III: Kali & Charlie

Karma’s a wonderful thing, I think. Two years ago, I was having a few ‘problems’ with mi bird. I mean, we had the same argument for 6 weeks. Then it hit me – the Indian goddess of destruction, Kali, was using my bird as an avatar & summoning me to India. So I went & ended up translating the Tamil Bible. Back in Britain I tweaked & polished it a bit, then put it to one side, my prospective market being 6,000 miles away. Then lo & behold, I’m suddenly swept off to the capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai, by Charlie – Kali & Charlie, its got a certain ring to it!

My journey began by walking up Leith walk in Edinburgh in flip-flops, to a couple of funny looks. Nine & a half hours later Charlie had met me at Victoria & we set off on foot towards Heathrow. I like to go pedestrian to airports, following the planes as they make their descent, as something of a pre-quest ritual. I found myself following the same roads that I had walked back in August as I wrote the Londiniad, reminding me that his was gonna be a literary mission & not just fannying about all over the place in search of ephemeral pleasures.

We got to Heathrow at midnight, where Charlie, going cold turkey off practically every kind of drug, started knocking back vallium like saspiralla tablets, washed down with neat vodka. Apart from being on the run from the poilce, his landlord, the CSA & a couple of crack heads, he’s also nursing a broken heart. She was called Ketamine Karen, & had bled him dry, emotionally & financially, & turned him onto smack etc. However, I know the guy’s got a diamond soul, its just been buried in a whole heap of shit, so whats a pal gotta do eh?

Charlie was well excited as we set off from the runway, he’s like a 53-year-old toddler, & demanded the window seat. Unfortunately, Europe was quiet overcast, but we just got on with enjoying the flight. They’re great actually, its like being served a 4-course meal by hot birds while you watch the latest movies or listen to your favorite tunes. Like going to a restaurant, but without the inane chit-chat. Talking of which, I finally had a respite from Charlie’s tales of Great Harwood Football Club. He also turn’d off the beer tap for us, for on staggering to the toilet the hostesses got scared of a typical ‘drunken-Brit- incident. I tried to explain that it was just the vallium making him fall into the laps of the other passengers, not the booze, but they didn’t bite.

We did get a break in the clouds, however, as we flew over Turkey & the southern shores of the Black Sea. We saw a coastal strip of towns, but the rest of the land was beautiful khaki-coloured hills, some of which were skipp’d with snow. In the distance I could make out the Caucasus, where Hitler’s Sixth Army was supposed to meet Rommel’s Eighth in 1942. Looking at the terrain below me I opined that even if Cairo would have fallen, Rommel would never have been able to penetrate this land of jagged peaks. Then came the Tigris, & I mused on the start of mankind, where Mesoptamia irrigated its plains between the Tigris & the Euphrates, from which culture rose the first city – Urduk I think – 8000 years ago. Today it is a world of very scatterd villages – from the air they looked like a few tiny sugar cubes cluster’d together, whose roads out of the settlements soon dissapeared into the dusty hills.

While listening to Kasbian’s West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum we came into Abu Dhabi. This is a part of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, seven princely Trucial states who joined together about 40 years ago to exploit the petrol-guzzling nations of the world. Incidentally, the sheik of Ras al Khaimah, Saqt bin Mohammad al-Qasimi, had died the previous day, whose emirship had been one of the world’s longest, ruling since 1948. From the night sky, both desert & sea merge in a deep blackness, broken by golden beaming spiderweb lines of motorways, & illuminous grids of houses. The airport itself was a bit mad, full of guys in white shirts, sporting red & white chequer’d tea towels on their heads, fastened in place by two black rubber rings. There were models of formula one cars everywhere, & an amazing departure lounge that looked like the inside of a curling ball. The central pillar fanned out like a vase to merge curvingly with the roof, & all was patterned in hexagons. Then we were off again, for the three & a half hour hop over the Sea of Araby & the subcontinent, to the far eastern shores of India, to Chennai TN.

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Once off the plane, instead of paying the exorbitant taxi fares into town like an American mug full of dollars, we just caught a train instead, the station being a stone’s throw from the airport. Our tickets were 6 rupees each, about 8p. We quickly got a room, which after a few hours Charlie said was the worst he’d ever been in. I replied, trust me there’s worse – at least we have a western toilet, shower & TV (for a fiver). Admittedly, the area we are in is right next to a very busy, smoggy main road, & Charlie says its like holidaying in Wolverhampton. From there we wandered about a bit, but the jetlag & heat had wiped us out really. However, I did manage to print out 9 copies of my Kural, which I’m gonna distribute round Chennai publishers tomorrow. It cost me about 7 quid to do this, including getting the pages bound in a hard-back. I was going to do the distributions today, but most places are closed for the festival of Diwali. This is the great celebration of the god Rama’s victory over the Demon King Ravana, a ten-armed baddie had stolen his wife, Seeta, & whisked her off to Sri Lanka. Rama followed, with an army of monkeys led by Hannuman. All day & everywhere firecrackers & bangers are going off Vietcong style, to be followed by tonight’s fireworks displays, simulating the cosmic war. We’re at the vast, Indian-heavy beach at the moment, getting away from the ‘explosions’ but tonight we’re gonna hit our hotel rooftop & watch the city explode in light & magic, just before the same thing happens to Guy Fawkes over your way…

Chennai
5/11/10

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