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This weekend I spent at Mumbai’s Yoga Institute on a 2 day specialist course.  My skills were honed and my body twisted into a variety of contortions (All for the calming price of a tenner).


Now the Yoga Institute is a little blissful haven, an ashram located right in the centre of Mumbai’s mayhem.


Unfortunately though for the institute it was built several years ago, before there was an airport and now resides directly under the flight path. Thunderous roars crash into the peaceful karma like a three legged randy bull in Harrod’s Royal Doulton dept after a Christmas delivery. But, like any a city’s noise, you soon get used to it and even welcome the pauses to meditate on the topic of  meditation.


Apart from the usual array of yoga techniques I found myself staring at candles, with the instructions that I was not allowed to blink. The ironic thing was that as soon as I was told not to blink, I blinked…and I was doing so well. It is all part of focusing the mind on a single point and cleansing the eyes through the tears that start to stream down your face.


Absolutions are an essential part of the of the yogi lifestyle, so with red eyes I moved onto the next daily routine, Jala Neti. To but this technique into its most basic form it is snorting lukewarm, salty water up both of your nostrils and marvel at the gunk that rapidly escapes from you nose, eyes and mouth. It is an enema for the nasal passage and sinuses or saline nasal irrigation to be exact.


Let’s face it the nose is designed to filter all the pollution and bugs that lurk in the air and as such why not give this filter a good clear out. And I have to say it is brilliant.


Yogis dub this as one of the best things you can do in your life. As well as physical, psychological and spiritual benefits it can cure, or help prevent sinus infection; allergy problems; respiratory disorders; asthma; hay fever;  deafness; migraine; giving up smoking; depression; mental tensions; epilepsy; hysteria; temper tantrums; sore throats and the common cold. It stimulates better powers of visualization and concentration and gives clarity to the mind.


Pranayama or good breathing is an essential part of meditation and yoga. As such a clear nasal passage goes a long way to aid this. Furthermore, Jala Neti subtly stimulates the olfactory bulb – the psychic centre, known as the Ajna Chakra and yogis believe the right and left nostrils need to be in balance to ensure a healthy nervous system and as such a healthy body and mind. 


So next time you are cleaning your teeth, think about giving those sinuses their daily enema. You may never look back.

The first time that I traveled to India I was surprised to see the swastika. It is everywhere, on religious sites, flower arrangements, and in people’s homes. Was India full of neo Nazis was my initial thought. Is this where they all came, when they ran away from Germany. But somehow the thought of Hans settling down to become a bratwurst and sauerkraut wallah did not seem to gel.

It wasn’t till I was in Jew Town in Cochin, where I saw a company called Swastika Spices that I realised something was afoot.

Swastika actually comes from a Sanskrit word and its existence dates back to the Neolithic period of India’s existence. It is a mark to signify good luck or “That which is associated with well being”*

In antiquity the symbol was extensively used by the Indo-Aryans, Persians, Hitties, Celts and Greeks. And is today a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Mithraism.

No Nazis here

No Nazis here

In Hinduism the symbol comes to represent the two forms of the god Brahma. Facing right it represents the evolution of the universe, and facing left its involution. It also signifies stability and groundness and is considered extremely holy by all Hindus. The Hindu god Ganesha is often shown sitting on a lotus flower on a bed of swastikas. The symbol adorns temples, signs, altars and any iconography that is sacred.

So how did the symbol get into the hands of the Nazis? Well in the 19th century the archaeologist Heirich Schliemann discovered the symbol at the site of Troy and associated it with the ancient migrations of proto-indo-Europeans. He connected it with similar markings found on pots from ancient Germany. He theorized that the swastika was a “significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors”.

The swastika became a symbol of “Aryan” identity. Unfortunately Adolph Hitler adopted the symbol and its meaning now came to represent Nazism, fascism, white supremacy and the Holocaust. A far distance from the good luck charm. Well that is if you are not a Nazis.

