IV: Cyclone Jag

The last time I signed out was Diwali – a total riot. Every twenty paces a family group were setting off all manner of fireworks, clutching their meter-long lighting stocks like little Lancelots. Occasionally you’d have a mother doing it, her wee babbie giggling in her arms. Then all of a sudden one hell of a monsoon struck Chennai, dampening everyone’s spirits & fireworks, the powder in them turning to an unlightable mush. Ten minutes later the flash-storm was over & the show somehow went on.

I’m in my total element here. Back in Britain I kind of dawdle about on the outside of society as a poet – I dont even do performance poetry so I’m pretty much on my own. Out here things are very different, I feel a part of the eternal, international poetic consciousness – with the added bonus of wacthing premiership footy live in my hotel room! A weird tangent-thing is that the last time I’d just arrived in India, Obama became president of the US & there was the Mumbai terrorist attack all in the space of a couple of weeks. Now, two days after arriving in India, so has Obama, whose first port of call was signing the martyr’s book at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai – weird synchronicities.

Yesterday me & Charlie hit Chennai on the book distribution run, cruising about by foot, train, rickshaw & bus. The city itself is just one massive heap of concrete lumped on the Tamil plain like a colourful pizza. No hills to break up the urban monotony, & very few parks. Albeit theres the sea, but even this is manky, fed by the black stinking sewers & even ranker rivers that flow through the city. The day began unconvincingly, with a wild goose chase to a non existant address. Well it might have existed, but nobody knew where the hell the street was. The second publisher was closed for Diwali & nobody would take my book to give to the guy. Getting on a bus, with Charlie, having a wee moan about everything from lack of non-sugary condensed milk to the bricklaying skills of the Indians (hes a brickie himself), to allay the growing sense of frustration I opened up my kural & found an appropriate pick-me up.

Working unswervingly against impossibility
Persistence’s first instance
Kural 153/4

Things then pick’d up a little, with the next two publishers having security guards, who kept my book in safe keeping til the staff came in to work on Monday. The fifth, however, was more promising, & open. I gave my book to a receptionist, who five minutes later summoned me to the boss’s office, through a maze of other offices. He was a lovely guy, smiling widely at the ridiculousnous of a Burnley boy translating his national epic, & after ten minutes of chit-chat I think I’ve won him over. He’s going to check through my interpretation of the Kural & I’ll hear from him next week if he’s up for it. This was quite a satisfying moment, so I called it a day there. I’m gonna post the rest on whenever I find a post office (no easy task).

While we were walking the streets, me & Charlie kicked off our own version of the East Lancashire cricket league. Apparently, he played for Read CC, & I used to watch Lowerhouse CC as a bairn. Anyhow, on coming across a couple of kids playing in the streets, we found ourselves using a tree for a wicket, & the kids for fielders. Charlie batted first & got 7 runs before I bowled him plumb LBW, much to his cocky annoyance. However, I only made 5 runs before one of the kids gave me a wicked googly & Charlie gave rather a too triumphant cheer. His smile didint last long though -later that night he got himself lost. I think he went off hunting for ketamine while I was in the internet shop. An hour after our appointed rendezvous I went back to the hotel – three hours later a flusterd looking Charlie turns up, without any K (thank god) several hundred rupees of taxi fares down. Apparently he’d driven past the hotel several times – funny as.

This morning we woke to proper Pendle weather, with Chennai like a late auntmnal Manchester. Apparently a cyclone called JAL is coming on from the Bay of Bengal to devastate fisherman’s lives & all that – which finally gave us the kick up the ass we needed to get out of Dodge. Three hours of train ride later, sitting in front of a baby with massive brown eyes & an even bigger brown splodge of paint between them, held by a guy listening to bangra on his mobile, we’ve come to Tirupathi, a not particualrly pleasing town at the foot of a sheer range of hills. If Chennai was Wolverhampton, said Charlie, this is definitely West Bromwich. Our reason for being here is the temple of Tirumala, up on the hill range. It receives more pilgrims each year than Mecca & Rome put together, with most of the young guys shaving their heads – giving the appearance of a mass rally of the asian wing of the BNP. We’re gonna join ‘em about dawn tomorrow, when hopefully the weather would have cleared, before travelling a few hundred K to stay a night at this very holy ashram – I can’t wait to see charlie’s face when we get there & he ca’nt have a fag.


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