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Somebody once compared the street kids of Bombay to me to its pariah dogs. They did not mean this in a derogatory way, in fact the exact opposite. If you take a pariah dog and a domestic dog down the road and a car comes along, the pariah dog knows to get out of the way and will do so at the last possible moment. The domestic dog however, will not have a clue, it is soft and only responds to orders and food, it doesn’t realise the danger. It becomes a piece of road kill – another statistic if statistics were kept for dogs killed on the road.

 

This highlights the problem that faces a child when they run away from home to live on the streets of Bombay. They have run away from poverty or abuse, or are forced to be leave – they are seeking a life of their own.

 

I found myself sitting with a bunch of street kids watching the pariah dogs. One of them pointed to the dogs and said “That’s the clown, the comedian amongst them, and that one is in charge, he rules this street and the one over there is weak, he will not live long,” I looked around my friends, and as if as a direct reflection there was the  clown, the one in charge and the one that could not move from the gutter because he was high on glue.

 

Mumbai though is cleaning up its act, it has reduced the number of pariah dogs down from 700,000 to 70,000 through a cull. However, an order has been passed that this is against animal rights. A bit of a debate rages. The dogs are calm during the day, but can be vicious and deadly packs at night. There is now a no smoking ban in public areas inside and out, posters have been put up stating fines for spitting, urinating and shitting in the streets, you can’t even wash your car without being busted.

 

The Marathon is on too, in which I am competing in the half marathon at the slowest possible pace, a 13 mile walk. My excuse being that my training did not really go as planned, to which I am sticking to. The reality, I am a lazy sort. They have cleared the streets of beggars and the Marathonplanners have ensured that the route does not go by any slums. They want the world to see Mumbai as this lovely metropolis and want no dirty washing out there.

 

I finished the half marathon in a record 4 hours, quite an achievement, but what I am most impressed about is that I am not last, infact far from it. I am surprised that there are thousands of people doing exactly the same as me – walking it. I don’t know if this is really in the spirit of marathons as we know it, but heh this is India and things do work a little differently. Things that really got me are the number of people that go out and run, not for a charity, but for their company. Corporate branding proliferates like an allergic rash. I bet there are bosses out there forcing their staff to do it with the threat of the sack or worse promotion and responsibility if they don’t. Also some of these groups only do a bit of it, the bit in front of the cameras, cross the road and head back again. That so isn’t cricket.

 

We have taken a group of 28 children to do the 7km run, which they completed with great fervor. It gave them something to look forward to, an ambition, a goal in life. What is more they were given a goodies bag of stuff by the marathon sponsors. Soaps, shampoo, that sort of thing. It did amuse me though that there was Nivea face whitening cream in the bag (Oh how our cultures differ), something I did not really need. So for a while the street kids of Mumbai will be smelling good and whiter than white.

 

After we had completed our respective runs/walks I did a photo shoot at VT station, home to bullet holes courtesy of our fundamentalist friends. At first the boys were a little suspicious of me, probably thinking this is another white guy taking photos of poor people, poverty porn at this time of recession. But, after they realised I had done the half marathon too I was welcomed into the pack, I was allowed in, I was the domestic dog gone wild with his street brethren.

 

Proof of my monumental walk can be found here:

 

 http://www5.marathon-photos.com/scripts/event_entry.py?event=Sports%2FCPUK%2F2009%2FMumbai+Marathon&match=laidlaw

 

Anybody need some skin whitening cream. 

 

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I am in Patna working on a film for the children’s charity I support, a dust bowl of a town someplace in Bihar. Not a place I would normally venture, but heh. I am put up in a reasonably nice hotel and promptly get about my work, there is nothing else to do in Patna believe me, so focus seems a relatively easy thing at this point.

 

All is going well till I discover that my reasonably nice hotel has a cockroach problem. Not the big uns, but little ugly blighters. The damn things are everywhere. I chase them out of the room, I squash em, I drown them, kill, kill, kill, but they keep appearing. I get the manager of the hotel and point at them. The manager comes back with some ominous green spray. kill, kill, kill.

