Category Archives: India

India 2010 -> 2011

Almost Home

A wee splash o' Spring

Today is the final day of what has been an epic mission. I’m in the library of Marple – near Stockport. Im slowly meandering toward the centre of Manchester for my evening bus to Edinburgh, my duvet & 6 months worth of videotaped Eastenders!

Last friday Andy & Tereza – who I’d met in the Himalayas – drove over to Burnley with a couple of their mates. After a whistle stop tour of the pubs we then drove back to their mates’ house in Rochdale. The next day I was thrust into the deep end at Andy’s sisters birthday in Mosston, north Manchester, with lots of kinds & adults to talk too, plus plates of food – quite surreal. Then they drove home to a caravan site south of Marple. They pay 800 quid a year for a pretty palatial caravan sat right by an idyllic canal. A great place to unwind after my epic voyage.

Yesterday Andy took me on a walk up Kinder Scout – the highest point in the peak district, flanked by a vast peat bog plateaux on one side & & the plains of Manchester on the other. The sun was simply lovely & we had the company of Chip, a bouncing fleece-ball of a dog. It reminded me of my pedestrain hauntings of East Lothian & I became excited about my homecoming. But first Ive got to perform a wee hike through dodgy Manchester…

Marple
18/04/2011

PS Here’s a link to my finished Indiad – its taken 9 years, four visits & 13 montsh of my life to write, but I’m happy to have finished it

http://www.damowords.co.uk/pdf/The_Indiad.pdf

Half Way Home

My Burnley

I am currently sat in Burnley library, on the edge of two epochs in my life. Behind is the chaos & adventure of India & all that led up to it. Ahead is a future of focus & rockera. Right now, though, Im in the middle of buying shoes & sorting out my new phone which I found in Abbu Dhabbi airport a new sim card.

The journey to England consisted of long waits – ten hours at Chennai & 6 in abu dhabbi – & drunken flights being fed by proper fit hostesses & watching movies such as The King’s Speech & Made in Dagenham. In Abu Dhabbi, with not having any sheckles, I did a sneaky move on a coffee shop sandwich. With hindsight it wasnt the best idea, as I’m sure you lose a hand or something for stealing in these sandy desert kingdoms.

We finally arrived at Heathrow as the sun was setting on the hottest British day of the year – 20 degrees. I guess when you winter away theres a sense of mission accomplished. Arriving at the airport was funny, but not funny for Charlie. Way back in Hampi he’d set his bag on fire by throwing away one of those Indian matches that are really difficult to blow out. On that occasion he just about rescued his passport from the flames, though it was covered in black plastic crud. Anyhow, it was enough for him to get through Chennai immigration, but at Heathrow he hit a snag of suspicious looks from the border guy. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, cos the police called over to look at said dodgy passport it were waiting for Charlie anyway! The long arm of the law had flagged his flight & the cops arrested him there & then on charges of drunk/drug driving & failing to turn up at court. It was mad watching him walking away with the cops.

Suddenly I was alone again, the sun just setting & me, back in Britain after a long poetical sabbatical! In comparison to India the streets were practically gleaming, so clean they were, & so, so empty. Then I did what I always do on hitting London- go & see Cliff. On the way to Leytonstone I was sat on atrain thinking, wow, I was in Chenaai that morning & all teh guys had probably had one of theose same-same days that mark modern existence. But not me, I’d just had an epic mission, & though I was arriving with nothing to my feet, my head was full of the future of music!

It was good to see Cliff, & I joined him & half of the gallery on a trip to the seaside. There were three gallery bands playing at the Tubman in Hastings for this guy Mikey’s birthday. They were all on acid (which I didnt partake in) & cliff was personally funding his bands – & mine – tickets, beer & drugs. Quite a feat, considering there were five of us for three days. I sang a few songs at the beginning of the gig, but I did my own thing most of the time I was in Hastings, which was gleaming in south coast sunshine & very attractive on the eye, from partying with a random family – the daughter was doing ketamine with her mum – to studying Homer in the local library, to scramblin into the castle for sunset. It was rather apt, actually, for it was where William teh Conqueror first set up camp before the battle of hastings – I feel a tad like him at the mo, bursting with energy as to my new art form, Rockera.

Docklands

From Hastings we went back to Leytonstone for a night, from where I set off next mornming for the north. The journey involved a lovely early morning hike along the Thames – a great way to reaclimatise the psyche with my own land. Then, at Victoria, it was the one pound mega bus to manchester, & the x43 to Burnley & at least four portions of proper chips n curry thus far.

Burnley
12/04/11

Home Time

Its early morning in Chennai – 8.30AM – & its my 153rd & final day in the sub-continent. My plane leaves tomorrow morning at 4AM, so we’re hoping to be at the airport for tonight – we can watch the Spurs-Real Madrid champions league match in a bar there to keep us awake. By now I’m totaly India’d out & looking forward to getting home – Eastenders & some proper chips n curry awaits awaits. Still, its been a pretty cool do.

A few days back I was in Calcutta, when India beat Pakistan in teh world cup. I was watching it in this mad wee political party office – for the vibes – & after they won they ‘war’ the streets of Calcutta exploded into life (not bombs); 5 guys on a single bike streaming past, the flag of India fluttering behind them – groups of young lads running down every street cheering their head off , & the massive jam of people & cars & people on cars down Park Street, screaming & singing & all sorts. A proper awesome display of ecsatsy, like a squat party without the drugs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMWRfnSDAj4

Just as we were leaving Calcutta for the thirty hour train ride south – I had my wallet stolen & Charlie got Dysentry. The dream is over eh? Honestly, I woke up to Charlie pathetically hanging off his sleep bed with his undies round his ankles & an Indian mman hovering above him menacingly wanting to chuck him off the train. The dysentry had floored him -literally, pinning him to the skanky train toilet while his entire body gushed fluids. He was so weak & confused that he sat down on the wrong sleep bed – stinking of shit in his undies remember – right on top of menacing guys wife. I soothed the situation & once we got to Chennai got him sorted. I’d had dysentry before & knew what to do, y’see. This is Charlie’s version of events;

