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I don’t actually hate Bob Marley per say, in fact I quite like some of his chirpy songs about emancipation and other songs of freedom, love and getting completely off your tits. Also, apparently, he was a very nice chap, so I don’t hate him at all. But what I hate is how his songs have flooded every tourist spot in the world. “ No woman, no cry” blaring from every other bar, he is worse than Coca Cola, Mac Donalds or Jesus Christ for the gentrification of local beach culture.

Nobody though is allowed to say that they hate Bob Marley. It seems OK to have this smiley Rasta face with a big spliff jumping out at you, whether you be in the Andes, a lost beach in Mexico, someplace down the Congo, Bognor Regis or here in Goa. He has become synonymous with the freedom of travel, the father of relaxation, the Grandfather of de ‘erb (Whatever that is).

Are we stuck with him? Has musical time stopped? Can we move on? No it seems. For every white, young, middle class, busker on their gap year has adopted a Marley chord play to their repertoire and will fall back on it to engage any group of stoned, white,  young, middle class, types on their gap year. It seems uncle Bob is here to stay.

Whilst on the subject of music, the other thing that drives me nuts is the sitar. Used correctly it is a fine instrument with a sound that quentisential to Indialike no other. However, used in progressive house and trance, it becomes a repetitive plinky plonk that would be better suited for a mental asylum. I throw in the terms progressive house and trance to try and convince you that I have some vague idea as to what I am talking about and it makes me seem youthful, neither of which is true.

I came to Goa, expecting to not really like it, but in fact I love it and as such will try to avoid saying anything nice about it. Goa is not India, there is nothing remotely Indian about it. It is like saying America is English. We know it should be, but hehwhat can you do about the weak leaders of history. You won’t hear Hindi spoken, scantily clad ladies wander in great abode, the worship of Hindu gods few and far between in favour of the man on the cross.

Most notably it is quiet and relaxed, which is not like the rest of India. Noise abatement laws have now come in, keeping the music down to a low key and off at 11, even for Bob. I was expecting raves and thumping German techno, to be vibrating me off to sleep every night. But no I can hear the sea, the birds and the woodworm working its way through my, already flimsy, wooden shack. So where do the stoners, tattoos, dreadlocks, pist English, Israeli and Russian new money crowd hang out?

Headphone parties it seems. I have never seen anything quite like it. Walking into a silent party with a full dance floor. There also seems to be a weird psychology to it too. If you have headphones on you are compelled to dance. I asked one dancing raver what the music was like, “crap” was his response and then carried on dancing. From an outsider, non headphone wearing, point of view though it looks more like something from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.

Silent noise is the future, people in their own little canned up worlds, how on earth does anyone meet anyone else. How on earth do the ravers get to breed.

Maybe this will change good old fashioned house parties. Neighbors will be banging on the door complaining of the silence or the fact that the inmates of the local asylum have been let loose in the garden.

Maybe I am a little old fashioned because I like my noise that should make noise to make noise. Maybe I am socially irresponsible and should be shunned from society like smokers at a bus stop or flashers.

Beware, this is your future too.

Most of all I will miss Bob.

Right I am off to have my penis pierced. That will learn ’em.

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The average Indian wedding goes on for as long as a geological epoch and are each attended by a quarter of a million people.  So a small exaggeration, but you get the point. Weddings are a quintessential Indian processes to get dispersed families together so that business can be discussed with the people you discuss business with and other weddings are planned with those that plan weddings for those that do not know weddings are being planned for them.

 

Without weddings the Indian culture could not survive. If you do not attend more than 53 weddings a year then you are a complete loser, a misfit, a nobody and you are not contributing to India’s economic and cultural wealth. The whole of the Indian economy is propped up by Indian weddings, I am surprised weddings have not been posted on the stock market. They support a huge catering industry, hoteliers, bands, flower arrangers, suit makers, whisky brewers and on. Weddings are India’s answer to self perpetuating wealth. What use is a small wedding…..? Who does it employ so that they can gain the wealth to have big weddings too…… if I had studied economics I am sure there is a model of capitalistic behavior, where the society’s economics is propped up by over the top and seemingly pointless things.

 

Here is my essential guide to Indian weddings:

Dress code is simply the most flamboyant outfit you can find. If any conservative inkling raises its ugly head in your brain then kill it. If you are thinking, I would not be seen dead in that down the pub, and then you are probably on the right lines. What is better, India is full of tailors. If people are not in the wedding trade, then they are in the tailoring trade. Any cloth you like can be made into any outfit you fancy. What is more you have to ensure that you have a different outfit for the different days that you attend the wedding. Get yourself a big wardrobe.

 

A procession, leads for 1 -2 km and generally consists of a van with a generator in the back, powering a bunch of guys holding chandeliers. A horse with the groom and nearest small boy precariously plonked on, neither horse nor the plonked looking too sure about their situation. And then there is the band or bands that play simultaneously, overlapping to the extent that one could mistake it for contemporary jazz. Take lots of 10 rupee notes with you though, because every few minutes the band stops and expects to be tipped, which involves waving the money in the air and drummers, trumpet players and conductors throw themselves at the money.

 

Don’t loose your shoes. It is customary for children to steal people’s shoes. If you do have yours stolen it will cost you a handsome fee to get them back….about twice the price you paid for them. Possibly find ways to attach mousetraps to them to deter the little oiks.

 

Sari wearing fellas are good luck apparently.  Years ago the king would keep them, because he knew they would not fool around with his missus or missuses. They were hard as nails, and yet more girly than the girliest of girls. In the olden days, having them at a wedding was seen as good luck, these days though they are the Indian mafia. A load will gate crash a wedding and unless they are paid handsomely they will run a mock. These sari wearing fellas, look the same as any regular giza, but with a sari. When one enters a train carriage they get paid handsomely, some say because it is good luck to be blessed by one, I think it is more though that people want to get rid of them before they really embarrass them. Your average one legged, singing, blind beggar will make 10 rupees, but your bloke in a sari will be up to a 100 and away before his competition has reached his darkened chorus.

 

Food. Expect to not be allowed to stop eating at the Indian wedding. If your mouth does not have something in it for more than 20 seconds then you have insulted the whole family, their family’s families, their caste, their village, their respective gods, and will probably result somebody’s death somewhere along the line. A top tip is to keep eating small amounts and keep your mouth moving as if you are eating at all other times.

 

 Drink. Whisky, if you don’t like it then you are shafted. It is what any distinguished Indian man prefers. When you go to the bar, make sure you use your status as the token gora (White person) to gain access to the good stuff hidden under the counter, not the grog laid out for the plebs.

 

Indian weddings are full of ritual. You will not have a clue as to any of it and I would not even attempt trying to figure it out, less you want to construct a 50,000 word thesis on the subject. Nor expect the drunken fights, chicken drumsticks, birdie song or aga doo, or vomiting in the flower arrangements that are synonymous to a good old fashioned British wedding. Shagging the bridesmaid is not really on the cards less you want to leave India with a bride yourself. No, Indian weddings exist at a greater level of decorum; they are a good source of contact. Every man will want to share a whisky with you, and size you up to see if there is any business to be had. The women will pass you sly glances and giggle, probably at the ridiculous outfit that you have chosen, and what is more you will probably be invited to other weddings. If you get it right you will never have to pay for food again in your life and maybe after the 50th wedding you will have some faint idea as to what is going on.

 

Now I just need to find more excuses to wear my over the top suit…… more Indian weddings, parties, down the pub, Tesco shopping trips, lying on the sofa………………..