 

For a day or so they vanish, the green spray has done the trick. But then they are back, I chase them out of the room, I squash em, I drown them, kill, kill, kill. But they cease to end, more green death spray is applied, but my nightmare never seems to cease. Where are they hiding.

 

I am writing this blog entry from a Mac Donalds (Yes, yes, I know – chav) at Delhi Airport on my way back to Mumbai. A man sits opposite and we start to have the usual conversation, where are you from, where are you going, where is your wife – he is tucking into a juicy chicken burger and lays it down on the table. It is then with a certain degree of horror that I watch as two cockroaches run from my laptop towards his burger. I am mortified. He hasn’t noticed. Nobody’s noticed. I’ve noticed. I do the honourable thing and quickly leg it.

Around the corner I peer into my laptop and there they are, whole families, whole communities, a whole silicon metropolis of roaches existing in harmony, dinner parties with fancy dresses, white picket fences, shops and boulevards. I am a delivery boy of middle class cockroaches to the world. I tried to destroy them, so they used me to spread. My cards have been dealt, karma has spoken.

 

Stuff a Buddhist approach I think; balls to reincarnation; karma, my left foot. I have take a Republican party stance on diplomacy – Peace is attained through superior firepower.  I promptly phone a friend in Mumbai – “Get me cockroach spay” I cry. “Why do you want cockroach spray” he responds. “They are in my laptop.” “What is in your laptop,” “Never mind, just get me cockroach spray, the greenier and deadlier the better. Nepalm, I demand weapons of mass destruction.”

 

This may be the last blog entry from me for a while as my laptop dissolves into a blob of plastic, silicon, insect and those F keys that nobody really knows what they do. My Karma evenly distributed.

 

My apologies go out to the Delhi airport Mac Donalds and my sympathies at their forthcoming closure, the jobs lost and the households destroyed, the suicide of the proprietor and the need for his child to go out and beg. It is a shame really that he was destined to bring about world peace till the sudden death of his father. That’s karma for you.

 

Maybe we need to live with our insect friends, maybe I should feed them instead of killing them, maybe I need to buy them multi armed Laura Ashley dresses and pointy shoes. I finish this article on flight 801 bound for Mumbai, I watch as another roach legs it from the fold.

 

Sorry Air India…….. And the…….etc, etc, etc.

That’s Karma for you.

 

The sun is getting low in the sky over Calcutta, long shadows slice through the afternoons haze and rest across her wide boulevards and Maidens. Cities are like love affairs. Each has its own character and its own reason for you being there. At first they are exciting, everything is new, they are there to be explored. You experience wonder and trepidation as you wander through roads and lanes, shops and markets, people and sights – these are the things that cannot be experienced in any other city, her geography, her infrastructure, her mystery – this is the mistress to explore.

 

Over time you get to understand her. You develop a routine, the same coffee shop in the same street, the same barber, the same bar with the same barman. You seek solace in what you know – she then has you, your mistress she looks down on you from her rooftops and religious spires she reaches out to you and asks you the question, do you want to be my wife.

 

Calcutta is  a place I fell for many years ago, because of its name – a gateway to the East a place of wonder. She had a certain romanticism surrounding her. She was a woman that one sees from afar, on another platform or at a passing bus stop, always causing wonder, wondering just what she would be like. She is intellectual  and smart, tidy and has a certain class and is terribly British, she is easy to know. She is comfortable and welcoming – however she is just a little boring. I could spend a certain amount of time with her, but eventually I would leave her.

 

Bombay is not the kind of city you take home to meet your mother. She is a fling with great passion, she wears short skirts and high heels and often goes up escalators wearing no knickers – After a night with Bombay you question to yourself “How much do I leave on the bedside table,” Bombay’s streets, its slums, its poverty and riches, she will eat you up, suck you dry and spit you out. She’s an urban whore. To paraphrase Catch 22 “Bombay is the kind of girl you fall in love with, because she is the kind of girl you can sleep with without falling in love with.”

