Last night there were mosquitoes on the prowl, & I barely slept at all donn’d in full clothes armour, while the post-bite itchiness kept me wide awake. By morning, Victor’s hands & arm were covered in red blotches, & so not in the best of nicks we set off again, intending to catch a train to Amritsar & its Golden Temple. Unfortunately, match-day travel-sharpness hasn’t quite kicked in yet, & we missed the train, or rather let it come in & out again without boarding it.
There are not many English speakers in the highly-agricultural state of Haryana & I got muddled up at the station – it won’t happen again. Not keen to wait another day in Kurukshetra, I swiftly came up with another plan. Before we arriv’d, I had read about the city of Patiala, not too far away, so after buying a train ticket from Patiala to Amritsar for the Sunday, we set off on a rickety bus.
The first part of the journey was pleasant enough, but it was at the transit town of Pehawar that things got decidedly squashed. As our new bus came in, to the roar of its bleeping horn, people literally sprinted across the station at the the rough commencement of a mad free-for-all for all the seats on the bus. Me & VP were too slow with our bulky bags, & were forced to stand up for an hour in a highly overcrowded bus, which is OK for a one-off but I wouldn’t like to repeat it again all that soon.
En route to Patiala, we crossed the Saraswathi River herself, & were soon enough in the state of Punjab, a predominantly Sikh state, illuminated by men wearing these bright & often garishly colour’d turbans. The city of Patiala has a much warmer feel than Kurukshetra; with cages full of birds, & traders at every turn all placed into sections, such as the one which sold guns, a relic of the fighting nature of the Sikhs so successfully utilised by the British empire.
Being back on the road so soon after my salmonella dose, & last night’s non-sleep, had left me tired, & I convinced VP to have a night in mosquito-free comfort, which led us to a lovely four-star hotel with room service, laundry & air-conditioning (priceless) for only £15 a night. Its mad really, a decent enough room in India can cost about 3 or 4 quid, & a delux one about a tenner more – whereas in the West the difference in prices can be hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.
We finish’d the day by taking a rickshaw to see the decaying palace of a Maharahjah, known as the Sheesh Mahal, which has three statues of Queen Victoria in the grounds. I completely love wandering about the faded, jaded ruins of the Raj – the weight of history in such places is fascinatingly oppressive. Then, checking my emails found one from our new Swiss friend, Manuel, who we presumed had headed up to Srinagar in Kashmir, where we were gonna meet him. Instead, he went to Rajahastan, from where he e-mailed us this warning…
I got myself the ticket to srinagar from trek & travel. After i met the guy we met on our first day and we had a lassi with. I told him about my plans and after he heard the price he was like: are you crazy? That must be some kind of rip-off. We went to an official travel agency and i showed them my voucher. The guy there confirmed that there’s probably something wrong with the deal. He told me that it’s quite common that if you stay on a houseboat in srinagar they’ll drug your food and drinks so you get sick and unable to leave. They advised me to change the hotel I’m staying in to stay out of trouble when they realize that i’m not doing the trip
Well… that’s not gonna be putting me off going to Srinigar – that’s where Jesus is buried, & those House Boats do sound cool – so maybe just shying away from eating boat-cook’d food might be a prudentially wise course of action.
After crashing early last night I was up at 5AM; reading, writing & waving away these little flies that congregated round the lights in a mad ecstasy-fuelled rave. Then, just as the sun was rising, they all fell out of the sky & died in droves, to be swept away by a little Indian boy cleaning the floor with a brush.
So we left Patiala, rolling the rails north through 5 & a half hours of yet more monotonous flatlands. One wonders at the mental state of the British troops as they marched up & down these unpunctuated northern plains throughout the early days of the Raj – it is no wonder that they implemented the building of one of the best & most extensive rail networks on the planet, which is run with a rigour & vigour to this day.
Our destination was Amritsar, & I urge anyone who finds themselves in this part of Asia to visit the city on account of the majestic Golden Temple of the Sikhs. This is a gleaming holy house set in a vast ‘lotus pool’ which reflects the temple in its silky waters, creating a wonderful aesthetic effect, especially at night. Surrounding the square lotus pool, on all sides rise white marble buildings, & behind them yet more buildings, all contributing to the capital complex of Sikhism. In one section, up to 100,000 daily devotees are fed for free, squatting on rugs in great chambers while rice, curry, desert, chutney & water are placed in their metal pans. The sound of these, as they reach the washing area at the end of each meal, reminded me of blasting rain as it hit an aluminium roof.
It was in the nerve centre of the temple that I felt a wonderful spirituality, garnered by the holy songs played & sung by devout Sikh musicians, while other practitioners of the faith were channell’d around them, kissing the floor or flinging rupees into their presence. Comparatively speaking, Sikhism is a new religion, founded in the 16th century by Guru Nanak. Monotheistic in nature, its rise as a major world religion proves how faith is really just about one’s personal interpretation of god, & spirituality a method of connecting with that interpretation. Many are indoctrined into a particular belief system from an early age, from which springs from an almost tribal loyalty to its tenets. Instead, the truth cannot be all that far away from there being just a single god who is worshiped differently from land to land all across the earth. Even the polytheistic Hindoos believe that all members of their divine Pantheon are actually different aspects of the same omniscient essence.
That night we slept in the cheap enough westerner’s section of the complex, a couple of smallish rooms, which unfortunately was a bit bedbuggy for me. Itchy as fuck!
Moving out of the Temple complex, but not quite done with Amritsar, we took a hotel for the night & hit the sights. First up was a visit to the Jallianwalla Bagh, a peace garden on the site of the brutal & tyrannous massacre of unarmed innocents ordered by General Dyer in 1919. Out of 1650 bullets fired that day, 1550 hit their mark, killing over 300 & wounding the rest. 160 bodies were recovered from a well alone, the only cover at that time, shot as they tried to scramble over the sides & into safety. In response to such a tragedy, the Nobelprize winning poet Tagore gave Britain back his knighthood in protest & disgust.
Indian independence was now only 28 years away, but when it came it came at a cost. The Muslims had been angling furiously for a separate Islamic state, & the British simply drew a line through the Punjab & created Pakistan. Cue all hell breaking loose, beheadings in the street etc, & the greatest movement of humanity the world has ever seen. In all 13 million people died on both sides for their religion in only a few months as they tried to get the touchdown of safety into their respective national end-zones. During this period, the King of Kashmir was also angling for a separate state, but was overwhelmed by Pakistan & India, who both tried to grab as much land as they can & came to an unofficial de facto border known as the LOC (Line of Control) that even as I write has seen an ongoing two-week skirmish between Pakistani militants & the Indian Army only a few kilometres from Sringar, a future destination of ours.
It is ironic, then, that while there is real shooting to the north of Amritsar, to the west of the city plays out the daily, riotous flag ceremony at the Pakistani border crossing, where both sides contemptuously march, stamp & gesture at each other, while behind them two football-style crowds cheer & sing their national songs. When we visited, the Indians heavily outnumbered the ‘away’ fans, like when Exeter City used to come to Turf Moor when we were in the old Fourth Division. The Pakistanis did their best, however, & we left the border thinking it was all rather good fun, & the hatred behind these two nuclear powers shouldn’t ever plunge the world into atomic darkness.
Setting off north towards Srinagar, I had noticed that our route was to take us fairly close to Qadian, the birthplace of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835 – 1908) himself, & felt compelled to pay his ghost a visit. A rapid 20-mile bus journey took us north to busy little Batala, half of which town seemed to be only half-built, from where a further bus brought us to Qadian. A town of 40,000 souls, there is a distinct relaxed attitude & atmosphere to the place, perhaps due to the narrow Italian-style streets the constitute the core of the town. Just on the fringes of these lies the spiritual home of the Amhiddaya movement, of which the author of Jesus in India is the spiritual head, the self-proclaimed ‘Promised Messiah’ who claimed that certain prophecies predicting the appearance of a divine teacher were fulfilled in his person.
Whether this is true or not, the movement is thriving, from just a few followers in 1889, when Hazrat proclaimed his messiahship, to today’s many millions spread throughout 204 nations across the globe. The Ahmadiyya are actually practicing Muslims, but have been ostracized by the majority of other muslims, & denied permission from the Saudi authorities to visit Mecca, while in Pakistan there are not even allowed to publicly pray to Allah, being forced to worship in a secretive silence. One cannot help but think of the early Christians, who were also persecuted by stalwarts of the old religion for proclaiming the promised messiah had come. Just like Christianity, the Ahmadiyya have their own martyrs, their faces hung up upon the walls of a museum/gallery space in Qadian. By them, like statues of the early popes that ring St Peter’s Square in Rome, Hazrat & his first five successors proudly stare down upon us, testament to the strength of their growing movement. Each of these khalifs have also added to the literature of the Ahmaadiyya, a process reminiscent of the growth of the New Testament corpus.
The hospitality of the movement is boundless, & we were put up & fed for free in a wonderful guest house – the rooms are normally used for visiting diplomats – near the impressive mosque & birth-place of Hazrat; not as visitors to the movement, but as, ‘guests of the promised messiah.’ himself. I found myself engaging in theological debate with various members of the movement, my hands placed behind my back as we gently strolled around the area. I was also shown the impressive modern library, which is a testament to the academic nature of Hazrat, without whose efforts I may never have taken up the challenge of finding the historical Jesus. I was also given access to many books written by Hazrat & his disciples, & ss I sat down to read through Hazrat’s Jesus in India in particular, I spared a thought for myself, sat in that library of Bhubaneswar, flicking through the same book for the first time. I would never have dreamt of visiting the author’s home, but there I was, tuck’d into a comfortable state of mind by our highly genial hosts, pouring through his texts to the sounds of minaret calling the faithful to prayer.
Parts of Hazrat’s book highlights the Islamic view of Jesus, including reports in the Hadith – a book of sayings attributed to Mohammed – that state Jesus reached 125 years of age. This, of course is indirect evidence that Jesus survived his crucifixion, when he was 33 years-old. Elsewhere in Islamic writings, Hazrat tells us, ‘The Kanz-ul-Ummal states both; ‘God directed Jesus (on whom be peace) ’0 Jesus! Move from one place to another’ — go from one country to another lest thou shouldst be recognised and persecuted.’ There were also other books on Jesus in India, written by a certain Professor Hassnain. For example, in his, ‘A Search for the Historical Jesus,’ Hassnain writes;
I was ordered, in the 1960s, to proceed to Leh, the capital of the former kingdom of Ladakh, to examine the historical records and maps relevant to the border dispute between China and India. I had visited Ladakh earlier, and had established the first State Archive Repository there. But my new assignment led me to make many more journeys to the region, and during one such visit I came by chance upon a document relating to Jesus Christ. This was the event which aroused my curiosity and led me to embark on a quest for the historical Jesus.
In the first of Hassnain’s books, the Fifth Gospel (1988), the professor reflects upon the course of his personal quest for the historical Jesus, stating, ‘ It took me many years to locate and examine oriental sources, in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Arabic, Persian and Urdu dealing, with the lost years of Jesus. The material was rich and, unlike much of the historical material to which the church had access, on the whole, untouched since ancient times. These ancient documents, recording as they did a little-known connection between Christianity and the East, were of immense fascination to me – each new discovery further fuelling my passion for the quest.’
After a few googles later I found Professor Hassnain was still alive & living in Srinigar. Reyt near the tomb of Jesus. I’m gonna have to go & meet the guy, for sure!
After a tasty free breakfast courtesy of the Amhiddaya, we finally began to spend some actual money & hit the busses north. 6 hours later we pulled into Jammu, the city of Temples, & some lovely hills beckoning us into the Himalayas! We got a room in a hotel which also runs a taxi service up to Srinagar in Kashmir in the morning – 300 k away – & it’s costing us a tenner each, including the room. Meanwhile, the internet cafe I’m in right now has a room full of playstation 2s – so that’s keeping Victor happy for a few hours.
CUDDLEGATE: I’m adding this footnote at a later date. Apparently, after watching the possibly homoerotic 300 film, & sleeping in undies & sharing a sizeable double bed, & with my muscle memory thinking I was sharing a bed with Sally Cinnamon, & not Victor Pope – I tried to snuggle up to VP in my sleep. After beating me away I then went in for seconds. It took several says for VP to confront me with the situation, having realised I’d not follow’d up on my pass, & in fact was completely oblivious to it. ‘Had I invited him to India to seduce him,’ were his turbulent thoughts. ‘No, definitely not,’ was my reply, & ‘Cuddlegate’ went down in annals as the gay night that got away.
We departed Jammu at 7.30 AM, sharing a taxi with a pleasant Indian family for the 300 K to Srinagar, Kashmir. We began on a steady rise, climbing out of the smog-like mist that had descended on the Punjab a few days previously & steadfastly refused to budge an inch. The sight that greeted us was lovely, full of forest & slopes that were getting higher & steeper with every turn. The roads were busy & often slow, our driver doing his best to overtake every tractor & truck that blocked our swift passage. then often as we tried to overtake, there would often be in our way one of the vast convoy of trucks heading south filled with apples for all of India.
This state of affairs has led the Indian government to build a great double-carriageway between Srinagar & Jammu, which was under construction as I write. Thus this portion of the massif is practically one gigantic building site, the residue of grand ambition & a feat of engineering that should marvel the world – when it is finish’d of course. Until then, I, & every body else on the planet making the journey by road, must struggle & shuffle forward in a stop-start fashion. We also past numerous road-safety signs such as ‘After Whiskey, Driving Risky,’ & braving treacherous corners where one false move sees a vehicle & its occupants tumbling hundreds of meters to their inevitable dooms. Personally, my vertigo & I were petrified, but we both survived the journey to the Kashmir border & its ‘Titanic Viewpoint.’
We had arriv’d at the famous vale at the end of the harvest season, where the paddy fields are shorn of their rice & have browned in the summer sun. Two months ago, were were told, all was green & surely contained the magical quality that makes the Vale of Kashmir so special. Another 80 k later we had arrived in Srinagar, the region’s capital, & swiftly took rooms in a decent enough hotel – the marathon 12-hour journey from Jammu having taken its toll.
Srinagar itself was a marked change from the cities of the Gangeatic plane. Despite its million inhabitants, the city was less busy, & cleaner, & in certain places had a quite European feel. Flat rooves were few & far between, with most houses having steep metal rooves to let the rains flow freely to earth. I bore witness to a great Kashmiri storm, which exploded in violent fury & raged for half an hour or so of torrential rain & booming thunder, after which it dissapear’d leaving a cool freshness & finally blowing away the mists that had been all prevailing for days – in the distance I could now see the mountains which had stepped out of the haze like handsome young soldiers on parade.
Today was a great day all round. It began by transferring digs to a hotel boat on the tranquil oasis of the splendid Dal Lake. Victor had found us a nice, non-poison, family-run houseboat, & what a joy it was to be there. A village on water, one must travel to & from the ‘mainland’ on the oar-drawn shakaras, a watery oasis of calm away from the sheer incessancy of India.
