XIII: L’Ecole de l’Echeque

I am currently convalescing from a fall. Yesterday I set off to ‘boulder’ the environs of a lake. En route I passed through this wee villgae & began to take notes on a forthcoming poem; of the chai shops at the crossroad with old men chatting & smoking beedies, of the water buffaloes plodding through town, of the school-kids with their oversiz’d backpacks & their baskets witha bottle of water & lunch wrapped up in newspaper, of the two identical ‘universal shops’ in the village, with the same frontal displays full of soft drinks & Lays crisps – magic masala & tangy tomatoes –, of the stray dogs wandering around, the barbers & the mad politcal flags from some forrthcoming panchiyat elections. The last thing I noticed was a wee clinic as I left the village for the gorgeous resevoir dammed above it. I began to bounce along the boulders round its rim, when after only a couple of hundred metres I came across what seemd to be a ‘stream of rust. Unfortunately, under the rust was water, & with a yelp I slipped & was carried down it water-slide style. 10 meters down I was coming to the ledge, tried desperately to grab a branch, then went over. Luckily the fall was wee enough, but the momentumI’id gained span me sideways & my fall was broken by a boulder, on which I then cracked my head with a spot of whiplash. Ouch! I immediatley got double vision, which still hasn’t compeletly subsided – & about twenty cuts, mostly along my left leg. I’ve also got back pain & cannot lift my left arm up above my head. Still, I’m not dead, so happy days. From the scene of the fall, after ripping up my shirt to stem the blood flow, the chief of which was on the bottom of my right foot, quiet a gash, I hobbl’d back to the village. Luckily, the first house I came to was the clinic, & I got my wounds dressed & bandaged by some very friendly Indians, before hitching a lift back home.

I am staying in the village of Virpapurgaddi, across the Tunghabadra river from the more bustling, Indian-heavy Hampi. You get there by piling into this wee boat with up to 20 others, along with mopeds & massive bags of food for the restaurants – its a miracle the thing doesnt sink. The village spreads out alongside the river, & is made up mainly of restaurants. Beyond begins the wonderful bouldery landscape that is a sheer joy to wander in – very alien. A few years ago it was empty, but now a steady troop of middle class climbers are arriving with their massive backpacks full of gear. I did a spot of climbing the other day. There is this white temple perched high atop a boulder-hill about as high as Arthur’s seat. Instead of climbing the tortuous steps, I traced a route up the boulders & went scampering up them like an agile monkey. The boulders themselves are a tottering bunch, forming mad wee caves beneath your feet on which a slip could prove messy. However, I handled them well with monkey-like agility & found myself at the temple. This turned out to be Hanuman’s birth-place, Anjamadri. At the top I saw a few of Hanuman’s descendants, the males of which, both old & young, were stood uprights on the backs of the female’s knees & nailing them in front of all & sundry – a very curious sexual position indeed.

This area is indeed the the home of the monkey gods. Not far away is a temple upon Rishamukh hill. This is the home of Sagriva, chief of the monkeys, & on visiting I found myself in an episode of Father Ted. There is a baba just like Ted, who has been there 50 years & moans at everyone who turns up – even worse than Charlie. Another baba – my mate – is a thirty-year-old gorgeously-bearded dark-skinned fellow, with only one leg. We’ve got on famously & Ive been going to see him each day for lessons in the Ramayana. I studied it the last time I was here, but he’s helping me to fill in the gaps. I sat down with him on a rock in the shade as he gets out this weighty bi-lingual tome (Hindi & English) & reads through passages for me. Its cool as he skips the more difficult words with a wee mumble, & then elaborates on the ‘main points’ of the lesson. It turns out the temple is built on the very spot where Rama met Sagriva, where their friendship was sealed with a handshake. Sagriva then agreed to send millions of monkeys out in search of the lost Seeta.

Over Christmas I was hanging about – seperately – with a couple of cute french girls in their late twenties. One is a jewelry maker/seller called Sagoo, who lives in Ardesh – a hippy envirnoment near Nice. The other is a Parisian, & is on a festive break before going back to work in Calcutta as a French teacher. Her name is Amelie & I think we’ll meet again – she says she’ll help to find me digs in Calcutta when I get there in a few weeks. Indeed, it was a very ‘joyeux noel.’ It was from Amelie that after teaching her ‘no worries’ in English, she taught me the phrase ‘l’ecole de l’echeque’ – which means learning from your mistakes. I.E., if youre bouldering & there is something that obviously looks slippy – dont fuckin’ step on it!

The hippy rainbow tipii spot has been a cool hang out & I’ve been jamming away with the guys, slowly getting middle eights for a few songs I’ve been writing in my head over here. Its nice to get a guitar in my hands & I’ve been penning the songs for the big Saraswathi comeback in the spring. I think its a cool concept, leaving the last incarnation of the band to go off to India & be dictated to by the goddess herself. The tunes are sounding pretty good so far & three more months should get them kicking.

I was attracted to a wedding by this amazing sound of drums & horns. It turned out to be two drummers, a trumpet & a clarinet indulging in call & answer eastern psychadelia. Around them a great troupe of Indians were indulging & chit-chatting, with the wee ones making mischief at their feet. I was invited to join them in some food & observed a lovely ceremony. The bride & groom were knelt down on something of an ironing board, covered in turmeric, which gave them a yellow hue. Then out came the shampoo sachets & they were both drenched in water until they were clean – some cleansing poojah before the victuals I think.

As for Charlie, nine weeks of his incessant moaning finally did my head in & I scampered across the river to the other side for some peace & quiet. I mean, a guy can only take so much, right. He’s like one of the old gits from that BB comedy show, moaning loudly about all sorts of stuff & not embracing the fact we’re in this fabulous country, prefering to insult the natives instead. Aftera  few days away from him, & then seeing him again, I finally realised this myself. Anyhow, he’s now also come across the river, & gone on to a quiet spot a few kilometres away. I reckons a spot of shanti-shanti village life is just what the doctor ordered for the fellow, & let the miracle that is India do its work.

Hampi New Year
30 / 12 /10

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