Monthly Archives: March 2011

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