Goa Goa Gone, I.

Well that was a crazy month.

Sorry for disappearing, but thanks for all the concerned calls and messages. I made it through a month in Goa (and a few crazy days in Delhi before that)! I left Goa with no money, some (I say some, because a few nights have just been blurred out by alco-tipex) incredible memories, and possibly minor liver damage. It’s safe to say I had an amazing time.

Cows just doing their thing on the beach at Baga.

Cows just doing their thing on the beach at Baga. There will be more pictures of cows on beaches.

I’ll begin at the beginning. So I left Jodhpur full of much more emotion than I expected. I had grown really close to Liv and her excellent boyfriend Simon, and Manju, Bhanu and Ramsingh at the guesthouse, and Manoj in the office, and didn’t realise until I was about to leave that they had all become something of a replacement family for the 3 months I was there. I felt childishly scared of leaving, and it’s not that I’m not a good traveller – I love travelling, but it suddenly dawned on me that I’d hardly seen anything out of Jodhpur in India, and India is a bloody big place. I was wandering off into the unknown after spending three months in it.

The happy faces of Bhanu and Manju, who I was leaving behind in Jodhpur.

The happy faces of Bhanu and Manju, who I was leaving behind in Jodhpur.

After an uneventful sleeper train to Jodhpur I arrived in Delhi just in time to ruin the normal sleeping pattern of Rila, who had let me stay on her sofa for the 4 nights, I think, that I was there. It was about 5:30 I think when I got to her apartment, and she had work that day. The apartment was in South Delhi (where all the fun bits are), and has this wonderful large balcony which looks out onto the street below. I took a nap for a few hours, then had the frankly ridiculous idea of doing some yoga on the balcony at about 10am. Exhausted and full of coffee, I was there trying to tie myself into knots while shaking and looking like I had a deathly hangover, as suddenly all the other housemates and the maid started wandering in and out of the house. That awkward moment when you have to decide whether to meditate or introduce yourself. I meditated, but i worked out OK in the end.

The next few days were great. By the time I left Delhi, I was convinced I would turn all attention to getting a permanent job there (as with most of my plans, that changed pretty damn quickly). OKOK stop getting distracted…Delhi in summary:

Particularly Excellent People:

  • Rila – well, obviously. She let me stay, let me sneak around Nikhilendra’s house while I waited for her to finish work one day, took me out for lovely food and drinks (very welcome after so much veg. food in Jodhpur – she is a carnivore after my own heart), and made sure I was very well looked after.
  • Rohin – Rila’s boyfriend. A really kind guy who was so laid back and welcoming; he introduced me to a bunch of his friends and made great company.
  • Robin – an Englishman in Delhi (whoo!) living in Rila and Rohin’s apartment who was eccentric and charming. Particularly good value when slightly pissed, I discovered.
  • Marina – Robin’s wife, a Russian yoga instructor, with a heart of pure gold. She was an absolute gem, one of the most down-to-earth and friendly people I’ve met in a while.
  • Abhilasha – I met Abhilasha through Robin and Marina. We ended up trying to go to the Delhi Museum of Art or something then after an hour and a bit of walking discovered that it was shut, so decided to go and get drunk. A good decision, because it turned out to be a thoroughly worthwhile day of nattering and joking around.
The wonderful, possibly slightly pissed, Abhilasha.

The wonderful, possibly slightly pissed, Abhilasha.

  • Ayesha – what a character. Ayesha needs to be put in a room and studied for a bit, so people can work out how she is always in such good spirits, and use it to help the miserable buggers out there. She was also very very smart I think.
Ayesha at the Food Festival, about to try and deal with some 'pani puri', a bitesize puff of wheat or something filled with foul salty herby water. Apparently women like it.

Ayesha at the Food Festival, about to try and deal with some ‘pani puri’, a bitesize puff of wheat or something filled with foul salty herby water. Apparently women like it.

Particularly Excellent Experiences:

  • Going to see the Qutub Minar, this enormous 1000 year old minaret. I went with Robin, Marina, and their friend Miranda, as it was getting dark, and the whole thing was quite otherworldly and surreal. It looks like something from the set of Lord of the Rings.
Qutub Minar at first dark. That's the moon in the bottom left.

Qutub Minar at first dark. That’s the moon in the bottom left.

  • Going to a little bar/club called Cafe 27 with everyone, getting really drunk with everyone, and ending up at the Northern English DJ’s house for an after-party before he went crazy, a bottle of vodka got smashed, and everyone kindof slipped away quietly without me noticing. Nonetheless great fun.
So this is Ayesha, Abhilasha, Robin, Rila, and Miranda, all roaring drunk, just before getting kicked out of Cafe 27.

