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

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