In which... violence breaks out in India after a train leaves a station on time . The general theory of absurdity the god you cant see but can smell miracle mud
Violence broke out in Calcutta after a train left a station on time.
Passengers were so used to late departures that they were incensed when a journey began on schedule.
Welcome to India.
Im not making this up. The 9.20 morning train from Sonarpar to Sealdah left the station at This caused outrage among passengers, who didnt even saunter into the station until between 9.30 and , having grown accustomed to the train leaving considerably later.
On being told that the 9.20 had left at 9.20, they stormed the management offices and beat up stationmaster A. K. Sen. The general feeling in the crowd was that the railway authorities, because of their inconsiderate behavior in allowing the 9.20 to leave at the absurd time of 9.20, must shoulder the entire blame for so many people being late to work on that day.
I heard about this from my from east India source K. Sinha, and saw a brief article about the violence at the station in The Statesman.
It reminded me of an incident in a village in Nepal, about which I wrote some time ago. It had (and probably still has) a bus service which was supposed to leave at , but really set off at variable times during the mid-afternoon.
Respectful villagers would wait until the bus started to move, and then set their watches to As a result, all the watches in the village were every day re-set to any time except the correct one.
In Asia, time has always been a relative concept. In spiritual terms, Einstein was definitely Asian.
Im in India, by the way, for various reasons, including to check out the God of The Abandoned Lot.
I heard about it from a source called Deepika the previous week. She had called me from a crackly phone. You know what bits of waste ground in New Delhi usually smell like? she said.
I do. Overtones of urine, urine, urine and urine with some woody undernotes of urine, sweat and urine.
A reasonable description, she said, and I could imagine her head tilting to one side and then the other, as is her wont. Well, get this. A stinky bit of wasteland in New Delhi has acquired an amazing scent. Its not far from where I live. Its really gorgeous like theres a huge invisible sweet-smelling thing there. People think a god has moved in. If you are coming to India any time soon, come and meet him.
That had been a week ago. I arrived at the site just after , when the sun was so hot I could feel my eyeballs melting. India is an assault on all your senses: there were cars honking, people shouting, bus engines roaring; the smells in the air included coriander, petrol, onions, carbon, rotting fruit and something meaty and foul, which I think might have been me.
But over the top of all these smells, the fragrance in the Magic Abandoned Lot was crystal clear. It was almost spooky. There was a definite smell of something expensive, floral, perfume-y and evocative, but not like French perfumethere was somewhat temple-ish about it, too: in fact, it was the exact after-shave an Indian god would wear.
What was really weird was that it seemed to move. As the air wafted about, you felt the pleasant-smelling thing, whatever it was, gently wander from one part of the field to another. Your eyes followed italthough I guess they were really following your nose.
Its sort of Chanel-ish but also holy, Deepika said, I think accurately. Like the Queen of England meets Shiva.
I spoke to a few local residents who explained that it was a holy place, and some major miracle was just about to happen.
Things developing interestingly at the muddy site in New Delhi. Individuals have started taking dirt from the site, believing that it can cure them of ailments. Fortunately, it is one of those patches of land that are unloved and apparently un-owned, so no-one seems to mind.
I stuck a bit on my head to see if it could cure male pattern baldness.
Miracle mud has left a strange stain on my head which doesnt wash out. No hair growing yet.
However, reports are mounting that the miracle mud seems to really work for other people. Several people claim to have been cured of something or other. Mostly minor stuff. No limbs growing back yet.
It was Elmer, a friend of Deepikas, who first came up with the General Theory of Absurdity, which goes like this.
Places with high scores on the absurdity index generate societies full of people living transcendent lives, rich in drama and human emotion: in short, exciting, high-energy lives lived to the full.
Places with low scores on the absurdity index produce dull people who are dogged by apathy and inertia: frustrated individuals who found themselves driven to create artificial thrills with theme park rides, horror movies and Stephen King novels.
This made sense. It explained how life could often be so magical in relatively poor but unpredictable Asia while existence was often bland in rich, safe cities in the West.
In principle, it sounds okay, I said. But if you look at places which score high on the absurdity index, theyre really varied: India, Japan, Africa, the Philippines, America. These places actually have very little in common.
He thought for a moment before replying. In the States, you dont find the stories of life-and-death absurdity that you find in Asia. You find dumb criminal tales and that sort of thing. Those sort of things are not really absurdity. They could be classified as stupidity.
People keep staring at the patch on my head.
Its quiet this morning, so let me explain who I am.
My friends call me Jam and for years I have been maintain a thing I call The Absurdity Indexreally a collection of the true-life tales that make life on this strange planet the marvelous, miraculous, unpredictable thing it is. I read every newspaper and magazine I can get my hands on, including obscure ones like the Borneo Post. I also travel a fair bit and sniff around for cases myself, mostly in Asia, where I live. I have a great network of volunteers scattered around the world who find examples and send them to me by post or email.
Sometimes I use the material to publish columns in newspapers or magazines or on the Internet. I have written columns under many names and pseudonyms (my Chinese name Lai See, my Sri Lankan name Nury Vittachi, or under titles such as The Spice Trader, Travellers Tales, etc). All this background stuff is too boring to go into, but if you are interested, click here.
These days, I am doing it on the Internet, because more people can access it, and I dont have to deal with horrible editors.
More drama in India, but this time it is fury over news from Japan.
Japanese scientists have applied for a patent on curry. Application number 06090838 to the Japanese Patent Office lists Hirayama Makoto and Ohashi Sachiyo, as "inventors" of curry.
Im not sure who broke the news first, but the version I read was from The Independent on Sunday, a British newspaper. Under World Trade Organization rules, the men would be able to claim fees on all curries entering Japan, even from India.
Deepika and Elmer are infuriated by this, as are the columnists on the Indian newspapers. Were not taking this lying down, says Deepika. We are thinking of taking out a patent on sushi. You can charge a lot more for a menu of hamichi, tobiko or uni than a chicken tikka masala.
Back to the Magic Abandoned Lot in New Delhi So many visitors are taking rocks and sand that the site is becoming a hole, Deepika tells me.
Various theories are emerging about what the mysterious perfume could mean. The invisible god theory is still going strong. Others say that there is an ancient temple hidden under the earth, and activity by its gods was causing heavenly aromas to arise. Still others say that a famous religious leader must be buried on the spot, and the fragrance is emanating from his saintly body.
Patch on my head is smoother than the rest, killing all attempts of my scalp even to grow fuzz.
On my last day in India, I get shocking news about our miraculous lot. A perfume company has admitted that they had naughtily dumped a load of unwanted scent rose and sandalwood flavours on the site, and this was causing the dirt to smell fragrant.
I guess that kills the tale, I say to Deepika.
Not at all, she replies. The denizens of New Delhi have decided that this theory is extraordinarily far-fetched and absurd, and have dismissed it.
This morning she spoke to one of the people who were using the perfumed mud to do miracles. He told her: I much prefer the explanation that it is all due to invisible gods, hidden temples and magical saints. Its all so much more believable.