XX: Crossing Orissa

Last night, for the first time in over three months, I felt the cooling effects of sweet rain liquifying on my naked skin. I mean, I’ve counted the clouds on one hand since the late monsoons that struck Paradise Beach. Last night more than made up for it, a deluge of Biblical proportions that struck Balasore, turning the roads to rivers & had me rushing down from my lodge balcony to save a few pairs of shoes from being washed own a drain that this shopkeeper had forgotten about as he struggled with the tarpaulin over his shop.

My journey to Balasore, in the far north of Orissa, began over two & a half weeks ago as I left Narla for Sambalpur, a four-hour train ride away. The city was a big dark cancer of a place & I bought the first ticket out of there. This was at 1AM, & not wanting to risk walking the 4K from my hotel to the station through cold-war-eastern-euro-streets, my backpack screaming to murderous thugs ‘rob me’ – I set off at 10PM, where there were just enough friendly faces about to see me thro’. This meant a substantial wait at the station, but a safe one.

A few hours later, my sleeper train had disgorg’d me at Puri the following morning. Despite its reputation as an essential go-to for the Indian tourist, I thought it a charmless place. Even so, I stayed there for over a week, probably down to the cheap weed this young shopkeeper thrust upon me. He also gave me a little opium, which I haven’t touch’d yet. Nine years ago in India I’d tried some & subsequently nearly drown’d & was in a bus crash within eight days. I think this time I’ll save it for a nice long, safe train ride. The maddest thing about Puri, tho’, is the government Bhang shop, where you can legally buy cannabis & opium.

Puri is a largish place, settled on a flat coastal plain. I was staying in the travellers quarter, a bustle of hotels, pepper’d with spaced-out travellers. The chief points of interess are the Jaggernath Temple & the sea-beach – but both ultimatley dissapointing. For a start, non-Hindus are forbidden the temple, & can merely get a poor glimpse of its innards from a nearby library’s roof. This library was cool, however, a colonial time capsual of a thing, whose books we riddled with booworm holes like hot rocks on a stoner’s t-shirt.

Just before I set off out for India I was writing this book about the lost battlefields of Britain, & was just nearing its completion when Charlie parachuted into my room & started hogging the computer for ketamine/Jerry Lee Lewis sessions. Thus, the book was left unfinished, but one of the last chapters I wrote concern’d my discovery of the true grave of King Arthur. Its a water-tight theory & was convincing enough for the Scotsman newsaper to say they’d run the story. I think they chicken’d out – but the story’s going nowhere. Yet, life has a funny way of working these things out, & I’m just about to embark on a similar mission.

As I sat beneath the creaking fans, flicking thro’ the worm-riddled books of the Ragunhandan, the noisy rush of temple-traffic honking and swirling outside, I felt a memory of the great Imperial adventure surge through my spirit. The colonial era of the British had overseen the translation and study of many ancient texts, a whirl of orientalia which has provided a rich literary canvas for historians to explore.  As I read I began to hear a strange, wild music – the long quavering notes of huge horns, like those which awake the echoes of the Alps in the harpy-haunted route to Chamounix. These surreal notes of some ethereal song drew me onto the library roof, where I could observe below me in the street a colorful religious procession of the Hindu sort.

Also watching the events unravel below was a scruffy-looking, fifty-year-old, American gentleman. As we stood together in the blaze of day high on the library’s rooftop he transfixed me with a rather curious tale as if he was an Ancient Mariner & I a hypnotized Wedding Guest.

“Jesus is said to have been there, y’know,” said the American.

“He did…” I replied with nonchalant indifference. It seemed a rather far-fetched notion. Orissa is a long, long way from Jerusalem.

“Yeah man, there’s this book I read a few years back by this Russian guy called… ehm… Notovich – that’s right…  it’s called the lost Gospel according to Jesus Christ or something…”

The American went on, explaining that it made a great deal of sense for Jesus to have spent time in India. When he walked on water, for instance, he was merely using the mystical powers of a yogic master. He then described other elements of Indian asceticism that appear in the Gospels, such as reincarnation, as when Jesus declares John the Baptist to have once been the prophet Elijah. Becoming slowly intrigued by the idea, a few days later I found the American’s words whistling around my mind while wandering a provincial library in Bubanaswar, the capital of Orissa. I soon unearthed a copy of Notovich’s book, quietly sitting on a shelf next to another title called ‘Jesus in India,’ by a Muslim writer called, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Taking my seat amidst a silent sea of white shirts, I plunged into both texts, emerging sometime later with the quite solid conviction that Jesus must have spent time in India. The two books in conjunction provided too many coincidences to think otherwise, and being a student of historical mysteries, I have decided to take up the challenge of solving that rather peculiar question – did Jesus live in India?

The National Library of Scotland awaits me, then, but for now I’m at the seaside! The portion os seabeach nearest to my rooms is interesting to say the least. It is about 200 m wide, with the first 100 meters being taken up by narrow sandy lanes & the small, one-floor homes of the fishermen that ply the waters. Then comes the beach itself, the first band of which was basically a huge rubbish tip. Then comes a stretch of sand & finally, a few meters from the waves, the blue wooden fisherboats that stretch as far as the eye can see. Inbetween the boats were nets full of the day’s catch, surrounded by onlookers all bartering for fish. When the boats went to sea – forming a D-Day phalanx just off the coast – they leave behind the poo-stools of the fishermen. Proper rank, & I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘seven shades of shit’ is wrong – there’s actually 32.

Deja vu struck in Puri, when Charlie parachuted in with a big bottle of ketamine. It was nice to see him & for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed the drug – I think its the purity-trip I’ve been on prepared me for its effects. We only spent a couple of days on it – I think it was a farewell fling for him & his beloved, like when you nail your ex that last one time. On one occasion we went to see the Konark Sun temple, a few K up the road, a truly stunning edifice that towers over man & tree – sailors of old called the ‘Black Pagoda’ as they passed it on the oceanic journeyings. We also visited visited the magnificent state museum, which had a wonderful selction of statues & paintings of gods & goddesses form the infinite Hindu pantheon. I wanted to find out more about the man-god of Asagur Fort, so went to the the boss of the museum & asked if he could help. He was ever keen to oblige & before long he had teams of helpers scouring the records for us while we sipp’d tea & chatted in his office. They found only one thing, copied from the palm leaf chronicles stored in the Jaggernath Temple which pointed out that the god was an Afghan king.

From Bubanaswar me & Charlie have now hit Bolasur. A few K away is the supposedly delightful fisher village of Chandipur, not far downstream from the hoogly mouth (the western-most arm of the Ganges) where we’re gonna hole up for a few days – apparently the beach is 5k wide at high tide! Our first objective will be to find a hotel that has Sony-Pix, a movie channel that is showing the FA Cup – its Burnley v West Ham on monday night, so thats quite important. From there we’ll hit Calcutta, the second city of the British Empire & the true jewel in the crown. If an Adam Smith inspired Edinburgh was the mind of the empire, & London its powerful heart, then surely Calcutta was its soul; the spirit of men that replicated their own laws & architecture in exotic lands many miles away. The plan is to spend a month or so there, exploring every nook & cranny & bring it alive with verse & sketch.


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