perpendicular to your scalp. Along with shampoo the hairdresser had also suggested a henna dye. If you saw some of the follicle fiascos plying the streets of India, you'd wisely say no.

Henna comes from a plant. It turns black at first, but then fades quickly to russet-brown. There are countless men in Indian towns sporting orangey-rust hairdos and beards, with ample grey re-growth. It's the Indian version of the Mediterranean comb over. It's a big fashion faux-pas. I'm sticking with the grey hairs, even if I need a few weeks with my finest quality scissors before I resign myself to it.

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