QUEEN OF SWORDS IN INDIA /

THE MOTHERLAND

Diary of a Sword Swallower (Part4)

by The Queen of Swords

 


Do not try this on your own.

 

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These stunts if not done properly can cause harm or even be fatal.

 

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Queen of Swords at yr average samosa stand

As I packed and prepared for my trip to India, it seemed like an obvious choice to leave behind my wire blade. I had every intention of keeping up my daily practice while traveling, but left my coat hanger blade for a few good reasons. First, I didn’t want to check my bag, and if a straightened out coat hanger in carry-on luggage doesn’t say “Threat to National Security,” I don’t know what does. Also, it’s a wire coat hanger. I could get one in every hotel I’m staying in, right? No need to bring my own all through India, when I’ll be in the land of flimsy wire products.

 

Oh how wrong one can be when fooled by unprecedented expectations and lack of knowing. India, as it turns out, is not the land of flimsy wire products but the land of flimsy plastic products. I arrived to the hotel and was quickly privy to the fact that we did not even have a closet, let alone hangers for inside the non-existent vestibule. In later consideration, I guess it seems silly to assume that there would be coat hangers in a country that, for the most part, does not require coats. Panic did not overcome me. I thought it wouldn’t be too much trouble to pick one up at a clothing store. Wrong again. As we passed by stores and stalls where saris, shirts, shalwar kameez, and kurtas hung lining the awnings and doorways, I would always peep at the hangers to look for wire. I saw red, blue, pink, green, yellow, f-ing plastic hangers. Everywhere. All plastic. It was like some cosmic joke, you can’t find a simple, cheap, run-of-the-mill wire hanger in an ENTIRE country.

 

 A magical world of non-wire hangers (or anything)

Then, a few weeks into my trip, I came across what I had been looking for. There, hanging in a storefront across the way, wrapped in plastic, was a bundle of wire hangers. I pointed in excitement and exclaimed to my girlfriend “Look! WIRE HANGERS!” which very well could possibly be the most enthusiastically anyone has ever spoken those words. I pranced over to the store to get the goods. But, India kept true to its surprising and unpredictable nature, and these wire hangers were eerily… foreign. Unlike the typical hanger you might receive from the dry cleaner, these hangers were, well, different. The wire was thick, like two or three times the thickness of a western hanger. The metal must have been made from nickel or pewter, because the surface was a flaky, matte silver finish that looked like if I were to try to bend it, it would either break into pieces or not budge. Again, my practice was slipping further away.

In addition to planning on easily finding a wire hanger, I had also devised a plan to pick up a few swords here and there while traveling. In my mind I imagined an “Aladdin-esque” experience, with winding bazaars comprised of hanging fabric stalls, people yelling at each other about prices and quality, street kids attempting to steal fruit from vendors, and, like, sword sellers. Right? I guess my conception of third world culture was slightly outdated. Although many of those descriptions are true, people in India (with the exception of Sikhs who carry kirpans) don’t just carry swords around. Nor do they buy swords. In fact, aside from some of the Hindu iconography seen everywhere, there is a very distinct lack of swords to be found. My girlfriend and boyfriend (a whole other story line) called me from India about a week before to tell me that they had seen a sword vendor. “You’ll have no problems getting swords here.” Wrong. Turns out they had witnessed a special event, as what they had forgotten to add to their story that I later found out from them was “We saw a sword vendor, and there was such a big crowd of people around it we couldn’t even see what he had.” Great.

Everywhere I went I looked for swords. I kept hoping to drive passed a store with a big storefront with nothing but swords hanging everywhere, but no, none of those stores exist. I asked vendors if they had swords and they would simply tilt their head to the side a few times and stare at me without saying anything.

 

 Brass "stuff"

Then, one day, in Delhi, I got a sword. I asked a vendor of brass “stuff” (to put it as accurately as possible) if he had a sword. He pulled out a dinky little 3” knife, and I said, no, I want a long sword, motioning as if I were pulling one out of a sheath on my hip like a knight. I later found out that this motion, which I preformed regularly for vendors in search of a sword, made absolutely no sense when out of context. For Indian vendors, I was basically asking for my fist swinging from my hip to the space in front of my chest. The vendor tilted his head a few times, as they all do, and then with an inspired excitement, he exclaimed “long sword?!” Yes! He said not here, but in the market by the Sikh Temple I could buy a long sword.

We hop into an auto rickshaw and ask for him to take us to the temple, where Sikhs were mulling about en masse. We head into the market, with no swords in sight, and ask a vendor for swords—again, with my stupid fist-hip-space motion. He pulls out the usual little two inch sword for wrapping into Sikh turbans, and again I say no, “long sword.” He motions with his hands, pulling them out wide, and I say “Yes! Yes!” and copy his hand motion. He yelled at a boy and the boy motions for me to follow. I go with him to a fried food dhaba, a stall set up in the market to sell snacks, and the boy squeezes in behind the many cooks to a small cabinet behind the dish of frying samosas. He unlocks the cabinet and pulls out five long, sheathed swords, all about three feet in length with a slight curve. I take the five, all slightly different, and inspect the items, some with red velvety sheaths and some with wooden and brass sheaths. I pick one with wood, decorative brass designs, and a handle with a snake on it. The vendor asked for 1500 rupees, and with some bargaining effort I talked him down to 1000 rupees. That’s about $20.

The sword is not one I will be swallowing any time soon, its over three feet long, curved, and has a wicked point on the end. But I got a sword in India. I couldn’t leave without getting at least one. And, if I do end up swallowing it, it will become my piece de résistance, the show stopper. The India sword.

 

These New Old Traditions www.newoldtraditions.com

 


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