THE LEAVING OF CALCUTTA
By Charlie Fairclough

We left old Calcutta the way that we came
Three weeks later on the midnight train
We said our goodbyes & paid all our tabs
& walked to the busstop avoiding the cabs
The night was dark & the bus was hot
As we left the city behind
Then crossing the Hooghly
Life chuck’d us a double googly
We gobbled a snack & boarded the train
But soon one of our party doubled in pain
& staggering off to teh dunny
& whilst he was gone
And to make matters worse
the other one’s lost all his money

Genius again. We arrived in Chennai last saturday. India won the cricket world cup later that day, but the celebrations in Chennai were about ten percent of those in Calcutta. Since then Ive just been killing time writing this essay on Homer of all people (I think I’ve solved the mysteries of the Illiad). Its all good. I finally feel I have completed my education in poetry. Its taken the good part of 15 years to do, but I finally feel there – I guess i’m like one of the sitar disciples learning his ancient instrument at the feet of his master – only my masters are all dead & Ive had to teach miself. Still, i’m there now & I’m ready to join the ‘adult world.’

Me & Charlie

So there’ll be no more e-mails – Ive gotta stop some time & ive been sending them out on & off for nine years now – some of you are recent readers & some have been there since day one (hi Baldy, hows the kid?). From now on I’m gonna use my blog, so this was just a wee swan song – I started them in India in 2002, so it was apt to finish them here. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed some of the descriptions of exotic places, thanks for your ears guys & see you around sometime.

x

Chennai
5/04/11

PS – Ive been writing some proper songs over here, like, full of Indian melodies Ive been bombarded as I travelled aboot. 5 months is a long time to craft a piece of music that you’d normally crack out in a few minutes. Its like the tantric sex of song-writing. Anyhows, Ive got a gig in Hastings, Sussex, of all places, this Friday, supporting London Cliff’s band at THE TUBMAN. Apparently Im gonna get well off mi head so happy days.

Heres the music video that his band made

Then, on Saturday 23rd April I’ll be playing a gig at THE FOREST CAFEin Edinburgh, supported by Steve’s new band – Ginger & the Tramp. Then it’ll be time for the massive jam thats gonna be my first Rockera

One Day In Kolkata

Yesterday was a good day – like a cultural sandwich. The crusts were formed by indian classical music & & folk dancing, with the filling a trip to the races. It began with a a rush for orange juice to acounter the effects of the previous nights drinking session. It was there, on the breezy rooftop of the modern lodge, that Malcolm, a bearded twenty-something from Athens, Georgia (US) & Rebecca, a salt-of-the-earth Irish lass from Tipperary agreed to join me on my kathak quest. We were joined in the morning by Owen, a handsome-in-that-Irish way traveller type from Cork – & Sebastian. I’d met him on my mission to get juice – a young, long haired Pole, resident in London & with appropriate cockneyisms chuck’d into his accented English. He’s in town to get a sitar mad – a two week process – & I said as there’s Sitar accompaniment to the kathak, he should come along. He did, & soon enough the five of us were sat in a lovely air conditioned auditorium. A couple of nights previously I’d seen Kathak for the first time & was blown away by its mix of dancing, tap dancing, rapping & all round wickedness. I was also given a flyer for todays’ Kathak marathon – twelve hours of non stop performance – & all for free. Infact, everything Ive been to more or less has been free. It seems the Indians see their high culture as a native binding force rather than a commercial elitists enterprise.

The best way to explain Kathak is just to show you it

FEMALE KATHAK

MALE KATHAK

After an hour or so of this, me & Becky walked back to the Modern Lodge & picked up Charlie & Pete. The latter’s a lovely guy who we met while watching the England cricket world cup. He’s a Londoner by trade, but for the last ten years he’s been living in a tiny village near Graus, in the foothills of Catalonia. He’s bought & is renovating a second house there & has said I go & visit him & stay in second house later in the year for a poetic retreat. Happy days. They got even happier down the race track. We arrived after a lovely walk across teh Maidan – the vast green, lung-like space of Calcutta – with a thousand Tendulkars all enacting the coming semi-final by many a home-made wicket. The walk to the course is dominated by the Victoria memorial – a beautiful domed marble affair & a constant reminder of empire – its like the Taj Mahal meets Saint Paul’s cathedral & positively glitters in the sunlight.

VICTORIA MONUMENT

victoria memorial, kolkata - classical view

Entry to the course was only ten rupees, well worth it considering the grandeur of the five pavilions & the view of central Calcutta emerging from teh Maiden’s trees like New York rising from the clods of dust that formed after the dropping of the Twin Towers. O yeah – I guessed teh winner of 5 out of seven races – honests. The first two I was drawing the number from the cosmos. I tried it again for the third – but it came dead last – & again for the fourth, which fell in a flat race! I changed tack now, & queing at the window to place a bet on the fifth, I asked the guy in fron t for a tip for the next two races – followed his advice & won both of them. In the last race was a horse called Zillionaire – & feeling like one with my winnings backed it & won again! Great fun – Charlie won 150 rupees with a ten rupee place bet on a rank outsider, & Becky picked three winners. Inbetween races you can watch the horses be paraded & have a beer & banter with the locals. Great fun.

Come sunset came the second crust of mi culture butty, & we went to a classical music festival concert – where we listened to the haunting violinesque mantras of the sarangee, & teh wonerful guitar stuff of the saron. I swear down, this guy was playing stuff & I’m like, how the hell is he doing that – even the bendrix would have had to see, slightly nonchalantly with a tight curl at the corner of his mouth – ‘he’s not that bad actually!’ It’s got to be something down to the sheer seriousness of the musicians over here. Young boys are initiated at the age of 8 & become disciples, often & in some disciplines practising for thrity years before they are even allowed to perform. One of the singeing things – Dhurava – you have to practice the base note – sa – for two years!

Again, I’ll let the performance do the talking.

PRATYUSH BANERJEE

INDRANI MUKHERJEE

So after food, beers on the rooftop & a crack with the Irish – what was a very fine day finished. Today, me & Charlie are off to an Alfred Hitchcock film festival….