Full selection of photos at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/colinlaidlaw/sets/72157614244861728/

I am working on a short film for the Railway Children charity, promoting their educational program. But I am in Bombay, the capital of Bollywood……………. Bollywood – bling, dancing girls, dancing boys, dancing girls and boys, dancing girls and girls, dancing boys and boys, dancing boys pretending to be dancing girls dancing with dancing boys and so on; over acted fights, different outfits per second,  more camp than Christmas.  Bollywood is barking. It is a fabulous extravaganza, filmed in every exotic location possible, the Pyramids, Great Wall of China, Beckton. Constructed around a lame script, they generally contain one of the 10 or so lead actors that seem to exist India. These actors are everywhere, associating and selling their souls to any product that will have ’em. You cannot move more than 20 yards without seeing one of their smug faces brandished from some billboard or poster, or blurting out from a television ad. They act, sing and dance, they are gods. India would crumble to nothingness if they all died – of course it would be a horrific plane crash over the Grand Canyon, caused by a fight over the lead lady…..god imagine the wreckage Prada, Guccci and Armani, more snakeskin than snake in a fiery desert Bollywood ball.

 

With the films dance sequences comes the cursory music that becomes synonymous to the  film. They exist in a symbiotic relationship, film and music, music and film. Every self respecting mobile phone user will have to have it set as their ringtone until the next box office hit comes about. If you do not hear it blaring out of the TV, car radio or filling a shopping Mall at least 50 times a day, then it has failed. If you do not have a catchy tune to your film then you are doomed, reduced to the archives of Bollywood history, never to see the daylight again. Get it right though and everyone gets rich. With over a billion people in India Bollywood is big business.

 

But there is not only Bollywood to fill this market – there is Tollywood, films made in Tamil Nadu, Collywood, Calcutta, Dollywood, films made by Dolly Parton. To have an ‘ollywood is to have your own style within a genre, use your own language and promote the stars you want to promote.

 

Working in the edit suite I have to resist the temptation and urge to use various of these ‘ollywood influences.  Child rights, abuse and trauma doesn’t quite seem to fit the genre, surely I can get a dance sequence in someplace.

 

“Sing is King”

 

Here is a collection of photos of  India, taken maily around Rajistan.

Lets face it India is bonkers.

Click on the photo to be taken to the flickr collection.

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Here is a collection of portraits of the street children and Bal Shaka staff in Patna.

Click on the image and it will take you to the collection on flickr.

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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. 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

My preparations for the Mumbai half marathon are well under way. Well, I have bought trainers and have come to the realisation that I am really unfit, so if that is well under way then so be it. I have in the back of my mind the image of Rocky running through Philadelphia, chased by the kids and running up the steps to to the crescendo of that timeless theme. Dada, da, dada, da, dadadadada……or something. However my reality is very different. I am a gangly, sweating mess, breathing heavier than a stalker in a phone box. And my streets, well they are the waterfront, or ghats of Viranasi, India’s holiest of cities. And the things I have to deal with…Mr Rocky sir, well you had it easy.

 

Cow shit. With Holy Cows comes Holy Cow shit. They are everywhere and so is their shit. Take your eyes off the path for a second and you are at risk of a slippery and rather smelly fall or nasty groin injury. Fortunately hordes of children are clearing this shit up and drying it out for burning, recycling at its best.

Click on picture to see the full Noir collection of Varanasi.

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Sadus come at you from all angles with their palms outstretched. Religious holy men who have given up all possessions to walk the earth. Fascinating and colourful characters – however, I can’t help but question how holy are you Mr Holy man? I am sure there are varying degrees of sadus. There are the blatant fake ones that hang around at tourist spots awaiting for some punter to take their photo and then demand money, these sadus are usually really over the top, and probably go home, wash off the ash and sit down in front of their widescreen TVs. Then there are the ones who live in a doorway, mumbling religious verses to themselves, and then there are the dreadlocked groups that hang around by a fire under blue tarpaulin smoking grass. My favourites though are the loin cloth wearing yoga sadus that contort themselves into rediculously impossible positions, I admire them because I know the discipline that it takes to get those positions, and the nerve you have to have to walk around in essentially what is a thong. How many of these sadus are searching enlightenment, how many of them have found it or how many have simply found an easy way out of  a hard day’s toil and discovered an opportunity to make money by doing bugger all. An “idiots guide to Sadus” would be handy. 

 

Dead bodies. Often as I am running along I have to make a swerve to avoid a dead person being carried down to the Ganges. Now if you are going to die, Varanasi is the place to do it. Straight to heaven for you, no stopping at GO. Your body will be immersed in the Ganges and then placed upon a pyre. Watching the burnings at first tweaks the “Is this morbid” conscious in your brain. However it is a big crowd puller. Locals warm themselves on the fire, dogs and goats walk between the pyres eating…….eating what I am not too sure.

 

It is surprising what you get used to – faces peer out of the fire seeming strangely serene, as if they know they are on their way to a better place. The body contorts and twists as muscles contract, an arm or leg may raise and whole bodies have been known to sit up. The air is filled with a slight tinge of burnt hair, but not of burning flesh. The most unnerving thing for me was the sizzling, like a sunny Sunday afternoon’s barbeque. Often though the process gets a little crude. An attendant who is tipped handsomely to ensure the body is properly burnt watches and tends to the fire. This often means beating and poking the body with a stick, snapping thigh bones and breaking the skull and intestines pushed back into the intense heat. After all is done the attendant carefully sifts through the ashes, just in case the deceased had gold teeth. On a busy day, as I run past, I must be careful as the bodies start to pile up along the ghat, awaiting their firey fate. There would be nothing worse to hurdle one, trip over the next and end up face to face with someone’s late auntie Agnus.

 

To add to this, anyone dying of smallpox (does this still exist) is put straight into the river without burning to save upsetting the smallpox goddess (does she really exist), also the same for children who die of a really high fever.

 

Someone told me a story about a tourist that was led into a room of dying people, they were then asked if they could contribute money for the firewood, as the  people could not afford it. Do they have to hang on till enough money has been collected I wonder?

 

Drug dealers – running alongside of me.

 

DD“What do you want – weed, grass, dope, hashish, coke, china white, charlie, extasy, pills man, heroin you want heroin, Afghani, good shit, the best, anything you want”

COL “No I don’t want any drugs”

DD “No, this is not drugs, this is good shit”

COL “Have you got any asprin”

DD “What?”

COL “Then piss off”

DD “Where are you from”

COL “Germany”

DD “Fucking Germans”.

 

 

Children sell you small leaf boats, inside a candle and flowers to send down the river for good karma. I figured that you cannot have too much good karma so I purchased a few for friends and family and sent a flotilla of flowery floating flotsam down the Ganges. I felt it as a lovely sentimental gesture to my loved ones back home, till, about 20 yards away this flotilla came under a barrage of stones from the local oiks. Two candles were sunk instantly, another extinguished, but two made it through the barrage. I was moved by their resilience and vowed to come back with more candles and a greater nautical strategy. I reckon they would take about 3 years to reach the bay of Bengal, where they will probably be eaten by sharks. 

 

Boat men every ten seconds asking if I want a boat as I run past the conversation generally goes “Boat!!”, “No thank you”, “Cheap price”, “No I am running”, “Why are you running when you can have a boat” (Fair point), “No!”, “Boat!!”.

 

Varanasi is nuts. It takes a few days to get into its vibe, its dark lanes and spiritual ways. It is a lot of hastle, as you are a tourist in one of India’s main attractions and the two go hand in hand, but something I like most about it, that even in the most touristy of touristy bits I did not hear Bob Marley being played once. It has survived becoming that generic backbacker centre. The tourist and local exist in a beautiful symbiotic relationship, the city has the strength to survive the leering visitors and respectfully carry on its duties to the deceased.

Varanasi – its a good place to die.