So this is Ayesha, Abhilasha, Robin, Rila, and Miranda, all roaring drunk, just before getting kicked out of Cafe 27.

  • Going to the Indian Food Festival with Marina, Robin, Miranda, Ayesha, and Abhilasha. Endless stalls of ghee filled goodness (badness, more accurately), and suspicious sweets and herbs wrapped in bitter leaves and chewed (paan), and smells and smoke. Very good fun, we all felt sick afterwards, but in a good way, perhaps.

IMG_1618 IMG_1611 IMG_1635

  • Spending a day in a bar with Abhilasha, and later Rila. A good old day in a pub like I was back in the UK, but without the crippling bar bill.
  • Finding a guitar in Ayesha’s house. Short lived joy, but joy nonetheless.
  • Eating at a place called Grey Garden in Haus Khaz (the trendy up-market restaurant and bar place in South Delhi). Great Italian food with a full compliment of people I was more than happy to be hanging out with.

So, that’s Delhi in summary. I thoroughly recommend having a friend in Delhi who is fun. Friends make Delhi fun. When it came to leaving I went through the whole panic and not wanting to leave and nerves and big untold adventures thing, but I knew Goa was at the other end of the flight. Goa, famous for: hippies, beaches, serving beef, drugs, people having fun, alarmingly cheap alcohol, more hippies, acid trance. Let the adventures begin.

I was going to learn to make sushi, obviously. When someone thinks of Goa they normally cite something in the list above, not a 21-yr old from Oxford and a 47-yr old Chinese guy from India who has lived in Sweden for the last 20something years teaming up to rustle up some Japanese cuisine to drunk Mumbaikers looking to escape the city for a few days. But that’s what I did.

John Chu, the sushi master, is married to Rila’s aunt (that’s how I got the chance to go to Goa in the first place – I never could have afforded to pay the extortionate high-season rates for accommodation). I had only communicated to him very briefly, uncomfortably briefly, via facebook and I had some serious concerns that I wasn’t going to be what he expected to receive. So I got a dream-shatteringly expensive taxi to Baga, in North Goa, which I later discovered was the busiest party section of Goa. John was living above the Thai Foot Spa on Tito’s Lane, which had 5 clubs and about 15 bars on it’s 150m length. Music starts at about 9pm in most places, and went on till 6am for most days I was there. This was definitely not Jodhpur (nor was it in any way a reasonable place to expect people to get any sleep). Within a few days, I was rolling salmon maki rolls for dinner, then creeping away from the sushi restaurant at about 10pm to do the nauseatingly stressful procedure of making friends in a club when everyone else is roaming about in large drunken packs.

Getting to make my own sushi for dinner sometimes was a definite highlight.

Getting to make my own sushi for dinner sometimes was a definite highlight.

OK this is going to become unreasonably long if I don’t split it into parts, so I’ll call it a day. One thing I must add is a little bit about John. For all the randomness of the situation, John turned out to be an immense stabilising force over the 2 weeks that I stayed with him. After work some days we would sit on the balcony, drink Old Monk (great, sweet, super cheap dark rum – it’s about £1.70 for a .75 litre bottle), and talk about the big important stuff while we pushed up our noses at the stumbling wasters below us. On other (most) days I would end up joining the rabble, go to bed at 6 or 7am, and he’d be up and about in the afternoon with some home cooked lunch and water to make me less of an alco-prune. I was sorry I couldn’t be more useful to him, but I did my best to make and sell some sushi, and to be good company.

A classic beach sunset in Goa.

A classic beach sunset in Goa.

Over and out. Expect some heavily edited drinking stories and a serious financial crisis or two in the next part, as well as a bit of romance perhaps.

xx

The Plan

At my hungriest moment in ages, Dad sent me this picture. I almost wept for pig.

I have managed to get my life in some sort of order after, arguably, 21 years. I think that’s a good thing – it feels like a good thing anyway. I’m fit and healthy, smoke-free, happy, and keeping myself busy. I’ve rebooked my flights so that my plan is now this:

December 13th – leave Jodhpur for Delhi by train.

December 14th- arrive Delhi.

December 18th- leave Delhi for Goa by plane.

Christmas in Goa.

New Year in Goa.

January 2nd- leave Goa for Jaipur by plane.

Work on an event in Jaipur.

c. January 5th-10th- leave Jaipur for Jodhpur by bus.

Work for Natural Mystic in Jodhpur.