 

Delhi can not be trusted, she has two sides and she knows it. She comes across all smiley and nice, but is truly a bitch. She hangs around at photocopying machines and chooses her mate or really her prey. She is slightly schizophrenic and suffers from an addictive personality. She is a city that needs help she needs to be booked into therapy and a clinic for damaged cities’ souls.

 

I am on the train, a 31 hour trip, leaving the kind warmth of Calcutta’s bosom and heading back to face that mistress of mine Bombay. The kind of city that good boys should stay away from, the kind of city that terrorists try to kill. But she is too streetwise, those little boys with their guns. She took them in made them men, then spat them out without their trousers or their souls. Bombay that mistress of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What do you want” the fifth annoying hawker in five minutes asks me. “I can get you anything.” “Guns” I reply. “Is there a gun shop around here.” “Toy guns,” inquires the hawker, scratching his rather long nose. “No, no real guns, high caliber sniper rifles, damn airport lost mine, the kind that will take a man down at 500 yards, can’t trust anybody these days, airports heh” I sigh with frustration. “You will need a license in India for those sir”. “Surely not, surely there must be a shop around here someplace,” I peer into a bag shop, the shopkeeper smiles at me expectantly. “ Would you like silk scarves sir, I have a shop just here” the hawker tries to steer me into a silk scarf shop. “What caliber are they?” “What?” “What caliber are your silk scarves?” “No sir these are silk scarves, export quality.” “Well they are not really what I am after, thank you for your time.” I walk off into the crowd leaving a rather bemused hawker with his silk scarves.

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Calcutta is a shopping paradise. It has streets that would rival Oxford Street or 52nd street. Shop, shop, shop. Consumerism is here and middle class India loves to shop. Actually Calcutta is very much like New York. With its Ambassador yellow cabs, Park Street could easily be 1930s Broadway. The architecture though is distinctly colonial and in fact the British truly have left their mark here. The Maidens (large grass areas) provide all sorts of clubs – cricket, badminton, polo and the Kennel Club are all here. All very la di da.

 

Fancy coffee shops sit next to record shops and book stores that are awash with self help books – the secrets of life, how to become rich in 10 days, yoga for people that can’t be bothered, Mein Kamph, and other light reading. India is on the rise and there is plenty of advice as to how you can retain your spiritual self, make other people wealthy and ignore the realities that surround you.

 

The middle classes are the new India, consumerism is on the up, India’s future is there on the smiling faces of its shopkeepers. Turn a corner though and you are into the other India. Chah wallahs, street food, pissing in the street, people sleeping rough and rickshaw wallahs that don’t even have the luxury of a bicycle. So don’t worry there is still a high enough level of poverty to keep old India alive for a few decades yet.

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Now where can I buy rocket launchers.

 

Rubbish disposal in Bangladesh, like other countries on the sub continent, generally consists of someone picking up the household rubbish, this then is sifted through by rag pickers, people whose job it is to separate rubbish from anything of any value, this then is dumped and set upon by more rag pickers. Plastics, metal, cloth and paper are removed. The rubbish is then consumed by dogs, cows, goats, crows and in India, pigs. Added to the fact that there is little packaging in the East means that there is little left for landfill, apart from plastic bags and the gunk that rubbish forms and its reciprocal stench.

 

One can consider this method of disposal in two ways. Firstly, when compared to our society’s wastefulness and disposable culture it almost seems Utopian, nothing of any value is wasted and put into the ground. Secondly, how disgusting is the thought of people sifting through our waste. And it is disgusting. Young children eat what they can find, dysentery and disease runs high. From a Western point of view, you don’t get much lower than this.

 

But it is to Bangladesh’s resourcefulness within recycling that I turn to the subject of of ship breaking. Chittagong is one of the few places in the world where you can see this controversial practice taking place. I had to see it, simply because the inner child within me loves to see big things broken up into small things, their gestalt as it were, the whole being the sum of its parts; I love scrap yards  of any sorts; I love ships and the bigger the better; I like a bit of controversy.