 

I have never been a great fan of visiting world famous sites, the 100 things you must see before you die type places. I usually find that I arrive take one look and think “Oh is that it, it’s much smaller than I expected” I buy a postcard and rapidly vanish into the nearest bar with a nice view of the, smaller than expected, 1 in 100 thing I had to do before I died, site. I guess I build the romanticism up in my mind and when I meet the real thing it is just not up to scratch.

The Taj Mahaul is interesting though. We all know the classic image of it, with or without a morose looking late Princess of Wales. Well the architects are extremely clever. They have built a wall around it so that you cannot see it until you reach the main gates which are located behind more walls and then wham it is in your face, the classic image that we have seen so many times. One big reveal in one big hit, now that is architectural showmanship for you.

Click on image to see more photos from this collection.

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Once over this ta-da moment I found myself looking for a suitable seat to look morose on and have my photo taken, but maybe that would have been in bad taste and heh I was all out of morose faces. So I quickly looked around the inside, which has to be the most disappointing inside of any historical building, but the Taj is not about the inside, it is an outside building, an over sized cake decoration swarming with thousands of punters, who just want to eat it. And that is what is nice about the Taj, people fall in love with it, it is all the romance that architecture should be, a befitting gesture to love – the reason it was built in the first place. You can almost hear the collective ahhhh from the hordes of camera clicking Japanese and new money Russians.

To get a really good view, cross the river and see the Taj at sunset. There is a beach, but be careful because this is an open toilet so sandals are not the most suitable attire. Fortunately this aspect does not really come out in the photos. Also the cows that you may see in one of my photos, well they are evil…….I had to make my quick escape, jumping over mounds of poo, as they took offence to being photographed.

 

Some key facts:

The four minarets that surround the Taj lean outwards, so that if there is an earthquake they will not fall inwards on the tomb. Again some very clever architectural design.

The marble is translucent, which is only common to Indian marble. This means that the building changes colour depending on the time of day and weather conditions. Full moon is supposed to be amazing.

The architect, the genius that he is, had his right hand cut off so that he could not design anything else like it. Or so the story goes. Ho, hum, how many other people around at that time have such an ego and the cash to spend 20 years building a mausoleum for their missus.

The masons that repair and service the Taj every Friday (Don’t go on a Friday, it is closed, it is being repaired) and also make the intricate, but tacky gifts that are available everywhere around the city are from the same caste and families that originally built the Taj. All Muslims, they have passed the skill down from father to son over the generations. A bloke in a tacky gift shop told me this, so don’t quote me, but I like this thought so I am going to accept it as the truth.

 

I fell for the Taj, its architecture and what it represents….I am now off to clean my sandals.

 

Carried on from The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 2)

 

 

 

Pokhra to Lumbini

 

The road out of Pokhra has to be one of the great motorbike roads of all time. Quiet, with stunning mountain views, lots of corners and no close runnings with Leyland buses. However, petrol was another thing. I figured that I would be able to fill up on route, but this proved difficult..it seemed that petrol was only delivered to major cities and I did not have any major cities on route….I even had somebody try to sell me some at double the going rate…….I told him what he could do with his petrol……did he think I was a tourist or something!!

                                                

Fortunately though I found a garage purveying this rare commodity, but also discovered that my lights did not work….Kind of handy when the afternoon was rapidly vanishing behind the mountains. This forced me to stay in another town that no one in their right mind would want to stay in, even my hotel manager told me not to go out at night, because it was too dangerous. Though I feel I subjected myself to more mental dangers through watching rubbish American cable shows, attacked by a continuous stream of mosquitoes and the bus station next door. As a note to self…never stay in a hotel next to a bus station, tuneful horns get really boring at 5 am, another good reason why earplugs are an essential travel item.

 

Click on image to see more of Nepal.

 

 

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Lumbini –  the birthplace of buddha. Crossing the dusty, dry, flat plains I amused myself by coming up with the revelation that my bike went buddhabuddhabuddha. I received hours, well seconds, of enjoyment from this notion as agricultural Nepal drifted past. I really felt that I was in some time capsule – oxen ploughing the fields; wheat being beaten by hand; hundreds of bicycles heavily loaded with cauliflower and other produce on their way to market; Wham’s Club Tropicana playing from a battered radio strapped to a rusting, heavily greased, but still operational, tractor, driven by an equally rusting, heavily greased, still operational, farmer who tapped his fingers with gusto to Wham’s chorus line.

 

Lumbini is like an industrial estate consisting of postmodern temple shaped warehouses. Many countries have contributed their concept of what a Buddhist temple should be like, but the layout and the industrial construction really makes it edging towards a tad naf.  So Buddha was born here, under a tree, and a stone marks the exact spot, apparently, but it doesn’t seem that there has been any planning as to what they wish to achieve here. I half expected a  B and Q or PC World, to be located in the middle of it all. I really can’t see the point of it and I am sure if Buddha was around he would concur.

 

 

Lumbini to Chichwan National Park

 

This part of the country is hot and flat and for once straight roads, ridiculously straight roads, I longed for my corners, but at least I was able to wind the Bullet up to 80km per hour, which seemed ridiculously fast compared to the mountain roads. That night I slept in a mud hut and watched the sun set over the river. I was intrigued by some persistent drumming, and, on questioning, was taken to a man that was drumming to ward of ghosts and witches from his sick wife. He was very poor so I gave him some money to take his wife to hospital. It is amazing that in the 21st century there are people that still follow such practices….though I have to say I did not see a single ghost or witch that night, so maybe it does have some effect.

 

In the morning I rode through the jungle tracks to reach Sauhara. All good fun till I manged to get myself lost. The locals though were very helpful and soon got me on the right tracks, literally. In the back of my mind though I couldn’t help but think “there are tigers in this jungle”, only a couple of hundred, but it would be just my luck to find one that was up for snacking on a scrawny white man….. Fortunately for me and probably the tiger I was not eaten, in fact a tour of the jungle later that day revealed there was very little wildlife in the area….the most dangerous thing I saw were small crocodiles that legged it at the first sign of humans and wild chickens, which look exactly like normal chickens, but have managed to escape to freedom, and avoid the tigers, which doesn’t seem such a tedious task.

 

Sauahra to Katmandu. Wow, wow, wow is all my command of the English language can drag up for this stretch of road. Fantastic for the biker, hell for the passenger on a bus, as the road twists and turns up to 2,480 metres. 6 hours of this is  a great way to focus the mind on the present….take your mind elsewhere and you have a 500 metre drop waiting for you with open arms. I loved every second of it.

 

Entering Katmandu though, brings you right back down to reality. Trucks and Buses billow out   thick acrid fumes. The pollution in this city is phenomenal, so much so that you need to chain smoke Marlboro Reds to filter the air down. The bike now felt it had done the distance, the clutch was starting to slip, the brake light had stopped working, there were no headlights and the brakes were getting a little spongy. Negotiating Katmandu traffic became a real chore and I longed for my mountain roads.

 

I had put the bike through its paces and it had responded well to my demanding needs, I had fallen in love with its simplistic nature and the roads it thrived on. In my mind this is the best way to experience any country. You feel so much more a part of the land you are traveling through and equally the people embrace you as an individual. I think this trip has changed my thoughts on means of travel…..Rajistan and Kashmere by bike…..hmmm, anyone up for it next spring.

 

 

 

 

 

The End

Carried on from The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 1)

 

Katmandu to Mugling.