February 2nd/3rd – leave Jodhpur for Bangalore by plane.

Work on an event in Bangalore.

February 4th/5th- leave Bangalore for Delhi by plane.

Continue working on same event in Delhi.

February 11th- leave Delhi for the UK!

It’s gonna be pretty sweet. I get flights paid for, stays in nice hotels and food (hopefully) covered. I get to do two more events, which is a weirdly welcome combination of hellish stress and exhaustion with rapid hands-on learning and rewarding challenges. When I was given the opportunity to stay on I took it for a few reasons; firstly, I had an extra month on my visa, and the company was offering to pay for flight changes. With the pragmatic reasons out of the way, I think that I’ve worked out my own little groove in India now. I understand how life works here much better than when I first arrived. I (now) understand that daal can be a pleasurable culinary experience. I find it easy to do things here that in the UK would be unrealistic, esp. quitting smoking, and exercising consistently.

I’m also just starting to crack Hindi (I can read now, and learning speech patterns is starting to become much easier), and Yoga appears to be working something of a miracle on me. In 2008 I messed up my knee playing rugby (a player of my own team managed to tackle me – yes I will name and shame – Tom Goatly), and it really stunted my involvement in sports and my motivation to stay fit ever since. Yesterday however I managed to do the lotus position – which is the sort of thing which makes my knee start whimpering when I have attempted it in the past. Only for a few seconds, but it was a start. Then again today I did it for a bit longer, and the pain went away quicker afterwards, and it didn’t lock out… So perhaps, perhaps, and I am super hesitant because to be honest I came into the yoga game with some deep seated suspicions about the multiple millennia old exercise and all the pastafarian pseudo-spiritual don’t-smile-cos-i’m-zen types who think it’s some wonder drug… perhaps it actually is quite awesome. Liv showed me this video yesterday of a war-vet in the US who couldn’t walk, but then takes up yoga and by the end of the video he can run. It’s stomach churningly cheesy, but it’s real and impressive:

So I’m not a 47-yr old obese Gulf War Veteran who can’t walk, but I don’t want to be either, and it feels to me like something about the yoga, the way it makes your body work in ways even many athletes aren’t used to, is really good for recovering from injuries. Maybe it can actually fix my knee properly!

A cow going shopping.

In other news: work has, to be honest, not been work. We’re waiting to hear from some people about a newsletter and an article before we can do anything else, so we get to spend lots of time spending time wisely/foolishly depending on perspective. I’ve signed up for a few online courses on a totally amazing website called Coursera which allows free education endorsed by reputable universities. I thoroughly recommend it.

Tomorrow a mate of mine who I worked with in Kenya last year for KEP (now EAP) is coming through Jodhpur, Dom, which should be lovely. One thing I do really miss here is my mates, having someone to speak to who thinks in the same language as you is something I have definitely taken for granted up to this point in my life. All the confusion and chaos of daily life in India makes more sense when you realise that people have a bunch of different mother-tongues, so even if people are on the same page a good part of the time, they are pretty much never on exactly the same line.

I’ve quite recently stumbled across a musician called Soom T. A Glaswegian of part Indian descent, whose music spans genres from hip-hop to reggae to spoken-word to gypsy to all-out rap, traditional Indian music and electro. It’s mad, she pops up in almost every genre. More importantly, I think she’s really interesting. Here are a few tracks to have a listen to:

Before I forget (I’ve already forgotten a few times in other posts), here are some of the only pictures I managed to take of Naomi Campbell’s efforts to redecorate an ancient wonder of architecture into a New York club interior for her boyfriend’s birthday. It looked more impressive with thousands of pounds worth of fireworks exploding next to it, and screams of delight echoing down from the mouths of the oh so rich-and-famous parading the ramparts with expensive champagne in their petite over-supervised  bellies:

On a final note – it’s wedding season, and people are involuntarily coupling off left, right and centre, and our presence is repeatedly being requested. Someone mentioned something about tourists being lucky charms to have at weddings, but I put it down to our general excellence. We’ve got one tonight, and another tomorrow night, then one on the 3rd as well, and a few more offers in the pipeline I think. So it should be a fairly hectic final two weeks of being few with sweets and thali and being made to dance and spin in the middle of rooms while people clap and shout at you in a foreign language. Bring it on: I can’t dance, but I eat laddu like i’m getting paid for it.

Here’s my favourite picture from Diwali – I forgot to add it on the last post.

x

A Parade of Sub-Standard Photographs

Before I say anything else, I’m putting it out there that anyone who takes it upon themselves to perform a spontaneous act of kindness and get me either an Iphone 4 (or above) or an SLR camera will be rewarded with all the unquantifiable karma I can carry back from the duty-free in Delhi.