An hour later I embarked upon my research mission. The tomb of Jesus could wait, but what was more enticing was a chance of meeting the esteemed Kashmiri scholar, Fida Hassnain, who more than any man has unearthed genuine historical references that support the existence of an Indian Jesus. His own interest in the subject began in 1965, when he first heard of Nicolas Notovich in the archives of the Moravian Mission in Leh, Ladakh. He was well placed to do this, being the one-time Director of Archives, Archaeology, Research and Museums for Kashmir, which gave him an intimate access to ancient documents. He also acknowledged his own place in this new academic tradition by stating, ‘a research work entitled Messiah Hindustan Mein (Jesus in India) by Hazrat Mirz Ghulam Ahmad opened new vistas of research for me.’ It was fascinating – I was in the Hazrat’s very home town that I had read those very lines! Since Hassnain’s arrival on the world stage in the seventies, a series of interested parties have travelled to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, in order to discuss the Indian Jesus. Each visitor has been greeted warmly, and given free access to all the documents and information uncovered by the Professor. Hoping very much to be the next, me & VP set off thro Srinigar to try & track him down.
We got his address from a smart looking guy in the street, & one short rickshaw ride later Victor & I found ourselves in the Parray Pura district of Srinagar, knocking on the gate of a pleasant & large detached house. To my joy, Fida Hassnain came to see who we were, & I was amazed how sprightly he was on his feet, given he had passed his ninetieth year. After greeting him as auspiciously as I could, we passed an amiable hour in his garden discussing ideas & sharing theories. and I happily told the Professor how much I respected his work. On one occasion, he spoke excitedly about how he suspected that Jesus had met Mary Magdelane while they were both students in the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha, with her name originally being Mary of Magadha. This idea definitely has some merit, for the ‘Life of Issa’ describes how Jesus studied in Radjagriha, the capital of the Magadha kingdom. The conversion of Magadha to Magdalene is a fascinating possibility, and propelled me to show the professor my own ideas as to who the Indian Jesus really was.
I began by telling him how much I respected his work on the matter of Jesus in Kashmir, & then asked him if he had ever heard of Philostratus. He had not. It was a sublime moment, & I seized my chance. I asked Fida for a pen & paper, & sketched for him a brief outline of my burgeoning theory, of how a certain Appolonius of Tyana had travelled to India to meet Iarchus, & where to find the appropriate information on the web. As I explained that very much I believed I had discover’d new evidence for Jesus’ time in India, his eyes lit up with a youthful excitement & I surged with pride. I had travelled many miles to show him my work on Jesus, which were built, of course, upon his own fifty years of study. His magnum opus on the field had been published only the previous year, & he gave both Victor & I a copy to take away. The book is called Jesus in Kashmir, & became a new companion for my stay in the area, & contained more than half a century of research, whose quantity & quality of textual references I found quite remarkable.
Back at the hotel boat, food was cooked by mother & served by a 17-year old ‘servant’ from a village 60 k away. A few meters across the water resided a family who loved on the lake, not for tourism but for life, a half-carved shakara testament to a world that spent its humanity amidst these gentle settings. It proved a perfect place to pour through the pages of Fida Hassnain’s latest book, underlining passages & filling them with scholia for the days ahead. There was one passage in particular that really struck home, which places Jesus in the Himalayas, AFTER the crucifixion.
A text known as the Bhavisya Mahapurana reads;
Once upon a time the subduer of the Sakas went towards Himatunga and in the middle of the Huna country the powerful king saw an auspicious man who was living on a mountain. The man’s complexion was golden and his clothes were white.
“The king asked, ‘Who are you sir?’
“You should know that I am Ishavara Puturam, the Son of God’, he replied blissfully, and am born of a virgin. I am the expounder of the religion of the mlecchas and I strictly adhere to the Absolute Truth.’
Hearing this the king enquired, ‘What are the religious principles according to your opinion?
Hearing this questions of Shalivahana, Isha putra said, ‘O king, I hail from a land far away. When the destruction of the truth occurred, –I, Masiha the prophet, came to this country of degraded people where there are no rules and regulations. Finding that fearful irreligious condition of the barbarians spreading from Mleccha-Desha, I have taken to prophethood.
Please hear, Oh king, which religious principles I have established among the mlecchas. The living entity is subject to good and bad contaminations. The mind should be purified by taking recourse of proper conduct and performance of japa. By chanting the holy names one attains the highest purity. Just as the immovable sun at-tracts, from all directions, the elements of all living beings, the Lord of the Surya Mandala who is fixed and all-attractive, and attracts the hearts of all living creatures. Thus by following rules, speaking truthful words, by mental harmony and by meditation, Oh descendant of Manu, one should worship that immovable Lord’.”
“Having placed the eternally pure and auspicious form of the Supreme Lord in my heart, O protector of the earth planet, I preached these principles through the mlecchas’ own faith and thus my name became ‘isa-masiha’.”
We see here that the ‘Bhavisya Suta,’ mentions a certain Ishvara Puturam. That he is Jesus is made clear by the Suta’s Ishavara being the self-styled ‘Son of God’ who most conspicuously, declares himself as ‘born of a Virgin,’ while the term ‘Masiha’ is an obvious deviation of the Greek Messiah. It is through this avatar that we shall transport Jesus from the Govhardan Hill to a region of the Himalayas known as the ‘Huna Country,’ an ancient kingdom known as Hunadesh straddling the modern-day borders of Nepal, Tibet and India. The Suta’s mention of Shalivahana, a sub-king of the Kushan empire, dates the sighting to his reign–span, as somewhere between 39 & 50 AD – which means Jesus came to India after the Crucifixion!
They say that a mosquito never strays more than 90 meters from where it was born, but in the early hours of this morning, myself, the mosquito nest & my fellow sardine-tin travellers had all travelled 200K & reach’d the seething, beeping cauldron that is the Delhi ring road. The bus dropp’d me off to see a dog shivering prostrate with distemper – never a pleasant sight. One crazy, cow-dodging taxi ride later I had arrived at the Paharganj area of Delhi, the main budget backpacker district of the capital. There’s definitely a different edge to Delhi, & the friendly smiles of the Indians were turning, in my mind, to devious grins of thieves & vagabonds.
I soon found that the same reason why I don’t like living in London also applies to Delhi. Too many people, too much traffic, too much noise, etc. But at least London’s clean – the streets here are like pungent sewers, flies everywhere, stinkin’ stagnant water & huge piles of rubbish in the middle of the cow-crowded paths. However, the place retains a certain charm & I have enjoy’d the narrow alleys between some cool looking buildings around the hotel where I’m staying. Its call’d the Diamond & my innate bagging ability got me a 400 rupee deluxe room (with marble bath) for 200 rupees, just by being cheekily ‘northern’ with the Manager.
Almost immediately on my arrival I came down with a sore throat, which I put down to the terrible, Dantean pollution. It took until 11 AM this morning for the sun to break thro’ the clouds of smog that hang over the city. Meanwhile, Victor Pope arrives in a few days or so, so I’m gonna do a bit of sightseeing before he gets here. There are a couple of things I want to see especially, being all the British shit at New Delhi & the ruins of Tuqluquabad, but feeling under the weather a touch, & a bit overawed by the intensity of the capital, I just chill’d out & watch’d films & football for the rest of the day.
Felt reyt ill today, proper flu vibes. I’ve been constantly sucking strepsil & spent most of my time in my hotel room; resting, sleeping & skimming thro’ the 60-odd channels. Most of them are in crazy Hindi, but the movie channels are cool, the footys on most of the time & I’m now hooked on Benny Hill – the guy was a fuckin genius. I’ve enjoy’d myself doing nothing tho’ – after 4 months of hardcore trav’lin I appreciate the chillout – I can’t even remember the last time I’ve relaxed like this. I did force myself out for one wee excursion, a trip to the Red Fort, about 400 years old, very wide, grand & imposing & beautifully preserv’d.
Still pretty ill. For today’s forc’d excursion I hired a rickshaw to take me 20 K south of the city where stands the ruins of Tuqluqabad. They were great! The empower Tuqluq decided to build a new capital (named after himself) which lasted until he died, when everyone pack’d up & moved back to Delhi, leaving the city to the decaying ravages of time. All that dwell there these days are bats & snakes. The view of Delhi from the battlements was pretty stunning, but my guide – who I never ask’d for – was gutted when I told him I’d spent all my cash on the rickshaw & entry fee.
I also went out in the evening for a shave – if you don’t feel good on the inside, it’s good to look good on the outside!
So, in England I can usually shake off a bit of flu in a couple of days with a packet of lockets & foot rub, but if anything last night I felt worse, breaking out into hot sweats at regular intervals – so tomorrow morning I’hit the doctors. He wasn’t around for a couple of hours but I did speak to him on the phone. I told him my symptoms & he ask’d if I was takin malaria tablets – I told him I hadn’t had any for a month & he told his assistant to take some of my blood.
Oner nasty needle later I was told to go back in the evening for my results, & dragg’d myself back to the safety of my bed & its wonderful fan. In my fever, & to pass the time, I penn’d the following sonnet;
Everyone has his own idea of India
Nation of nations, hot & happy land!
With spicy dishes morsell’d by the hand,
Being a valorous & graceful race,
Thy universal mullet firm in place,
Despite taking three men to stamp a form
& creative corruption Laksmi’s norm,
A fanatacism for the rupee
Cements this secular society
Of power-cuts & cripples & bazaars
Beneath a pristine panoply of stars,
Of swastikas & cricket in the streets,
Bounteous crops & oversugar’d sweets,
Ashrams soothing riot-torn religion
Where always blaze the rays of Asia’s sun.
Whoa! It was salmonella! Going back at 7.30 PM, I got my results, & the fuckin’ doctor stung me for a great whack of rupees for mi antibiotics. However, health comes before wealth & I’m gonna be a lot happier feeling my strength return, especially with Victor Pope arriving tomorrow!
Racking my mind back, that shack in Almora was a bit unhygienic to say the least, & the street food I bought there could well be the source of my recent ails.
Felt much better today, & alongside the dysentery, another dodgy disease my body has beaten off with the help of a little tablet from an Indian doctor. So, Victor Pope arriv’d about 9AM this morning, with a Swiss guy call’d Manuel he’d met on the flight. Full of beans & booze – more legless than jet-lagg’d -they were both up for a sight-see; so after checking them into my hotel we hit sights of Delhi. Our car, driver, & petrol, cost us only £11 for 8 hours – mad, eh?
In this time we checked out some of wicked Delhi’s forts, buzzed about British-built New Delhi for a bit, then hit the Indian Habitat Centre for a great photo exhibition & a sitar recital. The Sitar guy was wicked, connecting with his tabla player like two loved-up gay guys on the job. In the audience was this very auspicious grey haired pandit (maestro) who was almost conducting proceedings – moving his own hands as the main guy strutted his stuff on the fretboard. It’s a credit to the sitar system that ancient pieces have been passed down from master to student quite note for note over many centuries.
Today I decided to begin my pursuit of the Indian Jesus in earnest. Me & Victor entered the extremely modern Delhi metro system (for 16p), & buzzed along to the Hauz Khas area & the Tushita Mahayan meditation centre. On the way I got chatting to a young Hindoo, who told me he had read the New Testament & felt that the teachings of Christianity & Hindooism were very similar.
Once in Hauz Khas, a cool half-Indian, half-British monk called Kabir met us in the street, clad in orange robes & as mellow as a Buddhist mantra. His grandmother on his mother’s side was a Bullen, by the way, which I thought an auspicious sign. He gladly led us to the centre & its library, where I was left to perform my research, finding certain evidence in the library which confirms my suspicions.
While I was doing this, I sent Victor to a nearby Deer Park. He returned at 5PM, just in time for a talk by this Australian Buddhist on Mindfulness being the Key to Happiness. I found it quite rewarding myself, but Victor thought it unfair that he wouldn’t be able to let go of his anger by shouting at his computer (a scary sight trust me) & got nothing at all from the talk.
After this we went back to the Indian Habitat Centre for a performance of Kathak. I’d really fallen in love with it in Calcutta, it’s simply a thrill & delight to watch. A combination of ballet spins, manic tap dancing & poetic hand-arm movements, backed up by tablas & sitars, its a relentless hurricane of bodily movement that makes my own hyperactivity seem veritably slothlike – even Victor thought it was, & I quote, ‘alright!‘. The costumes are gorgeous & uniform, as is the synchronicity of highly complicated dance routines.
So that was Delhi. My salmonella’s now disappear’d, & I’ve now got a an old buddy by my side. As oppos’d to being with Charlie, who did my fuckin’ nut in, VP’s a delight to travel with, whose droll sense of humour & boylike appreciation for new sights & smells shows he is a true traveller.
Tomorrow morning we hit the road & the rest of the Raj, or rather the Radge, awaits.
Victor Pope & I left the craziness of Delhi on this morning, upon what our travel agent called the ‘Best train India.’ It wasn’t amazing, but we did get western seats, complimentary newspapers, tea & a breakfast snack. We spent a pleasant enough two hours heading north through the uninspiring Gangeatic plane, before disembarking at the town of Kurukshetra. Our reason was the Bhagavad Gita – the Song of God – a text interpolated into the great Indian epic poem, the Mahabharata. The singer of the Bhagavad Gita is the Hindoo blue-skinned diety known as Krishna, as he stands in a chariot with Arjuna before the massive battle of Kurukshetra.
There are a number of reasons why we should connect Krishna with Jesus;
1 – Christos is the Greek translation of Krishna
2 – The tenth century text the Bhagavata Purana tells is that Krishna was born by divine “mental transmission” from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki, a direct tally with the virgin birth of Jesus.
3 – Y Masih writes, ‘The phenomenon of ‘Krsnajanmastame’ in which the child Krishna is represented as a suckling at the mother’s breast. Nanda, the foster-father of Krishna had gone to Mathura to pay his taxes (just as Joseph had gone to Bethlehem for census). Krishna was born in a cow-shed (Gokula exactly as Jesus was born in a manger); massacre of infants of Mathura by Kamsa (just as was the massacre of infants by Herod)
4 – The Bhagavad Gita has many parrallels with the sayings of Jesus, as in;
Krishna: I am Beginning, Middle, End, Eternal Time, the Birth and the Death of all. I am the symbol A among the characters. I have created all things out of one portion of myself
Jesus: I am the Alpha & the Omega, the Beginning & the End, the First & the Last.
Krishna: By love & loyalty he comes to know me as I really am, Iove you well. Bear me in mind, love me & worship me so you will come to me, I promise you truly for you are dear to me
Jesus: Anyone who loves me will be loved by my father & I shall love him & show myself to him
These points of contact are both too numerous & too palpable to ignore & we must consider the Gita as abstract evidence for Jesus having been in India. Robert Frederick Hall spoke of the Gita’s, ‘exact synchronism with the mystery-religion taught by Jesus Christ,’ & that, ‘no longer will this ancient epic be treated as some obscure or ‘heathen’ philosophy, peculiar to an Eastern Race, a relic of past human superstition, but as setting forth the fundamental Doctrine of all Masters, & especially of Jesus Christ & the Apostles.’ Elsewhere, Robert Frederick Hall writes, ‘no longer will this ancient epic be treated as some obscure or ‘heathen’ philosophy, peculiar to an Eastern Race, a relic of past human superstition, but as setting forth the fundamental Doctrine of all Masters.’
