Each day post-Great Plague (no hospital runs in three days!) tempts with the possibility of blessed routine, as students dabble in internships with artisans, chefs, and designers, and get their first taste of true Rajasthani hospitality in their homestays. My co-leader, Francis, and I dropped in on one internship at a cooperative of traditional healers, who were immersed in making an herbal food supplement for nursing mothers called “batissa”. It’s a crumbly mixture of over thirty herbs, coconut, clarified butter, wheat, and unrefined sugar, and more than a few tastings were urged upon us. It is inadvisable to consume this mixture if the weather is hot (it is), one is eating spicy food (where does one find “bland” in India?), or not in need of generating regular quantities of breast milk for another human being (between Francis and I, I’m not sure who stands further outside this category).
Consequently, we both strolled away from our morning with the radical herbalists (they spoke little English, but rattled off phrases like “No slave to the system” and “Must localize!“ with ferocious ease) light-headed and somnolent from the intensely rich and potent “batisse”. We did both invest in some Chavanprash, a classic ayurvedic remedy that looks like Vegemite, tastes like jam, and is purportedly an elixir of youth and longevity. It did help alleviate my noxious buttery batisse hangover, and the hope that I might win back a few of the years shaved off my life by too many close calls on the subcontinent will keep me sucking this sweet grainy tar off the roof of my mouth for many days to come.
I do need to be attending to my looks, after all, as I have just had my first brush with celluloid stardom in India. As I sat picking through my bowl of papaya, pineapple, and pomegranate at the corner fruit shop, a twenty-something Indian man approached me and asked if I’d like to be in a movie in Ahmedabad. Given the ostentatious flair of the guy’s motorcycle, and the way he kept jutting his chin at passersby and shouting “Maximum cool, heh?!”, my first thought was, of course, “porn“. It’s actually fairly common here for Westerners to be lured into the possibility of a “fun Bollywood cameo” by curbside touts promising an all-expenses paid foray into Indian cinema. Sometimes it’s for real, and sometimes it’s for raunch.
Though there’s clearly a lot I’ll do for below minimum wage (current occupation not excluded), I’ve never considered a career as an adult film star, nor shall I (probably). My new friend assured me that it was a legitimate “action” movie, and when I offered the excuse that I had fourteen other people to consider, his eyes lit up. “Ah, even better! My quota is exactly fifteen! I’ll take the lot of you.” I had to quell a surge of panic that I’d somehow chit-chatted my entire community into indentured pornitude. Wait. Breathe. The kids are safely under the tutelage of their mentors, Francis is trolling the streets for generator-powered internet, and I am merely sitting here, with my fruit, passing the time of day.
But what if… What if I did just sweep everyone off for a crazy once-in-a-lifetime thrill ride through backstage Bollywood? Perhaps Antioch University could be persuaded to award college credit for getting paid ten bucks to munch samosas and look foreign, while pneumatic romantic leads croon and gyrate in the foreground. But probably not. As I watched Mr. Maximum Cool roar off on his ridiculous motorbike, casting me one last imploring look over his be-denimed shoulder, I allowed the sun to set on my unborn Bollywood career. But tomorrow is another day…