Yes it has been ages, but I can’t face plodding through an apology – there just aren’t enough hours in a day, and that’s the fault of whoever made days up, not mine. But hey, here I am, back with the keyboard and a blank screen in front of me. I’m gonna fill it up with pictures.

I’ve taken a lot of pics on my Iphone’s rapidly deteriorating camera – like 600 pics since the event at the start of the month. A heck of a lot has happened since then: I got a nice 50% raise, I decided to spend another month in India, Liv and I began Hindi lessons, we had an awesome Diwali party at our friend Sanjay’s house, I got roaring drunk on a small number of exquisite occasions, and I’ve returned to my healthy streak after a post-event slump. The pictures:

Jodhpur RIFF Festival

Mehrangarh Fort, fully lit up for Jodhpur RIFF Festival-

One of the gigs in the fort, set in one of the biggest ancient courtyards-

Raving with royalty, in another haveli (courtyard) in the fort-

A DJ from the Netherlands, totally out of place, but I wouldn’t have wanted him anywhere else-

Dawn at Jaswant Thada, calm after the storm-

Scottish folk singers welcome the sunrise over Jodhpur-

It was the last gig of the RIFF, and an amazing way to see off the festival for those who’d made it for the 5:30am start-

The location of the sunrise gig next to Jaswant Thada, taken as I head off further up the cliff for a run-

Further up the cliff-

And further-

The Event, Early November

Winner of the ‘best dress of the event award’ as decided by me, watching the very impressive Bollywood performances.

Calm before the storm: Manoj taking a chance to relax and pretend he’s at Hanwant Mahal to party, a few minutes before 120 drunken revellers arrive.

Some Marwari dancers within the cloisters of the fort- just some of many, many performers the guests got to watch as they made their way as a procession to the fort’s ramparts for pre-dinner cocktails.

Liv deserves some serious credit for these designs of the birthday boy (I’m pretty sure it’s glaringly unprofessional to name him) in Rajasthani dress. She drew up a load of cartoons, and a man worked through the night to recreate them in rice on the floor of RAAS.

Trying not to go into meltdown in the infamous Maharani Warehouse (Star Wars connoisseurs – compare to Watto’s junk shop on Tatooine) as the colour theme is changed the day before the event.

Diwali

My first (and so far only) experience wearing the Kurta Pyjama. I’m here with Amit, who is a superlative dude. Think The Big Lebowski meets Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, bundled into a person.

Diwali kicking off in typical anarchic riot-esque style.

Liv with Sanjay, whose family invited us over for Diwali. Incredible food, hospitality, fireworks and, crucially, booze.

Sanjay’s son wielding magnesium on a stick.

Trying to photograph fireworks is a skill I have not yet mastered.

Sparkle…

And shine – the Diwali lights outside Achal Niwas (our guesthouse). Like Christmas lights in the UK, but observed with much more vigour.

Birthdays

Bhanu setting about removing all traces of spherical objects, starting with Ramsingh’s head.

Action shot of Bhanu the fun-terrorist.

Cute father-and-son birthday moment.

My favourite picture yet. Ramsingh looks like a feeder, Manju looks miserable as sin. She isn’t ever miserable, incidentally. Manju rocks.

Weirdly creepy photo of Ramsingh being fed yet more cake.

Liv resolving her beard envy with cake.

Miscellaneous

This guy hangs around the gym sometimes. He works in a fibreglass shop, and I can’t help but put two and two together when I see his bulging, skewed left eye and his cripple foot. He’s happy as larry, but gets everywhere sitting on the ground, lifting himself along with his arms.

A dalmatian goat seriously lacking in things to look forward to.

I managed to get three bananas on Manju’s head in protest when she started talking about wasting money (a popular topic, which is applied to spending money on anything, including water, haircuts, and peanuts). She then told me off for wasting money on bananas.

A competitive thali (Indian tapas), pushing for the accolade of best thali I’ve had yet.

A decent entry-level thali from Gypsy restaurant.

My favourite Indian dish, I think: Rawa Masala (plus Cheese) Dosa. Crispy, full of masala goodness, and comes with a few pots of undisclosed yum soup/sauce.

A winning cake. Eyes only, sadly.

This was called something like ‘Red Dragon Flaming Sizzler’ at Gypsy restaurant. It was absolutely vast, but I just about managed every blistering mouthful.

