Monthly Archives: February 2011

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