 

This is probably down in the record books as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The twisting highway ambles through the valley, often a sheer cliff face on one side and the corresponding sheer cliff face dropping off on the other. All would be fine and you could nicely burble along taking in the scenery, except for the fact that this is the major route to India, in fact one of only two routes to India and as such is full of buses and trucks wanting to get to or from India as quickly as is possible. They are often so overloaded and travel at such speed that they lean going around corners and cross into the oncoming lane. Overtaking is always done on blind corners, they have to overtake on blind corners because this is all you get…no nice long straights, dual carriageway or passing lanes to cruise by here. On this stretch of road I saw one overturned truck and two buses that had recently been involved in head on collisions. I did not stop to inquire what had happened to their respective human cargoes. Sounding the horn on every corner became routine, but I still gingerly edged around them, expecting a bus to be heading straight for me, and often I did get to see TATA or Leyland (Yes they still exist and are here alive and kicking) badges from an angle I would rather best avoid.

 

Now Mugling is the sort of town that exists at a crossroads of two major junctions, and as such was like many towns around the world that exist at the crossroads of two major junctions. What we would commonly call in England a shit hole. Two streets focusing on the the trade and commerce of the transient traveler. Nobody in their right mind would want to stop here. So I stopped here. On trying several hotels, I found that nobody had any rooms available and yet they looked completely empty, it was not till later that I found out most of them were fronts for prostitution. They were saving their beds for the endless supply of  truckers that frequented the town.

 

Eventually I managed to find a mosquito ridden room for 150 ruppees from a drunk hotel manager with one arm. In the evening, as I ate my dal baht, he would laugh, say something in slurred Nepali/English, point with his arm that could still point at one of the girls serving food and laugh. To my ears one of them was called Kylie, but she could not have been called Kylie. I picked up her saying 10,000 and wondered if this is how the front for prostitution operates. You sit there, get introduced to somebody who may or may not be called Kylie, cough up ten grand and away you go with a serving wench, job done. I immersed myself in my dal baht and the perceived naivety of a traveling Englishman.

 

At one point the street went really quite, there was no traffic. I asked somebody what was going on. I got the simple reply “Fatal car crash”. It seems to be a daily occurrence here, allowing the shop keepers to re group and prepare for the next onslaught of travelers. Apparently it is a good thing when the crash is fatal, because it makes things simple, with a nice pay out to the family of the deceased. If it is a maiming then things get complicated. Whole families have been known to riot and close the road for days if an amicable agreement is not swiftly met.

 

That night I fell sick. A fever hit me like none I had had before. I was freezing cold one minute and then boiling hot the next. Now why do fevers and sickness hit when you are in a place that you do not want be? What is more Diwali celebrations were going on outside the hotel till 2 am and that is when my bowels gave way and I spent every hour or so on the toilet, a toilet that was not of a standard that that I wanted to be near.

 

I diagnosed myself with dehydration, and kicked myself for making the schoolboy error of not wearing my jacket while on the bike. The wind and heat had sucked so much moisture out of me, that I was close to mummification…..Water and electrolytes were the way out of this one.

Click on photo tosee more images of Nepal.

 

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Mugling to Pokhara via Gorka.

 

I had to spend a day recovering in Gorkha from the fever and replace the spark plug on the bike as it was having problems starting. Every thing was on tap, a clean hotel, pristine toilet, warm shower, a loveIy view and a garage next door with spark plugs. Everything I needed to get myself and bike back into shape for the road ahead.

 

Being on a bike you feel so much more involved with your surroundings than a car…that thin bit of glass and steel is just enough to mentally separate you from the outside world, to cocoon you in a safety net. On a bike you do not have the luxury of this womb like existence. You are out in the world, you are there and it is happening around you. You feel the changes in temperature and textures of the road, you smell crops and villages long before you see them and your vision is focused, a continuous montage of images each worthy of a photo, stored someplace deep in the unconscious.

 

Pokhra is a wonderful place, a ramshackle collection of the usual tourist crap all neatly set beside a beautiful lake. I spent three days chilling, paragliding and pottering around the countryside. If you are going to come to Nepal and are of the outdoor activities type then spend your time here and not Katmandu. Nothing noteworthy in the way of old stuff, but boy is it a beautiful place.

 

 

 

See The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 3 the End)

 

In riding a motorbike you enter a close relationship between yourself and a collection of nuts, bolts, pistons and gears. You morph into the mechanics and between you, you exist as one. You get to understand its capabilities, its quirks and eccentricities through all of your senses, you are part of its resonance and discover which parts rattle and vibrate, and as such which parts start to fall off at which point.

 

The Royal Enfield is a masterpiece of simplistic engineering and it is genius of the Indians to still make this relic of a bygone era. Engine, gearbox, clutch, chain and wheels, the minimal sprinkling of electrics and that is it, a kickstart and a single 350cc cylinder – it is not fast, but it will drag you pretty much anywhere you want to go, it’s like a tractor on two wheels. But best of all it has a very particular sound, you know when one is coming….as I saw on a biker’s T shirt once “Loud pipes save lives”.

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Likewise, entering any new traffic system you enter a community with its own rules and levels of acceptability, that from the outsiders point of view looks like chaos, a place that you do not wish to enter. A mechanised hell – paradise lost.

 

At first it appears that there are few rules to engagement, but as you slowly immerse yourself into a relationship with the other vehicles you get to understand how it all pieces together – where you should be, what you need to do and what you need to look out for. This latter point includes:- no  polite indication, stopping in the middle of the road without brake lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, holy cows, pariah dogs, herds of goats, potholes whose depth has been the imagination of Jules Verne, rickshaws and overly assertive pedestrians and, oh yes, the horn.

 

I have always wondered why the horn is used so much in these countries, whereas in England it is only used as a warning, or to notify Auntie Mavis that you are going past her house (Like she cares), or is followed by a suitably abusive hand movement and you silently wording “wanker” at your fellow compatriot of the road. Well our countries are laden with so many rules and regulations which we all happily comply to most of the time. Whereas in Nepal, they exists, but are not so rigidly applied. The result is the horn. It is not used aggressively, but just as a simple reminder that you are there and you are coming through and you may be bending a few of the non rigidly applied rules in the process. It quickly becomes second nature to toot the horn when passing any vehicle, cow herder, or old lady carrying half a tree. The horn is a gentle reminder to let people know that you are overtaking on a blind corner or a simple beep is a great way to inform people you are going down the wrong way of a one way street. The horn is your friend, love the horn.

 

The fun part of hiring a bike in Katmandu is that you must build this relationship with bike and traffic in the space of approximately 30 seconds for both will not allow you second chances – they will swallow you up as if you were a stupid tourist hiring a powerful motorbike in a foreign city.

 

 

See The Motorcycle Diaries (Part 2)

2 tier ac (2 bunks, air condiioning) is a wonderful way to travel. Its decor is the plastic material that is generally reserved for the various forms of hospital stretchers and other surgical wheeled devices. I am constantly brought tea and food and then at night my seat folds out to form a bed, of medical standard. I draw the curtains to the rest of the carriage and I am in a cocoon of my own. Me and the blackness of the Indian night rushing past.

In the night we pass a station full of sleeping people, I note that the style of dress has drastically changed from Mumbai and that full on handle bar mustaches seem to be the fashion in this rural area.

To the sound of a cacophony of snoring and flatulence I gently drift off to sleep. With the thought that it would be quite easy to have sex in this cocoon of mine. At 2 I finally sleep, I believe my last thought was of my bobbing white arse rushing across the Indian landscape, a rythmic bastion of light in a dark world.

At 7 I am awoken to a  gentle alarm over the tannoy reminding me that it is 7 and that I should be awake when India wakes up. I look out of the window and marvel at the silky, silvine (Is that a word?) mist  that hangs like a mystical blanket over fields upon fields of shitting men. There are thousands of them, they are everywhere. Squatting like mere cats, they all have found their individual spots and orientate themselves so that they are not facing another shitting man. No hiding in a bush for these men, the open field is the place to go.

