IV: Headin’ South

After a whirlwind tryst with the Romanian lady I left the Jupiterlike landscape of Hampi & delved further into the sub-continental hinterland. A sleeper train took me overnight to Bangalore, a city very much in the vein of hectic Bombay (but cleaner). Spent most of the afternoon in search of some rizlas to go with the very fine Nepalese charas I’d been tripping out on the last few days, but to no avail. God, I would have paid ten pounds for a single fuckin rizla! I ended up in a fortress-town called Sriringapattanam (try saying that with a mouthful of spaghetti), the site of the Duke of Wellington’s first significant career victory (15 years before Waterloo) over Tipu Sultan, the Tyger of Mysore (xix). Tipu stuck in the imperialist British throat like a chicken bone. It took them years to defeat him & claim their share of South India. The raja was martyred thro’ his noble death, personally defending a breach in the walls of his capital. The piss’d up redcoats could not differentiate him from a common soldier thro’ the smoke of battle & slew him, his body turning up next morning underneath a pile of his dead soldiers. I spent a day being carried around in a pony-driven carriage, checking out all the sights, & the evening trying to deflect an Indian businessman’s attempts to marry one of his daughters!

Had a crazy conversation with this English guy one morning. A month or so ago he had been kidnapped at gunpoint in an alleyway in Hyderabad & held captive for three days in a derelict house. He had no food or water & was forced to telephone his family in England for some cash, inventing a reason as he did so. Luckily, they didn’t understand enough English to realise he was telling his dad what was really going on & the gang was intercepted outside a bank just before they collected the money, with one ‘bandit’ being shot dead. However, instead of flying immediately home the guy has kept the two grand & is now writing a book of his experiences in the much more tranquil environs of Sriringapattanam. I mean, this country is such a place of wild extremes.

I moved on to Mysore where fate once more push’d me into the company of an Israeli guy I’d bumped into at Goa & Hampi (weird). We agreed three random meetings is more than a coincidence & we’re gonna hire out a houseboat to sail the Keralian backwaters in a week or so. Mysore was the most pleasant city so far – wide European streets & a genial atmosphere… but not enough to make me stay. So I spent another six hours on a bus winding thro’ thick jungle. As my soul’s boatman cut thro’ Karnataka I burst once more atop the feisty Ghats, drinking in the heady views that lead to Calicut (xx) & the Arabian Sea, drinking a £1 bottle of whisky & grooving to some tunes. I am now in Kerala, an alcohol-free state, but very charming, & I have just enjoyed an excellent meal watching the end of the latest one-day cricket match between England & India, which we won, much to the waiters chagrin… my dessert tasted strangely of phlegm! To the Indians cricket is god, Tendulkar the messiah & Sehwag the second coming. Like Goa, Kerala was once an enclave of the Portuguese empire, & the place where the first imperial seed was planted. Vasco De Gama sank his renaissance gaze upon the east here, & was palanquin’d to meet the local king, bringing the winds of trade to blow upon this spicy shore.

I’m beginning to get used to India & the people now. It is generally very scruffy, but the vegetation & scenery often stunning. As I have broken away from the main tourist trail I am encountering a non-hostile curiosity as to my country? My good name?  My marital status? & my job? But all-in-all, it is so-far-so-good & somewhere south of here there’s a beach with my name on it.

Calicut
31/01/02

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