A search on wikipidia has a wealth of information on the symbol and its meaning in different cultures. I for one still find it hard to look at the symbol and and not connect it to the Nazis. I am sure Mr. Hitler new what he was doing when he chose the swastika but unfortunately he has tainted its existence for ever in the West.

I noticed in a recent film here “Mumbai Meri Jaan”, about the train bombings in Mumbai, that one of the characters was wearing a swastika T shirt. The character also happened to be a Hindu who was xenophobic and anti Muslim. I hope this is not the sign of change for the swastika in the East.

If the semiotics surrounding the symbolism of the swastika takes on this Western fascist role – well there may be a few peace loving temples looking for plasterers. I would love to carry a swastika as a good luck charm, or maybe tattooed on my forehead, but trying to explain this to everyone I ever meet in my Western life would be just too dull. Maybe I will stick to a rabbit’s foot.

* Ref: Wikipedia

Head wiggling / waggling is something we English just find utterly bemusing. It is also quite difficult to get right as well. Well for this gora anyway who has little or no rhythm in his head and neck regions…this does pretty much spread to other parts of the body, but we will address this under Bollywood dancing at some stage.


In the West we are so accustomed to our rigid up and down for yes, left and right for no, that this general bobbing and bouncing around in front of our eyes leaves us frowning and questioning, “is that yes, or no, what exactly is that”.


Head wiggling is more like when two pariah dogs enthusiastically meet each other in the street with their tails wagging away as they greet each other.


So here are a few explanations*


Firstly the movement: Rotate the chin to one side, about 15 degree and dip the ear. Once complete quickly and smoothly repeat the motion in the other direction. Repeat and carry on for as long as is required. Often for several seconds or longer if you are really getting animated. The essential part to remember is that the movement must seem effortless and smooth.


What can a wiggle get you?


Responding in the affirmative:


If talking to an Indian and you find yourself in complete agreement then you can show this agreement by wiggling your head. Example: a conversation between Bob and Dave (two classic Indian names):


Bob “George Bush is a complete idiot, who has alienated many cultures in the World and propagated terrorism”

Dave does not need to respond by saying “I agree”, he just wiggles away emphatically and they are both of the understanding that they are in agreement that George Bush is a complete arse. Beautiful.


Saying thank you:


Saying thank you in India is much less fashionable than it is in England. However it does not go amiss. A simple wiggle of the head will make this gesture.


Dave “Here is your chai”, he hands Bob his tea.

Bob wiggles away, with no need of opening his mouth.


Acknowledging ones presence:


Normally in the UK a hi, a nod or a small wave will acknowledge your presence. But in India, simply make eye contact and wiggle away.


Making friends:


To say that wiggling your head makes you instant friends with somebody is probably an exaggeration, but it isn’t far from the truth. If you wiggle and get a wiggle back then you are well on route to becoming life long buddies with your fellow wiggler. Apparently though this will not get you a discount in Mumbai’s redlight district, but you may end up with a, not so pleasant, itch.


Disarming people:


Gregory Roberts puts it so eloquently in Shantaram “gradually, I realised that the wiggle of the head was a signal to others that I carried an amiable and disarming message: I am a peaceful man, I don’t mean any harm”


So if there are a bunch of goondas hanging out on the street corner, a little wiggle will suffice in ensuring your safe passage. Though I would ensure that you have practiced, getting it wrong may suffice in getting your head kicked in.


To confuse things even more, apparently there is a difference between North and South wiggles. I have not been North yet, so can’t comment, but I am sure it will take a while to adjust my wiggle.


Furthermore, unlike the pariah dogs and their wagging tails – head wiggling should not be followed up by trying to sniff the anus of your fellow wiggler and then trying to hump them on the street. This, as far as I know, is not an Indian integral cultural norm.


Ref:, Shantaram, by Gregory Roberts






From the air Mumbai is a patchwork of blue. It is as if somebody has taken a load those bags you get at Ikea and randomly thrown them out of an airplane, forming a metropolis quilt  that any Amish mother in law would be proud of.