Kolkatta
28 / 3 / 11

The Birth of Rockera

By TP Kiernan

In the late 1590’s a group of musicians & poets got together in Florence & essentially invented Opera. Well, in mi ‘ed n everfink Ive just invented Rockera. The idea is that a band will be on stage as normal, but in front of them a play/musical will be going on – there’ll be minimal props & stuff – mainly cos the drums’ll be hogging the space. Its Calcutta, y’see, & India of course. Full of culture. I’m going to see a dance recital tonight of KATHAK – this crazy theatre world of supernatural costumes, dancers, singers & actors – all on the same stage. The other day I went to see some Indian classical music, the highlight of which was opening my legs virgin like to the wonders of a sitar played majestically for the first time. It was a celestial experience & I definitely felt I was on Mephadrone for most of the gig. I’m looking forwards to getting back to Edinburgh & putting my new eastern-influenced art-form into practice – after all, Edina is La Firenze della Nord.

By TP Kiernan

Calcutta’s a very fine city, full of cheap & tasty food, with lots of going on & things to see. There’s the genetic mutation of a White Tiger at Alipore Zoo, where most of the tea-stained cages are void of even a fake plastic flower. There’s the prolifty of modern art galleries (which Charlie usually storms about in a huff goin’ ‘that was shite’), there’s College Street, a world of books & bookshops & the famous Indian Coffee House where the waiters are dressed up like cockateets. There’s BBD Bagh – formerly Dalhousie Square – full of British pomp & architecture, including the fabulous GPO, the former nerve centre of an empire. There was Holi – the festival of colour – where I was getting paint-bombed (water bombs with paint) from high buildings & everyones covered in pink paint. The stuffs well hard to get out & I had a pink forehead for days.There’s teh very cool one-line metro system that links the city north & south for between 4 & 8 rupees a ride. There’s Salt Lake City Stadium, a great football arena that rivals the Nou Camp in size – but was filled with only a thousand die hard fans for a game the Indian’s barely notice. It’s the cricket, y’see, & they love it. Last night I watch’d the Indians beat the Aussies in the world cup quarter final on TV, setting up a semi final with their arch rivals Pakistan. Believe you me, its gonna be electric round these parts. I stay on the edge of a muslim area, so there might even be a riot if India lose.

By TP Kiernan

After the match I could hear fireworks being set off around the city from the roof of the Modern Lodge, a really cool hang out for my stay in Calcutta. Its just off Sudder Street – the travellers ghetto – surrounded by eateries, chi shops & even a record store which has some disco vinyl I dont have! I was listening to some through a gramophone style thing in the street which got some amusing looks & me in a reyt funky mood. Its very Bohemian & foregners only, which is made up of mostly folk volunteering for the Mother Teresa Mission that does work across the city. Its where I met TP Kiernan, the photographer who has filled up this blog with his wonderful B&W photos. Interestingly enough he has offered Charlie a room in his farmhouse in the middle of Ireland – which should keep the heat of him a little while longer. Talking of Charlie, I guess hanging out with me for so long rattling on about sonnets has inspired him- & here’s his first sonnet – which is probably better than my whole feckin Indiad;

THE REACHING OF CALCUTTA
By Charlie Fairclough

We arrived on a train at Howrah Station
In the midst of onion inflation
Two fifty rupees taxi fair
Feck it man we’ll walk it there
So we hoisted our bags & off we went
Across the Howrah Bridge
Then trudging down the River Bank
I realised Calcutta stank

The beggars chased us everywhere
The lepers with a doleful stare
Held out their rotting digits
Just give me something
They implore
But I haven’t got a biscuit

Genius! As for my own poems about Calcutta, Ive done about 30 out of a projected 98, but have hit a brick wall of apathy & heat. Its almost touching 40 degrees celsius in the middle of the day & my heads melting into mush, with my clothes sticking sweaty to my skin. I need the cool of air of Lancashire & the East Lothian hills to finish this one I think. Ive got loads of notes, though, picked up from wanderings or the two graet libraries in town. Theres the national Library of India in the grounds of this mahrajas old palce, & the Ramakrishna mission, the HQ of this divine guy whose spirituality was borderline schizophrenia, but whose legacy was a world of learning & books – whose libraries I’ve been using all up the East Coast Its cool getting eastern insights into set western ideas – for example there’s this Nostradamus Quatrain (vi-27) – Within the islands of five rivers to one, by the crescent of the great Chyren Selin. No-one in the west knows where these five rivers are – but the word Punjab means five rivers – where teh Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Bens & Sutlej all flow into the Indus. – The crescent is on the Pakistani flag by the way. Here’s one of my Calcutta pieces anyway;

SABIA

She’s up from the Sunderbans, her village was decaying
& found herself a destitute, an elf on Sudder Street
Dismiss’d by her government, her gods ignoring praying
Her final resolution – no begging, nothing to eat!
Her mother caught the Black TB whose nightly liqour treat
Ensured their police harassment, what wild lives we humans lead!
& as her mother pass’d away, with nothing on her feet,
She was now her own mother with three younger mouths to feed
With teenage prostitution desperation made complete
Condemn’d by mega-wealthy Westerners, “A lesser breed!”
Only the decent Amir Vela Mandir pay her heed.

Every Sunday every soul who patiently waits in line
Recieves their sweets & savouries & sabje in a bag –
Then shuffles back to paving flags to sip their gutter-wine.

O yeah – The Nepal trip lasted a few hours – it involved a drop down a very steep hill, following a mule trail over a river border into Nepal, climbing an equally steep hill, finidng a wee village for a lunch of cheap Nepalese brandy & momos (attracting manic interest form the locals) & then the return up & down said steep hills – absoloutley knackering, but wonderful scenery & definitely, with all the connotations, the best walk I’ve ever been on – it was more the last of the summers wine than the raiders of the lost ark, but still all highly illegal & jolly good fun!

