“Whack!” I swung the medieval club down with maximum force. It hit the iron rim of the sewer gutter and power flowed back up into my elbow like a sonic blast. Just below this commotion an enormous rat scurried unharmed into the shadows.
Filming in India can be taxing. The cities are chaotic and loud, schedules often go awry, and locals have a unique sense of personal space. However, if the goal of travel is to open the mind and expand perspective, there is no other destination that competes. Content waits to be discovered around every corner. If you can't find a story in India, you're just not paying attention.
The Taj Mahal Palace will blow your mind and you won't believe who has stayed there. We toured some of the rooms frequented by big name guests and sampled luxury at its pinnacle.
I left the Taj for an unsavory destination: A neighborhood of grimy alleyways, littered with overflowing garbage piles. It was a search for a clandestine branch of the city government known as the NRK (or Night Rat Killers). I'd wager we were the first Taj guests to spend their evening hunting rodents.
I was a horrible rat hunter. In retrospect I'm so thankful I did not smash one of the furry creatures. A piece of everyone's tax money has gone to pest control, but that doesn't mean everyone would be cool watching a rat crushed with a club.
There is always some member of society we prefer to keep in the closet. If not the NRK, it's the folks washing hotel sheets in Dhobi Ghat or the families sorting garbage at Dharavi. They deserve a modicum of recognition for dealing with life's inconvenient realities. It’s important to understand the broad spectrum of lifestyles on earth... to see things for what they really are.
We live in a virtual world now which lathers gloss on everything. Browsing a Facebook wall does not provide the experience of real lives, but rather the highlight reel of lives. Something is lost in this process. There is a piece of our humanity in struggle, hardship, and tedium. The story of our race rests as much in the rat killers of Mumbai as the guests sipping Darjeeling tea in the Taj.
I had heart wrenching love triangle moment. It happened in a class for Bollywood's aspiring stars, but nonetheless, for a good performance I had to reach deep inside. I remembered moments of romance and loss. I felt some of the butterflies and the pain. After the class the students gathered around spontaneously and I gave them a pep talk. The road of the artist is a difficult path. There will be family members who cajole them to "get a real job." In auditions there will be hundreds of "no"s for every "yes." Without family in powerful positions they will have to hustle for opportunity and hone their skills razor sharp. Even then they'll need luck.
The devoted artist does something remarkably courageous. They should hold their head up high. We need people in "real jobs" to keep the economy running. They are the meat. But the artist connects us with the full spectrum of the conscious experience.. They are the spice. Without art the world would be a flavorless dish.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel tonight at 9PM (Europe, Middle East, Africa)