XX: Bombay to Burnley

So that’s it, I’m back in my hometown, which has seen the start & beginning of so many of my journeys in the past I thought it would be apt to properly finish my journal here. I’ve just spent the morning with my sister & sixteen-month-old niece, firstly at the local toddlers group – which was more chaotic than the whole of India put together – then round the local shops, buying a coat & shoes to keep out chilly Britain. Four days ago I was in glorious, golden Goa, where I caught the sleeper train north to Mumbai. Thanks to a wee valium I had a great journey & woke up just before dawn as we pulled through that epic metropolis’ suburbs. I decided to sit on a step with the door open, the train rumbling beneath me, watching the waking city pass me by, milking every moment knowing full well life may never bring me back to India again.

The terminus station was actually on the edge of the city, & by this time I’d decided not to bother going on the ’26-11 terror tour,’ but instead enjoy the mellower Bombay suburbs & do a spot of shopping. The international airport wasn’t far away so it made sense to stick around. It was quite nice actually, a far cry from the chaotic city centre, & before long I had a few gifts to take home to my family (I’d missed Christmas) – cooking spices for my sister, a load of sticky bindis for my niece & a few DVDs for my dad, each one having about 9 films on a single DVD. I also bought what I thought were some shoes for when I got back home. However, I’d been in sandals for 4 months & it slowly dawned on me that this pair of soft shoes were in fact slippers!

After a massive, final lunch, all this had took me to about 3pm, where I thought I’d hit the airport & just read my way through to my 1.30 am flight. This 21-year-old Norwegian lass was also doing the same. We soon hit it off & realised it would be more fun to go back into the city & have a meal & some beers. So we pooled our funds & went on a wee rock’n’roll mission back into the city, having some fine food & turning up back at the airport reeking of booze. It affected her a lot more than me & it took a lot of persuading with the coppers to let her back into the airport. Her story was interesting – she was 3 weeks into her 6 month Asian tour when she realised she was pregnant, so was flying back to Oslo for an abortion, before flying back to Singapore in a couple of weeks to carry on her travels!

Getting through Mumbai customs was a bit of a drag – loads of checks & searches in the wake of the terrorist attacks. However, I eventually got on the plane & one more vally later found myself in Amsterdam. Now, I’m always up for a bit of ‘intelligent shopping’ – especially in the days of the credit crunch. However, it had been almost 4 months since I’d done any, but even in the sparsely customer’d shops of Amsterdam airport, I was soon munching into salami & a massive toblerone, washed down with many soft drinks & reading English newspapers all for the price of zero euros – I guess shoplifting is just like riding a bike (with deep pockets).

Next stop was Birmingham, where luckily it wasn’t raining & my slippers did in fact keep my feet warm. I had four hours to kill to kill until my megabus north (booked 6 weeks ago for a quid) – so after picking up a copy of Viz & jumping trains for 5 miles, I thought I’d walk through the Ward End district into the city centre. Despite many Asian faces it was all a far cry from India – the streets were quiet, the branches were bare & the skies were grey. At one point I saw a few purple-tipped crocuses on a grassy embankment & smiled, knowing that winter was almost passed & spring was on its way.

I bought some new trousers & shirts, finally getting out of my slimy clothes which hadn’t been properly washed in months. Then I got on the bus to dirty Leeds, which soon jolted me back to the hard, cold reality of life in Britain. Whenever I hit Leeds, I feel like Dante entering the Inferno, & this time was no different. Luckily, I’ve got a good mate there, Christine, & I spent the night at hers. This was again rather apt, as back in August she had visited Heather Lodge with her Indian housemate, a Tamil from Chennai called Kumar. It was during that conversation with him 6 months ago that I’d brought out the Thirukural, reminding me that at some point in my life I just had to translate it. Roll on a mad waltz around the south of India & I finally have done it – & it was a pleasant experience showing him my work on both that & the Nalatiyar. Whose pen & paper version I have just completed.

I’d done the first bits of the Nalatiyar back at Xmas in Madurai, then done the bulk of it just recently on Paradise Beach. Yesterday, I set off from Leeds & went to work on the last few cantos of it, thoroughly in the zone as my bus wound through the misty valleys of West Yorkshire – through Bradford, Halifax, Hebden Bridge & Todmorden, before depositing me half a mile from my Dad’s house in Burnley. This morning I woke before dawn (my bodyclock is out of synch) & went a-musing through the freezing mists in the grounds of Towneley park (Burnley’s stately home), my fingers & toes numb for the first time in over a year. It seemed rather a strange sensation as I worked on ancient Tamil poetry in the parks of my boyhood – how life changes eh? Then, just as the sun was coming up. I was finally finished, & rushed back to the warmth of mi dads, made a bacon butty, a cup of tea, smiled & said, “it’s nice to be home.”


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