Kolkatta
25/03/11

Gorkhaland

Ah… what a glory it is to be in Darjeeling an epic sprawl of a place that clings to the hills like the houses of Sheffield & Rome. Unlike those cities, however, beneath them the hills keep on dropping. Then you have wonderful hills rising across the valleys in splendid majesty, & on one side, the snow peaks of Kangchendzonga & its attendant mountains reminding me of the glory of nature. Its India’s highest peak & only a few hundred meters shy of Everest – I think its number 3 in the world. Ive been admiring it, sipping the celestial golden nectar of umilked, unsugared Oolong tea, slowly wandering the narrow streets & sharp steps of Darjeeling. Through the main road runs the tracks of the train that heaves itself up from the plains on a narrow gauge. The Indian sun is hot, but the skin is cooled by the mountain air, a perfect sensorary experience. I’m here with with Andy, a Mancunian. He’s just had a successful mission buying two ghorka WW2 war medals from a cool curio shop, to replace the one’s his grandfather got stolen a few years ago in Britain, a sentimental gift for his auntie & mum. They’re both from the same Ghurka, so theres a poignant romanticism about it all.

I’d met them back in Calcutta – I was wandering around with these two intellectual, cute fraulines – just as he & his girlfriend, Tereza, arrived simultaneously with us at the Morther Teresa house. It was closed, but we wandered about together & hit it off. Keeping in touch we agreed to meet at Mirik, I place I ‘d read about & thought soundednice & mellow & picturesque. So My Himalayan oddyssey began, a few days ago, with a jeep-taxi from Siliguri, the further most city of the Gangeatic plains. At one point there were 16 people in it & on it, but it was all good fun, & as we rose up among deliciously wooded hills, the rush of India faded away like the hairs on a moulting Cat. En route our taxi driver mentioned his family had a guest house, & after him dropping packages & people around Mirk for an hour, we were on the drive to his pad, when lo & behold & Andy & Tereza were chugging through the town with their backpacks. “Jump in,’ I said, & soon, picking up another English guy called Pete en route, we’d set up home in this proper buzzing guest house, with immaculate rooftop views of the lakes, a stunning, gold-gilded Buddhist monastery right next to us, the surrounding giant tumuli-tea estates & Kangchendzonga in all its glory.

Mirik is yet another India, with the asiatic faces of the Nepalese – & their language – everywhere…. & theres not a sari or a wobble of the head to be seen. It is part of West Bengal, but there are massive efforts to give the area state status – it makes proper sense really. This was highlighted by us joining in a cricket match with some young lads & I declared it an India – england woorld vup match – WE ARE GHOKARLAND – They insisted, & went on to stuff us. It’s a cool pitch, with a six coming from a hit into the lake. The next day went back for more, & getting a few locals on our side, we went down to the last couple of bowls – we’re gonna win I can tell. After the matches we’ve been having drinking sessions, filled out with the delicious home cooking of our hosts – with salads & veg fresh from their garden. This food has been rivalled in town, however, by the best puri in India, & the white lumps of lard that are the momos. You get these great large dumpling types full of veg, or these mini ones with pure, unadulterated beef. There’s also these noodles in beef soup I get from a shacky cafe in town.

It was there, papers & books spread before me, with several pairs of narrow Gorkha eyes staring at me, that I finish’d my Indiad. Its been nine years since I wrote the first sonnet, & I reckon those nine years have made it my best creation. Lots of fallow periods. Composing it almost killed me – several times – but I can now say, with some satisfaction, IT IS DONE! But anyways, lets get down to the nitty gritty. I went on awalk teh other morning & got chatting to this this beautiful guy, who suddenly points out a hill about two hundred meters away, wityh a wee village on it, was Nepal! I could touch it & could have gone there there & then, but I thought I’d research it first.

Now, the Indian government has introduced this new rule that says if you leave th country, you cannot come back for two months. However, if you do a Colditz style move over the border (with a joints worth in the pocket of course) – what can they do. Indian rupees are valid over there – in fact there is no restrictions for Indians crossing the border at all. So I thought to myself, its been a long time I’d gone on a memorable adventure – & its about time I saw another country, so Im off in a few days on a wee madcap. Kathmandus 20 hours away by bus, but I reckon I’ll just fanny about the east of the country. Besides, I dont think I’ll get that far up Everest in mi flip-flops! Here’s what my mates Phil & Steve – regular Nepal visitors – had to say on the matter:

PHIL
nepal is havin free entry get the tourists back year .. free one month visa .. otherwise its a porous border
a paraglider i know flew across the border and back after 6 months .. you can walk through if you can do a minor invisibility thing at sinauli (have some one take yer pack)
and the same out as long as yr indian visas in order ,, also the 2 months out thingb was a reaction to a someone on a british passport going in and out of pakistan on the 6 month thing
an so theyre trying to check people more , this i is as of last year , and then you could do it legaly into nepal , and then go to indian embassy an show ‘em your ticket out of india and get
a new indian visa for a month or 2 week transit .. so its negotiable sort of thing , but sure you can slip through and back

STEVE
sneaking into nepal, hhmmmm, its actually quite easy to do at the border crossings, when stuck on india border for the night its easy to just walk across the border and get a nice nepali beer. the majority of hotels do check your visa, especially in the small towns, and if you did get caught it would be big trouble in a sub; continent sort of way, probably end up a few days at least in prison cell, with lots of flapping and accusations of spying. and worst of heap big fine, or donation to local police christmas fund. but my advice is stay longer and by a ticket back from nepal with air arabia(arab ryan air) to istanbul, was about 100 quid couple of years ago.

But all that’s another story….

Darjeeling
5/3/11

West Bengal

Two days back I bought a sleeper train ticket from Calcutta to Chennai for just seven quid for the 31st March – which means that I’ll be travelling those 1700 K, plus the two early-bought megabus rides from London to Manchester & Manchester to Edinburgh, & get back to Edinburgh for less than a tenner. That’s happening through April, but first I’ve got March to get through. I bought the ticket in the bizarrely named ‘English Bazar,’ or Malda as the Indians call it. We left there this morning on a slow, seven hour local train ride, full of blind beggars, stoned babas & occasionally bursting at the seams. A bit of confusion over stations meant we actually slung past our destination – Siliguri – & ended up in a quiet village. There, while waiting for a bus, a local taxi driver befriended us & as he was driving this posh advoacte guy to Siliguri, gave us a free ride. Siliguri itself is astonishingly European, with wide-ish boulevards full of large westeern shops & dripping in neon-bling. Tho still perched on the seemingly endless, & frankly quite dull flatness of the Gangeatic plain, it is the gateway to the Himalaya’s – where we’ll be heading to in the morning.