Good morning India.

The night train to Delhi leaves Mumbai Central station exactly at 4.40. 4.40 being the time it was supposed to leave. Indian railways apparently is the second largest employer in the world. Don’t ask me who the first is, maybe the Chinese army or the company that makes those toast racks you find in most bed and breakfasts.. Sorry I digress, whatever, I have to say that I am impressed in the Indian railways efficiency.

We dreamily filter through the suburbs and the names I have come to know so well, Bandra, Santa Cruz, Andheri, and as the sun starts to get low in the sky we cross the piss filled waterway that separates the rest of India from my beloved Bombay (Mumbai).

I say my beloved Bombay purely because I have always wanted to make a statement like that. I have been here for over 2 months and in my mind that allows me to say “My beloved” about anything I please. I ponder whether there is a justifiable amount of time you have to spend in a place before you can make this statement.

As soon as you cross the waterway you are into the rural countryside of India. It could be England except for the palm trees, occasional buffalo and a semi naked man masturbating behind a tree.

Hang on a minute, why on earth would anybody use the words beloved and Bombay in the same sentence. I guess it is the insanity of the place. It just does not get out of your head. In terms of touristic wonders, there are none. The gateway to India is a crappy lump of carved rock that serves little purpose than to attract the most touristy of tourists and touts. The buildings of any note are all designed like St Pancras Station, so if you are a particular fan of seeing your favourite station in warmer climes, then this is for you.

There are no public spaces where you can chill out, as these would rapidly be filled by slums. It takes an age to get anywhere, because the roads, which barely rise above the status of a track are gridlocked. The commute on trains finds people crammed in like sardines. that is if sardines commuted, and in fact sardines are lucky, at least they have a fine film of oil and tomatoe sauce between them and the next sardine.  Instead you find yourself so close to your fellow man that you can feel the warmth from their crotch against you leg and regularly have you buttocks felt to check for your wallet or just perhaps cop a feel of the white guy.

Beggars of all types are everywhere. Even the person with the biggest heart in the world soon becomes hardened to the plight of the frail and needy and you find yourself questioning if you have a conscience anymore. If a 4 year old child is standing in front of you, with their big needy eyes, holding their 6 month old brother, kissing your feet and saying “please uncle” you just ignore them and don’t feel too bad about it either, because that is the 9th one you have had that morning and it is only 9am. Furthermore you are sure they are sharing the same baby, but in a different rag. Then you have the cripples with every kind of disease and limbs missing. They make a bee line straight for you, thrusting out their particular ailment like some perverse human game of tetris.

Transvestites wear saris, which at first seems odd, but why wouldn’t they, it is what the lady folk wear. But they feel it is their right to beg off you too. I guess those saris don’t come cheap and a transexual has to have a good wardrobe. So on an average trip across town you will be approached by 30 or more cripples, sari wearing chaps and baby wielding babies.

In Bombay there is little opportunity to relax. The city will not allow you to do this. I am sure there is little of the western ailments like depression. Because the time you spend being depressed is just about the right amount to allow the city to swallow you up. The brain is not allowed to stop and contemplate. It has to be active and fighting for survival all the time. People fight to board, and suffer, the over crowded trains and 2 hour commute. They step over the beggars and jostle with their fellow 20 million Mumbians all without concern, because it is what they have to do.

It is the intensity of Bombay that makes it my beloved place. If you can survive Bombay then everything after it is a milder form of insanity. It is my beloved because it  has given me good training for the rest of the sub continent that awaits at the end of these tracks….Delhi next on route to Katmandu.

 

A small stack of chillies, a lime and coal, all  neatly tied together hang above the front door to houses, entrances to restaurants, off the tow hitch of cars and in many a rickshaw and taxi. So what are these little bundles of partly made curry and fuel about?

 

Folk wisdom has it that spirits that can harm are constantly looking for food. When they find none, then they attack humans. Lime is used, because it is sour, chillies because they are pungent and coal because it is black and much loved by malevolent spirits. By distracting these spirits we distract their virulent attention from us.

 

 

 You can spot the little pile of goodies at the top of this image. This is the local barbers by the way…..

 

Hang on a minute surely chillies, lime and coal is not the best of diets.. Where’s the essential carbs, nutrients, fats and roughage, Crash diets are not healthy even for the most evil of spirits.

 

I love you India.

 

 

Linking Road is the Oxford Streetof Mumbai. It is set within the well to do area of Bandra,  and similarly to Oxford Streetit is full of complete and utter crap. Adidas and Nike labels and low quality replicas of Adidas and Nike labels proliferate like the plague. Sitting on a bench, a fiberglass Ronald Macdonald lures in the modern Indian youth as if he were a bag of sweet wielding phaedophile outside an all boys Catholic school.

 

Now I can justify to myself for going in many ways: I want to compare what it is like to the UK MacDonalds; I have eaten curry every day, twice or 3 times a day; one needs to experience all manifestations of the culture; a press gang whacked me over the head and dragged me in; I am a naïve Catholic boy. But, you would not believe me, so i fess up, I don’t mind a MacDonalds from time to time. There I said it, i will burn, i will burn.

 

Anyway, I’m in, and there is not a flippin’ burger in site. Instead of the limp beef burgers, that  bear no resemblance to their advertisements there are limp chicken burgers that bear no resemblance to their advertisements. The chips are the same though and fortunately the coke is coke and not some hybrid adaptation. Mind you coke is coke wherever you are in the world. Change is good, but sometimes what you know is the best.

 

Sitting in my formica wonderland I peer out of the window and watch a holy cow stroll down the middle of the road like a tart from some Northern English town, with a tiny skirt and new stilettos. I look at the cow, then at my burger, then back to the cow and I am sure he is laughing at the fiberglass clown perv. and thinking 70% Hindus in the country….my arse is safe here.

 

Every civilization has a unique way of looking at the world. A cluster of ideas which define the goal of human existence, the ways to reach this goal, the errors to be avoided and the obstacles to be expected on the way. This view defines central human experiences and answers questions as to what is good and what is evil, what is real and what is unreal, what is the essential nature of men and women and the world they exist in, what is their connection to nature, other human beings and to the cosmos. What is god, and should that cow be in my burger.

 

Three interlinked elements comprise a major part of this Hindu world view; moksha, dharma and karma, with this trinity forming a large part of the Indian psyche.

 

Moksha – the goal of life

 

Self-realisation, transcendence, salvation, a release from the world – Hindus see moksha as the goal for life. This ‘ultimate’ reality is considered beyond human comprehension, conceptual thought and the mind by many gurus, but is considered as the highest goal and meaning of human life.

 

Hindus see life as a combination of the tragic and romantic. Tragic in that it is pervaded by ambiguities and uncertainties where man has little choice but to bear the burden of unanswerable questions, inescapable conflicts and incomprehensible afflictions of fate. But within this journey is the romantic, and the seeker if he withstands the perils of the road will be rewarded by exaltation beyond normal human experience, an ultimate reality.

 

One of the manifestations of this understanding is the feeling of hope, even in the most dismal of living standards. The Indian mind tends to convert even the smallest ray into a blazing light. Clutching at straws many millions live in slums and an absolute poverty and are happy because they live with the possession of hope for a better future.

 

Furthermore, being connected to a higher reality, the divinity immanent within each human being , gives a feeling of self worth that comes from a pre conscious conviction of ones metaphysical significance. However bad life is, by being connected to this ultimate reality ones self esteem is nourished and stands against life’s despairs and inequalities.

 

Dharma

 

If Moksha is the goal of life, then dharma can be seen as law, moral duty, conformity with the truth of things, the means through which man approaches the desired goal.