 

You know when you are getting close to the breakers’ yards because there is row upon row of shops selling second hand ship paraphernalia. This is the place to come if you want plates purporting various ship names, anchors, port holes, technical ship thingies, compasses, fog horns, ships’ bells and life boats. I was in my element sifting through the biggest nautical jumble sale in the world.

 

Buy ome lifeboat get one free

Buy one lifeboat get one free

 

 

 

 

Then there are the plants processing fiberglass, oil and most likely that most evil of substances, asbestos. Nothing it would seem goes to waste, everything has a value on it and there will always be somebody with the know how as to how to process it into something more useful and make some cash.

 

Finally you get to the breaking sites and what a vision of the apocalypse it is. As far as the eye can see container ships, oil tankers and other huge hulks have been beached like a pod of whales on a bad navigation day. An army of workers swarm over the ships slowly picking them to pieces. It can take 6 months to strip an oil tanker down to its salable bits and then cut up the steel into manageable chunks.

 

These yards are difficult to access and they certainly don’t want nosey tourists taking photos to put up on their blogs. Lots of smiling, talking about David Beckham, cups of tea, passing around cigarettes and backsheesh was required and then photos had to be taken while hiding behind huge chunks of ship.

 

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Safety standards would make even the most lapse safety officer cringe. Bare footed men carry huge sheets of steel across a tangle of oxy acetylene hoses as cutters burn through the hull, reducing it to its primal beginnings. Safety helmets and goggles, warning signs and fenced off areas, the essential requirements in a Western world amiss. This is probably one of the most dangerous places in the world, rivaled only by a Taliban arms dump with a big arrow pointing at it and a message stating “Taliban arms dump, American fighter pilots wear ladies’ panties.”

 

But the workforce do seem aware of safety issues, one man pointed at some asbestos lying on the ground and said “dangerous”, and then made a coughing sound. Another told us to stay away from the cable that drags tons of ship up the beach. If it brakes the whiplash will cut a man in half, and I am sure this is spoken from experience. Back in Chittagon I observed a higher than average rate of beggars with limbs missing. Compensation from their employers, insurance cover, no win no fee, I don’t think so.

 

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Like the rag pickers, it is dirty and dangerous work. But one thing you can be sure off is that there will be very little of the ship that enters landfill. It is in the psyche of Bangladeshis to extract as much value as possible from its waste. If this was done in the West safety standards, high wages and policies of disposal would make it an impossible task, so much would simply be buried in the ground and forgotten about.

 

Next time you marvel at a huge tanker or container ship at sea spare a thought to where it will eventually end up. The ship graveyard in a remote part of the world, and the men that live to clear up our mess. 

 

 

For more info. about this controversial practice see the Greenpeace point of view: 

 

www.greenpeaceweb.org/shipbreak/bangladesh.asp 

 

 

Click on photos to see the full collection.

 

Saint Martin’s Coral Island

 

Saint Martin‘s Island is a quaint island off the southern most tip of Bangladesh. A coral island with diving to rival the Great Barrier reef or so the guidebook will have you believe. Again lies (Please see previous entry). The waters are a silty quagmire, and there is more coral in a 3 foot fish tank and fish to that matter. Because of its topography St Martins has shallow waters and most of the coral has been destroyed by the sedimentation that lies at the bottom, suffocating anything that would even consider trying to grow, like a pillow over the face of a wealthy, elderly relative that is just about to cut you out of their will and leave their money to Battersea Dogs’ Home. Combine this with the huge array of plastic rubbish and over fishing it leaves the diving to nothing but disappointing. Don’t come here for this, the Island attributes lie elsewhere.

 

Election fever is hitting Bangladesh and I am told that all mobile phones will be switched off for 72 hours, most  Bangladeshis will leave the Island to get back to their districts, and to coincide with this there is to be a general strike across the country bringing everything to a halt. This will leave myself with the fishermen and the few westerners that venture this far. To note: last time there was an election here it lead to an army occupation for 2 years, so it is probably best that I am tucked away in this enclave for its duration.