To Indians this blue tarpaulin is probably the third greatest invention, close on the heels of the wheel and cricket. It is everywhere. I half expect the stuff to appear on the commodities market, next to gold, corn and pork bellies.


According to Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, shelter and warmth is right in there with the pysiological needs, vying for position with other needs like water, food and excretion. So this blue plastic is an essential part of Indian survival. It is difficult to have your eyes open and not have some of this blue wonder material occupying a large part of the picture.


When our office’s roof sprung a leak in the last monsoon downpour. The action taken was to tie down some of this blue plastic and the problem went away. I am sure there is no long term  plan to fix the problems, but if it arises again I’m sure another sheet of this blue stuff will be on hand and readily dispatched.


Likewise, any self respecting slum or pavement dwelling cannot be, unless it is festooned with this magic material and its amazing capabilities to keep out water. If it didn’t exist, then the poor would just get wet.


The question that arises in my head is why blue? There is limited supplies of white, often used for covering stalls selling complete rubbish by the station, but predominantly it is blue. India being a nation of colour, with its ladies elaborately adorned in a rainbow of saris, and spices of every colour imaginable and then there is Bollywood a technicolour extravaganza, but this ethos does not come down to the humble tarpaulin. Blue is what you get.


Maybe this is a business idea for some up coming entrepreneur “Maslov’snot blue tarpaulin company”. Any colour you want, so long as it isn’t blue, guaranteed to keep you on top of that hierarchy of needs and keep you up with the Joneses or Kamals.


My local highstreet / slum area is awash with barbers. There are more barbers than you can shake a proverbial stick at.


Note: A stick is defined as that what a mangy, flea ridden, pariah dog can pick up. If it is too big then it is a log, too small a twig.


There must be at least 20 of these hair shacks located in one hundred and fifty yards. So how do you choose. Simply going in and asking for a no.1 and beard trim can get you anything from a simple no.1 and beard trim with cursory nose hair trim, right the way through to a full facial, head and shoulder massage. And the cost 30 to 150 rupees, not relative to the service you receive.


Personally I just like to go in, spin the chamber, and see what I get. Generally, whichever from the above it is I usually leave to the laughter of the barbers and crowd of rickshaw drivers and children that have gathered to watch this momentous event. The paranoia in me  always thinks they are saying “You charged him how much for such little hair”.

Most people will cringe at the idea of visiting a slum. However, when Yasuda, the cleaning lady, from my offices invited me over for tea, how could I resist the opportunity.
Her house is the size of most people’s living rooms and houses six family members. And the kids in the neighbourhood, well they just loved the opportunity to pose for the camera.

DSC_0437, originally uploaded by colin laidlaw.


When traveling you come across some fabulous words that need a bit of promoting to get them back into common use, here are 3 that I have come across:


Wallah – Is a person who is associated with a particular work or who performs a specific duty or service.


This word is not so commonly used these days, but i love it. It takes me back to the 1970s TV series, It aint half hot Mum.


Chawallah are the men that served up tea and Punkawallah was the early Indian air conditioning system. Which essentially consisted of some poor guy who used to fan the rich and military elite. Often this was set up through a contraption of pulleys to their foot.


A wallah that is common in Mumbai is the Dabbawallah or Tiffin Box Carrier. These guys collect meals from people’s houses, often in the slum, and deliver them to people at their workplace, often in the city. It is a sorry site though when this age old tradition is being disrupted by terrorism. Terrorists have been using the tin Tiffin Boxes to disguise explosives and under the guise of the Dabbawallah transporting these explosives to key sites in India’s cities. Damn that President of Americawallah for aggravating such world chaos.


Wallah is a word that I would like to see more of and as such am trying to promote its usage. An ITwallah fixed my computer, a Barwallah poured me a beer, a Toothwallah, a Brain surgeonwallah, a Formula 1 racingwallah. Genius, ooh wallah wallah.



Goonda. Which comes from the Hindi word gunda, meaning rascal. A goonda, is a heavy, some muscle or a local gangster. Someone you want to know in times of trouble. Someone you don’t want to know in times of trouble. Its a great word and probably is where goon comes from in English, and has a similar meaning.