 

Years ago every person knew that it was not what you did that was important for spiritual progress, but whether you acted in conformity with your dharma.  Whether you were a shoemaker, priest, housewife, prostitute or doctor all were considered equally good and equally right if it was consistent with your dharma.

 

Dharma, is being vigorously challenged by modern india, as it embraces Western ideals. Individual choice, material rewards and human aspirations as opposed to spiritual activity have led to social envy, greed and selfishness. Dharma is crumbling under modernity.

 

It does sound different – “My dharma in life is to be a shoemaker and provide the best shoes I can, so that i may provide shelter, feed and clothe my family, to perform this i am on route to achieving moksha” as opposed to “My dharma in life is to work in a call centre for British Gas and buy real Adidas trainers and hang out at Mac Donalds eating limp chicken burgers that bear no resemblance to the advertisement, to perform this I am on route to becoming obese and soulless, but at least my feet look cool”. 

 

Karma

 

The third essential idea of the Hindu world view is Karma. An opinion may go thus “even at time of death a man should wish to do good deeds and wish to be reborn in a place where he can do good deeds again. After many lives of good deeds (living in dharma) a man will attain moksha. If he does evil deeds, his form changes till he falls lower, till he becomes a jar (an innanimate thing). So karma can be seen as the cycles of birth and death in which an individual soul progresses or regresses through various levels of existence; and the control of this movement by the karma of the individual soul, the balance of right and wrong actions that accompany the individual from one birth to another.

 

This can allow Indians to accept the inevitable dissapointments that afflict even the most fortunate of lives but it can also lead to denial. I perform an action now, because of  actions from a past life.

 

 

So to consider this in context I look at the holy cow walking down the road. Its soul must be heading towards moksha to be experiencing the existence as a holy cow, which incidentally is supposed to be holy, because it contains all the gods.  Its current dharma, well that one seems easy, it just needs to wander around and be holy and not get itself trapped in the christian area and its karma, well I don’t know where it came from or where it is going, but it sure isn’t going to be eaten here, not for a few years yet anyway.

 

Now kfc over the road………Are there holy chickens?

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend saw the end of the Ganpati festival. Thousands of people followed processions around Chowpatty and Yuhu beaches in Mumbai. There was no chance in getting anywhere fast.

The idols were led down to the beach and then after various, more or less, vigorous rituals immersed and left in the sea.

This is one of the greatest festivals in the world…. though if I were to question the blatant abuse of the environment, as thousands of idols made from non bio degradable and poisonous substances are just left in the sea, would that make me a real party pooper.

India has far bigger problems, but maybe the festivals are the perfect opportunity to encourage a better understanding of human impact. Lets face it communication of an ideal is what the festivals were designed for in the first instance.

Click link to see the aftermath.

http://www.ultrabrown.com/posts/the-…of-kurukshetra

Click image for more from the festival.

The rickshaw is a beautiful place to meditate and study the city. It is like your own personal, portable hide from where you can examine the city’s goings on.

Click the picture below to take you to the new set on Flickr.

Indian portraits has been updated, click picture below to see full set

Also, more photos added to those random images of Indian life

 

Following on from my previous blog entry on how Ganesh (Ganpati, Ganesha) was created here is a break down of some of the symbolism associated around him.

Symbolism within Hindu culture is prevalent in all of its deities and the rituals that go hand in hand with them. From a Western point of view all these gods and the mythology that surrounds them, seems quaint, but may seem absurd to worship. However, when you consider the symbols and the totenism associated with them and consider the meaning in the context of your own existence, then there is something beautiful about them.

So some meanings about the icon of Ganesha.

 

Trunk

An elephants trunk has the strength to uproot a tree and the finesse to pick up a needle. Ganesha’s trunk symbolises the fact that the wise person has immense strength and fine discrimination.

Ears

Ganesha has large ears. The wise man hears all.

 

Hands

Ganesha has four hands.  In one he holds a lotus, the symbol of enlightenment. In the other a hatchet. That is, the old karma – all your sanskars, the accumulated good and bad of past deeds get cut when enlightenment comes.

 

The third hand holds laddus, or sweet meats. They are the rewards of the wise life. However, Ganesha is never shown eating the laddus. The wise man never partakes of the rewards of his deeds. He is not attached to them.

 

The fourth hand is shown blessing the people. The wise man wishes the best to everyone.

 

 

Tusk

Ganesha has only one tusk, the other is shown broken off. The symbolism here is that the wise person is beyond duality (Our ego separate from our surroundings). Once we transcend this duality we see the universe as a single whole and we become aware of our true selves. Wisdom allows us to see all as one and ourselves as an integral part of the whole.

 

 

Feet

Ganesha is shown sitting with one foot on the ground  and the other resting on his knee. The wise person is of the earth, but not entirely.

 

Rat

Ganesha is seen seated on a rat. The rat is a symbol of our senses, because it is said that the rat has to keep nibbling all the time – like the senses they are never satisfied. The wise person rides on his senses, he keeps them under control.

 

Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati, the god governing the life force and the earth mother. This symbolises the spirit and body of the wise person. Finally the wise person has the dignity of an elephant.

 

If you say “Aum Ganeshaya Namah”before starting anything what you are saying is “in what we are about to do, let wisdom be our guide”.

 

In a sense Ganesha is the most powerful god and he is usually remembered before starting any rituals for other deities.

 

So Ganesha is up there with the biggies and worthy of a 10 day festival. Check out the position of any Eastern statue, icon or totem and question “What does this really mean?” or more importantly “What does this mean to me, how can this be an inspiration to me?”

 

Ref: Kishore Asthana –  unknown paper

 

Ganesh Chaturthi is now well underway – a ten day festival which sees one of India’s greatest deities celebrated and culminates with his immersion in the sea.

To understand who Ganesha was and how he was created I will adapt his story, purely because mythology is based around an oral culture and thus the story must be colloquial to my perceived audience. In no way is this out of disrespect to the Lord himself, but out of respect to him and the traditions of story telling.

Ganesha or Ganpati is the elephant headed lord from Peckham, South London. According to legend, Lord Shiva was busying himself away at war like activities. Fighting on the terraces – Millwall v Pompey or something like that. Now his missus, the old growler, ‘er indoors, Parvati, being a tidy sort of squeeze wanted to take some quality bath time. A few candles, bubble bath, Mills and Boom – you picture the scene.

However, she didn’t have anyone to guard her chambers. That’s a posh word for avocado bath suite. So guess what she goes up and does, she only conceives herself a son, for this soul purpose. No Securicor bill, nothing.

Anyway Shiva, pretty riled up from throwing plastic patio chairs, returns home. Forecourt flowers in hand, he fancies a bit of slap and tickle with the missus. But, what’s this, “who is this surly geeza at me missus’s avocado coloured chambers” thinks Shiva lord god of resolution “I’m gonna have myself some resolution here”. So he promptly cuts his brown bread clean off.

Parvati clambers out of her corner bath; pissed that she has been disturbed from page 86 of the Mills and Boom, a page of great sexual insight if you know what I mean;only to discover her newly created son headless. “Feckin ‘ell, where’s ‘is feckin ‘ead – don’t even think ’em feckin’ flowers going to get you out of this one Shiva me lad” she cries.

She is right moody and takes on the form of the Goddess Kali and only goes of and threatens destruction to the three worlds Heaven, Earth and subterranean earth. That’s Rock Steddie Eddie’s cafe, man what sells plants down the market and Stockwell tube to you and me.

Shiva, knowing that she is off on one and realising that it will take him weeks of getting it in the neck, thinks “I better resolve this.” So he sends out his ganas or hordes to the north (direction of wisdom, well Peckham Library) to bring back the head of the of the first living thing they come across.