Our journey here began last week, when we left delightful Chandipur. We’d stayed theer a coupel of days, a charming spot with a vast tidal beach. After taking off ones flip flips one can walk for ages, the water just ticklling the tops of the toes. Around you is nothing but sand & an increasinngly narrowing land as one gets further out to sea. A few birds flutter about checking out the cockles & jellyfish, plus the teams of fishermen going out to the static nets that are about two miles out to sea. Chandipur itself is just a few hotels & a couple of places to eat. It is made interesting, however, by the nearby fishing village, with a proper harbour, lovely wooden boats & the smell of fresh fish.

So we left Orissa & hit Calcutta last Tuesday, staying for a few days. I was checking out the place & scouting out scenes & distances for my future poem. Highlights were hanging around with these two twenty-something intellectual German birds, wandering the streets & drinking cheap beer at their ‘Modern Lodge’ – a great bohemian hang-out. I also watched the 33rd nation sub-junior (U-16) interstate football championships on a primitive football stadium on the grassy Maidan. Mizoram beat th ereigning champions Jharkand 2-1, & I watched it with this local boys club whose coaches tried to get me to buy them some footballs. I might arrange a charity match when I get home. It was weird, actually, & one can see which game has prefernce in India, for towering above the footy ground are the marvelous Eden Gradens, the greatest cricket stadium in the world. Ironically, it recently lost the right to stage the world cup that this cricket crazy nation has just began to host – through politics, bakshish & a lateness in preparing the ground. In fact, the India -England game was meant to b e played here, which is testified to a number of English guys in Calcutta who’d bought flights ages ago, but came to India anyway

I actually saw the game on TV quite randomlyat the crappy little town of Rampurhat. Me & Charl;ie had just set of north at times that suited us, aiming eventually for the Himalayas. It was a reyt thriller, swing one way then the other, watching it with a group of Inidans at the hotel. At first India’s total of 338 seemed massive, but England struck back & seemed to be coasting, only for the Indians to strike back themslves & leave England needing about 24 off the last two overs. Then a few sixes later the last ball came along – England needed two to win & eceryone was on their feet – England just got one, however, tyin the matchj & everybody broke out into hugs, handshakes & friendshuip. Im glad really, if we’d have won I dont think we’d have made it out alive.

From Rampurhat we bussed it through Murshidibad – the city I went to immediately after my bus crash nine years ago in agony & a very concussed state. We lingered about twenty minutes before catching another bus north. This swept us over the Ganges itself, which at this point seemed like a slightly larger Firth of Forth, with infinite flatness on every side. Then we hit Malda for a couple of days, broken by a trip to the beautiful ruins of the Adina mosque, 15k away. There was also a riot in the arly hours of our first morning there, when three hundred guys stormed the police station to free their mates – we weren’t there, but reminded me of how crazy this country can get.

Siliguri
2/3/11

CROSSING ORISSA

Last night, for the first time in over three months, I felt the cooling effects of sweet rain liquify my skin. I mean, Ive counted the clouds on one hand since the late monsoons that struck Paradise Beach. Last night more than made up for it, a deluge of bliblical proportions that struck Balasore, turning the roads to rivers & had me rushing down from my lodge balcony to save a few pairs of shoes from being washe down a drain, that this shopkeeper had forgotten about as he struggled with the tarpaulin over his shop.

My journey to Balsore, in the far north of Orissa, began over two & a half weeks ago as I left Narla for Sambalpur, a four hour train ride away. The city was a big dark cancer of a place & I bought the first ticket out of there. This was at 1AM, & not wanting to risk walking the 4K from my hotel to the station through cold-war-eastern-euro-streets, my backpack screaming to murderous thugs ‘rob me’ – I set off at 10PM, where there were just enough friendly faces about to see me through. This meant a substantial wait at the station, where the sight of the sleeping homeless stirred me to a sonnet.

There is a certain sadness in this land

The handicapp’d are heap’d upon my heart

The twisted feet of those too low to stand

& me, all in their midst, yet set apart

& when I wait to catch the midnight train

So many shudras spread about the floor

A spell of blessed respite to obtain

From drudgeries of being born so poor

& as the swine from meal to meal subsists

Therein lies the archaic chaff of wheat

On which this young democracy insists

“Caste is caste & never the twain shall meet!”

Even those dreamlands which all equal share

Disturb’d, here, by the tannoy’s constant blare

My sleeper train disgorged me at Puri the following morning. Despite its reputation I thought it a charmless place, yet still stayed there for over a week. I think this was down to the cheap weed this young shopkeeper thrust upon me. He also gave me a little opium, which I havent tried yet. Nine years ago in India I’d tried some & subsequently nearly drown’d & was in a bus crash. I think this time I’ll save it for a nice long, safe train ride. The maddest thing about Puri, though, is the government Bhang shop, where you can legally buy cannabis & opium.

Puri is a largish place, settled on a flat coastal plain. I was staying in the travellers quarter, a bustle of hotels, peppered with spaced out travellers. The chied points of interets are the Jaggernath Temple & the sea-beach – but both ultimatley dissapointing. For a start, non-hindus cant get into the temple, & can merely get a porr glimpse of its innards from a nearby library’s roof. This library was cool, however, a colonial time capsual of a thing, whose books we riddled with booworm holes like hot rocks on a stoner’s t-shirt. The portion od seabeach nearest to me was interesting, lets say. It was about 200 m wide, with the first 100 meters being taken up by the narrow sandy lanes & small, one floor homes of the fishermen thay ply the waters. Then came the beach itself, the first band of which was bascially a huge rubbish tip. Then came a stretch of sand & then the blue wooden fisherboats that stretched as far as the eye can see, a few meters from the waves. Inbetween them were the nets full of the days catch, surrounded by onlookers all bartering for fish. When the boats went to sea – forming a d-day phalanx of boast just off the coast – they left the poo-stools of the fishermen. Proper rank & I ve discovered that the phrase ‘seven shades of s**t’ is wrong – theres actrually 32.