I think we should change the word bouncer for goonda. Every bar in England now seems to have a goonda at the door. I’m not going to tell them this though, because I am sure they will take it the wrong way and get a load of other goondas to kick my head in.


In Mumbai there is the Chor Bazaar. Now in English slang there is the word chor…as defined by Chor is another word to mean steal and is commonly used in the chav regions of Kent/Essex/South london.


Example: “You just Chorred my fags bro.”, meaning ”You just stole my cigarettes old bean”.


So interestingly enough Chor Bazaar is also known as Thieves Market. I wonder if this is where the word evolved from. However, the market actually isn’t full of knocked off gear and it isn’t  running a mock with backpackers buying back their recently half inched rucksacks.  One of the stories as to how it got its name was that when Queen Victoria visited India, some scoundrel stole her violin. And guess where they found it…Chor Bazaar…the blighters.


Chor, Goonda and Wallah, use ’em or loose ’em.



For those of you that remember the classic 1980’s game Frogger, where a little green frog has to cross a dual carriage way. A game that probably evolved because of Thatcherite moneterist policy ripping up great swathes of the green belt for urban expansion…sorry I digress.


Anyway, so Frogger is exactly the same as crossing a road in Mumbai. Exactly the same, apart from the fact that the little animated cars and trucks are replaced with rickshaws (if out of the centre), taxis (if in the centre), trucks, cyclists and buses that loom up on you like a vision from hell, oh and throw in the odd buffalo and cart.


Locals navigate this traffic like a seasoned Frogger player. I on the other hand navigate it like a junior rookie Frogger player.


When it comes to traffic, Indians exist very much within the moment. It is interesting to note that within yoga and meditation, much of the philosophy and teachings are to bring you in to the moment, to eliminate the past or future and concentrate on the being as it exists at that exact point. Likewise to navigate traffic, one must exist within the moment.


With such a huge population, dealing with overcrowding is commonplace. People barge past each other, or fight to get on the train. They sometimes explode at each other in moments of anger. But they do not harbour a grudge.


In London if somebody even slightly bumps into you on the tube you find yourself glancing at that person with complete hatred and vengeance for the rest of the journey. Death to them and their family is a small price to pay for them entering your personal space.


In Paris every car has a dent in it. I am sure that there is a job, for a very fortunate person, to take a sledge hammer to every car as it rolls off the Renault or Citreon production lines. And yet here, where the road’s intensity makes Paris look like a small sleepy village in the Dordogne, there is a distinct lack of dents on the vehicles. Why is this?


The reason is threefold: because all the drivers are in the moment of driving. There are no distractions from driving, it is what they are doing at that precise moment. Then there is the desire to get from A to B without any concern for any other drivers. There is no politeness or giving way, it is every man for themselves and thirdly there is no harbouring a grudge. Just because somebody cuts you up well that is what they need to do and they just did it better than you. You cannot let it evolve into anger or displace it on to the next person that comes along, you just need to get better at driving.


The same principles apply to crossing the road: next time I will do it with a complete selfish confidence. “I need to get to the other side” is my mantra, it is the most important thing in my life at that moment and I do not care who gets in my way.


Please note: This could be the last entry I write on this blog. If it is I would like Jimi Hendrix “All along the Watchtower“ played at my funeral, “Caution, no entry” written on my thombstone and the tire tracks of the Adheri East bus removed from my forehead.













The photos in this album were taken while out on a recruitment drive to get street children involved in the Mumbai marathon. Most of them look healthy and are having fun. But many are solvent abusers and will be dead in the next few years.

Getting involved with the marathon will give them something to aspire to and give them reason to leave the solvents behind them.


Click on the link to take you to the Flickr album (Select slideshow)


My room in Mumbai has such awful lighting that it is brilliant and strangely beautiful. Well from the camera’s point of view anyway.

Click on the image below to see the full album on flickr.



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