It being a Sunday morning, living things are few and far between in Peckham, so anyways he’s hanging around, smoking a fag, when the hordes rock up. “What the bloody hell is that.” “An elephant’s head my lord” reply the hordes. “Well I can see its a bloomin elephant’s head can’t I……Couldn’t you have found something smaller” cries Shiva, stubbing out his Marlborough light. “Well it just ‘appens that there was an elephant 20 yards down the road, the owner was none too happy” reply the hordes. “Well stick the thing on that headless body over there, the missus is right on one, stuff about heaven, Earth and the subterranean, I am not going to see any action for weeks less we resolve this”.

So the hordes place the head on the lifeless body and Shiva blows life into him. Parvati is over the moon. The hordes cheer. Shiva names him Ganesha lord of his ganas. Problem solved. And so the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune is born. Dealing with the DHS and family benefits though is completely another story.

And so the celebration of Ganesha Chaturthi is there to celebrate the day when Lord Ganesha is believed to bestow his presence on earth for all of his devotees.

An interesting point is that the festival, a private event in people’s homes, got made into a public event in 1893 by Lokmanya Tilak, an Indian nationalist. He used the event to bond and build unity between all castes against a common enemy, you guessed it the British empire. It was a way of bringing people together when the British had banned all social and political gatherings to exercise control over the population.

For ten days the festival continues, with small statues in homes and larger ones in community areas or brightly decorated mantapas. A ritual of chanting, mantras and offerings is made. Then on various days, but most notably the last day, the statues are taken to the sea and immersed. And here is where they are left.

More stories of deities and historical figures in contemporary context to come.

Some friends invited me around to see the opening ceremony for the Ganpati festival (Ganesha) at their home. The festival lasts for 1.5 to 10 days, depending on how long you want to worship him, and culminates with the immersion of Ganpati in the sea. At home the opening ceremony goes on for several hours. Chanting, prayers, singing, offerings, and orientating the body towards the Ganpati all flow from a manual of conduct, more complex than an ikea kitchen suite.

After 1.5 days they took gunpati to the sea. More chants and offerings. Followed by rotating 7 times and then taking him out and leaving him at the bottom of the sea.

Click on image to see the full set of pictures

This is one of Mumbai’s nicer slum areas. They have walls, running water, electricity and not too much blue tarp.!! It is typical for a slum to be located in the gaps of land between developments. The developers and government would love to develop areas like this. With a population of 20 million land like this is a premium. But the slum holds a whole community, a slum city within the city. These people will not move without a fight. Some figures say that over 50% of Mumbai’s population live in an area designated as a slum.

Click on picture to see more images

Slum

 

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: www.vsequeira.blogspot.com, 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 www.urbandictionary.com: 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.

 

 

 

 

Indians find it difficult to say a frank ‘No’ to requests they are unable or unwilling to grant.  *

 

This is a phenomenon that I have encountered many a time on my travels in the sub continent. It most commonly arises when I am asking for bus times. A typical conversation will go something like.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh that will be 8.30” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Not convinced I ask somebody else.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh that will be 7.30” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Still not convinced.

 

“Excuse me, what time does the bus leave for such and such”

“Oh you have missed the last bus, there it goes now” with a certain amount of head wagging.

 

Ok, so maybe I should learn the language, then I could read a timetable, a fair cop. But if you don’t know, tell me, it is far more productive than just pulling a random figure out of the air.

 

The other thing that amuses me is that you will get the direct answer to the question that was asked. For instance, if I say “Is there an ATM down here” and indicate down the road. I will receive the answer “Oh yes” with more indicating down the road.

 

Anyway, 2 miles of blistering heat later, I come across the sodding ATM, only find that it has run out of rupees. Walking back the way I have come I discover that there is an ATM literally yards away from where I initially asked, in the other direction. But that is not what I asked. I indicated the direction and everything why on earth would I expect somebody to counter my request and say “Oh no, that one is 2 miles away, it is near a casino and always runs out of rupees, why not use that one just over there”.

 

The expression “Be careful what you ask for, because you just may get it” comes to mind.

 

It appears that these phenomenon exist because of the cultural obstacles in giving or receiving negative feedback. The preservation of relationships being the primary principle governing the actions within an interpersonal situation.

 

It all comes down to saving face by not admitting ignorance and does not introduce any negative vibes in the fleeting relationship that just happened.

 

I actually love this phenomenon. It is so much more fun than saying “I have no idea what you are talking about” or “I haven’t got a clue” – just make something up, complete random drivel – brilliant.

 

Colin Laidlaw doctorate in Astro Physics here I come.

 

 

·          Ref page 19, The Indians, a portrait of a people by Sudhir Kakar and Katharina Kakar

 

 

Commuting in Bombay is hardcore. London during rush hour has nothing on this. Firstly, to get on the train you realize why God invented elbows. There is no consideration for people getting off the train, it is every man for themselves. I say every man, because women get their own carriage, and I imagine it is the same process for them. I say carriage, but what I really mean is a sweaty, stinking, human, cattle wagon.

 

So once on, and you are comfortably crammed and jostled against your sweaty fellow man, the only thing you can think about is who is rifling your pockets at that very moment. Lets face it they are all blagards and scallywags your bigoted colonial gene cries out.

 

The lucky commuters hang out the door and take in the air, which is a pulsating sine wave between urine, vomit, excrement and dead dog. The railway line is home to thousands and the tracks – well if you didn’t have a toilet where would you go.

 

So then there is the issue of getting off. This requires more planning than D day. At least 3 stops before your stop you need to be making your way towards daylight. However, you must contend with the people that, cunningly, have the same idea as you. Furthermore, you must also contend with elbow wielding people that believe it is their god given right to get on the train.

 

Often, at particularly popular stops, a mini riot breaks out as the masses ejaculate onto the platform like the sperm from a Blue Whale. I saw one guy with henna died hair (A topic within itself), repeatedly striking a fellow passenger because he dare be in his way, before marching off towards the proverbial Blue Whale egg.

 

Beware the masses, for when they act as one, they loose the rational thought of the individual. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free yoga in the meditation room the sign purported. Ok, so I do a bit a Yoga, a bit of Ashtanga a bit of Hatha, a bit of this could not hurt. The meditation room was in fact a room in a nursery, it’s walls adorned with poorly painted effigies of Mickey and Minnie Mouse and at one end of the room  a shrine covered in boxes of cakes and the effigy of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. A tad more spiritual than her American counterparts or so I am led to believe. Shri Mataji is the guru for Sahaja yoga meditation. The clientèle, a bunch of guys in their 70s, a smattering of house wives and this lanky white guy, yours truly. Hmm, I should have got out then, but heh it was free. However, I could not see much of what I call yoga happening in this crammed space.

 

So after a brief introduction I am placed on the concrete floor and sit through an hour and half of chanting, odd hand movements and a poor tape recording of Shri Mataji herself, complete with background traffic noise. Now meditation has never been my strong point, and my mind begins to wander. Have they cleared copyright on Mickey Mouse, is it safe for my leg to go to sleep for this long without gaining deep vain thrombosis, can the anus really get pins and needles, what are the cakes doing there. I am then prodded by one of the old guys, because my hand posture isn’t right.

 

After this agonizing torment we carry out a ritual of rubbing left and right hands above our heads and are asked if we feel hot or cold emanating from our foreheads. And I tell you what, my right hand felt warmth and my left felt cold. Spooky, have I just experienced some spiritual awakening or was it the location of the fan behind me. We are then told to focus on the effigy of Shri Mataji and our minds will clear. And again for the briefest of moments I feel it, for the briefest second my mind is not fixated on the cakes.