Deja vu struck in Puri, when Charlie parachuted in with a big bottle of ketamine – it was nice to see him & for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed the drug – I think its the purity-trip Ive been on prepared me for its effects. We only spent a couple of days on it – I think it was a farewell fling for him & his beloved, like when you nail your ex that last one time. On one occasion we went to see the Konark Sun temple, a few k up the road, a truly stunnin edifice that towers over man & tree, which sailers of old called the ‘Black Pagoda’ as they passed it on the oceanic journeyings

I also had a slight set-back on my Jesus in Orissa theory. I visited the magnificent state museum, which had a wonderful selction of statues & paintings of gods & goddesses form teh infinite Hindu pantheon. I wa son teh look out for my jesus, but couldnt find him, so I went to the the boss of the museum & asked if he could help. He was ever keen to oblige & before long he had teams of helpers scouring the records for us while we sipped tea & chatted in his office, They found only one thing, copied from the palm leaf chronicles stored in the Jaggerntah Temple. Unfortunately it pointed to the god being an afghan king – but something still troubles me, why would teh hindus deify a man who broke the idols of their gods? I believe the mystery shall finally be solved on a visit to Calcutta University, & a converstaion with the appropriate orientalist

From Bubanswar me & Charlie have now hit Bolasur. A few k away is the supposedly delightful fisher village of Chandipur, not far downstream form the hoogly mouth (the western most arm of the Ganges) where we’re gonna hole up for a few days – apparently the beach is 5k wide at high tide! Our first objective will be to find a hotel that has sony-pix, a movie channel that is showing the FA Cup – its Burnley v West Ham on monday night, so thats quite important. From there we’ll hit Calcutta, the second city of the British Empire & the true jewel in the crown. If an Adam Smith inspired Edinburgh was the mind of the empire, & London its powerful heart, then surely Calcutta was its soul, the spirit of men that replicated their own laws & architecture in exotic lands many miles away. The plan is to spend a month or so there, exploring every nook & cranny & bring it alive with verse & sketch.

Balasore

20/02/11

Boneshakin

After a weeks stay in Jeypore, last Friday morning I left the town on what appeared to be a normal bus. It was, however, a boneshaker, as the driver insisted on haring down the road, sending the bus flying thro the air at every bump. It was like being on the Burnley Fair dodgems for 4 and a half hours. The first part of the journey was unspectacular, a level spacious world dotted with rough-built huts & pepperd with the chequerboard squares of the paddy fields. Then we hit a forest & after a while began a sharp drop through the trees. It seems that Jeypore had stood on a plateau. On reaching the bottom of the hills we began moving through a vast plain, interspersed with the lovely, isolated, idiosynchratic hills of Kalhandi District. The region is kinda famous, apparently, for a series of devasting droughts that hit the area – reducing women to selling their daughters for 40 rupees just to feed the rest of the family. After a short while the bus pulls into this pathetic wee place to fix a puncture. The Indian busses are hard-core & have eight tyres each. It was interesting enough watching the conductor unscrew the great wheels from its axle, manhandle it to the garage & an hour later reverse the process.

So I came to Bwanipatana, the capital of Kalahandi. It was pleasant enough, a series of intersecting triangular squares. My attempts at getting a decent nighst sleep were thwarted, however, by the racket that echoed through the cavernous hotel. Every room had their TV turnd up full volume in an attempt, I think, to drown out all the other TVs. Total nightmare, & with the mozzys on full assault the hours of slumber were very precious indeed. While in Bwanipatana, I was googling up an ongoing route, & discovered there was an ancient fort called Asurgah, 30K away, which was only a coupel of k from the train line heading North. So I set off three mornings back on another boneshaker bus – this one was nothing more than a rusting tin can with wheels. It dropped me off at a place called Narla, from which I walk’d & hitched bike lifts about 4k to Asurgah Fort. It stands by a sleepy village & gorgeous lake, surrounded by paddy fields & consist s of 4 great banks of earth & four equally massive empty spaces where the gates would once have been. Inside the walls a few houses nestle together in rural existence, fetching water from a deep under water well with a tall rope-pully-bucket thing. After a wee while, my nine day lack of sleep accumulating into ‘im gonna fall over exhausted & got robbed soon’ kinda vibe set me off towards the train station & the hourney nort. En route I bumped into this guy & after a wee chat it turned out he was the areas local historian & had writtena book about the fort. Noting his name I wished him well & set off.

I then came to Rupra Road, where I discovered the trains were that day on strike – possibly – three hours & several diffenert answers from the train guys later this was confirmed, & remembering Id seen a sign for a hotel back in Narla I set off walking the 7k. This was helped by my third boneshaker, a ride in the back of a shed thing carried by a tractor – not good for the falsies I tell ya that. Soon I was walking down Narla Road – which is basically a street that runs parallel to the train line. The hotel is lovely actually, & finally I got a decenet kip. On waking I found myself in a poet’s paradise – peace & quiet & this great u-cup of hills full of spacious agriculture through which one can wander & muse. At one point I joined in this herdsman who was ferrying his cattle from patches of green shoots. For a while I held the leash of his pet goat, a spritely wee thing, while he dashed from stray cow to stray cow, whipping them with his stick. Its been a lovely stay so far, which I’m gonna extend for a coupel more days I think – They don’t get westerners here, period – even during the raj the sole british officer of kalahndi was based at bwanipatana & ruled the place through Indian police officers. This surfaces in a lot of starings & curiosities, but my steadily growing advances in the oriyan tongue is amusing them no end. I even got a moustache at one point – for a whole 36 hours! I’d gone to a barbers for a ten rupees shave & soon realized he was leaving my upper lip area free of foam. I was so amused I gave him double money – ten rupes for the shave & ten for the freddie mercury. It’s been proper funny looking at myself actually, & going what a proper kumquat!