Thus, Kurukshetra was a great place to start my quest for the Indian Jesus. After arriving at the town, we called into a jewellers, where I enquired about the battlefield. He was friendly guy, eager to help, whose mother named him Parikshit, after the grandson of Arjuna. After telling me that I was actually standing on the battlefield, which spread & sprawled about us for 48 square miles, he sorted us out a rickshaw for a couple of hours in order to see the sights. Most of these were temples marking events which occurred during the battle, but there was a cool archaeological museum at the historical town of Thanesar (formerly Sthaneswar), on the edges of Kurukshetra.
In 634 AD, the Chinese explorer, Xuanzang described several Buddhist monasteries & a few hundred brahman temples at Thanesar, showing how religious the site was, whose earliest strata which has been dated to the Kushan era, which began in the first century AD. A line of thought one could take, then, would be that not long after the singing of the Bhagavad Gita, let us say about the time of Jesus, the first temples began to spring up at Kurukshetra.
The discovery of the first century strata at Thanesar was a wonderful nugget, unearthed in a museum in the field, far from the collections of western libraries & the prying eyes of the google mega-brain. I am now convinc’d the truth of Jesus’ stay in India lay out there somewhere, & was probably connected in some fashion to Krishna. The names are the same, the teachings are the same, & now the dates, of at least the Kurukshetran version of Krishna, are the same.
We spent that night in an ok-ish hotel, which lacked running water & had a problem with the electricity, but had a great dining area & even better food. We’re off!
A very cool day in Varanasi. I got a boatman to row me up & down the Ganges while I skinn’d up & read about the Buddhism, the birth of which which happened under a bodhi tree Somewhere around these parts. Seven weeks of meditation without moving from the spot kind vibe. As we splash’d thro the water, I was proper immers’d in world history & having a fabulous time until we drifted past these burning ghats & the smell of flaming flesh got right up my nostrils.
Another incident reyt sticks in my mind. It began when a young monkey got struck by a car. Suddenly there was a huge kerfuffle as all his tribe turned up to rescue him, stopping the traffic for a good thirty minutes! Finally, my last night in Varanasi was spent watching DVD’s on an Amstrad green monitor – very weird indeed.
As the day progress’d, as I was reading this Buddhist text call’d the Dhammapada. ‘The ceremony of the Dhamma is timeless,’ said emperor Ashoka,& I began converting its brief scriptures into Kural, which I group’d into seven couplets, & thus sonnets. They just came out of nowhere, really – it was familiar territory, as the verses really did feel the same as the wisdom of the Thirukural. Here’s five of them, & it shows that I might be able to expand on the Thirukural, absorbing worldy wisdom from other places as I go…
If people were horses
Wisest run fastest
As humanity creates canals
Wisdom guides mentality
Deem life’s measured excellence
Revering worthy gurus
Transients loving ephemeral pleasures
Envy ascetics eventually
Better we conquer ourselves
Than enemies numerous
One contemplative day outweighs
Centuries of ignorance
Age born from experience
Not passing years
Currents of strong desire
Carry lustfulness away
Libertines pursued by lust
Deem hunted hares
Pandering to niggling desires
Imprisons us perpetually
Neither iron nor rope
Fetters mortal passion
Deem passion’s debilitating hunger
Humanity’s greatest disease
Strong-rooted trees survive chopping
Like cravings ignor’d
Passions trash protectorless minds
Like monsoons, hovels
Those who love life
Never poisons imbibe
All beings fear danger
Life’s universal fragility
If surrounded by illness
Invigorate one’s health
Want of healthy exercise
Rusts one’s beauty
Against death’s regnant power
Relations kerfuffle uselessly
As torrents flood villages
Death drowns everyone
From life’s burning fever
Metafinity brings freedom
Along paths of perfection
Fairest flowers found
Floral scent travels metres
Virtue’s perfume miles
Discovering & disseminating virtue
Avoids painful pointlessness
Whereas bodies decay eventually
Virtue never disappears
Nobody can purify another
Purity springs within
The joy of truth
Conquers all pleasure
As silversmiths remove impurities
Improve oneself meticulously
Frequent tours of inspection
Makes monarchy accessible
Pacifying neighbouring nations peacefully
Outcharms invasion’s bloodshed
Into improving public works
Channel state resources
As your own child
Treat every citizen
Better conquering thro dhamma
Than wastrel warfare
Protecting & promoting religions
Fosters inter-mutual harmony
When humanity rewards greatness
Pacifism out-accolades war-making
I took another massive train ride (8 hours) to Lucknow, a city as large as Paris, where I was soon book’d into a plushish hotel & wandering about the ruins of the Residency, epicentre of the great Indian Mutiny in 1857. A perfect example of the Imperial cancer can be seen in the conquest of Lucknow by the British. After the Raja of the area invited them to his city to forge trade relations, they duly built themselves a separate apartheided area call’d the Residency, from where they began their political scheming. Eventually they managed to take over the entire region, & only a year later the great mutiny broke out, with Lucknow forming a focal point for a lot of the fighting.
The siege lasted for many months, until a successful relief by the British, the aftermath of which was the British Crown’s taking over from the East India Company, & Queen Victoria becoming the first Empress of India. Completely intrigu’d by the story, I pick’d up a copy of ‘My Diary In India’ by William Howard Russell from a local bookshop, in which I read;
Why are we in India at all? ‘Because Heaven wishes it,’ says some gentleman, who meantime thinks that Heaven’s sole design with regard to himself is, that he shall make as many rupees as he can, get his pension or his debentures, & at once leave the ‘confounded country’ for ever
Russell was a Times correspondent, who’d earn’d his plumes in the Crimean War, & was sent to cover Mutiny, witnessing its recapture in 1858. As I read thro his excellent prose tonight, I was inspir’d to write a few sonnets, the first of which I have just penn’d;
WHILE PLAY’D THE CANNONADE
General – My how hot a day this is
Reverend – I cannot agree with you sir
There was a lovely breeze this morning
The hour was three I think
& if you ever had visited Stuffcote
You wouldn’t dream of calling this hot
General – Stuffcote! Why, I have been there sir
Was there, in fact, for three years sir
It is one of the coolest stations in India
Reverend – Poppycock – in august – what nonsense
General – Yes, sir, especially & most particularly In August
I have felt positively chilly all thro the month
Reverend – Chilly? In stuffcote? In August…
Servant – More champagne, Sahib?
Yesterday, after one last potter round the Residency, reading Russel & writing sonnets, I turn’d hard right & caught a sleeper train to the mountains. The gauge is narrower in the north, meaning less space in the carriages, & we were proper pack’d up like sardines in tin! My favorite sonnet of today reads;
Morning devotions as pure as the Chutrak
Who drinks only raindrops, takes up his brass pot
Strolling turblanless into the peasoup hue
Rinses his mouth in the steaming stream
Pours & rubs libations, crown & chest,
Squinting with satisfaction
Squatting in the waters to his very neck
He utters forth his low-noted song of joy
Then returns, full of awe, to the shore
Smears mud across his quivering torso
To kiss the earth repeatedly, invoking RAM
He turns his misty eyes up the heavens
& with one last taste of Goomtee spring
Leaves, mud hardening into thick yellow paste
This morning I had to travel by cycle rickshaw & jeep to Naini Tal. It was cool entering the Himalayas, when all of a sudden the plains gave way to lofty peaks – a mixture of English fells & Alpine heights. After another 45K we arrived in Naini Tal; it feels like being inside an ancyent volcano, with a lovely lake & the everything surrounded by lush, uprushing forest. I’m not gonna be too active tho’, no treks or anything, on account of my injuries, but I’m gonna go on a something of a sighteeing trip to gain a better glimpse of the Himalayas at a place called Almora. By coincidence, the guy who had liquid acid on the Andaman boat, Phil, is gonna be there. Now that is interesting…
Got to Almora today, but no sign of the acid, which is probably a good thing. The bus from Naini Tal wound me further & further into the Himalayas, & after a couple of hours I won a proper glimpse of the mountains, rising out of the foothills & reaching for the heavens – a sight to wonder at.
It is off-season in Almora now – it gets busy in the summer when the rest of India tops 40 degrees – so I’ve got an entire hotel to myself, & the room’s cheap. The state of Uttarakhand, where I am now, has generally been cheaper than the rest of India. For 150 rupees I’ve got a double bed, colour TV, my first towels since England & a great view of the mountains – perfect poetic conditions.
There is a 1000 year old temple in Almora dedicated to the nearby mountain, Nanda Devi, whose name means ‘Bliss-Giving Goddess.’ It’s not the most spectacular building in the world, but there is an establish’d solemnity to its antiquity which certainly puts me in my place. I might be on the edges of Humanity up here, but I’m definitely not the first. In the centre of the temple is a huge stone idol of the goddess Nanda, who may have been a real woman, a daughter of the ancient king of Garhwal Dakshyaprajapati. The whole experience reminds me of a wee passage in the ‘Stray Birsd’ by Rabindranath Tagore – whose poetry I pick’d up in Calcutta;
I think of other ages that floated upon the stream of life & love & death & are forgotten, & I feel the freedom of passing away.
I am also finding being among the Himalayas is pretty weird, in India traveller terms. As soon as the sun drops behind a cloud or mountain the temperature plummets. By night it reaches as low as 13 degrees! I’ve had to shell out for a jumper, but it’s OK as I’ll be home soon & I’ll need it.
So, I found Phil today. Didn’t take any of his liquid acid, tho,’ I wasn’t feeling the vibes of losing control in the middle of my healing, so stay’d canny. Turns out he was a few k from Almora at a place call’d Kasa Devi, holing up a wee while before going to teach paragliding in at Pakhora in Nepal.
So, nine kilometers above Almora on a ridge nestles the hamlet of Kasa Devi, a true poetic paradise. I trawl’d up there on an expedition in a jeep & came across a hideaway for serious Western smokers. Some guys have been here for years! It turns out this is where the geezer who became the Beatles Guru is from, & he used to bring them up here back in ‘66. There’s one good reason why – marijuana grows in the street. It’s true! I’m just walking around checking out the view & stumbling across ten thousand pounds worth of ganja crop. It’s crazy! The Females aren’t cultivated so they are not full of bud, but it’s still an awesome sight. No wonder this baba sold me a bag for 10 rupees back in Naini Tal.
So, I decided to stay a night, at a spare room in Phil’s pad; hired an Agatha Christie book for 10 rupees, bought 10 grams of charas for 2-pound-fifty & chill’d out in the sun. It’s all very chillin’, surrounded by breathtaking views, especially that of the resplendent, towering, snow-capp’d, five-peak’d Nanda Devi range, which you can only see early in the day actually, before the valley mist claims the skies. Nanda Devi, whose name means “Bliss-Giving Goddess,” is the second-highest mountain in India, after Kangchenjunga, and the highest located entirely within the country (Kangchenjunga is on the border of India and Nepal). The experience of seeing her inspir’d the following sonnet;
Up to the world’s rooftop I slowly rose;
Checking upon the progress of the soul
Appears a mountain prospect a la snows
Of Austria, New Zealand & Nepal.
I left Almora for the Kashyap Hill,
High commune of fairest tranquility,
Fresh dawntint drew me to the lofty chill
Of this monolithic Axis Mundi.
It seems for me the lips of Laksmi smile,
No sweeter place on earth to greet the sun,
Here summon’d by the lyrical lifestyle,
I whisper a gentle dedication;
“Until my feet have circuited the globe
My thought & life with poesy I shall robe.”
The one drawback was the chilly nights. My housemates had all the gear, including thermal socks, where all I had were sandals & a hammock for a blanket. Luckily, some sound guy magics up a reyt cool parker green jacket his mate left behind, saying to give it to someone in need like myself – result!
Nanda Devi was once the biggest mountain in the British Empire. Turns out Sikkim, where Kanchenzonga is situated, was once an independent kingdom & only a protectorate of British India, a status the little enation maintain’d until 1975, when it finally joined the Republic of India. It was nice to see it one more before I left & the mist roll’d up the deep-bottom’d valley slopes. Then it was a few joints & coffees, a farewell to Phil & off I went.
Went back down to Almora for the night, a young lad call’d Gary from Kasa Devi with me. Turns out he wanted a wee change from getting stoned all day. Despite me heading off that night on a sleeper bus, I book’d into the same hotel as before & we had a real lad’s day. Beer, weed, two Champions League matches & pool. There is a cool snooker place in town with two swish baize tables & our playing pool on a full-sized snooker table led to quite a crowd watchin’ the games. Despite my fuck’d shoulder (the exercise actually did it some good – 60% heal’d) I won 2-0, the third game being abandon’d because we were too stoned.
So, leaving Gary to the room, I went & bought some tasty food from a roadside shack, corrugated on all sides, & then into town roll’d the sleeper bus, which I hopp’d inside & off we went to Delhi. The road was bumpy as fuck & on several occasions I was flung into the air, bucking-bronco style, disturbing the nest of mosquitoes that made its home on the bus.
Slept all day – shoulder really hurts. I went to the toilet once or twice & was given some biscuits by my hosts. Proper angels, really, left me to just rest with no hassle or anything.
Slept most of day again – must be concussion, I think, my head’s pounding. Made a zombie-like trip to a local doctor in Murshidibad, who couldn’t speak English & just gave me these drops. They may or may not have work’d, but are definitely no good for a suspected fractured/dislocated shoulder. So, I’ve decided to head back to Calcutta in the morning to someone who can help.
I caught the 6am train back this morning, which took 5 hours. En route I spoke to a geezer. It turns out the crash was big news & there had been two fatalities. My second near-death experience of the tour – I hope these fuckin’ things don’t come in threes! After a couple of days R&R, I was feeling better, ‘til I hopp’d in a rickshaw pull’d solely by a man who managed to find every pothole between Calcutta station & my hotel. However, I’ve landed now & the geez on the train has given me the numbers of a couple of good doctors, so that’s tomorrows plan. Tonight, however, my favourite of the Oz girls (who are still around) is coming to mine with her weed to watch satellite TV & nurse me thro’ my pain (hopefully naked but for a very skimpy apron).
So… the doc in Calcutta said its muscle damage & a dislocated shoulder, gave me a sling & some medication & I have recently felt a little better. The headaches have gone & I’m startin’ to get back into the swing of things. It’s been pretty weird these past few days, as I’ve been full-on zombiefied & it’s not that appealing a thought when you realise you are ten thousand miles from home in the middle of a crazy country like India.
My nurse is leaving tomorrow – unfortunately my libido had completely disappeared in the smash, so there was no sexy times – but she did wash all the blood from my hat, bless. Anyway, her leaving has inspir’d me to leave also, & I’ll be catching a train to Varanasi in the morning. I’m not 100 percent, nowhere near, but I can recuperate on the road, & I do have some stuff left to do in this fascinating country!
