II: Bollywooder

After writing my last emails, I was just about to chill out for the night, y’know, catching up on some sleep, jet-lagged to fuck, when after an evening meal I was approached by this fifty-year-old English reprobate, all long hair, criminal-slouch & drug-abuse-strained drawl, who goes ‘do you wanna be an extra in a Bollywood movie.’ Of course I said yes – I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t – & soon found myself on a bus with about twenty other young travelers spinning through Mumbai. At first I thought it was like Nightmare on Elm Street 2, or Jeepers Creepers 2, & we’d all get slaughtered – but before long we were at this old English school, eating some wicked food & dressing up into Edwardian costume. The women looked especially wicked, it’s a total shame they don’t do it any more – apparently the silk armgloves itched & they were murder to get into. Anyway, the shoot took about six hours & we got paid 500 rupees to do it! All we had to do was sit in a big hall & be an audience. The film will be at next year’s Cannes festival & goes by the name of HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY. Its subject is the first ever Indian filmmaker – Dadsaheb Phalke – who took his film to England… & we were the claphappy audience!

After about three hours’ kip I was back on the road, jumping the morning commuter trains out of VT station. My journey was relatively peaceful, but what the grand tide of humanity passing by me in the other direction was mental – Indian office workers taking up every inch of room on the trains, inside & OUT! Crazy days! On the outskirts of Bombay I had to change for the Goa train, & met a Canadian who was going south too. We spent a couple of hours in the vicinity, chilling in a temple while swapping books & literary anecdotes. He’s called Danny, a nice guy who looks a bit like Jim Morrison & was brought up in India at an expat school. Apparently the weed back then had been laced with opium, which helps to explain the otherworldliness in his ambience.

The Goa train came in & Danny took 2nd class sleeper while I took a first class carriage for about a tenner (lessons learnt from previous visits). The journey was pretty nice actually, about 12 hours of air-conditioned sleeper carriage punctuated by hand delivered hot meals, watching the monsoon-fresh greenery of middle India pass me by. I was sat with these Catholic Indians; a violin player named Errol, his lovely wife & their eighteen year old daughter who kept giving me the eye. They were fans of Alexander McCall Smith & were amazed when I told them that I used to live on Scotland Street… but were disappointed to discover there was no number 44.

En route to Goa, Danny decided he wanted to come with me for a couple of days, so we both found ourselves in Benaulim (by the sea) at about midnight. Unfortunately, all the hotels were shut, so we ended up squatting a half-built villa for the night. A nearby guard dog had seen us & proceeded to bark its head off for about an hour & half – the last thing you need when you hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for four nights. On waking up, the dog turned out to be a tiny thing (with big lungs) so we decided not to exterminate it with a firm kick to the cranium. Instead we found a wicked cottage right on the beach (I step out onto sand), watching speedboats whizz people in parachutes high over the Arabian Sea. The weather’s great – night & day – about 32 degrees in the mid-day sun, & thanks to a hairdryer/sirocco-like breeze blowing in from Arabia, about 25 at night! Benaulim beach is part of a long stretch of white sand as far as the eye can see. There are about twenty-five bamboo-built, thatch-roofed restaurants spread out in a line, each slightly different in character. At one we watched the sunset with this astrologer genius from Manchester – we got on apparently because we were the three air signs (Aquarius, Gemini & Libra). At another we chilled out with the ‘cool’ set of Goa & at another – the Hard Rock Café – I got out my mp3 player & did about 9 disco numbers before getting booted off – a new record!



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