Liv having something inexplicable but relating to a marriage ceremony and/or the fact that she is a white person at a marriage ceremony.

Liv’s initiation ceremony into the cult.

Food preparations for a reception to hand out wedding invites for the wedding reception. Really.

Scenic cookery.

Sawan is properly safe.

Check it out Hannah Kate Roy – I’ve brought Pucket to India!

The tobacco man, who only sells baccy by the kg.`

Liv examining her new haircut in Movie Beauty Parlour. Meanwhile I received an harrowing massage from a guy who insisted he gave me the massage on his bed, rubbed mustard seed oil on me, then proceeded to massage every bone in my back with vigour while his forehead dripped onto my back for an hour.

The dude who makes kites. He’s really happy. That’s all.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, built on the edge of a massive desert. Because Maharajas can.

The palace again – a large part of it has now been converted into a luxury hotel.

Rila, Mr. Singh’s assistant, was imported from Delhi for the event. Excellent company, she’s hooked me up with a relative who runs a sushi restaurant in Goa that I can stay with/work for while i’m drinking too much over the festive period down there.

The perfume man has the most awesome shelves full of bottles in his store. Most of them stink to high heaven, but some could give brand perfumes a proper run for their money I reckon.

Probably one of the less intelligent ideas I’ve had since coming to Jodhpur – I ended up running along the city wall, which is lumped, unstable, and sports about 6-10m of vertical thrill on either side. Cool photo though.

I asked to get my shoes polished and watched in horror as the most expensive item of clothing I had ever bought had the leather painted over with a totally different colour. It was like the Paint & Spray in GTA, but for shoes.

Inside the walls. I climbed up the outside of the walls and through an arrow hole thing to get inside. I very much doubt there has been anyone looking after this part of the wall for the last few decades at least.

This is Vicky, the omelette guy. He invited us to his wedding reception, during which the married couple stand on a stage for 5 hours or so without rest, while people trot up to have their photo/video taken with them. By the end Vicky was visibly shaking from exhaustion. Properly thorough way to make sure you get photos with all the guests though I guess – kudos.

The reception for giving out invitations for the wedding reception. I got a silly orange turban to wear. Clearly the excitement resulted in me doing a wonky mouth for a bit.

Right, so that’s all the photos I can face doing now. It takes bloody ages to get them all up, and I’m meant to be meditating in less than 6 hours. I’ll try and keep things updated so there’s at least a new post a week. Sorry this isn’t more thorough/elaborate, but there’s an awful lot to catch up on and I think this is the best way. I’m now staying in India for an extra month (until February 11th, probably), but will explain about this more when it is confirmed/when I next post.

On the music side of things- I’m getting my head around Bollywood and traditional Rajasthani music at last: I can tell what’s good and what’s bad, and have my own tastes developing like a real person who understands Indian music and everything! But the album that’s been going through my head for the last week has been ‘The Seer’ by Swans. It is terrifying, inspiring, has some amazing grooves which build and build. The whole thing is this mad crazy trance like swirl, and the album cover looks like the Cheshire Cat. I think there’s something of the dystopian gothic side of Alice in Wonderland in the music actually. It’s definitely not for everyone, but check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xTEsKaqmz4

x

Event Full

Yesterday spelled the end of the great, all-singing, all-dancing event which has kept me so busy I haven’t been able to post anything for over a week. It’s been mad, but a lot of fun. I’ve worked for 20 hours in one day, been screamed at and called things which are considered by many to be grounds for a lawsuit. I’ve snuck drinks from the bar while an enormous muscular gay man in a tux tells me to escape the events business and write about the inescapable sufferings of the human condition, accompanied with a leer and a wink. Liv and I have been responsible for coordinating and preparing a lunch and dinner for 113 guests who expect the very best (and we delivered, judging by the feedback). We’ve checked out some of the most amazing venues I think I will ever have the honour to work in: Hawant Mahal overlooking Umaid Bhawan Palace and decorated in the amazingly decadent grandeur which only the maharaja can pull off, Mehrangarh Fort with music and drinks flowing freely inside the painstakingly crafted stone lattice windows and thick stone walls, and of course RAAS hotel, an oasis of calm and sophistication – the eye of the storm in the madness of Jodhpur’s streets. It’s been awesome, truly, and it’s been exhausting.