After leaving Calcutta on a train bound for Varanasi, I am never gonna complain about the English network again. My journey across those seemingly endless alluvial flatlands took 20 hours. As we trundl’d along it seem’d to stop and wait 20 minutes at every minor station & even a few that didn’t exist. Spent the journey learning a bit of Hindi with some fellow passengers, which led to the formation of the following sonnet;
1 eak – namaste (hello)
2 do – ya happa hey – (where is the)
3 teen – kitana whoa (how much)
4 char – bo d’achah (very tasty)
5 paanch – kitana baja (what time is it)
6 chay – jana (see you later)
7 saath – apa nam (what is your name)
8 aath – no me england kahun (I am from England)
9 nau – kaha ja rahay ho (where are you going)
10 das – teek (yes)
11 giara – nahee – (no)
12 bara – dandabad (grazi raggazi)
13 tehra – ap kesayhen (how are you)
14 chowdah – pulpit (full/enough)
I finally arriv’d in Varanasi early this morning, & boy was I impress’d. I took my first glimpse of the Ganges as the train roll’d over it on its way to the station… a breathtakingly romantic river, cushion’d in a hazy mist & flank’d by some of the most gorgeous phantasie buildings I have ever seen. After being rickshaw-whisk’d to a hotel I took a stroll thro’ the city’s narrow streets – very Italian.
Varanasi is the holiest site in India & there are temples at ev’ry turn. Also, if you die here you are known to be bless’d & this brings me on to one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. At one of the Ghats corpses are draped in silk & flowers & placed on funeral pyres of bamboo bier. Their souls fly to the sky, their ashes sprinkle in the Ganges & their bones return to the soil – very trippy, especially seeing skulls emerging from the burning flesh, just like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I found a much cheaper hotel today, & happily unpack’d… my library lines the shelves, my weed is looking good & there are monkeys masturbating at my window. I think I’ll stay here a couple of days as you can hire boatmen to row you up & down the river, a perfect Shelleyan buzz which sounds perfect to do some writing as I lounge around a boat with some nice charas & a pencil.
‘I will lay my bones by the Ganges, that India might know there is one who cares,’ wrote Alexander Duff, & tho’ a place of death, Varanasi is also full of life – from the water buffaloes that wander up & down the riverbanks, to the huge snakes hanging from the old geezer’s necks. Unfortunately, unlike many of the hippies I don’t feel exactly ‘comfortable’ here, & I’m still in pain, so I’ll soon head up to the mountains before turning south for the trip thro’ Delhi, where I’ll be meeting my old pal, Victor Pope, who has decided to join me for a few weeks!
My Himalayan odyssey began with a jeep-taxi from Siliguri, the furthermost city of the Gangeatic plains. At one point there were 16 people in it & on it, but it was all good fun, & as we rose up among deliciously wooded hills, the rush of India faded away like hairs on a moulting Cat. As we snaked up the road-slopes, our taxi-driver mention’d his family had a guest house, & after him dropping packages & people around Mirik for an hour, we were on the drive to his pad when lo & behold Andy & Tereza were chugging thro’ town with their backpacks.
‘Jump in,’ I said, & picking up another English guy called Pete en route, we’d set up home in this proper buzzing guest house, with immaculate rooftop views of the lakes, a stunning, gold-gilded Buddhist monastery right next to us, giant tumuli-tea estates all surrounding, & India’s highest peak, Mount Kangchezonga, in all its glory, the sight of which inspir’d the following sonnet
I came on Pemagangtse in the night
A leopard passing slowly in the snow
Awaiting precious pinch of silver light
Announcing phoenix day in foetal glow
I gazed across the Kabrus unaware
That to these climes had Calliope come
Slopes glooming greys, as sunbeams fill the air
They turn the burnish’d burgondy of rum
Savitri’s spell impells the Sun to strength
Red turns to orange, orange burns to gold
& as all shadows shorten in their length
What summit sparkles white, where, very cold,
My muse sits, singing, wisest of the nine
“On Nanda Devi waits my sister’s sign!”
Mirik is yet another India, with everywhere the Asiatic faces of the Nepalese & their language – there’s not a sari or a wobble of the head to be seen. It is a part of West Bengal, but there are massive efforts to give the area state status – it makes proper sense really. This was highlighted by us joining in a cricket match with some young lads & I declared it an India– England world cup match. ‘WE ARE GHOKARLAND!’ they insisted, & went on to stuff us. It’s a cool pitch, with a six scor’d from a hit into the lake. The next day we went back for more, & getting a few locals on our side we went down to the last couple of balls – we’re gonna win soon, I can tell. After the match we had a drinking session at the house, fill’d out with the delicious home cooking of our hosts – with salads & veg fresh from their garden. This food was rival’d earlier in town, however, by the best puri in India, & the white lumps of lard that are call’d momos. You get these great large dumpling types full of veg, or these mini ones with unadulterated beef. Tasty as fuck!
It was in the momo shack, with papers & books spread all before me, with several pairs of narrow Gorkha eyes staring at me, that I loved just being a poet abroad. Amazing moments of actualisation that verify that day on the Cliffs over Portovenere where I truly dedicated myself to poetry. This is the sonnet I compos’d in those moments;
I march on different minds in different ways,
A force beyond all knowledges combined,
But let it now be known to each on Earth
I have a single name & that be God,
Tho’ splintered by the tangl’d knot of tongues,
For as a man in Orchaa calls me Ram,
In Qadian as Allah am I prais’d.
Now reconciling all these diffírences,
To every race a prophet have I sent,
To fill them with the milk of mine intent,
A source of common good, a common source
From which this well-font of my message springs,
A clear soul-song for all who wish to hear,
Thro’ Me find Heaven & in Heaven, Love!
Ah… what a glory it is to be in Darjeeling, an epic sprawl of a place that clings to the hills like the houses of Sheffield & Rome. Unlike those cities, however, beneath them the hills just keep on dropping. Then you have wonderful hills rising across the valleys in splendid majesty; on one side, the snow peaks of Kangchendzonga & its attendant mountains remind me most of all of the glory of nature. India’s highest peak lies before me, & only a few hundred meters shy of Everest – I think its number three in the world. I’ve been admiring it, sipping the celestial golden nectar of unmilked, unsugared Oolong tea, slowly wandering the narrow streets & sharp steps of Darjeeling. Thro’ the main road runs the tracks of the train that heaves itself up from the plains on a narrow gauge. The Indian sun is hot, but the skin is cool’d by the mountain air, a perfect sensorary experience. I’m here with Andy, who has just had a successful mission buying two Ghorka WW2 war medals from a cool curio shop, to replace the ones his grandfather had stolen a few years ago in Britain – a sentimental gift for his auntie & his mum.
This morning I went on a walk & got chatting to this beautiful guy, who suddenly points out a hill about two hundred meters away, with a wee village perch’d upon it, was Nepal! I could veritably touch it, & would have gone there & then, but I thought I’d research the geopolitics it first. This led me to discover that the Indian government has introduc’d this new rule that says if you leave the country, you cannot come back for two months. Off the record, however, if you do a Colditz-style mission over the border (with a joint’s worth in the pocket of course) – what can they do? Indian rupees are valid over there – in fact there are no restrictions for Indians crossing the border at all. Its been a long time since I’d gone on a memorable adventure, & its about time I saw another country, so I’m off in a few days on a wee madcap. Kathmandu’s 20 hours away by bus, but I reckon I’ll just fanny about the east of the country. Besides, I dont think I’ll get that far up Everest in mi flip-flops! Here’s what m’ mates Phil & Steve – regular Nepal visitors – had to say on the matter:
Nepal is havin free entry to get the tourists back year .. free one month visa .. otherwise its a porous border – a paraglider I know flew across the border and back after 6 months .. you can walk through if you can do a minor invisibility thing at Sinauli (have someone take yer pack) – and the same out as long as yr indian visas in order, also the 2 months out thing was a reaction to a someone on a British passport going in and out of Pakistan on the 6 month thing – an so theyre trying to check people more, this is as of last year, and then you could do it legaly into nepal, and then go to indian embassy an show ‘em your ticket out of india and get a new indian visa for a month or 2 week transit .. so its negotiable sort of thing, but sure you can slip through and back
Sneaking into nepal, hhmmmm, its actually quite easy to do at the border crossings, when stuck on india border for the night its easy to just walk across the border and get a nice nepali beer. The majority of hotels do check your visa, especially in the small towns, and if you did get caught it would be big trouble in a sub-continental sort of way, probably end up a few days at least in prison cell, with lots of flapping and accusations of spying. And worst of all a heap big fine, or donation to local police christmas fund. but my advice is stay longer and by a ticket back from nepal with air arabia (arab ryan air) to Istanbul. It was about 100 quid couple of years ago.
Today we busted into Nepal! It was only a brief foray, but funny as fuck.So I led Charlie to the brim of the valley, pointed out Nepal, then plunged down the 100 metres or so, then back up the other side, to find ourselves in a little narrow village. Finding a shack, we proceeded to grab some excuisite noodles in beef soup, wash’d down by bottles of brandy about half the price than in India. The friendly, vaguely astonish’d seem’d to enjoy our company, & accepting rupees, gave us our change in Nepalese money. On them was printed Mount Everest, & so I can now say with some honesty I have been to Nepal & seen Everest. At that I said to Charlie maybe its better we left before we got lumber’d, so off we went back down into the valley & back into Mirik. A few hours later we were then back on our way to Calcutta & a sleeper train.
Last night was entertaining, when a sudden bout of dysentery struck Charlie who was soon pathetically hanging off his sleep bed with his undies round his ankles & an Indian man hovering above him menacingly wanting to chuck him off the train. The dysentry had floored him – literally, pinning him to the skanky train toilet while his entire body gush’d fluids. Just like me on the boat to Andaman. He was so weak & confused that he sat down on the wrong sleeper bed – stinking of shit in his undies remember – right on top of a menacing guys wife. I sooth’d the situation & once we got to Calcutta got him the same tablets I’d had.
This got him right enough to get to the airport for his flight home & suddenly I was alone – well, apart from the guys at the Modern Lodge to where I’d return’d. Also there were three Australian bonnie lasses with a bottle of ketamine, & cook’d it up for them while they went out for some food. On returning, we chopp’d the lines out & I ended the day barechested in their room, drinking rum, all three of them led silently in a k-hole, in & around my legs. A much better scenario than sharing a room with Charlie!
Today was the World Cup semi-final – with India playing arch-rivals Pakistan. An extremely exciting day – the match was on everywhere & the tension was palpable. Towards the end of the day, in the dark, I was watching the final overs in this mad wee political party office for the vibes, & after they won the ‘war,’ the streets of Calcutta exploded into ecstasy; five guys on a single bike streaming past, the flag of India fluttering behind them; groups of young lads running down every street cheering their head off; the massive jam of people & cars & people on cars down Park Street, screaming & singing & all sorts. A proper awesome display of euphoria, like a squat party without the drugs. It was a wonder to witness & be an actual part of!
Tomorrow I’ve decided to leave Calcutta, heading back to Plassey & then Murshidibad, before finally facing the sunset & heading west. I think I’ll be heading to the supposedly amazing Varansi, then on to Delhi before heading north to see the Himalayas on the other side of Nepal. It is there, in Kashmir, that the tomb of ‘Yuz Asaf’, a suitable destination for my investigation into the Indian Jesus.
I am writing this on the evening of Day 121, because of the following rather harrowing & extremely narrow escape…
With poesis brimming from every fibre, I felt compell’d to take that trip to Plassey, 150K north of Calcutta, to check out the battlefield where Clive won Britain her first important slice of Raj cake. The events surrounding that 1757 battle are a microcosm of the British Empire in India. Despite having just 3,000 troops against 50,000, Clive of India somehow pull’d off the win. By promising the leader of part of his opposition’s army leadership of the region, he managed to sow discord & the guy buggar’d off from the field with all his men. What was left to fight was soon defeated with accurate volleys of rifle fire. Thus, by playing off prince against prince, like at Plassey, the British slowly conquer’d the sub-continent & held down a country of 300 million souls with just British 40,000 soldiers.
Reaching the battlefield’s nearest station, I hired a cycle rickshaw to show me what was left of any features of the field, all spent underneath a hot & shimmering sun. I’ve hit the Gangeatic plane now, & all one can see is alluvial flatlands at every turn. After a couple of hours pottering & musing on the dark dragonflies that darted hither & thither, my guide dropp’d me off at the bus stop where I hopp’d on a bus to Murshidabad, the capital of Clive’s opponent in 1757, the Nawab of Bengal. I noticed the driver was a bit reckless, but this didn’t phase me as I’ve gotten used to the crazy roads & nothing has happen’d… until now. I was happily cruising along in the middle of one of those days that makes life worthwhile when I black’d out. Regaining consciousness several hours later I found myself in a hospital ward, cover’d in blood & surrounded by my fellow passengers – some hook’d up to drips, moaning & in a pretty bad way. The fuckin’ bus had smash’d head on into a truck!
I took stock of my wounds… a face cover’d in minor scratches from flying glass (even my pockets had glass in them), two deep cuts to the temple (which still throbs painfully) & a completely fuck’d right shoulder. The hospital was pretty dire, & of course I have no insurance, so after blagging a sling I snook out the back (a burly security guard wouldn’t let me leave by the front) & caught a train to historical Murshidabad. My first attempt at finding a hotel room failed – I was so tatty & torn & bloody they wouldn’t let me in. I was luckier the second time – a grotty pad in run-down place, I found a room & went straight into a concussion-fuell’d, very deep, very heavy sleep…
Calcutta is a very fine city, full of cheap & tasty food, with lots going on & lots of things to see. We had a massive day of exploration really. There’s the genetic mutation of a White Tiger at Alipore Zoo, where most of the tea-stained, soul-less cages are void of even the fakest plastic flower. There are the modern art galleries (which Charlie usually storms about in a huff goin’ ‘that was shite’), there’s College Street, a world of books & bookshops & the famous Indian Coffee House where the waiters are dressed up like cockateets. There’s BBD Bagh – formerly Dalhousie Square – full of British pomp & architecture, including the fabulous GPO, the former nerve centre of an empire. There’s the very cool one-line metro system that links the city north & south, for between 4 & 8 rupees a ride. Then there’s Salt Lake City Stadium, a great football arena that rivals the Nou Camp in size – but was filled with only a thousand die hard fans for a game the Indian’s barely notice when we went to watch the game. It’s just not cricket, y’see.
In the evening I went off on my own to see some Indian classical music, which was free! The highlight of which was opening my legs virgin-like to the wonders of hearing for the first time, sitar played majestically before. It was a celestial experience & I’m looking forwards to getting back to Edinburgh & putting my new eastern-influenced art-form into practice.
I love hanging out on the roof of the Modern Lodge, it really is a suitably cool hang-out for my stay in Calcutta. It’s just off Sudder Street – the travellers’ ghetto – surrounded by eateries, chi shops & even a record store which has some disco vinyl I dont have! I was listening to some through a gramophone style thing in the street which got some amusing looks & me in a reyt funky mood.
There’s also a fair share of homeless families here, & I was a bit taken aback when I saw this clearly beautiful homeless mother led away by some burley, well-dress’d man. I’d had a wee chat to her beforehand; her name was Sabia. My instant thought after seeing her led away was prostitution, a word which rhymes & comes along with destitution. Anyway, the moment inspir’d the following sonnet;
She’s up from the Sunderbans, her village was decaying,
& found herself a destitute, an elf on Sudder Street,
Dismiss’d by the government, while the Gods ignoring praying;
Her final resolution – no begging, nothing to eat!
Her mother caught the Black TB, whose nightly liquor treat
Ensur’d their police harassment, what lifetimes humans lead!