So finally, it seems that my Jesus Orissa mission has started with a significant success. Perhaps the strike on Sunday – the gods day incidentally – was divine intervention – who knows? However, something was niggling me about Asurgah. The fort was said to have peaked about 2000 years ago, at the dawn of Christianity. If Jesus was in Orissa, then he would probably come here in an attempt to get laid or something, so I thought that somewhere in the guys book would be something of interest. Unfortuantely it was in Oriyan, but I hoped to get it translated later down the line. So I began today in fine spirits, & even had a shower with shampoo – it was mainly to work up enough lather to shave off my – admittedly- daft tache. I mean, Charlie had left my soap in the Chennai hotel on nov 7th – & I haven’t bought any since on the principal he has to get me some back – which he hasn’t yet by the way.

So anyway, all clean & sparkling I found myself in Asurgah village, showing the natives the guys name which I’d written down a couple of days previously. Half an hour later, this very eloquent English speaking 22 year old engineer student had managed to track the guy down. He was a teacher at a local school & had time to speak to me.! Me & my new mate plus another guy were all soon on the back of a sleek red motorbike – a bit spitroast gay, but we kept our pants on – &whizzing down the roads on my cool wee litology mission. Next up was a wee tour of the guys school – it was basically a small six roomed L-shape affair. I went into two classrooms, with all the pupils standing up to attention as we walked in. The younger class were all squatting on the floor, while the older one had proper desks & chairs!

So we got to work in the school office, the scene filled out by several white shirted teachers & assistants observing proceedings. The book was basically in Kalahandi dialect – which the author translated into Oriya, which my mate then translated into English. I wa seagerlly writing things down, but got a little disillusioned when he jumped form 300 BC to 400 AD, completely missing out Jesus’ days. Howvere, my instincts told me to hang on in there & then BINGO! He starts going on about this man who turned up at Asurgah, destroyed idols of gods & charmed the chief into worshipping him as a god on earth – as if he was a pictish chieftan being converted by Saint Augustine. Sound familiar? I couldn’t quite believe where this was leading – but after handshakes, proffessisons of affection & a few photographs, me & my mate left the school & the final leg of my mission. This was the walk back to the fort once more, where hidden in a corner is a temple to the aforesaid man-god. So I gets there, & what does the god look like – a young, long-haired unshaven Jesus. He only had two arms, when most Indian gods have four. Then my ‘divine’ shower in the morning came into effect. The keeper of the temple asked if I’d washed that day – a premise to getting into the wee temple, guarded over by two stone lions with their ‘member’s sticking out like dogs on heat. Luckily I had, so he brought me out some rice & coconut – nice guy. Then I goes in the temple & sees a much more vivid image of the man god – this time he’s wearing an Arabian dress & clothes – something ive never seen in india – as if he was from Palestein or something. Proper mad. It makes sense, though – the Indians would have a completely different name & image for the young Jesus, & would not have been able to connect him with the western Jesus that came over with the Portuguese 1500 years later. So, tho spectacularly unreligous as I am , & as ironic as it sound, Ive just found Jesus

Narla

1/2/11

Grail Quest

It’s Republic Day in India (the 26th January – the same day as Australia Day & Burns’ day by the way) & I’ve just had a lovely meal at the sai krishna hotel, Jeypore’s finest restaurant. It was paid for by Biswa (world in oriya) & his mate Saroj (lotus) – with Biswa being the 26 year old guy who runs my fave internet shop & I guess I kinda paid for it myself with me being a regualr customer. We’d got on famously & he’d been playing me loads of indian dance music, some of which Im adding to my disco set. In return I gave him a load of western tunes, the like of which Jeypore has probably never seen. He says he’s gonna dish em out to all his mates – so DJ Damo’s gonna be a big name in the Eastern Ghats I hope. We had a lovely chat, with him filling me in on Orissa – its poverty, education problems, temples & dynasties – & me promising the lads somewhere to stay if they visit Edinburgh. Whats also cool is they are eagerly running thro a print out correction copy of my indiad as we speak – he’s just asked what thro means – its actually my version of through, which has alerted me to cleaning up my personal indiosycnhracies when it comes to grammar. Incidentally, Saraj says the freedom that republic day represents is merely a facade.

Now, just before I set off out for India I was writing this book about the lost battlefields of Britain, & was just nearing its completion when Charlie parachuted into my room & started hogging the computer for ketamine/jerry lee lewis sessions. So the book was left unfinished, but one of the last chapters I wrote concerned my discovery of the true grave of King Arthur. Its a water tight theory & was convincing enough for teh Scotsman newsaper to say they’d run the story. However, I think they chickened out – but the story’s going nowhere. Yet life has a funny way of working these things out, & I’m just about to embark on a similar mission. It all began back at the library at Vizag a couple of weeks ago – it was the first day I was there, with the young Sameer as my guide. Once he’d shown me the palce & the wonderful puppet life stories of Ramakrishna Swami Vivenanada that filled teh walls, I though t he’d move on. But instead, he got out a book & began to read beside my. Its subject was how buddhism influenced Jesus Christ, a fascinating wee subject.

A few days after that, in a quiet study moment, I took the book out myself & fell into its depths. It turns out that this russian geezer at the end of the 19th century had discovered a a tibetan text in an obscure kashmeeri monastaery, which detailed the story of christs visit to india. Theres an 18 year life-gap in the bible & it makes sense that he was studying esoteric religions in order to proclaim himself the messiah & free jerusalem from the romans. All the immaculate birth, miracles & ressurection are post-addenda to the myth to make christ seem more appealing to the laymen. Underneath it all, he was probably just a spiritual teacher. Anyway, at first I thought I’d whirl on up to Kashmeer & see for myself – but then I realized the best i’d get was a glimpse of some scroll in a language I dont understand. So I actually read the text & discovered that jesus was supposed to have spent time at the juggernaut temple in orissa – exactly where i’ll be in a couple of weeks or so. These are the relvant bits form this chronicle;

Chapter Five

In the course of his fourteenth year, the young Isha, blessed of God, came on this side of Sind and established himself among the Aryas in the land beloved of God.

Fame spread the reputation of this marvelous child throughout the length of northern Sind, and when he crossed the country of the five rivers and the Rajputana, the devotees of the god Jaine prayed him to dwell among them.