A day’s rest has left me thinking, however. I’m feeling restless, and frustrated by being tethered to one street for most of the week. The job has an incredible learning curve dotted with amazing people and unique experiences, but I’ve seen almost everything there is time to see in the weekends off we have. I’m becoming concerned that I am steadily losing money on the current stipend we are offered, but don’t have the time to be able to experience new things. A change may be in order within the next week, and of course I will keep you posted, but for now rest assured I am happy, but exited to experience something new and see what I can do with myself in the two and a bit months I have left in the sub-continent. I’ve fallen a little in love with India I think. I’ve acclimatised to the culture now, and am kicking myself that I didn’t make a push to learn Hindi from day one. I have to leave in January, but if I get a chance to test the water in Delhi and Goa before I leave, and if it proves to be a comfortable temperature, I may well find myself back here as soon as the necessary two month gap before I am allowed to return passes.

 

x

The Week as a Meal: Main Course

“…instead of advancing, as a common writer, in my work with what I have been doing at it–on the contrary, I am just thrown so many volumes back–was every day of my life to be as busy as this–And why not?–and the transactions and opinions of it to take up as much description–And for what reason should they be cut short? at this rate I should just live 364 times faster than I should write–It must follow, an’ please your worships, that the more I write, the more I shall have to write–and consequently, the more your worships read, the more your worships will have to read. Will this be good for your worships eyes?” 

-Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne, ch. 2, XVLIII

Things appear to have started happening quicker than I can find time to write about them. I suppose that’s a good thing for me, but a bad thing for the blog. I’m going to spend a bit less time on the main course, because although it was very enjoyable, the dessert was rather extraordinary.

An extraordinary dessert. Sighted yesterday evening on Sardarpura, ‘C’ Road, 8th street. So amazed to have seen this in Jodhpur that I’ve accidentally memorised its street address..

Liv and I got the day off on Wednesday (as did, it appeared, pretty much everyone in Jodhpur) to go to Dussehra, which according to wikipedia is “one of the most important Hindu festivals”. Dussehra in alarmingly similar to Bonfire Night in the UK, but much much crazier. Bonfire Night on steroids with rabies. Basically, loads of people pack themselves together in a crowd to watch men fighting with increasingly dangerous objects: first fists, then sticks, then swords, then with fire poi. The fire gives the crowd a chance to get used to being sooted and singed, before the real highlight begins. Throughout all of the fighting and ceremony (accompanied throughout, I’ll add, by dutty dutty Indian dance beats) there has been a unique sort of elephant in the room (street). This:

A figurative elephant, for once.

It is totally absurd. It’s a 20-something foot tall papier mache statue of Ravan, a Hindu demon king, who kidnapped Sita, the wife of Rama. Every year at Dussehra Hindu’s reenact Rama’s slaying of Ravan after an epic battle (hence the fighting). So after the fighting, a man appears dressed as Rama and carrying a bow, who then ignites the idol. So a twenty something figurine of a mythical demon, some gargantuan cousin of our Guy Fawkes, now catches flame and begins to topple toward the pulsing crowd, the front of which surrounds the paper giant with only a few feet of a gap. That would be pretty mad, I reckon. But it is madder, much madder. Ravan has been stuffed – with fireworks. As he ignites, the fireworks begin to set off, shooting in random directions, and the crowd begins to shake, swarm, and shove. The flaming devil topples, and as it hits the ground the heat doubles and hits the front of the mob like a wall. For a brief moment everyone panics, and the pressure to get back, get away, escape, becomes dangerously necessary. In that brief flash of light and heat, there is genuine fear in almost everyones eyes – it’s like a demon has actually emerged in the centre of the throng.

The loss of control is brief and, I suspect, annual. Liv and I were positioned in front of Vicky’s omelette shop, and opportune location just less than 10 metres from the foot of the statue. Liv wisely managed to get to the protection of Vicky’s shop before Ravan collapsed, and set about doing noble things like saving children from the crush and reuniting parted family members. Meanwhile, I tried to juggle survival with amateur camerawork. I turned out to be better at the former, and was wrenched from the crowd by a shouting and unexpectedly authoritative Vicky, into the safety of his shop along with Liv. Everything died down as quickly as it had kicked off, and in only a minute or so we were left dazed but safe, watching men control the already dying fire by, of course, beating it with sticks. Indian proverb 2: a thorough beating will beat away any problem.

There’s something quite ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ about the policeman staring into the fire here.

Seeing how utterly bizarre the whole experience of Dussehra was made me reflect on the UK’s Bonfire Night. I’d never questioned the normality of gathering en masse annually to burn the effigy of someone who was once a bit of a prick. Dussehra taught me that this was a massive oversight, and that in reality whenever humans form what appears to be a structured and meaningful society, we are in fact just pulling a tablecloth over some collective issues, one of which is the communing to burn mythical baddies issue.