Then, as her mother pass’d away, with nothing on her feet,
She’d become her own mother, with three younger mouths to feed;
With teenage prostitution desperation made complete,
Condemn’d by mega-wealthy Westerners, “the lesser breed!”
When nly the decent Amir Vela Mandir pay her heed;
For every Sunday every soul who waits in line with patience,
Receives their sweets, their savouries & their sabje in a bag –
Afore shuffling back to paving flags to sip their gutter-wine.
As for my own poems about Calcutta, I’ve done a handful, but have hit a brick wall of apathy & heat. It is almost touching 40 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day, my head’s melting into mush & my clothes are sticking sweatily to my skin. The the cool of air of Lancashire & the East Lothian are definitely more conducive to sonneteering. I’ve got loads of notes, tho’, picked up from city wanderings & the two great libraries in town. There’s the National Library of India in the grounds of this maharaja’s old palace, & the Ramakrishna Mission, the HQ of this divine guy whose spirituality was borderline schizophrenia, but whose legacy was a world of learning & books. I’ve come across his libraries been all up the East Coast, & it’s been cool getting Eastern insights into set Western ideas.
I wrote this sonnet today about Mother Teresa & the poet Tagore, both of whom had received Nobel Prizes.
The city bubbling & thick with proud calls & lights
Overflows the saucepan of its eyelids
Its tears flow out in gutters of lowly populations
The Kolkatan will say, “My city makes me proud,”
For only yesterday, foot-picking thro’ the crowd,
Two Nobel avatars had gelled with days on earth,
Descended from the stars, imbibed by mortal birth,
Remarkable Tagore, from whose prolific pen
Words order’d to restore lost dignity to men;
Thro’ poems, plays & song, short stories & ballets,
He entertain’d the throng, for minds he made essays,
Grey dryad of Bengal, no praise of ye enough,
While, on her morning stroll, a woman goes, grown tough
To dressing rancid sores, to scrubbing at gangrene,
She opens up her doors to any libertine,
Whose inscrutable pain, makes newer nurses faint,
Teresa, dress’d so plain, O gutter-dweller saint!
In the evening I went on my own to see a performance of Indian folk dancing call’d Kathak, & was blown away by its crazy, theatrical mix of of supernatural costumes, dancers, singers & actors – dancing, tap-dancing, rapping & all-round wickedness. After the performance I was given a flyer for a Kathak marathon tomorrow – twelve hours of non-stop performance – & all for free. In fact, it seems there’s a lot of free culture every day on offer around the city, paid for by the West Bengal state government. It seems the Indians consider their high culture to be native binding force, rather than a commercial elitist enterprise. Like an NHS for the arts, & something which we could really do with in a televisually-dominated Britain. Something to work on in my later years, perhaps.
Today is our last full day in Calcutta, which was something of a cultural sandwich. The crusts were formed by Indian classical music & folk dancing, with the filling being a trip to the races. The day began with a rush for orange juice to counter the effects of the previous night’s drinking session. It was there, on the breezy rooftop of the modern lodge, that Malcolm, a bearded twenty-something from Athens, Georgia (US) & Rebecca, a salt-of-the-earth Irish lass from Tipperary agreed to join me on my kathak quest. We were join’d in the morning by Owen, a handsome-in-that-Irish-way traveller type from Cork – & Sebastian. I’d met him on my mission to get juice – a young, long haired Pole, resident in London & with appropriate cockneyisms chuck’d into his accented English. He’s in town to get a sitar made – a two-week process – & I said as there is sitar accompaniment to the kathak, he should come along. He did, & soon enough the five of us were sat in a lovely air-conditioned auditorium.
After an hour or so, me & Becky walked back to the Modern Lodge & picked up Charlie & Pete. The latter’s a lovely guy who is staying at the Lodge. He’s a Londoner, but for the last ten years he’s been living in a tiny village near Graus, in the foothills of Catalonia. He’s bought & is renovating a second house there & has said we should go & visit him later in the year for a poetic retreat. Happy days. My impromptu posse got even happier down the race track. We arrived after a lovely walk across the Maidan – the vast green, lung-like space of Calcutta – with a thousand Tendulkars all enacting the coming match against England in the Cricket World Cup, on many a home-made wicket. The walk to the course is dominated by the Victoria memorial – a beautiful domed, marble affair & a constant reminder of empire – it’s like the Taj Mahal meets Saint Paul’s cathedral & positively glitters in the sunlight.
Entry to the racecourse was only ten rupees, well worth it considering the grandeur of the five pavilions & the view of central Calcutta emerging from the Maiden’s trees. O yeah, I the winner of five out of seven races. The first two winners I was drawing the number from the cosmos. I tried it again for the third – but it came dead last – & again for the fourth, which fell in a flat race! I changed tack now, & queuing at the window to place a bet on the fifth, I asked the guy in front for a tip for the next two races, follow’d his advice & duly won both of them. In the last race was a horse called Zillionaire – & feeling like one with my winnings, back’d it & won again! Great fun – Charlie won 150 rupees with a ten-rupee place bet on a rank outsider, & Becky picked three winners. In between races you can even watch the horses be paraded & have a beer & banter with the locals. Great fun.
Come sunset came the second crust of mi culture butty, & we went to a classical music festival concert – where we listen’d to the haunting violinesque mantras of the sarangee, & the wonderful guitariness of the saron. I swear down, this guy was playing stuff & I’m like, how the hell is he doing that. It must be something down to the sheer seriousness of the musicians over here – like how the Orientals treat the game of ‘Go.’ Young boys are initiated at the age of 8 & become disciples, in some disciplines practising for thirty years before they are even allow’d to perform. In one of the vocal arts – Dhurava – you have to practice the base note ‘sa’ for two years!
Then, after food & beers on the rooftop, & a full-flow crack with the Irish, what was a very special day finally drew to completion.
Just as we were leaving Calcutta this morning, I had my wallet stolen with about £60 in rupees freshly drawn out from the bank. Me & Charlie had gone to a café near the station, & I’d left my money bag out next to Charlie while I went to a a toilet. I came back, & he went to the loo, then later on, while I’m on the train wanting to pay for some snacks, realised my wallet was gone. I had to borrow some money off Charlie, & there was just something in his demeanour that made me realise he was the one who’d nicked the money off me. The fear of his imminent return to a much more expensive Britain has made him desperate, I think, I just wish’d he’d have asked. I couldn’t believe it – or even prove it… once a crack head, always a crack head, I guess! Anyway, I’m a big lad, he must have done it for a reason & there’s no point letting it ruin my experience of India. I’ll be with him for another week or so, then I’ll be on mi todd, so I’ll just humour him. This is Charlie’s version of events, by the way, in the form of his second sonnet, which incorporates the wee bout of diarrhoea that karmically attack’d him for being a thieving cunt!
THE LEAVING OF CALCUTTA
By Charlie Fairclough
We left Calcutta the way that we came
One week later on a shaking train
We said our goodbyes & paid all our tabs
& walked to the bus-stop avoiding the cabs
The day was hot & the carriage cramm’d
As we left the city behind
Then crossing the Hooghly
Life chuck’d us a double googly
We gobbled a snack & boarded the train
But soon one of our party doubled in pain
& staggering off to the dunny
& whilst he was gone
And to make matters worse
the other one’s lost all his money
Cheeky fucker, nicking my money & writing about it.
So we left Calcutta on a slow, seven-hour local train, full of blind beggars, ston’d babas & occasionally bursting at the seams. Our destination was the crappy little town of Rampurhat, where we got a room & watch’d England v India in the Cricket World Cup. The match was a reyt thriller, swinging one way then the other, as we watch’d it with a group of Indians at the hotel. At first India’s total of 338 seemed massive, but England struck back & seem’d to be coasting, only for the Indians to strike back themselves & leave England needing about 24 off the last two overs. Then a few sixes later the last ball came along – England needed two to win & everyone was on their feet – England just got one, however, tying the match & everybody broke out into hugs, handshakes & friendship. I’m glad really, if England would have won, I don’t think we’d have made it out alive.
This morning we buss’d it from Rampurhat to the city of Murshidibad – a fine looking place pregnant with of poetically historicity. It was the capital of the Nawab who fought Clive of India at the Battle of Plassey in the 18th century, the British victory at which kinda kick’d off the Raj. After this our soiree among the Himalayas, I think I’ll drop Charlie off in Calcutta, then go & check out the battlefield.
After 20 minutes in Murshidibad, we caught another bus north. This swept us over the Ganges itself, which seem’d like a slightly larger Firth of Forth, with infinite flatness on every side. Then we hit Malda for the night, & before settling down in our beds watching footy with cheap rum, we tool a wee trip to the beautiful & vast ruins of the Adina mosque, a real banquet of oriental & Islamic architecture, 15K away.
There was a riot in the early hours this morning, when three hundred guys stormed the police station at Malda to free their mates – reminding me yet again how crazy this country can get in an instant.
Back on the trains, we had to change at an ignominious wee place call’d Katihar, but where waiting on the platform I was suddenly inspir’d to pen the following sonnet;
There is a certain sadness in this land,
The handicapp’d are heap’d upon my heart,
The twisted feet of those too low to stand,
& me, all in their midst, yet set apart.
I wait all night to catch the midnight train
So many shudras spread about the floor,
A spell of blessed respite to obtain,
From drudgeries of being born so poor.
As grunting swine from meal-to-meal subsists,
Therein lies the archaic chaff of wheat
On which this young democracy insist,
“Caste is caste & never the twain shall meet!”
Here, even dreams, which all should equal share,
Combusted by some tannoy’s constant blare
On our new train, a bit of confusion over stations meant we actually slung past our destination – Siliguri – & ended up in a quiet village. While waiting for a bus, a local taxi driver befriended us & as he was driving this posh advocate guy to Siliguri, gave us a free ride. Siliguri itself is astonishingly European, with wide-ish boulevards full of large western shops & dripping in neon-bling. Tho’ still perched on the seemingly endless, & frankly quite dull flatness of the Gangeatic plain, it is the gateway to the Himalayas – where we’ll be heading to in the morning.
Déjà vu has certainly struck in Puri, for this morning Charlie parachuted in with a big bottle of ketamine & a phone playing Jerry Lee Lewis – on loop ! It was actually nice to see him, tho’, & for the first time in my life I actually really enjoyed the drug – I think its the purity-trip I’ve been on recently has prepared me for its effects. We spent the day on it – I think it was a farewell fling for him & his beloved, like when you nail your ex that last one time.
So, stumbling about in a pretty little bimble-bubble, we went to see the UNESCO heritag’d Konark Sun temple, a few K up the road, a truly stunning edifice that towers over man & tree – sailors of old called it the ‘Black Pagoda’ as they passed it on the oceanic journeyings, while the Jagannatha Temple was the ‘White Pagoda’. Dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya, it looks like a massive chariot with immense wheels and horses, all carved from stone, down to the Vedic iconographised Surya being represented as rising in the east and traveling rapidly across the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses.
These days, the temple’s all a bit ruinous, these days, & nobody seems to know why, but it’s still an awesome presence, especially when you’re circling the edges of a k-hole!
Today we moved to the state capital of Bubanaswar, where we visited the magnificent state museum, which had a wonderful selection of statues & paintings of gods & goddesses form the infinite Hindu pantheon. I wanted to find out more about the man-god I’d seen at the temple of Asagur Fort, so went to 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.
Feeling academic & knowledge-absorbant, I left Charlie to the last of his ketamine, & found a spacious library. I soon unearthed a copy of Notovich’s book, quietlyon 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 determin’d & 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?
Notovich tells us that while travelling in Ladakh in the late nineteenth century, he came across a text in the Buddhist monastery at hemis, which purported to be the Gospel of Christ. His translation tells us that in the missing years – that is between his being at the Temple as a 12-year old, & mysteriously reappearing at the age of 30 – Jesus travelled & studied all across northern India. The problem with Notovich is that the original scrolls from which he took his translation are now ‘gone’ either hidden by the Monks of Hemis, or they just never even existed at all. However, it was the second book, a translation of the original Urdu, ‘Jesus in India (1899),’ which provided several pieces of supporting evidence that Jesus did indeed spend time in India. In particular, it’s author – Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – tells us of the Rozabal Shrine on Srinagar, Kashmir, in which Jesus is said to have been buried. The proximity of Srinagar to Hemis & Notavich’s Gospel of Jesus strengthens & supports each others’ viability.
The prime sources for the Biblical Jesus are found in the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, all of which agree that despite his dead body being taken to a tomb on a Friday, by the Monday he had risen from the dead. Throughout the Gospels & other books of the New Testament, the risen Jesus was witnessed by many of his followers, sharing food with them & even showing them his wounds to prove his identity;
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. (John 20-20)
After this siting of a living Jesus, the New testament brings us to the event known as the Ascension, when Jesus takes his place in Heaven by his father. Surprisingly, this seminal moment is only briefly recorded in just two of the Gospels;
He was received up into Heaven, & sat down at the right hand of the Lord,’ (Mark 16-19)
He was parted from them & carried up to Heaven (Luke 24-51)
…and that’s it! Just twenty-six words to describe one of the most important happenings in world history. But it is on these meagre scraps of information that the religion of Christianity, as we know it, is built. The other two gospels make no mention of the Ascension whatsoever, ending their accounts of Jesus’ ministry in Palestine in a rather more mundane fashion. One would imagine that if the physical body of Jesus was raised to Heaven, both Matthew & John would have mentioned it. It should also be observed that the earliest complete texts of the Gospel of Mark – the Sinaiticus & Vaticanus Codexes (3rd-4th century) – do not contain the last eleven verses in which the Ascension is contained & ends with the discovery of an empty tomb.
In light of all this, I grew confident that the Ascension had never occurred at all, & that following his revival after the crucifixion, Jesus must have gone somewhere. I think I need to go visit Rozabal in Srinigar & Hemis Monastery in Ladakh.
Today we went to see Dhauli, a very special place in Buddhist historiography, being the site of this massive battle in the ‘Kalinga War’ where emperor Asoka, after seeing how many people he’d just slaughter’d, suddenly turn’d to the less violent paths of Buddhism. Its only 8k south of Bhubaneswar in Odisha, & we found a peace pagoda there the ‘Dhauli Santi Stupa, & also some of the famous edicts of Ashoka. These were inscrib’d into rocks & monoliths all across his empire, in some kind of attempt to formalize & canonize his rule & also the propagation of the ‘dhamma’. Of the 14 Edicts, this is the one which describes the moment he becomes a Buddhist;
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas…Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-gods considers to be the best conquest…I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next.
I also like Edict 7:
Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, conquered the Kalingas eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died (from other causes). After the Kalingas had been conquered, Beloved-of-the-Gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the Dhamma, a love for the Dhamma and for instruction in Dhamma. Now Beloved-of-the-Gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas…Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-gods considers to be the best conquest…I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons may not consider making new conquests, or that if military conquests are made, that they be done with forbearance and light punishment, or better still, that they consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next. May all their intense devotion be given to this which has a result in this world and the next.
