.Natalia my dear friend from the Phd created a blog for us to keep in contact while doing fieldwork. She called it the “Inbetweeners”. Although I quit my PhD and I am not doing field work I can really relate to ” being in between”. There are many of us who usually feel this way nowadays, travelling you are bound to encounter these people all the time. I have written about this before this feeling that crossing borders seems to cause to me. In one side it becomes very evident the humanity that connects us all, on the other it also makes very evident the arbitrariness of systems, beliefs, languages, customs, rituals, practices.
If we were to be trees I imagine the “inbetweeners” to be like mangrove trees. Every now and then the roots become more exposed. You see them so well, and you see other’s and yet they still somehow tie you. They are no longer under the earth, you see the absurdity of some but what can you do? If you cut them all you get somehow lost. But you cant burry them either, soemtimes the mud covers it for a while but you know eventually the water goes away and they are again exposed.
I sat yesterday in a cafe in Pushkar, Rajastan. I was with the sweet 22 year old Michal. One of the Israelis I talked about when I wrote the last mail. Her friend had recommend this cafe to her. This place was one of those that catered for Israelis. So i sat once again watching young boys and girls in large groups smoke hash, eat a lot of arab/israeli food, speak in Hebrew while listening to Israeli music. The young Indian waiter spoke Hebrew too so they did not even have to change language to order their Hummus.
I usually watch them from afar intrigued. What makes them come all the way here and travel like this? There could def be whole anthropological studies on this. My friend and I were staying somewhere else for her this kind of travelling does not do. When the whole group finally left the waiter who turned out to be the owner came to seat with us.
Khalu is 26 and he is a Brahmin. His father is a very religious man who hates tourists for destroying the traditional way of living. ” He is happy, he does not know. I am trapped in between”. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had seen my Indian friends who work with tourists in Mc Leod suffer the same fate. Khalu had had an Israeli girlfriend, had gone to Israel for a month to see if he could live there. ” I realised quite soon I dont want that kind of life. You in the west stress too much, want too much, complain too much. Here our life is more difficult but is more shanti. So I am trapped I cant just marry someone i barely know now like traditions tells me to. I have seen it differently, but I cant have it. I am in between worlds and there is no solution for me”.
Khalu was an exceptionally interesting boy. He had opinions about everything. He hated the fact that Israelis invited him for dinner but then asked him 3 questions in English and then spoke Hebrew the rest of the time. It is a common thing in groups i told him and wondered why did he serve them. ” Good business. You do one good dish they tell all of their friends, they seat smoke and eat all day. Europeans eat little and go. Not good for business.” He turns to my friend and says “Michal I am sorry to tell you the truth but most of us don’t like Israelis. When you come we of course don’t say this but we dont like how Israelis behave. there are sellers here who do not even sell to Israelis anymore. They think it is not worth the hassle. I know you are not like these groups… But this is what they do…. Do you know what we hate the most here in Pushkar? the Bet Habad House!”
Bet Habad Houses are Jewish houses where something like “missionary Jews” set to help Jews abroad. The are very controversial most of my Israeli friends don’t like them either as they tend to be very segregationist, and as some of my secular friends say ” they benefit from the fact that these boys and girls are so vulnerable after the army to preach religion.
Indians don’t like them for another reason, mainly because they intervene in their business, and are rude to the locals. In Mc Leod Michal was told by some locals that the religious came to a tattoo artist to tell him not to do tattoos to Jews, they also went to a Muslim restaurant owner to enquire why he sold food to Jewish people.
Khalu hated them ” I went for Shabat with an Israeli friend of mine and they did not let me in! Can you possibly imagine what would happen if I went to Israel made an Indian House and did not allow Israelis in? They would kill me! I organise Shabbat dinners every week here and it is much more popular than theirs. A couple years ago someone wanted to bomb that house. The people in the village beg the gov to make them go away. We never had problem with bombs and now we do bc of the Bet Habad, I am sorry Michal to say this to you my friend.”
As Michal agreed with it all she just repeated ” I feel ashamed of this. I really do”. I gues like me, like Khalu she is also in between…
At night I met two religious Jewish boys. We talked a lot. They explained to me the feeling of being minority. Most of my friends are secular and one way or the other hate religious intervention and the amount of the taxes they have to pay for the religious. One of these boys was absolutely fascinating. As we had a long conversation I felt i could ask him why he felt like he had to observe so many laws, why did he think God ( if it exists) cared about this particular ones.
” well you are talking about two different things. One is belief in existence of god. The other is whether there is any divinity and connection from this divine being and the laws.” it takes two leaps of faith. There are even many religious people who are atheists. They follow the laws because they believe this laws make life better. “
I was astonished with the clarity of explanation. “So are you very religious?”
” I was raised religious, but I am still deciding”
There was some kind of beauty to it. He was a bright gentle boy. Talking to him and Khalu brought me back to the little village in the border of Pakistan where children and young people where dazzled by what we advertise when we parade in western clothes, taking pictures. It made me remember the look of the old ladies unconvinced, unimpressed who seem to be able to foretell that their way of living was about to be extinct. These boys seemed less concerned about the divinity of the laws than whether it simply led to a better life. Wether our modern, individualist way is if at all healthy.
I ask Khalu whether he thinks his father was right. ” Is traditional life better?” He pauses, thinks about it ” He is happier because he does not know. I guess he is right, I guess it is better but for me is too late now, I am in between”.