In summary my thought process has gone like this:

-Nobody thinks Bonfire Night is weird.

-Upon reflection, I think that the idea of Bonfire Night is very weird.

-Upon further reflection, since lots of people seem to do similar things to Bonfire Night (i.e. Dussehra), it can’t technically be weird, and is in fact normal. -

The fact that I think incinerating effigies of a moustached anarchist is weird is actually more weird than the incinerating itself.

Some more surreal yoga at a surreal time of day.

All-righty then… And that’s that. Dussehra done and dusted. Blimey though, it’s Tuesday night and I’ve got a sleepless weekend of music and meeting people and mild madness to jot down. That will have to wait till tomorrow I think. For now, though, have a song:

Anyone whose seen Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst will probably recognise this from the soundtrack. And what a bizarrely brilliant choice for the soundtrack. Phoenix also feature in that film very briefly… And here’s a fairly shoddy video of a standard (I promise, standard. If you’ve been to India you’ll understand..) tuk tuk drive:

The driver, Abid, is one of the great characters we’ve met here, and despite a limited English vocabulary, and an even more limited ability to speak the words he does know in an understandable manner, I think we get on pretty damn well. I need to do a post about all the different people I’ve met here, and will as soon as I can work out where the hell the time goes. Right – bed.

The Mehrangarh Fort at sunrise. I can’t stop taking pictures of it, it’s just unreal.

And another sunrise pic, this time looking out over Jodhpur from the cliffs by the fort. Awesome.

Truth

She slipped and fell,

From fingertips and pursed lips

Spilling out praise and temptation.

No revelation, no revolution

To pollute the thoughts of the well-taught

head girl; makes my head swirl,

Toes curl, sheets unfurl and catch

nothing to fill them.

No gust.

Perhaps she believes what is written in the dark,

As drunks stumble and homeless bark

At 2am for passing change

From passing strangers.

It hisses in the wind,

It sings through fresh kisses:

‘lust, lust,

The one thing that will never rust…’

I said I only wanted trust,

And believed myself, at first.

***

I found this on my phone – it’s nearly a year old.

The Week as a Meal: Starter

Some things of note have happened this week. Firstly, I had a reunion with Wassim Khan, the happy little bodybuilder who speaks no English. Secondly, I went to a festival called Dushera during which the madness of human traditions became apparent to me. Thirdly, I saw the opening of Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthani International Folk Festival) around the Clock Tower last night (and discovered where I can get cracking chicken without walking more than 20 metres which is, quite frankly, a godsend).

I just had a dream about salami…

I let myself get lost in the market one lunchbreak and bumbled into the perfume shop I mentioned a few posts ago, where the owner (Ashraf Khan) has ‘pet’ mice which he feeds whiskey and chai. Liv and I had met Ashraf when we tried out the tasty tandoori chicken place, as we walked home. Like so many locals he had just jumped into conversation with us, asking the usual (and by now reasonably annoying) questions: ‘Hello! Hello! Where are you from?’, ‘Where are you going?’, ‘What do you need?’, ‘Where do you stay?’. Sometimes a brother just likes to walk. Anyway, his English was pretty excellent, and his shop was nice enough. I stared at all of the perfumes he made, stored in multitudinous bottles inside a Noah’s Ark of a glass cabinet. He brought me some chai to drink, and basted me in samples of musk (‘it will help with the ladies’, he said. It helped with the cows and dogs, I discovered), and other assorted stink. I needed to get back to the office soon, so downed my chai, said my goodbyes, and half-agreed come back in the evening for a drink of as yet undisclosed alcohol content. On the way back, I stopped to get some anjeer (dried figs), and as I ordered a burly little arm grabbed me. I quietly assumed I was being mugged and tried not to make the tiny squawky noise of surprise which seeped out of me, before turning to discover a beaming little muscle of a man, Wassim Khan, panting and thrusting his hand up at me for a shake. Turns out he was mates with Ashraf, and when he realised that he’d just missed me, he’d gunned it through the streets to find me at the anjeer stall. After a few seconds of mumbling incoherence from both of us, we accepted the fact that a mutual language must precede conversation, but he somehow managed to explain that he would also be drinking at Ashraf’s shop in the evening (I think mainly by shouting ‘Ashraf’ and ‘evening’ with varying degrees of intonation and emphasis).