The whole experience had me penning the following sonnet;
THE TURNING OF ASHOKA
The year is 261 BC/ Following the bloody battle of Kalinga at Dhauli,
King Asokha is riding beside the River Nadi
O blessed day! What glory gain’d, the battle still pounds my senses
& in mine ears still echoes the cries of battle & death-yells loud
Those leonine roars, those clam’rous shouts, the din of drums & cymbals
& what sights – great elephants renting each other with bloody tusks
& great chariots exploding in shorn limbs & wooden splinters
But what is this? a worn woman weeps by the river running crimson
My goodly lady why shed thy tears on this auspicious of days
When I am flush with the victory & feeling very generous
Whatever on this Earth ye need my attendants shall see to
I hear you, Chakravartin, in thine armour as white as clouds
& yet, ye are a hypocrite for thy palms bestain’d with blood
& yes… there is one thing I crave upon this Earth above all others
To feel my husband’s loving warmth, but his body as cold as snows,
Some broken corpse – if ye lack power to make men, sire, why kill them?
Tonight, for the first time in almost two 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 typhoons that hit Tamil Nadu. Last night more than made up for it, however, 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.
Me & Charlie bussed the 120 miles here from Bubanaswar, heading for a place a few more kilometres away; the supposedly delightful fisher village of Chandipur. It is to be found not far down stream from the mouth of the River Hooghli, the western-most arm of the Ganges, & 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, so that’s quite important. From there we’ll hit Calcutta, 200 miles away, the second city of the British Empire & the truest jewel in the crown. If an Edinburgh inspir’d by Adam Smith was the mind of the empire, & London its powerful heart, then surely Calcutta was its soul; the spirit-in-stone of men who replicated their native laws & architecture in exotic lands half a world away. The plan is to explore every nook & cranny, & bring it all alive with sketches & verses.
As for Balasore, one of its major claims to fame was being the HQ during WW1 of a possible Indian uprising, with the Germans dropping arms off at the coast nearby. After being outed by Slovak spies, the plot’s leader, Bhaga Jatin, & four other revolutionaries, was met at Balasore railway station by British police & army, beginning a running battles which ended up at an improvised trench in the undergrowth on a hillock at Chashakhand in Balasore. A gunfight ensued, the Battle of Balasore, where for 75 minutes Jatin & his men held off the Government forces, inflicting 75 casualties with their mauser pistols. On the other side, one revolutionary was slain on the a spot, 2 were captured when their ammo ran out, while Jatin & a guy called Jatish were wounded. Jatin would die the next day in Balasore hospital, an eternal martyr to the drive for Indian independence, which would not come until the next World war had been fought & finish’d. Meanwhile, Jatin’s motto, “Amra morbo, jagat jagbe” – “We shall die to awaken the nation” – would become a famous rallying cry for the cause.
Chandipiur is a charming spot with a vast tidal beach. After taking off one’s flip flips one can walk for ages, the water just tickling the tops of the toes. Around you lies nothing but sand & an increasingly narrowing land-width as one gets further out to sea. A few birds flutter about, checking out the cockles & jellyfish, plus teams of fishermen go out to the static nets that are about two miles out to sea. Chandipur itself is just a few hotels & a couple of places to eat. It is made interesting, however, by the nearby fishing village, with its proper harbour, lovely wooden boats & the smell of fresh fish. The whole experience inspir’d the following sonnet;
Night fell on the many, many tranquilities of Chandipur
As I embark’d a stroll, astride its epic, crab-fluttering beaches
I heard a distant disco boom as if I near’d new Glastonbury
So thro’ the trees I darted into the dark village of Mizapur
Quite power-cut mysterious, & came upon a cavalcade
Of young endancing Indians, surrounded by prancing fireflies
A perfect place to practice phrases I had pick’d up on the road;
Tomorrow nar kono – they ask’d my name – mor Damo – I replied
Sundoro millano – I said – Apono komiti achanti
Mor bholochi – he answer’d & then offer’d me some turkurry
“Bhollo swado,” my compliments (for the sauce was very tasty)
I ask’d them – ke ta tonka – but they did not want one rupee
Ho donyobad – I thank’d him & then off like a prajapati
I moved on, musing to myself – mu Orissa Kuhalapay
Then Burnley got beat 5-1, hence the sketchy spirit of this entry – my normal passions for life & its living have been damm’d by some seriously depressing football deflation!
Today I left Orissa with Charlie after thoroughly enjoying the state. Its well cool. Anyway, after a few house of steadily densifying conurbation, we hit the explosion of life & colour that is Calcutta, or Kolkata as its name has been reverted to since Independence. After taking a room in which me & Charlie are sharing a bed, I left Charlie to the telly & went for a stroll, revelling in the truth of William Hunter’s, ‘imagine everything that is glorious in nature, combined with all that is beautiful in architecture & you can faintly picture to yourself what Calcutta is.’
On my walk I met these two twenty-something intellectual German birds, with whom I wander’d the streets & went on to drink cheap beer at their ‘Modern Lodge’ – a great Bohemian hang-out. I’d also met a guy call’d Andy & his girlfriend, Tereza, who arrived simultaneously with us at the Mother Teresa house. It was closed, but we wander’d about together & hit it off. Keeping in touch we agreed to meet at Mirik, up in the Himalayas, a place I ‘d read about & thought sounded mellow & picturesque. He’s heading in that direction too, so lets see what happens.
When I return’d, I found Charlie had penn’d his first sonnet, which could well be better than any I’ve composed about India so far, its genius;
THE REACHING OF CALCUTTA
By Charlie Fairclough
We arrived on a train at Howrah Station
In the midst of onion inflation
Two fifty rupees taxi fair
Feck it man we’ll walk it there
So we hoisted our bags & off we went
Across the Howrah Bridge
Then trudging down the River Bank
I realised Calcutta stank
The beggars chased us everywhere
The lepers with a doleful stare
Held out their rotting digits
Just give me something
But I haven’t got a biscuit
In the evening, with Charlie, we watch’d the 33rd nation sub-junior (U-16) interstate football championships on a primitive football stadium on the grassy Maidan, this vast green lung of a space which alleviates the pollution of Calcutta. So, I watch’d Mizoram beat the reigning champions, Jharkand 2-1, & as I watched it the coaches of a local boys club tried to get us to buy them some footballs. I might arrange a charity match when I get home.
Standing on the Maidan, one can see which game has preference in India, for towering above the footy ground are the marvellous Eden Gardens, the greatest cricket stadium in the world. Ironically, it has recently lost the right to stage the World Cup that this cricket crazy nation has just began to host – thro’ politics, bakshish & a certain lateness in preparing the ground. It’s like having an English World Cup without using Wembley.
Moved into the Modern Lodge today, into the very rooms vacated by my friendly fraulines as they headed to Varanasi. It is situated just off Sudder Street – the travellers’ ghetto – surrounded by eateries, chi shops & even a record store which has some disco vinyl! I was listening to some through a gramophone style thing in the street which got some amusing looks as I was bubbling up inyo a reyt funky mood.
The Lodge is very Bohemian & for foreigners only, which is made up mostly of folk volunteering for the Mother Teresa Mission that does work across the city. I met an interesting chap here, a certain Thomas Patrick Kiernan, the photographer who creates these wonderful B&W photos. Interestingly enough he has offered Charlie a room in his farmhouse in the middle of Ireland – which should keep the heat off him a little while longer.
He sells prints & postcards of his photos at the nearby Earthcare Books, one of those small but throbbing bookshops I adore. His prints are 10,000 rupees, which is well steep for India – a 100 quid -, but then again a hundred quid of course is not so steep for some of the travellers from the West. Thomas also justifies the price because he uses old fashioned film and even in India it’s expensive to buy and develop. The paper is also of a very high quality, adding to the expense. He then show’d us his camera; a small vintage Olympus with a 50 mm fixed lens.
Tonight I watch’d the Indians beat the Aussies in the world cup & after the match I could hear fireworks being set off around the city from the roof of the Modern Lodge, a really cool hang-out for my stay in Calcutta. I wonder what it’d be like if they win the thing!
On waking this morning I enter’d the 14th week of my Indian adventure, passing the half-way mark in the process & finding myself well deep into the real India, like. En route I have nearly drown’d in a riptide in the Indian Ocean, been a top Goa DJ, translated an ancient Tamil text, & just about a million other cool events, moments & opportunities for simply living which this wonderful country has offer’d so far. All of that was in the south, but now I’ll be slowly ranging across the north, beginning with today’s two & a half hour bus ride in search of Deomali – the highest mountain of the Eastern Ghats.
The journey took us thro’ Koriput, which was full of gun-toting guarding against attacks from the Maoist Naxalites. By the time I got to Pattangi, a small dusty town, I still had another 30K to go to get to Deomali. However, there was a pretty massive hill right in front of me, so I just climbed that instead. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts most. At the top I found myself like the sungod Surya, with peaks of green hills circling on every side like orbiting planets. It was so reminiscent of northern Britain it was uncanny, & I could make out the outlines of both Pendle Hill & Arthur’s seat.
Returning to Jeypore, I’ve just had a lovely meal at the Sai Krishna hotel, the town’s finest restaurant. It was paid for by Biswa & his mate Saroj (meaning Lotus). I guess I kinda paid for the meal myself with me being a more than regular customer these past few days, & I did feel guilty when Biswa look’d shock’d the bill – approaching 500 rupees, a fiver to me, but clearly a lot more to them. Still, it was their invitation, so then;s the rules.
We had a lovely chat, with him filling me in on Orissa – its poverty, education problems, temples & dynasties – & me promising the lads somewhere to stay if they ever visited Edinburgh. Incidentally, Saraj says the freedom that Republic Day represents is merely a facade.
Tomorrow I’m gonna set off into the Orissan hinterland. It’s a proper step into the unknown really. Of the five million tourists who visit India, less than one percent hit this state. Of these, the vast majority visit just Puri & the Konark Sun Temple. The district I’m heading for tomorrow is call’d Mayurbhanj – which has lovely nature reserves full of tigers, but also 3 rapes & 2 kidnappings a day, alongside a wild killer elephant that hasn’t been caught yet. In Jeypore I’ve been getting my bearings really, Orissa is another India completely & I’ve been learning a few words of Oriya to assist me – including ‘bolo swada’ which means good taste. I figure if I do get kidnapp’d by the Naxalites, by complementing their food I should get on their good side.
I left Jeypore this morning on what appeared to be a normal bus. It was, however, a boneshaker, & the driver insisted on haring down the road, sending the bus flying thro’ the air at every bump. It was like being on the dodgems for four & a half fuckin’ hours. The first part of the journey was unspectacular; a level & spacious world dotted with rough-built huts, & pepper’d with chequerboard squares of paddy fields. Then we hit a forest & after a while began a sharp drop through the trees. It seems that Jeypore had stood on a plateau.
On reaching the bottom of the hills we began moving thro’ a vast plain, interspersed with the lovely, isolated, idiosyncratic hills of Kalhandi District. The region is kinda famous, apparently, for a series of devasting droughts that hit the area – reducing women to selling their daughters for 40 rupees just to feed the rest of the family. Then, after a short while, the bus pull’d into this pathetic wee place to fix a puncture. The Indian busses are hard-core & have eight tyres each. It was interesting enough watching the conductor unscrew the great wheels from its axle, manhandle it to the garage & an hour later reverse the process.
So, I finally reach’d Bwanipatana, the capital of Kalahandi. It was pleasant enough, a series of intersecting triangular squares. My attempts at getting a decent night’s sleep were thwarted, however, by the racket that echoed thro’ the cavernous hotel. Every room had their TV turnd up full volume in an attempt, I think, to drown out all the other TVs. Total nightmare, & with the mozzys on full assault any moment of exhausted slumber were very precious & much appreciated indeed.
While in Bwanipatana last night, I was googling up an ongoing route, & discovered there was an ancient fort called Asurgah, 30K away, which was only a couple of Kilometres from the train line which would keep me going north. So, I set off this morning on another boneshaker bus – which was nothing more than a rusting tin-can with wheels. It dropp’d me off at a place called Narla, from which I walk’d & hitched bike lifts about 4k to Asurgah Fort. It is situated a sleepy village & this gorgeous lake surrounded by paddy fields, & consists of four great banks of earth & four equally massive empty spaces where the gates would once have been. Within the walls, a few houses nestle together in rural existence, fetching water from a deep well with a tall rope-pully-bucket-thing. The experience produc’d the following sonnet;
There is a village in the world not yet connected to the grid
Where life is led at the pace of the plodding Water Buffalo
& puppies freely play & all the children collect wild berries
& paddy dries in the searing sun, peck’d at by Sonepur’s chickens,
Where dogs spend all day dozing & the pigs get into everything
The cute shack of a shop tends to its community’s needs, somehow
From herbs for the turakarree to the village alcoholic
There’s eggs & rice, there’s flour & spice, there’s onions & plastic toys
& boys divide their leisure between the volleyball & cricket
& a wee minority possess power bars on their phones
Where the old men chatter drinking chi & smoking perfumed beedies
By squatting women sporting nose-bling, arms full of glimm’ring bracelets
Discussing another happy bride’s matrimonial TV
That gathers dust, unwatch’d – you can hear it in the serenity
While pottering about, I met a very eloquent, English speaking 22-year old engineer student, who showed me a wee temple hidden in a corner of the fort, guarded over by two stone lions with their ‘member’s sticking out like dogs on heat. The keeper of the temple asked if I had washed that day – a major premise to getting inside. Luckily, I had, so he brought me out some rice & coconut – nice guy. Then, I goes into the temple, & sees this vivid image of a man-god, who my eloquent guide explain’d had destroyed the idols of local gods & charmed the chief into worshipping him as a god on earth instead.
After a wee while, with my several night’s lack of proper sleep accumulating into an ‘I’m gonna fall over exhausted & got robbed kinda soon’ kinda vibe, I set off towards a nearby train station, & the rest of my journey around India. So I came to Rupra Road, where I discovered the trains were that day on strike… possibly. Three hours & several different answers from the train guys’ later this was confirmed, & remembering I’d seen a sign for a hotel back in Narla I set off walking the 7k. This was helped by my third boneshaker, a ride in the back of a shed thing carried by a tractor. Soon I was walking down Narla Road – which is basically a street that runs parallel to the train line. The hotel is lovely actually, & finally I got a decent kip.
On waking I found myself in a poet’s paradise – peace & quiet & this great u-cup of hills, full of spacious agriculture thro’ which one can wander & muse. At one point I joined in this herdsman who was ferrying his cattle between patches of green shoots. For a while I held the leash of his pet goat, a spritely wee thing, while he dash’d from stray cow to stray cow, whipping them with his stick. It has been a lovely day, I mean total pace & quiet mentally & I’m so far from anyway, & quite at random too, I feel completely liberated, & free.
I’ve decided to chill out for a couple of days at the heart of my day, kickin’ back on an eye of the hurricane vibe. I mean, this is the true India. They don’t get Westerners here, period – even during the Raj the sole British officer of Kalahndi was based at Bwanipatana & ‘ruled’ the place through Indian police officers. This surfaces in the 21st century as lots of starings & curiosities, but my steadily growing advances in the Oriyan tongue is amusing them no end. I even got my first ever moustache today! I’d gone to a barbers for a ten rupees shave & soon realized he was leaving my upper lip area free of foam. I was so amused I gave him double money – ten rupees for the shave & ten for the Freddie Mercury.
Shaved off my moustache first thing – I look’d like a dick. Continued the day in fine spirits, & even had a shower with shampoo – it was mainly to work up enough lather to shave off my daft ‘tache.