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St Martin‘s greatest asset is its beach which runs completely around its perimeter. a 3 to 4 hour stroll. It was on one of these walks I came across a huge mass of people chanting for their favourite politician. That is one of the 3 corrupt personalities that have spent time in jail for just that, what a choice and what an inspiration for Bangladesh. Its probably just then that the mass of people consisted mainly of children shouting out the name of their favorite corrupt person for something to do. It seems the system here, get as many people as possible together, it does not matter if they have an opinion or not, just as long as they can shout loudly, who needs policies and forums for discussion and accountability.

 

Another favourite pastime on St. Martin’s is trying to score illegal, smuggled alcohol. Being a strong Muslim island in a strong Muslim country, booze is not readily available. But with a few discreet questions there is always someone in the wings that is in the know. They are the fixer, the middleman between the smugglers and your hangover. Expect to pay 4 – 5 times the going rate for a ropey bottle of gin that has made it across the border, and through a minefield apparently, from Myanmar up some fisherman’s backside. Well worth the effort.

 

And then there are the children. Hundreds of them whom generally don’t go to school but work, selling stinky dried fish or cigarettes or hang around the beach. Who needs an education when commerce is the way forwards and the sea is the only university you will need. Hence their English usage is minimal, but they love to practice “Hello thank you goodbye where are you from”  is a common question or is that a greeting or reciprocation. They run around, completely starkers, oblivious to the world away from their coral island, or caral fsland as badly spelt on a tourist t shirt.

 

 

A new government is now in power and with it the locals talk optimistically about big plans for the Island – 5 star hotels, an air strip, restaurants, music and lights. I am sure it will happen, this is the gentrification process that happens to all places that can purport beach, sea and sun. It will be a shame in ways as the island will loose its honest charm, and the reef,  who knows the government might decide to protect it.

 

“Come to St Martin’s a caral fsland like no other”

Cox’s Bazar

I arrive in Cox’s Bazar and figure that I will check into Sea view hotel. “It really does have sea views” states the Lonely Planet. Oh the lies, the sea is no where in sight, military compound views more like. The sea was over a Kilometre away behind a forest. So I thought I would check into  Hotel Silver Shine, the guide book purported a swimming pool on the rooftop. This would be nice over Christmas I thought. Yes there was a swimming pool, but it was constantly locked and what is more they wanted me to pay to get it unlocked.

 

Now with guidebooks I can understand when something changes, a hotel closes or a road is built or a freak forest fire burns down half the village, these things can’t be helped and will lead to inaccuracy. But when the authors tell such blatant lies as “It really does have sea views”, when the sea is nowhere in sight. I am sorry it generally takes thousands of years for the sea to recess over a kilometre, less a large tsunami is expected. There is nothing that infuriates me more and makes me want to burn my guide book.

 

I now know what Adolf Hitler was doing in Germany burning books. They were the Lonely Planet guide to Nazi Germany. Aushwitz “Quiet, hot showers, simple food, come here and you will never want to leave, frequented by the Israeli crowd and people with the disposition to sell lucky heather, sea view” .

 

“What” cries Adolf, “They didn’t mention it was right next to a busy railway line”.

 

 

So here is my guide to some adjectives and adverbs used in guide books:

 

Tranquil sea – The sewage outfall comes out at the other end of the beach, so you best swim between 6 and 11 when the current is running in the opposite direction.

 

Beautiful location – Yeah, if you are a plane spotter.

 

Clean rooms – I wouldn’t touch it with yours.

 

Quiet location – The sound of the neighbor’s television will drown out the sound of the busy road.

 

Hot water – Cold water.

 

Friendly staff – Please see the Lonely Planet guide to Nazi Germany.

 

 

Guide book manufacturers please stop with the lies less you want me to start a website called the Polonely Planet list of guidebook lies pointing out your fabrications of the truth, lets leave that to the holiday companies, please.