In the evening I went, later than promised, to half-keep my half-promise of returning. The gates to that part of the market (the Muslim part?) was locked, and I ended up being rushed through black alleyways often less than shoulder-width by three boys who had probably only recently stopped wearing nappies, yet who were as cocky and confident as the Artful Dodger. They slipped me in through a secret entrance, and led me to an open garage near the perfume shop where, sure enough, Ashraf, Wassim and two other men were having a bit of a boys night away from the wives. Upon my arrival, and after a brief scolding for my tardiness (thoroughly unmerited, I must add, seeing as timing is one of the great flaws of Indian culture…not as bad as Kenya, but still), I was frog-marched to a motorbike and launched on my way through the network of barely vehicle-worthy unlit passages of the Old Town, in order to buy beer and whiskey on the shady black market, and Bombay Mix and Laddu from Ashraf’s substantially less shady friend. We all reconvened after half an hour (about 9:30pm) on the cliff-top in front of the Mehrangarh Fort (from which I took one of the pictures in yesterday’s post on the following morning), and watched fireworks being set off all over Jodhpur to mark the end of Navratri. I drank an extra-strong Kingfisher lager (8%, and tasted like a bubbly ale), and tried to pretend I wasn’t phased by the growing pack of dogs sharing the cliff with us (I had just read the scene in Shantaram where the dogs attack Lin with Tariq – bad timing). I still reckon Ashraf’s perfume is to blame.

It was a cool experience, going on to the cliff-top at night, smuggling booze past a few policemen, getting away from the noise of the city, and watching all the people and glimmering colours from far above, like looking into an enormous aquarium. Ashraf was talking fluent bullshit with a smile on his face throughout, and if the others could understand what he was saying in English, they didn’t seem to mind that none of it bared the slightest resemblance to the traditional understanding of ‘the truth’. I didn’t really mind either, I was just happy to be there. After an hour or two I called it a night (I began to contemplate the 5:30am wakeup for yoga), and one of the men whose mane I can’t remember and who spoke no English insisted on driving me back to the guesthouse on his bike, as his wife had been calling every few minutes to give him an earful about his rebellious streak having not mellowed out with age or something. I hadn’t seen him drink any beer, and the roads are pretty much empty by this time at night, so I agreed. The descent into town was relaxing enough until, just as he turned into the narrow alleys, he announced (to my great surprise, given that until this point I had been entirely convinced that he was incapable of speaking in English) ‘Today, I have had 6 large beers’, then lurched forwards into the darkness of the alleys like a one man Charge of the Light Brigade. I yelped, watched my knuckled turned white, and took desperate solace from the fact that his substantial fat reserves might cushion the probable impact with a cow.

To be honest, he drove very slowly, and the roads were almost deserted, so I was never in much danger. I found it hilarious that every single other person we saw on a motorbike was another slightly pissed husband, looking a bit sheepish and a bit gormless, trying to make it home without hitting a cow whilst mentally preparing for some sort of verbal barrage from their wife. The wives probably have a point in many cases: Abid told me that business was bad because he always had customers for his tuk-tuk but never saved any money, which he then explained was because he drank throughout the day and on most work-nights. Reassuring information to be told as he fires across a busy roundabout without taking his eyes off me for a second…

I had arranged to meet the chubby one with a penchant for drink-driving and Wassim the next morning at 7:30 for a session in the akara. Of course, they didn’t actually turn up – the night’s drinking had put them out till midday I reckon. When I got to the akara it was locked, and I was directed by the elderly couple living next to it to traverse the ‘alternate access point’, which involved a flight of steps hanging off the side of a building, creeping over a sleeping person, jumping a gap in a broken rooftop, and jumping barefoot from the chin-up bar (barefoot because the chin-up bar has, for reasons unknown, been built next to a small Muslim shrine, resulting in half the gym being ‘barefoot only’. The decision to follow the advice of the elderly couple proved to be a poor one, and I now have a small but well-muscled group of angry Muslims demanding an explanation for why I listened to the neighbours. Indian Proverb 1: ‘age does not ensure wisdom, nor does it prevent pranking’.

Crikey, this has become a tad larger than anticipated. Umm…here, have some photos:

More sweets. I made the rookie error of eating most of the prettiest one before taking the picture. :|

The chilli man. He isn’t always sitting like that.

The confused consequences of a shopping spree. Mostly regrettable purchases, I believe.

and have a song:

Jolie Holland – I heard this years ago, on a compilation CD somewhere, and I never forgot it. She sounds like a drunk and a hillbilly and totally genuine and a bit English at times. Check out her singing ‘Old Fashioned Morphine’ as well, it’s creepy and splendid.

I’ll get back to you with ‘secondly’ after I finish experiencing a bit more of ‘thirdly’.