The sign introduced the quaint little building of at least 1930’s vintage as the “Green Hotel” I’d booked into.
I painfully unwound my legs after what seemed like hours of straddling luggage on the floor of an overfull Matador van. It had served as a village to village bus service. I was at my destination in the state of Bihar India for the evening and next day would catch a taxi ride to Ranchi where I was assigned to visit a hospital.
The desk attendant had been resurrected from sleep long enough to hand me a key and then wave me toward my room after paying him the equivalent of US$5 for the night. He had no knowledge of a booking, but there was no one accommodated there anyway so I had the pick of the hotel rooms. It was there I thought I’d discovered why the hotel had been named the Green Hotel.
My room was an unpainted cement room with attached bathroom. It was the bathroom that informed me why the hotel had possibly received its name. From my sitting position on the bed I could view the accumulated green mould slime flowing from roof down the wall to floor, and exiting through a hole in the floor meant to care for runoff from the shower, and of course double up for a toilet. But it was at least a place to rest after hours of dusty travel.
The first order of business was to get cleaned up and to my delight the shower worked. It was a single jet of water at high pressure and freezing cold, but very acceptable and excellent for blasting off accumulated grime and sweat. I then thought of clothes. All well used and dirty, they were in need of a good wash. There was one small hand sink and I’d learned how to make magic with my washing in small cramped places. It had to be better than a bucket and probably much better than beating my clothes against a rock at a river!
I travelled a bit more ambitiously than some of my fellow travellers. There in my toilet gear was a range of useful things including clothes washing powder and it worked well in remote locations as it did in my washing machine back home.
No plug, but no problem either as I’d discovered a pair of socks works just as well. For some strange reason I enjoy working the magic of making underclothes turned yellow with sweat into white garments even the angels would applaud. So I held my soaped up prizes for inspection and gave them a tick of approval. Now it was time for the final deft touches. The sock was removed and water sent the soap on its way.
But the magic didn’t work this time. The white soapy chads turned bright red!
Now science is not my strong point so I had to sit on the bed again and contemplate that miracle. Soap washes white, clear water rinse turns clothes red! Didn’t seem right somehow, but travel in Spiritual India can do strange things to the brain and it needs a pause to think things through.
So concentrating hard I repeated the process. Sock in the plug-hole, soap up my red underwear and watch it turn white. Inspect my work. No drama this time; the underwear was indeed white. Remove the sock and run the rinse cycle with clear water which I inspected closely. The underwear slowly turned red again.
Have you ever had one of those paranormal experiences that raised the hair on your back? I did that day. I systematically completed a mental inventory of my life in India. Had I in some way offended a holy man and incurred his wrath? Was it to be my lot in life to wash all my clothes red as an act of penance? It was a fearful possibility indeed!
But after several minutes of contemplation I concluded it had to be some other reason and went back to inspect the hand sink. There at the base of the plug hole was the answer. Accumulated years of spitting betel nut into the sink had left an encrusted red dyeing agent to fool the superstitious. The combined agent of sock and soap powder had negated its influence, but when those were removed the betel nut had its own way.
I looked at the hand sink in dismay. Had the missiles fired contained a trace of TB? What had I subjected my underwear to and could I again have them in close proximity to my body without some dread disease attacking me?
I borrowed a bucket from the sleepy attendant at the desk and completed the job with a greater application of soap powder and longer than usual rubbing out of all traces of the red stuff. The powerful shower jet blasted out all remnants of offending red. At least I hoped it did. But for the rest of my itinerary I felt uneasy about that underwear. What was it doing to my body?
I’m penning this as its possible someday you may find yourself in the backblocks of India and suddenly see the inviting sign “Green Hotel.” Avoid it if you can, but if that’s not possible avoid the hand sink. It contains a lurking danger!
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