 

Rant over. 

 

Boat from  Dhaka to Barisal

 

“A fine foreign gentleman like yourself should be traveling first class” the man at the ticket office said to me. Or maybe I made that up for dramatic effect, but I took one look at the paddle boat that was to carry me down the river to Barisal and I figured – isn’t it women and children then first class gentlemen allowed into the lifeboats first. The bathtub, the P.S Tern built in 1935, that was to be my home for the night looked in a worse state than the buses of Dhaka. I boarded under the guise of a 12 year old girl just to cover all bases.

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Now when I think of ships and first class I think of Titanic, pre iceberg. Sparkling chandeliers, suitably bigoted conversations about the plight of the common man, dinner at the captain’s table, posh birds by the name of Rose wanting a piece of the said common man, with or without plight (I believe you can get cream for this).

 

My reality though seemed more post Iceberg. The captain’s table was held together by various bits of flotsam, the chandelier a flickering neon strip light and Rose a pan chewing, toothless businessman with the liking for 12 year old English girls with beards.

To save the time on bigoted conversations I strolled around the decks where hundreds of punters were crammed together tighter than a buy 5 get 1 free can of sardines. They had paid 100 TK as opposed to my wapping 500 TK (That’s 1 pound as opposed to 5 quid to you and me). I hummed Jarvis Cocker’s “I want to live like common people, I want to do want common people do”, I fired of some photos and reveled in my position to be able to flirt with the masses as well as those of the finer class and concluded that Jarvis was completely wrong and probably a liar.

 

Now I have met different types of travelers –  there are those that say you have to travel lowest class on everything, stay in the worst places possible, and if you can’t get food poisoning from it, it just isn’t worth eating. And then there are those that do not even meet an Indian person, god forbid, “why go to India to meet the people when you can do that at home.” Well I am in the middle, I like a certain level of comfort, I will go to pizza hut and hang out with middle class India when the needs must and I will eat in the worst, but best cafe, when the needs must, but I am not going to great lengths to ensure I suffer, just so I know that I am alive, so that i know I have traveled. Do this when needs must.

 

I was asked if I wanted an English meal or Bengali. Since I was at this level of hoityness I chose the English. I marveled at how the Christmas jumper wearing head steward, hit the waiter when he did not lay the cutlery out correctly. He obviously had received proper silver service training at some point in his life and by god they were going to get it right for this fine English gentleman. As I sat trying to remember which spoon I should use first or should I use the white or pink napkins I watched as my well to do Bangladeshi fellow passengers ate with their hands.

 

I then went to the toilet, but was rapidly steered into one with the direction “Use the English one sir”. A proper toilet with English toilet paper, I was impressed, no Royal Doulton or Armitage Shanks, but a fine pristine bowl. As I sat there I admired the rusting, gaping, hole and the water rush past, I also inspected the welding and noted that none of it would meet any ISO or Health and Safety standard.

 

Bus from Barisal to Kuakata

 

After applying helmet and bubble wrap (see previous blog entry) I clambered on board the bus for Kuakata. This was to entail possible death, 6 hours of bumpy roads and 5 ferry crossings. This meant lots of tea stops. Everywhere I went a crowd would gather around me, watching my every movement. I found myself standing or sitting in various poses that you find male models doing in Kayes catalogues or similar. If I were to be raised to such celebrity status, then I sure was going to look the part. Then somebody would pipe up  “where are you from”, “England” I would respond, “England” the crowd would murmur the message around. This would then generally be followed by  – what was my name, what did I work as, was I married, how many in my family, why was I here…. A standard set of questions, a standard set of answers, a standard murmur and nodding with acknowledgment, but they didn’t want more info…. No questions on politics, or religion, time and space ……. As the tea stops went on I found my job status changed, I realised I could be anything I wanted. At one stop I was a lecturer in astro physics…..”Lecturer in astro physics” murmured the crowd. 