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. I had to wait a few hours so I took a hotel room to avoid being kill’d. On checking my emails discover’d I will be meeting Charlie in Puri next week – what joy! Remaining on the internet, tnstead of exploring Sambalpur I thought I’d google it instead – a much safer proposition. So here’s some facts.
Sambalpur is located on the banks of river Mahanadi, with a population of about a third of a million. Nearby is Hirakud Dam, the longest earthen dam in the world and the largest artificial lake of Asia. The name Sambalpur is derived from the Goddess Samalei (Odia: ସମଲେଇ ମାଁ), who is regarded as the reigning deity of the region, while Claudius Ptolemy called it “Sambalak”.
So it was now 10PM, & with my train ar 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.
Earlier this morning my sleeper train had disgorg’d me at Puri. Despite its reputation as an essential go-to for the Indian tourist, it’s quite a charmless place. The maddest thing about Puri, tho’, is the government Bhang shop, where you can legally buy cannabis & opium, & I’ve bought a bit of both – for both fun & convenience. I’m the same in Amsterdam, I’ll always buy magic mushrooms because they’re on sale in the windows – & I’ll always regret it at some point as I whitey by a canal.
Back in Orissa, Puri is a largish place, settled on a flat coastal plain. I am staying in the travellers quarter, a bustle of hotels, pepper’d with spaced-out travellers. The chief points of interest are the Jaggernath Temple & the sea-beach – but both ultimatley disappointing. 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 bookworm holes like hot rocks on a stoner’s t-shirt. One of these books was the works of an Indian poet call’d Jayadevi – really good stuff, like, which inspired the following poem;
The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity is of wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either
Sir William Jones
From the village of Kenduli by the banks of pretty Prachi
Rode the poet of Orissa, singing Sanskrit to perfections
His temple dancer marrying they would live the life artistic
Give the world his Gita Govind, sang of Krishna’s love for Radha
All aspects of these passion fires from the times of it awaken’d
To contentment in possession, a musical still enacted
From Kerala’s Kathak actors to the folk singers of Nepal
I sing of Krishna’s springtime passion with the melodies of love
Twyx the handsome chief of cowherds – urgent, charming, uncommitted –
& his delicious consort – playful, sulky & tempestuous –
Whose hips & heaving breasts sport with the black bodies of gold robed bees
To & fro the Dark Lord’s earings stroked her cheek, stirr’d her girdle zone
Til morning’s lips exhausted, his body claw’d, her garlands broken
This morning I went back to the library & as I sat beneath the creaking fans once more, flicking thro’ the worm-riddled book, 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?
Away from the books, the portion of 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 fisher boats that stretch as far as the eye can see. In between 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.
Charlie arrives tomorrow….
My first full day in the Telegu-speaking Visakhapatnam, or Vizag for short, was pretty cool. I like the vibes of the place. It turns out the cityhad beens conquer’d by the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century, i.e. it was ruled from Hampi, & so I felt some natural kinship already.
On joining in my obligatory, get-to-know-the-locals cricket game with some young Indians, I was befriended by seventeen-year-old Sameer. He was a likeable chap & very keen to hear of life in the West. He’s a Muslim to boot, & invited me to his house in the old port quarter of Vizag to meet his parents, who were quite simply lovely, & fed me like a trooper. Its mad, they literally all live off sixty quid a month – & Sameer just receiev’d a student grant for the same amount to last the whole year.
He & his sister are quite academic – hoping for better lives I guess – & we even discuss’d Shakespeare. It amazes me how the young Indian ploughs through the complex densities of Shakespeare like dull oxes ploughing the tough soil of Elizabethan English. However, seeing as they speak four languages fluently – Urdu at home, Telegu in the street, English at school & Hindi to other Indians – I guess they can handle the obscurer corners of Shakespeare’s lexicon.
After a congenial couple of hours, Sameer then pointed me toward the only library in town. Ran by the Ramakrishna Movement’s ashram, it flew like an angel into my literary lap. It’s time to get mi head down & absorb this wonderful country thro’ words, as well as experience.
Woke early to a glorious morning! Being so motivated by the weather & my exotic location, I attun’d myself to my vocation & plugg’d into the universe, setting myself some kind of daily routine, which has just been conducted thus:
5.30 AM: Wake up
6 AM: Walk to train station to get English newspaper, calling for poori breakfast on the way back
7 AM: Watch movies in bed playing guess the swear words – they silence the voice & put stars where the word should be on the subtitles. Despite being English language films, I think they put English subtitles in to help Indians learn the language.
10 AM: Internet café for an hour of work
1 PM: walk to an internet place near the sea for a couple more hours of work
4 PM: The library opens where I hit the books – but only one at a time. They are all held behind locked up glass cabinets, & you have to sign each book in & out every time you use it. The library is on the beach road & my session is divided by trips to the kiosks on the beach for these beautiful samosas & ice cream cornets
8 PM: Walk back to my hotel, chomping on various street foods as I go
9 PM: Two & a Half Men on TV for several episodes, cups of tea, & sleep
I have just play’d witness to the rather colourful Sankranti festivities of Andhra Pradesh. They are spread out over three days & are just so cool to wander about in. Today, the first day, was called Bhogi, which began at the unearthly hour of 4 AM. It is then that fires are lit across the city to banish evil spirits in the same way we burn sage when exorcising a house. I duly set off out into the darkness at four, & went on a tour of the neighbourhood’s ‘bhogi’ bonfires. The first one was just a guy on his own burning two four-by-fours in a shack, his mate snoring beside him. The second was a largish affair of long poles – but the clientele were clearly ruffians, one of whom was being beaten with a brush by an ancient woman half his size defending a bit of rope netting.
The third fire was a wee one, with a lone man boiling a large pot of water. Nearby was a chai stall doing its first business of the day, & by him a guy standing in front of piles of blue crates full of plastic sacks of pasteurised milk. The fourth fire looked like an oil drum, burning by a temple, but on nearing it I realised that it was a load of rubber tyres stacked in a tower, with wood inside it, belching off thick black smoke. The fifth fire was a family affair, at the crossroads of two narrow, Mediterranean-style streets, dominated by this fat controller guy who kept bringing wood out from nowhere to add to his massive pile.
The festivities were disturbed regularly by rickshaws & scooters trying to squeeze thro’ gaps in the road. Walking down the street I pass’d some startlingly psychedelic patterns chalked outside the houses. Then further on, the sixth fire burnt above me – on a bit of concrete sticking out from a half-built house. There was no-one sat by it, but it added to the scene. The seventh fire was on a mainish road, by a temple to Durga – the goddess perched on a tyger – & was predominantly women. I thought this would be a good place to stop, then, with seven being such an auspicious number; the Hindus have seven holy cities, rivers, etc, & the chicks were kinda hot too! This fire was pretty big & was built within a chalk circle, coloured in with flowers at the points of the triangles that formed the circle like Nepalese peace flags. I shared the moment with a Western girl from Luxembourg (her German boyfriend was asleep) & we silently watch’d the great pieces of wood turn reptilian in the flames.
From then it was pretty much the same routine as yesterday, but of course passing thro’ streets full of burning embers. At the end of it I got an email from Charlie. He’s doing very well, apparently, writing his memoirs or summat. Anyway, the plan is to meet him in a place call’d Puri in a couple of weeks or so, which is north of here in the state of Orissa. From there we’ll hit Calcutta then head up to the Himalayas together – should be fun now he’s calm’d down somewhat!
A blazing hot morning on the second Sankranti day, the events of which celebration made the sky resemble a multi-coloured spectrum of wafting confetti, with paper birds filling the azure spaces over the city like the Luftwaffe over London during the Blitz. In the middle of all the smiling kids, however, I got myself all poignant. There was this sad wreck of a man sleeping – shaking actually – on the pavement. Perhaps he was dreaming of a time when he ran tho’ the streets with his own Sankranti kite as an innocent, fun-loving boy, long before life struck him to so lowly a state.
On Vizag’s promenade there is a cool monument with tanks & planes & even a submarine, which is a memorial to this war India had in 1971. I’ve never actually heard of it before. It only officially lasted a couple of weeks, but up in Kashmir has never really stopp’d, with frequent skirmishes over the LOC (Line of Control) established at the end of the war. One of the results was the establishment of Bangladesh, the former East Pakistan, which now broke away from Pakistan. In the months leading up to the conflict, the Pakistanis were proper rapist butchers, so it was definitely a good war to fight. In announcing the Pakistani surrender, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared in the Indian Parliament:
Dacca is now the free capital of a free country. We hail the people of Bangladesh in their hour of triumph. All nations who value the human spirit will recognise it as a significant milestone in man’s quest for liberty.
The last part of the Sankranti festivities occurred with a mad street party thrown to the local tutelary deity, Lord Balaje, a curious little black fellow who one sees everywhere. It was a bit like Notting Hill Carnival, & indeed there were loads of speakers belting out tunes top volume to the heaving mass of Indians wandering thro’ the streets. A street was lit up Blackpool illuminations style, with dolphins & green bars puking illuminous light onto the scene. All the kids had these wee vuvela things which gave out a dreadful shrieking sound – a bit like one of mi exes having a strop. There were loads of stalls – porcelain dolls of the gods, sugar cane – & a heavily decorated ox (called a gangireddulu) getting all four legs onto a little wooden stool while his keepers played drums & trumpet. There were cardboard boxes of chicken chicks spray-painted in pastel colours, there was a guy with a set of weighing scales charging a rupee a pop. There were corn-on-the-cob sellers fanning the cobs over hot coals – I tried one & it was very tasty indeed!
This was going to be my last day in Vizag before I set off north, so I thought I’d get back in the travel zone on the trains – I haven’t been on one since I pull’d into Chennai a couple of weeks back. So, I thought I’d have a little practice run, & this morning I found myself 15K north of Vizag at a place called Thotlakonda, a hill which houses the ruins of a 2000-year-old Buddhist complex. They weren’t particularly impressive, but the views were, of the gold-lined ocean below & the rolling upland greenery of the Eastern Ghats behind. The road to sea level was lined with blossoming trees, a very lovely walk which recharged the poet in me. At the foot of the hill I caught a bus which swept me along the ocean drive back to Vizag – which strangely enough felt like home.
With is being such a lovely poet’s day, I suddenly began to formulate a hybrid kind of sonnet using the Sanskrit measure I was studying in the library, which I’ll use as the mould for my Orissan experience – that’s, 15,16, 17 syllables worth of line. Here’s my first effort using the ‘Indian Sonnet’ form;
I’d been studying at the Swami Vivekananda library
Of how the tumbling Sanskrit couplet first utter’d by Valmeeki
& so, choosing its nuances to explore in composition
I left Vizag’s fair vibrancy on a morning’s musing’s mission
With my subject now the Buddha, or at least his teeming influence
I’m certain Jesus merg’d his teachings at an eastern confluence
Boneshaking bus pass’d Rushikund, tree-fill’d beaches, Goan hills,
& dropp’d me off at the colourful foot of Mangamaripeta
From where I climb’d a pleasant hill flank’d by pretty pastel blossom
Another Lingala Konda, another Gopalapatnam
Stood red & ruin’d where Ashvaghosha’s plays were once enacted
& like the Hill of Pigeons, the sacred rains cistern extracted
With views of hills & skies, & the breeze & an ocean sunrise
Far from Siddhartha’s vision, an aloofness to aid his demise.
So after preparing loads of notes for my poetic cruise around Orissa, I shall be starting in earnest at 6.50 in the morning. I’ve got to conduct a six-hour train journey through apparently beautiful scenery, including passing thro’ the highest train station in Asia. Cool! I’ve got my rough route worked out & one of the places I’ll be calling in on is a Maoist hot-bed. They are a secessionist group who have been fighting for their rights & lands against, well, less the Indian government, more the corporate conglomerates.
The bodies keep coming out of the forest. Slain policemen wrapped in the national flag; slain maoists, displayed like hunters trophies, their wrists & ankles lashed to bamboo poles
Sounds like an awful lot of fun!
This morning I left Vizag by train, steadily climbing up the west side of the wooded Aruka valley, with the views growing spectacular by degrees. Every time we hit a tunnel, a huge cacophony of screams & yelps uttered forth from the Indians – in the end I realised they were playing with the tunnels echo-systems. After a few hours we hit Asia’s former highest railway station, Shimilguda, at 997 meters above sea level. It was usurped of the honour in 2004 by, I’m guessing, the express railway that links China & Tibet. From there began the steady drop into Orissa & Jeypore thro’ a landscape which look’d increasingly like the Highlands of Scotland.
As I railway’d out of Vizag for to write poetically
Verses concerning Kalingan Kings mix’d with state modernity
Above breathtaking beauties, rising on the valley’s western side
More stunning than the Niligris, only a mile or more wide
A thick white bank of fog & cloud eagerly envelop’d the line
& I found it very wonderful for this world, sweet world, still mine
I’d nearly died on Andaman, but today my eyes were seeing
By Boddavara, steep hill-slopes perfect for a spot of skiing
But far too lush vegetation, as if the Cumberland fells
Had time-warp’d through to Jurassic days, as today the tunnel yells
Of giddy kids exhilarates climbing to Shimiliguda
Asia’s former highest station, a summerhouse for Garuda,
Beyond Aruka, scenery seems less savage Scottish sister,
We sierra thro this Spanish spaciousness of South Orissa
After the comfortable hotel at Vizag I’ve opted for a bachelor’s lodge in Jeypore; with my decent but basic room costing a quid a night. It’s a bit noisy at times, but I like the fact there’s no TV – a lot more conducive to literary endeavouring. This mental peace, however, was counter’d by experiencing the JAI CHITTAMALA Music Band Party. Witness a ramshackle sound system on four wee carts being dragged through the streets of Jeypore. On the heavily decorated carts were speakers & generators, plus a techno style djembi player & an eight-pad electro drum kit player. Providing the music was this cross-legged moustached guy & a Yamaha keyboard playing all sorts of celestial swirling sounds.
Walking alongside were a couple of singers, huddled like MCs at a rave. One was about eighteen, & his groove-surfing melodies were better than both Ian Brown’s & my own voice put together! Amazing stuff. On both sides of the carts were an assortment of snare players & trumpeteers, while directly in front & behind were the dancers. In front were a bunch of wee boys pulling off some amazing moves including cartwheels, while at the back were all the older men doing a lot of stuff with their hands. To the side of these were all the women, slowly walking & made up to the gorgeous Indian max – very hot – including the curious nose-bling that Orissa seems to be the home of. Behind them rode the reason for all this fun & frolics, a very handsome man, again decorated wonderfully, sat in an ambassador car, either on his way to, or coming back from, his wedding. The whole experience compell’d me to pen the following sonnet.
MANI WEDS SUKANTA
A wedding is a display of wealth in the garb of showcasing our culture
It begins with an advert, on the internet increasingly
& discreet meetings to appease, spreading concord through each family
Then a swirling bull of energy erupts in flashing lights
Emanating from the envelopes of seven hundred invites
When disco beats down lane & street leads the groom thro Sakhipara
To his deer-eyed, lotus face of a bride, opening with mascara
It is a beautiful ceremony on an auspicious day
The priest presents which parts of the Vedas in Sanskrit he should say
Their hands are bound, happy promise of prosperity & children
Then the newly-weds share their joy midst many benign presences
Where women shimmer glamorous as the lads dance with aplomb
All hoping to avoid the pitfalls of Matrimony.com
“It’s all a lovely fairytale!” “O! the couple fit like a glove!”
