Saturday, September 08, 2007

The 30-yr old virgin, tea country, Munnar, India

The hillsides are full of irregularly shaped, green-velvet cushions. The tea plantation shrubs are perfectly coiffed to the shape of the hills. The tea pickers live in a perpetual, unmoveable fog on the dark side of the mountain where the sun doesn't seem to penetrate for more than a few minutes.

The first young buds of the tea plants are not picked, but the second round are. Old leaves are worthless, so these stay on until they're pruned to make way for new buds. Tea pickers make 90 rupees a day, and the full-timers get a company cottage and use of the clinic and kindergarten. They wear the rubber thumbs we use in offices for auditing documents.

I took a long walk with Thomas, the manager of sorts here at the Olive Brook Hotel. We talked about the history of the tea plantations, Tata and Lipton, our families, university studies, Indian society and how social mores are changing. His favorite topic concerning the latter was sexual mores. At first, he was anthropological about it, economics student that he once was, then became more anecdotal. Or, to be more accurate, anecdotal about his lack of anecdotes. His frank fascination with the subject of "sexual relations," combined with a professed shyness, was pitiful, endearing, amusing and revolting, by turns. He had no problem sharing that he was a 30-year old virgin. Or to share lechy stories of Indian cougars in Goa whose husbands couldn't last more than the ten minutes. But then he described how he was too afraid even to kiss a girlfriend for fear of rejection, and how the occasional brush of her arm as they walked was "almost enough."

Later in the evening, he knocked on my door to tell me what time my tuk-tuk would come for me the next morning. Then he gave me a long soft look, towards the top of my head--I wondered what he was looking at--then he put an arm to my waist and moved in. I drew away before he was close enough to do anything and just said, "No, no, no," in a descending scale, as if he'd just offered me a fifth cup of tea. I moved to close the door (I'd already had my hand on the doorknob), and he moved back and said, "I am sorry" as he walked away.

There are beautiful silver oaks here with wispy long green and silver fingers for leaves. Also, Spathodia trees (also known as African tulip trees or Nandi flame trees) whose blossoms look like red teacups. They attract mosquitos, which get trapped in the sticky folds of the flower. And when it rains, the teacups fill with water, and mosquitos come and lay eggs inside them. The blossom dies 1-2 days later, wilts and dumps out all the eggs, killing them. Hooray!

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