 

 

Kuakata

 

I intended my time here to be quiet, sit by the sea, peace and do yoga. I found a room right on the beach perfect, view of sunrise and sunset, brilliant. Perfect and brilliant except for one thing, the landlord. This was a man that didn’t speak a word of English and had an uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. Now when you rent a room, it tends to be your private space for the period of rental. Well my room was the only room with a TV, so Abraham would sit there watching it, volume on full, I told him to move it into the other room, so he obliged and sat there watching it, volume on full. He would follow me around and insist I ate at only one cafe, I had to decline. He offered me home made alcohol, I had to decline. Then one evening he asked if i wanted Maya, he made a boobs gesture and banged his fists together, I rapidly figured out that he was pimping out one of the local girls to me. I could not believe it, in such a small village, by the sea, this was so un British, a knocking shop here. I had to decline.

 

Now I can’t blame Abraham for his annoying persistence to satisfy my every need, actually I am quite flattered. He probably thought I was a lonely pisshead in need of a good shag. But it is something that I have noted about the sub continent, it is almost impossible to find peace and quiet. I am sure that most sub continentians have to have some noise or they just die. Go to the most tranquil beauty spot and a bus load of Indian’s will pull up, the first thing they will do is put a ghetto blaster on at full blast so that it distorts the speakers, be up a mountain taking in the view and the Nepali guide will just have to play the latest Bollywood song through his phone, be in the most tranquil village by an ancient bridge across a babbling brook and it will be destroyed by the constant car horns of the cars warning people that they are on the bridge crossing the babbling brook.

 

How on earth the sub continent invented the disciplines of yoga and meditation I do not know. The Buddha must have had great insight to the future or been deaf. Lets invent yoga so that people can sit on a bus for 12 hours and lets invent meditation, because at least it will shut one person up for 36 hours or so. I find myself longing for the peace of a London rush hour.

 

So anyway if you ever go to Kuakata, avoid the only hotel right on the beach with only two rooms, unless you want some local grog or wish to help support the local women’s contribution to the family income.

 

 

When I think of Bangladesh I generally think of some natural or human disaster. Because of its geography it is prone to cyclones, widespread flooding and political turmoil. So I guess it is apt. that I arrived in dense fog – this combined with a puncture, the bus getting lost in the fog and the carnage that was out on the roads meant that the journey from Calcutta to Dhaka took a laborious 20 hours of no sleep, no food and not a thing to be seen. Furthermore I arrived on Victory day, so everything was shut. Exhausted I decided to check into a posh hotel, well posh by my standards, at 9 quid a night it was not my usual flea pit.

 

Dhakahas an official figure of 88,700 rickshaws, well that is the number that government says. Another figure estimates it closer at 600,000. From the 8thfloor of the Manhattan hotel, my toilet has a great view of an intersection and the chaos that it embraces. I would also like to note that the cistern of the toilet was connected to the hot water supply, so every time I flushed it emptied several gallons of boiling water down the drain – is this something posh hotels do or is it another example of the insane plumbing that you find on the sub continent. I also noted that the shower ran out of hot water quite quickly…..I pondered if there was a way to get the toilet connected to the shower. Anyway, so back to the rickshaws, however many there may be, they make a lovely tinkling noise, this combined with the constant use of horn and the call to prayer gives Dhaka wonderful, chaotic, sound. If I were to get a stomach bug, this would be the place I would wish it to be, a toilet with a view and the harmonious symphony of a working city.

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And then there are the buses. If you have ever been banger racing and seen the aftermath of the twisted and torn, once family, motors. Then this will give you an indication of what the buses look like, this then too will give you an idea of how they drive. If you are going to die on a bus, then this is the place it will likely be. I started planning routes to the many places I wanted to visit….unfortunately there is no way of avoiding buses…….I started planning the newspaper article “Bus crash carnage in Bangladesh, 40 dead only 1 survivor, a westerner” there is then a photo of me in full crash helmet and encased in 30 layers of bubble wrap, with the quote “I thought I had had it when the local kids started popping my bubbles.”