 

We then carry out some more chanting and the cakes are distributed. A collection of nut things, marzipan and sugary string. If I come again, I will bring a lovely Battenberg or some of Mr Kipling’s finest selection that I so used to enjoy on Sunday evenings in front of the Antiques Road Show.

 

A lovely bunch of people, with a good selection of sweet products, but i don’t think Sahaja yoga meditation is for me. I read once that the purpose of doing yoga is to gain the ability to remain in the same position for a long time. Well I love yoga, but my butt is just too bony for sitting still for an hour and half. on a concrete floor. 

 

It has entered my mind to take the opportunity to try any spiritual session, with whichever guru there is. I am not really fussy which guru, any will do.  As long as I bring a pillow and they provide cake.

 

www.sahajayoga.org if you like cake.

 

 

That heat thing, now that bugs me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mumbai 17.07.09

 

At first sight Mumbai, or Bombay as most of my, Indian generation prefer to call it, is a city full of dirt and filth. Its air thick with pollution from the gridlocked roads, piles of stagnant rubbish, fish, and an overflowing sewage system. The humidity is suitably graded to open the pores and ensure as much of this filth enters the body as is possible. Breathing is not good enough to ensure you have a healthy dose of your fellow, 20 million, compatriots.

 

On a second look though, Bombay, Mumbai to the younger generation, truly is a city full of dirt and filth. Its air thick with pollution from the gridlocked roads, piles of stagnant rubbish, fish, and an overflowing sewage system. However, all this shit comes from somewhere and it is this 20 million people and there extremities of existence that gives Bombay its character.

 

Because of its massive population, Bombay’s accommodation is terribly overpriced and of a suitably low standard. Four story apartment blocks, be speckled from concrete fatigue and a mold that is indigenous to concrete buildings be speckled with concrete fatigue, adorn the middle class suburbs and resemble something from a film where all humanity has died and the wildlife is re gaining its ground. A film, probably starring Charlton Heston, if Charlton Heston could star in any more apocalyptic visions of humanity.

 

If you are not lucky enough to live here, then it is the slums for you. Shanty towns, or zopadpatti, made out of the flotsam and jetsam of modern human existence. A thousand rupees a month rents you a pile of rusting corrugation and frayed tarpaulin with no water, electricity or sanitation. And they are the lucky ones, for the rest it is the street. A piece of  cardboard is your home. This is not like London or any other Metropolitan city where homelessness is seen as something that happens to the unfortunate few. This is homelessness on a grand scale and is a way of life for many of the workers within the city. The chances are, are that the man that is serving you your plate of dhal, roti, thalis or Domino Pizza spent the night huddled in a doorway on that very same pizza box. It is life here, pure and simple.

 

I guess this is the point whereby I am supposed to say something like: I will never complain again about the aircon being too cold, or that there was a pubic hair in the shower, or there was a smidging too much salt in the soup. But I will, why lie to myself for my own brief sense  of altruistic empathy. My god that would make me feel at one with humanity for about 20 seconds, 20 seconds before I go into a hotel and complain about the soup being too cold, too much salt in the shower and a pubic hair in the aircon.

 

It doesn’t matter who we are or where we are at, we just can’t accept that things could possibly be ok.

 

How dare somebody else have the audacity to infiltrate my concept of a good social standing by shedding a hair from their nether regions, while rigorously washing with inferior soap and the management just turned a blind eye. God forbid!! 

Everybody is now aware that I am leaving this country. The dust has settled. The plan is building. But why on earth is everybody being so nice.

Not a day passes without hearing people say “It is a brave move”, “Good on you, break away from the corporation”, “What an opportunity”. Pats on the back and encouraging words are the norm. Even Company Directors that would not normally give a toss are suddenly interested in where I am going, and dare I say, who I am.

A vale of tension has been lifted. Everything is becoming clear. But then here lies the problem. Even within my job I actually feel positive about it. Maybe I do provide some service,  greater than just being a number, or a cog, or a numbered cog to that matter.

Maybe this though is the pangs before the question that any soul in this position must ask itself: “What the bloody hell are you up to”. 

It is the test phase. When I am forced to question my own existence and come up with the answer “You know what, I’m doing alright, why do I want to change anything”.  Why not stay in my normal safe existence, and if I worked hard at it I could be cynical of all things foreign, I could become a Bigot so that everything has a position stabled nicely below me and why not even become a racist and join some nationalist party with better flags than the flags of other nationalist parties. Why not just stay at home and have a cup of tea and wear jumpers.

I am currently reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. A great novel and interesting provider of insight into Indian culture and its ways.

This is a quote that intrigues me (P367) “When we act even in the best intentions, when we interfere with the world, we always risk a new disaster that mightn’t be of our making, but that wouldn’t occur without out action”.

This quote is relevant to my interest, and to a certain degree, concerns about charity work.

I would like to place myself in a situation whereby I am helping those who most need it. But here lies the problem – if you educate and help people and increase their chances of opportunity then what if these opportunities do not exist. All then you have done is provide a false sense of hope.

A false sense of hope is a dangerous concept. It can lead to apathy, drug abuse, violence etc. This is something that I must keep aware of and will be one of the biggest challenges surrounding the charity aspect of my trip.

Some people say that that was the quickest mid life crisis they have ever seen. Hit fourty and quit my job to go travelling, bang just like that. Well I actually handed in my notice two days before my birthday, so I guess it was just, slightly, pre mid life crisis. Furthermore, I believe that I will live to 93 so that pushes the crisis well into the realm of pre pre mid life crisis.

What is more, lets face it, life is full of crisis – the type of crisis that is easy to deny. Crammed on public transport as we suffer a job we don’t really want to do, only to pay for our overpriced existence. Violence in the papers, war, death and plague spurting from televisions, bread going stale etc.

Crisis is everywhere. We can hide this crisis and place it under the banner of “Not my problem” or “It is the way that it is” or “Things will get better”. We can accept that crisis is not part of the crisis. Most importantly we have to question, does it make me feel good?

So every good plan needs a plan.

Quit job and work out 3 month notice. This will allow the company plenty of time to re structure itself and figure out what on earth I did for them.

Carry out one month TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign Language) course. It’s always good to have a safety net as fall back. Also it makes my English betterer and will aid in learning something foreign.

Move to India. Everything about the country facinates me. Plus, I love curry and yoga.

In India I intend to carry out atleast 3 months charity work. Not too sure of the reasons behind this yet. Whether it is: maybe I am a good person or maybe I need the impression that I am a good person or maybe I do these things and become a good person. This I am not sure of.

After the charity work, for whatever its reasons, I intend to travel. I want to see as much of India as possible, spend time in Ashrams, travel to Nepal and go to Everest base camp, travel to Myanmar (Burma) and catch a boat to the Andaman and Nicobar islands. 

Carrying out Yoga, photography, writing and getting close to the people and culture are essential to the plan.

Over the coming months this plan will evolve. Place names, time and goals will hang off it like a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Eventually there will be a structure to the plan where all its integral parts will exist in symbiotic to one another with enough space to grow and be fluid.

Planning the plan builds the dream in the head. The dream becomes the future and ultimately becomes the past.

The English (from Old English) are a nation and ethnic group native to England and who speak English. The largest single population of English people reside in England, one of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom.

Zen (Japanese:) or chán (Chinese:) or Sŏn (Korean:) is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism notable for its emphasis on mindful acceptance of the present moment, spontaneous action, and letting go of self-conscious, judgmental thinking.

It emphasizes dharma practice and experiential wisdom—particularly as realized in the form of meditation known as zazen—in the attainment of awakening. As such, it de-emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of direct individual experience of one’s own true nature.

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