I am a strong believer in Karma, especially the way it tends to bite you on the ass when you think you’ve got away with it. A couple of years ago I stole a couple of euros from a convent-well near Dublin & on the walk back home ripped my clothes to shreds & by the time I reached Dublin, had in fact lost the two euros. Well, the bad energy I produced by sneaking out of Pushkar rebounded back upon me, for as I was leaving Bundi & Rajasthan – 1000 rupees went missing from my room. I think it was the innocent acting ‘momma’ who runs it, who had spent several days lulling me into a false sense of security. Yet, the fact I’d done the Pushkar runner has been niggling me for ages, & now that niggles gone & I feel the score is even. Yet Karma decided to stay with me a little longer.
I left Bundi on an overnight train & pulled into the bustling sprawl of Gwalior. There is a small festival in Scotland called Linkey Lea which raises funds for this mythical orphanage in India. I’ve played it with my band & suspected it was all going to feed the organiser’s coke habits, but how wrong I was. At Gwalior I was met on the platform by a driver, who whisked me away to the Gwalior Children’s hospital & then on to the Snehelaya orphanage itself. It is set in a compound in the middle of ‘bandit country’, protected by armed guards. Inside it is an oasis of peace for thirty kids with varying degrees of disability. They were all delighted to see & play with me. I even found a guitar there & played them a gig – but as they only spoke Hindi it was difficult for them to appreciate my lyrical genius. The maddest moment was seeing this blind kid with a Burnley top on – honestly. Apparently it was donated after a recent visit by the RAF, but either way it was cool to see.
The Snehelaya set-up is very colonial, with the medical volunteers having an upper floor to themselves & waited on hand & foot. There was only one volunteer at first, a writer called Sarah, & we shared a couple of days of literary bohemia before a couple of other girls turned up with a Goa hangover – which I soon cured with a big bottle of whiskey. I spent the mornings going out with the staff – once to a school & once with a roving ambulance, pulling into villages to give out health advice & medicine. While they were doing this I wandered into a local school & gave an impromptu English lesson to kids – great fun, especially when I sent out a kid for talking to much – just like me when I was his age. On the way back karma struck again, for some guy who had just had a bike accident. Tho’ in pain, his face lit up when our ambulance rounded the bend he had just skidded off. Back at the ranch, the frequent power cuts got me into writing, both poetry & a couple of songs on the rooftop with a guitar donated by a Linkey Lea organiser. I also got friendly with the local farmer – the place aspires to self-sufficiency. His house was in a corner of the compound, a bathroom sized single roomed cottage about three feet tall! How he fits his wife & five kids inside at bedtime I will never know.
I left the orphanage this morning in a flurry of fond farewells & didn’t have to pay for my stay – I guess karma had watched my gig at the festival & once again balanced things up nicely. It was quite poignant saying goodbye to the kids – we don’t realise how lucky we are guys – both to live in the West & to be able-bodied. I set off south on the Shatab-di Express, the fastest train in India, as wide as a plane & pretty luxurious compared to the charabangs I am used to travelling on. It took about an hour to reach Jansi & then, sharing a rickshaw with a yank, I pulled into Orcha. It is a great, quiet little temple town & I am hopefully going to spend a week in Indian idyllia within its small cluster of streets.