 

 

More to follow in Bangladesh – power to the people (Part 2)

 

Following the Bombay bombings and shootings I have decided to do a piece on the terrorism as I have witnessed it. This is not intended to offend anyone, but is snippits of conversations, observations and my point of view.

 

My experience to the terrorism in Mumbai was first hearing on the news that there was a shooting at Leopolds, a bar made famous for its existence in the novel Shantaram and frequented by Westener types. My initial thoughts were that it was because of their over inflated prices, but as the following day progressed on a bus journey to AgraI heard further snippits of information. A bomb, thousands dead, a hotel burnt to the ground, death, death, death, the truth difficult to fathom. Later, I switched on the television to the media circus happening on every channel, repeated images of fire in the Taj, cars driving and someone shooting, pundits with pundit points of view. The truth difficult to fathom.

 

It was really happening, It was happening live, but my head said why are there not more images. My indoctrination to MTV style media was fueling my desire for more images, facts, fire, death and destruction. I wanted the truth, a truth for me to fathom.

 

I found myself checking the lock on my room and considering if I should place a chair in front of it or grand piano if I had one. I planned an escape root through an air vent at the back of my room. If anything went down here, I would be prepared.

 

But I was in Agra, why would anything happen here, you don’t get more Muslim than the Taj Mahaul. Also, I was in a fleapit of a hotel, no terrorist in their right mind would attack here. So my basic guideline on safety in a terrorist prolific world is – be in hearing distance of the call to prayer and don’t pay more than 300 ruppees a night. I returned back to the repeated images, I was an addict, consume, consume, consume. Switch off the television before it destroys your mind. Switch off the television before it destroys your mind. Something was telling me to switch off the television, the reasons I was unsure. I switched the television off, my mind already destroyed.

 

After it was all over I wanted a viewpoint, a perspective from the people, the common man, the word on the street. Many people just shook their heads, eyes down “Terrible, a terrible thing that has happened”, “Bomb Pakistan to oblivion” was another subtle response.

 

Many Muslims seemed more interested in conspiracy theories, than accepting that it could be a fellow Muslim that did this “It is the CIA, they want to provoke India to attack Pakistan, they hate Muslims”. One Muslim chap told me that “99.9 % of Americans, Westeners and Jews were evil” I asked him what about me, he said  I was ok. I guess that made me the .1 % of the holier than thou, I was honored. He must have been honored. I hope you feel honored.

 

And then there was a Hindu guy in a bar, drunk on cheap whiskey. He said “I am Hindu, Hinduism is a tolerant religion, I am tolerant, but I hate those Muslims and blacks.” I told him that maybe he should look the word tolerant up in a dictionary. He got a little upset and told me that I was a coward because I would not go out in the street and punch a Muslim in the face. Well if not going out and randomly attacking some innocent man is cowardice then I am as yellow as they come.

 

Propaganda has been filling my text and email inboxes. messages from Bombay police warning about false bomb threats and lovely messages stating that we must hold together as a nation. These people know how volatile India and its cities can be, particularly Bombay. They don’t want the riots that have happened in previous years to start again.

 

So how does a country exist with such volatile feelings boiling under the surface. Well the fact is that there are a lot of examples of the people, and worse, than the above in India, millions, but there are also millions more that understand acceptance. It is a society that has evolved with huge social differences, different religions, different gods, different castes. It is a society of differences. And with differences comes conflict. But one thing holds it all together Mother India.

 

While I was visiting the Liberation museum in Bangladesh I came across the following quote, located above the door as you exit. I don’t know who made it, but I feel it is a poignant message in this modern, terrorist ridden age.

 

“Let us remove hatred and prejudice from the world and let it begin with me.”

 

Please forward onto those who may most benefit………those that preach hate, those that hide behind the guise of their religion (All religions) and use it to justify their actions, those that cannot think for themselves.

 

I see that Leopolds are open again and not removing the bullet holes. Apparently they are doing this out of the need to remember…..and are not using it to milk more Westener types. Can’t say I blame them.

 

Peace.

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