But he left the erring worshippers of Jaine and went to Juggernaut in the country of Orissa, where repose the mortal remains of Vyasa-Krishna and where the white priests of Brahma made him a joyous welcome.

They taught him to read and understand the Vedas, to cure by aid of prayer, to teach, to explain the holy scriptures to the people, and to drive out evil spirits from the bodies of men, restoring unto them their sanity.

Ive figured that somewhere in teh depths of a temple’s vaults theer may be something to corroberate the story, perhaps in a chronicle of the kings of kalinga in the state capital, Bubaneswar. Either way, my instinct says im gonna find something & with discovering King Arthur’s grave & searching for a Christ-related object, I feel like im going off on my own little Grail Quest.

After a couple of sessions on google / wikipedia, Ivecome up with a few other leads. Even if nothing comes of my quest, I should at least encounter some literature which I never knew existed;

The Mahavasma – teh epic of the sri lankan kings (in pali, the same language the lost story was originally in) – the same that mentions ashoka & other indian stories. There has been a new version uneartyehd recently in Cambodia, with many new details – unfortuanteluy its only in pali at the moment

The dipavamsa – connected to teh mahavasma & translated by Hermann Oldenberg

the White Yajur Veda – a veda which I need to raed to see if it connects with th sermon on the mount (which I also need to read)

The mashidisha – contains 84 holy men, one of which could be Jesus (the fisherman perhaps)

The Nathanamavali / teh mosque of fataphur sikri / the quaran / sufi traditions / Bhavishya Maha Purana / Rajatarangini – all have refences to jesus in india

Thats enough to be going along with for now. My first mission is to find out who was the king of kalinga during jesus’ time – jainism had supplanted buddhism by now so maybe they are connected. Plus the other cities he was supposed to have visited. Then just go with the flow

At the moment I am spending my 6th day in Jeypore. I reach’d here last Friday on a train from Vizag, steadily climbing up the west side of the wooded Aruka valley, with views growing spectacular by degrees. Every time we hit a tunnel a huge cacophony of screams & yelps uttered forth from teh mouths of the Indians – in the end I realised they were playing with the tunnels echo-systems. After a few hours we hit Asias former highest railway station at 997 meters above sea level. It was usurped of the honour in 2004 by, I’m guessing, the express railway that links China & Tibet. From there began the steady drop into Orissa & Jeypore through a landscape that increasingly looked like the highlands of Scotland.

After the comfortable hotel at Vizag I’ve opted for a bachelors lodge, with my decent but basic room costing a quid a night. Its a bit noisy at times, but I like the fact there’s no TV – a lot more conducive to working. The town itself is not that big, & its size & the way it peters out into the countryside reminds me of Wigton in Cumbria. However, what a countryside. On one side its a level plain stretching as far as the eye can see toward teh state of Chittarsgarh. On the other is this wonderful horse shoe of wooded hills. At the heart of them is this great hydro-electric dam. I took a walk over to it one day & came across this giant mace-wielding statue of the monkey god hanuman, like a little slice of disneyworld had been planted in India. Back in Jeypore, one can find a shambling old palace in the centre of the town. You cant get in, but can look down on it from neighbouring roves like a sepoy sniper during the 1857 seige of Lucknow. Theres also some proper filthy bits. Theres this school, like, who’s playground is essentially rubbish damp. Then theres this old ghat, completely choked by weeds & rubbish. Still, I thought, I’ll take a wee walk round. En route I encountered 6 man having dumps, & had to avoid a thousand human faeces – not that nice an experience actually.

This was counter’d later that day by experiencing the JAI CHITTAMALA Music Band Party. It was this ramshackle sound system on four wee carts being dragged through the streets of Jeypore. ON the heavily decorated carts were speakers & generators, plus a techno style djembi player & an eight-pad electro drum kit player. Providing the music was this cross-legged moustached guy & a Yamaha keyboard playing all sorts of celestial swirling sounds. By him, walking alongside, were a coupel of singers, huddled liek MCs at a rave. One was about eighteen, & his groove surfing melodies were better than both Ian Brown’s & my own voice put together! Amazing stuff. On both sides of the carts were an assortment of snare players & trumpeters, while directly in fron & behind were the dancers. In front were a bunch of wee boys pulling off some amazing moves including cartwheels, while at the back were all the older men doing a lot of stuff with their hands. To the side of these were all teh women, slowly walking & made up to teh gorgeous Indian max – very hot – inclusing the curious nose-bling that Orissa seems to be the home of. Then behind them were the reason for all this fun & frolics, a very handsome man, again decorated wonderfully, sat in an ambassador car either on his way to & coming form the wedding.

My nicest day involved a two & a half hour bus ride in search of Deomali – the highest mountain of the eastern Ghats. En route I passed thro Koriput, which was full of soldiers with guns gaurding against attacks from the maosit Naxalites. By the time I got to Pattangi, a small dusty town, I still had another 30 k to go to get to Deomali. Howevere, there was a pretty massive hill right in front of me, so I just climbed that instead. At the top I found myself like the sungod Surya, with the peaks of green hills circling on every side like orbiting planets. It was so reminscent of nortehrn Britain it was uncanny, & I could make out the outlines of both pendle Hill & Arthur’s seat.

Im gonna set off into the Orissan hinterland in a day or two. Its a proper step into teh unknown really. Of the 5 million tourists who visit India, less than one percent hit this state. Of them, the vast majority visit just Puri & Konark. The district Im heading for is Mayurbhanj – which has lovely nature reserves full of tigers, but also 3 rapes & 2 kidnappings a day, plus a wild killer elephant that hasn’t been caught yet. So I’ve been getting my bearings really, Orissa is another India completely & I’ve been learning a few words of Oriya to assist me – including ‘bolo swada’ which means good taste. I figure if I do get kidnapped by the naxalites, by complementing their food I should get on their good side – thats if I get fed, however…

Jeypore

26 / 1 / 11

PS – Ive just found out that the ex is coming to India for a coupel of months with the express intention of not seeing me. She could have gone anywhere in the world, but had to come here. I think she was missing the oppurtunity of doing my head in.