“Well, its not long now, I hope, until their platinum day of love”
Jeypore town itself is not that big; its size & the way it peters out into the countryside reminds me of Wigton in Cumbria. However, what a countryside! On one side it’s a level plain stretching as far as the eye can see toward the state of Chittargarh. On the other is this wonderful horse-shoe of wooded hill, at the heart of which is this great hydro-electric dam. I took a walk over to it one day & came across this giant mace-wielding statue of the monkey god Hanuman, like a little slice of Disneyworld had been planted in India.
Back in Jeypore, one can find a shambling old palace in the centre of the town. You can’t get in, but can look down on it from neighbouring rooves like a sepoy sniper during the 1857 siege of Lucknow. There are also some proper filthy bits including this school whose playground is essentially a rubbish dump. Then there’s this old ghat, completely choked by weeds & rubbish. Still, I thought, I’ll take a wee walk round. En route I encountered 6 men having dumps, & had to avoid a thousand human faeces – not that nice an experience actually.
I met a really nice guy at the local internet shop, Niswa, whose name means world in the Oriyan language. We’d got on famously & he’d been playing me loads of Indian dance music, some of which I’m adding to my disco set. In return I gave him a load of western tunes, the like of which Jeypore has probably never seen. He says he’s gonna dish ‘em out to all his mates – so DJ Damo’s gonna be a big name in the Eastern Ghats, I hope.
He’s also invited me out for dinner tomorrow at a swanky local restaurant, which is really nice of the guy. Yeah, Jeypore’s great!
(Top to bottom): Kate, Phil, Steve, Duncan
The rickshaws in Chennai are the maddest I’ve came across. With the Andaman permit fresh in my hand & 50 mins til the boat left, I got this corrupt geezer who decided to drive me around Chennai with the meter on, clocking up a massive fare. Once I realised his game I scream’d at him, storm’d out in the middle of a busy main road & jump’d in an honest rickshaw. Of course , by the time I got to the port I disocver’d the boat was delay’d 5 hours – but of course this is India.
At the quay I met up with Steve, Kate, Jimmy Van de Mere & a couple of their mates call’d Duncan & Phil, the latter of whom had a bottle of liquid acid ready. Jimmy van de Mere had some ketamine bought cheap from a chemist in Gokarna en route, & I still had a bit of the opium left, an interesting ‘voyage’ felt on the cards.
So, towards the end of the afternoon we were in the bowels of the SS Akbar, a huge cavern of bunk-beds, all of whom are western tourists. We are apartheided from the Indians & we have a huge bunk class amidst the pipes that threaded thro’ the bowels of the ship. It is painted Kendal green & with all the ropes & rigging seems like a giant Jungle Jims. The other half of the ‘below ship’ bit is basically the same, but for Indians. Those with more money can take a cabin upstairs. It was cool, actually; lots of young, optimistic & excited travellers heading on a voyage of discovery, the spirit of which compell’d me to produce the following sonnet;
DEPARTING FOR ANDAMAN
Gazing across exotic ocean stream
Shamrock musing drifts to distant Burnley,
Where for as long as breathing there shall be
My family, my friends, my football team –
So far away, for following my dream
I am a stranger in a strange contree,
Though slowly hook’d upon its cup of tea,
Darjeeling serv’d up with a Devon cream.
The sun has fallen & the ship has sail’d,
The last lamps of the mainland shrink & fade,
A momentary notion has prevail’d,
Varuna on Makara far display’d;
Next time by solid ground my feet regaled
Into youth’s fleeting heart I shall have stray’d.
My day on the boat started off mellow, reading in my hammock as it swung to the ships swaying, so I thought I’d try a bit of the opium again. Not long after I lick’d a drop of liquid acid from the top of Phil’s hand. I then had a jolly trippy time exploring my ship, the MV Akbar. The voyage was slowly turning into one massive mash-up as the only option from hanging out in the cramp’d & claustrophobic deck was getting wreck’d – a choice most people made. After sharing some opium with Jimmy Van de Mere, he whipt out a bottle of ketamine & cooked it up right there in the bunk. I tried a line & I had the most cosmic experience of my life really. I led back on my bunk & sort of sank into the universe – all I could see was an astral swath of stars, with a little chime of celestial music thrown into the mix. Then gaining some vague element of consciousness I lifted my body up & it was like breaking the surface of the sea, for suddenly I was surrounded by the blurr’d colours of the bunk class, but only for a few seconds as I suddenly reimmers’d myself in my opiod-ketamine-LSD ocean.
Eventually I came down enough to take charge of my faculties, & there follow’d a floaty few hours watching the ship scythe through the midnight sea. Being thrown into bunk class with another thirty Western tourists was cool, as I found a few new friends for the islands, which we’ll be arriving at in the morning.
This morning we pull’d into the Andaman capital, Port Blair, a sleepy little paradise with an old imperial residence swarming with banyan trees. The Andamans were once a post-1857 penal colony to deal with the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny, putting the ‘subversive’ anti-imperialists here rather like the Nazi’s Dachau, the French Devil’s Island & South Africa’s Robben Island. The Andamans are also like the English Channel Islands, being the only Indian ‘soil’ occupied by the Japanese during WW2, apart from a few cross-border excursions from Burma.
After a couple of hours pottering about the place – including an 8 egg omelette to counter the slops I’d been eating in Bunk Class -, a group of us (about 12 in total) bought some hammocks & then caught a boat to Havelock Island. I instantly hired a bike (my first one with gears) & razzed off round the island to Beach Seven (they don’t have names), making camp on the beach with Steve from England, a French guy & an Israeli lass, all in their early 20s.
The rest of the day was spent swimming, snorkeling, writing, & playing chess in the village with the locals. I’ve also found the next new Olympic sport… hermit races. Basically, you choose a hermit crab from the beach & place it in the centre of a circle drawn in the sand… first crab to the perimeter wins. We’ve also been cooking for ourselves & you will soon be able to taste the fruits of my newly acquired culinary skills – masalas & chapattis.
Then going to sleep above the scritches of en masse hermit crabs & the sounds of the Indian ocean, under a delectably bright balloon was beyond beautiful.
My defining moment of the Andamans came this morning… Celia. She is a fine & feisty Norwegian Blonde, who while riding the rough track to the campsite I was struck by a fine ass, pass’d her, stopp’d & invited her for a spliff & a ride. So we took a tour of the island’s beaches, producing a moment to smile about til I die. On my left was the lumescent turquoise ocean, on my right the lush jungle, up above a perfect sun, down below a mighty motorbike, up in front the open road & right behind a gorgeous blonde. When spending a day at the office one likes to have pictures of sexy ladies to look at… I was sat writing my poetry while her skimpily clad curvature splash’d in the waves.
After dropping her off & getting back to the site, the police moved us on from our impromptu site this morning – no permits – so, I took a boat back to the capital where I had to soak my feet in Dettol water and cover them in plasters for frolicking among the coral has ripp’d them to shreds. You’ve gotta be real careful with your cuts, I’ve been told, as they can soon go bad in the humidity (and the fuckin flies know exactly where the sores are).
I am now in the wee townlet of Wandoor for a bit of solitude. My boat to Vizag leaves in two days, so I thought I’d have one last adventure before I leave – let’s hope it’s a good done !
Fuck me! I have been genuinely unnerv’d, the closest I’ve come to death since a certain scampi pasta I cook’d up a couple of years back. This morning I bought a ticket for Jolly Buoy, a tiny island open to visitors for a few hours each day. We got there & sure enough it was paradise; jungle, white sands & shallow coral flush with lushly colour’d fish – thro’ my snorkel mask there appear’d an em’rald phantasie kingdom. So I had a couple of reefers & did a spot of writing whilst tucking into my pack’d lunch (major munchies) in a quiet, shady corner of the beach. After a while I went to check on when the boats would leave & to my horror found they had fuck’d off! I was completely alone on a deserted island with no sign of a boat anywhere – the boats might have come back in the morning, but after taking stock found I only had one third of a litre of water & half a samosa (vegetarian).
Across the waters fishing boats were hugging the mainland but they could not here my shouts over the sounds of the engines which chugg’d over the waves, then faded with the boats into the distance. So I was shipwrecked – & without a reality TV camera crew in sight! So, after stripping off naked I check’d out my possibilities. On one side of me was the ocean’s expanse (next stop Antarctica) & on the other, various islands of the archipelago. The closest one seem’d to be about a mile away, from where smoke seemed to be rising from the jungle… people! After two abortive attempts at swimming (not stoned enough) I tried to make a raft, which duly sank. Fish kept flying out of the water reminding me I was in tropical waters & I remember’d that someone had seen a four foot shark two days ago not far from here. After another spliff I thought fuck it, it’ll be an adventure & began to swim.
After 15 minutes of easy breaststroke I look’d back & realised the current was sweeping me out to sea! Panic kick’d in & I turn’d round for Jolly Buoy, but the current was really strong. For the first time in my life I was dependent on my own strength to save my skin. I swam & swam & swam, my life flashing before my eyes – nor more peachy lady bottoms, no more Yips Chips, no more black pudding from Burnley market, no more of my Gran’s Lancashire hotpot. Fuck, Gran, she’d fuckin’ kill me if I hadn’t just died in a rip-tide in the Indian Ocean.! Fortunately, after a full-on heave of effort my feet touch’d solid & I collapsed in the sand, listening to my thumping heartbeat in a state of shock…
thump…. thump… thump… thump… thump… thump…thump…chug….chug…chug-chug-chug…
This time I shouted as loud as I could & waved frantically & almost piss’d myself when I saw them turn for the island. I quickly dress’d & greeted them passionately – they were very curious about me – & soon we were chugging out across the waters. I quickly skinn’d up & pass’d a spliff round my three new shipmates & lay back in the boat to watch the magnificent sunset – a sunset I was lucky to see! They also gave me a top tip – if u are ever stuck on a desert island you must wave a piece of material to signify you have been stranded (internationally understood).
At the astonished fisherman’s village I gave a geezer 60 rupees to drive me on the back of his bike to my hotel – about 30 miles all in all – where I order’d a huge feast. Like loads of fucking food, most of the dishes on the menu.
After telling my tale to my hotelier, he said apparently I was lucky not to have reach’d the island I was swimming to (with the smoke curls), as there was a good chance they might have in fact eaten me! It certainly seems that Sarsawathi has smil’d on my life today, & I’m not being allow’’d to leave this mortal coil this yet – more work to do, perhaps!
A guy from the Forestry commission came to see me this morning & they will be taking action against the boat owner, despite my protestations as to the otherwise. I figured if their chief witness (me) had fuck’d off the captain couldn’t get into trouble & would be able to continue feeding his family, so I scarper’d back to the capital as soon as they left, penning the following sonnet;
Down southern Andaman lies Jolly Bouy,
Of rainbow coral, full of snorkling joy,
I spent an hour lagooning in a laze,
& fell astoned, then woke, to my amaze
The boat had left me, deserted, alone,
No rizlas, samosas, water, nor phone!
A mile or so across the sharky foam,
A trail of smoke show’d someone was at home,
I built a brushweed raft, but that soon sank,
So off I swam, my goddess I should thank
For showing me this was a wild riptide,
Young muscles haul’d me back, I’d nearly died!
Then, waving to distant boats, at sunset,
I’d be the strangest fish they’ve ever net.
With a few hours to kill before my boat, I potter’d about Port Blair again, completely reliev’d to be alive. I went to check out the Cellular Jail, the main hub of British oppression to where the naughtiest members of the Indian Independence movement were sent. Known as Kālā Pānī (‘Black Water’), the term actually means an overseas journey which strips someone of their caste, leading to social exclusion. Far from the parlour rooms of mercantile London, the full evil of British imperialism was showing its face, with an eventual 80,000 political prisoners facing “torture, medical tests, forced labor and for many, death.” (Guardian Sat 23 Jun 2001). Here’s a quote from that article;
“We are forgotten victims,” says Dhirendra. “Back then, all we wanted was food, and you gave us gruel that was riddled with white threads of worms. We demanded an end to work gangs, and we ended up chained like bullocks to oil mills, grinding mustard seed, around and around. We wanted medical aid for our fevers, and your doctors signed papers stating we were fit enough to flog Dhirendra Chowdhury
Towards dusk I boarded my ship to Vizag & away we went once more. Unfortunately I soon began to feel very sick indeed with some kind dysentry (have you ever shit blood?). Along with an Amsterdam whore I think a young man’s first tropical disease is an initiation into manhood – my body can do that!? The worst moment came when I was flopped on a crusted over ships toilets, sat down where one usually squats & to week to stand, with the ship’s rats scuttling about & my whole body liquifying & gushing out of me – & this only 36 hours after nearly drowning in shark infested seas !
I stagger’d to the ship’s doctor this morning, who gave me some pills & before you know it I was feeling at least half better. So, I decided to finish off my opium, & read a book in my bunk. It’s call’d Life of Pi, a vivid, wonder-suffus’d Booker Prize winner by Yann Martel. Its a story about this shipwreck where this guys changes his fellow shipwreckees into animals – an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger – just to stay sane. In the book there’s this one amazing section which can describe Hindu in a way that I could never;
I am a Hindu because of sculptur’d cones of red kumkum powder & baskets of yellow turmeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers & pieces of broken coconut, because of the clanging of bells to announce one’s arrival to God, because of the whine if the reedy nadaswaram & the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung, because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colourful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word – faith, I became loyal to these sense impressions even before I knew what they meant or what they were for. It is my heart that commands me so. I feel at home in a Hindu temple. I am aware of Presence, not personal the way we usually fell presence, but something larger. My heart skips a beat when I Catch sight of the murti, of God Residing, in the inner sanctum of a temple. Truly I am in a sacred cosmic womb, a place where everything is born, & it is my sweet luck to behold its living core.
After a lazy day sailing, in the dark of night, on first seeing the shore lights of the subcontinent, I penn’d the following sonnet’
At the back of the ship, at the height of the trip,
Drawn by the harmonies of Lord Vishnu’s call,
Navel-rooted lotus soft floats over waters
Absorbing the beauteous Bay of Bengal,
Transcending to milk, pearly seaway of silk,
Thou lavender cushion of infinite white,
Surrounding the foetal spirit centripetal
Sucking upon toenails painted starry bright.
“Rider, thou art return’d to India,
Saraswathi, I see, has smil’d on you,
Thy mortal aura bless’d in her prayer,
Thine energies hued in a rainstorm blue,
Come drape thyself in the Himalaya,
For there, thy Rose of Sylver shall renew.”
It was cool sailing into Visakhapatnam as it’s port is pretty ancient, being the only natural harbour on the east coast of India. The Romans were here, for example, & now an English poet was taking his first steps in the state of Andhra Pradesh via its funky harbour. Thus, I am now in ‘Vizag,’ the so called ‘City of Destiny.’ It’s nothing special so far – but I’ve only seen the port, a few streets & my hotel. I do have the feeling, however, that it’s gonna be a great place to hole up & explore for a couple of days!