I: Ciao India

I have finally got me one of these new-fangled e-mail thingys. International Messenger services have advanced a long way since the Incas used to send them over a thousand miles on foot, carried by teams of relay runners at a rate of ten miles an hour. Also going are the days of formal letter-writing & waiting anxiously at the letterbox for the tread of a postman’s feet coming down the path. But, however nostalgic I’m currently feeling, I do see the value of the internet. Its ability to send information across the globe in an instant is obviously an important tool in defining the global village. Another valuable asset to the e-mail phenomena is its ability to store vast amounts of text. No more shall I be travelling around with bulky notebooks to record my journals – all I have to do is find a computer & within a few minutes my wayfaring will be presented for posterity & wired out to the world. That’s why this little number has appeared in all your inboxes.

Rudyard Kipling once mused, ‘East is east & west is west & never the twain shall meet,’ & boy was he right. The flight to the sub-continent began in a dull pre-dawn, slowly permeating the skies above the galaxy of stars that is the city of London. The capital was surrounded by the bright, wavy circuit of the M25 & thro’ the murk it seemed like the delicate golden stitching on some Chinese emperor’s sable suit. Europa soon pass’d majestically beneath us, eventually broken by the Black Sea & the dusty treeless leagues of North Persia, before the drop over the ocean into Bombay – another galaxy of stars in another corner of the universe. With dawn flecking red over the rooftops I took a crazy black taxi to a cheap hotel – £3 for a bed & a fan. My first impressions were the stench… it stinks! The sweat of a billion people mingling with pollution & Sulphur emissions – like one of my own lethal flatulence moments, but permanent!

Mumbai.jpg

My first day in the very European Bombay – complete with red double decker buses straight from the Strand – was a montage of sights & smells. As I cut a swathe thro’ sight & sound, all asweat with lips parch’d dry, I was assail’d at all sides by various beggars, touts & conmen – but you can’t blag a blagger & I even managed to haggle down the cost of my first score – a strange blend of Indian weed, which works! I was also blest by a priest of the elephant-god, & painted with a bindi – the spot in the centre of the forehead which represents the third eye. Ganesh, the elephant-headed god (xviii), is one of the major deities in the vast Hindu pantheon. There are over three million of them, for all sorts of obscure things. I guess there’s probably gods for scratching yer bum & putting the right amount of chilli sauce on yer chips. The craziest one is Kali, a goddess who wears a necklace of shrunken male heads & a dress of sever’d arms. Very morbid, but also very holy.

I have recently tried my first proper India food & tuck’d into a thali; several mini pots of curry + rice bready things, all for 40 rupees (60p). The money is mad; I got 5000 rupees all in fifty notes & feel pretty loaded. I also encountered my first ‘shocking’ scene. A man & four ragged, tiny urchin children, thin-legg’d & dirty, all asleep by the harbor. My automatic response was to offer them a little money but I refrained & went on my way. It felt like the time I saw a stoat heading for a nest of bluebird hatchlings. I scared it away the once, but I couldn’t stay on guard forever, & so let nature take its course. Later on I went down to the beach and rented a ‘friend’ for a hundred rupees (about a pound) who told me where all the Bollywood stars lived (basically pointing at random houses and saying the name of a random Bollywood star). He then took me for a ridiculously cheap and hot curry in a kind of shack cafe on the edge of a shanty town. His chat was disturbing, all about his childhood in 1947 when he watched Hindus massacre Muslims in the city streets at the dawn of Indian independence.

So, I’m slowly settling in, & after buying some shades & slipping them on I prepare to face my journey.  I’ll bell you all when I get to Goa, it might be in a few days as there are some wicked Portuguese forts to buzz round on the Konkan Coast, & you know how much I love forts!

Bombay
15/1/02

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