Thiruvanamalai is definitely a massive mosquitoes nest, & their bites are itchy as fuck. One cannot stay under one’s mosquito net forever & I’ve thus far endured two days & nights of warfare, being bit a lot & in return splattering them (& my blood inside them) all round my room’s walls. Their corpses have attracted the ants who have been streaming into the room like vultures & polishing them off one by one.
Today I walk’d to my studies exactly like yesterday, & I expect like every morning & afternoon to come while I’m here. I begin by passing herds of immaculately uniformed schoolkids & guys wobbling about on bikes laden with steaming chambers of chi. Next comes these massive decorated festival carts with wheels as big as two men; well, what I really mean are two western men – apart from some geezers down the ashram I’m the tallest man in town, which is kinda weird.
I then pass the great temple, whose four god-carved gates tower over the town; then the busy markets, before walking down a poor village type road, full of rubbish, chickens & bricks – it’s got that industrial-age, Burnley feel, where everyone kind of lived in the street. Then comes a glorious ghat (reservoir), whose green water is dazzlingly pleasant on the eye. Beside this is a middle-class suburb, lots of one floor villas with rooftop terraces overlooking the ghat. These have name boards hung proudly on the outside, for example one was a health educator & another was the sub-inspector for the local police force. After this comes the ashram area, where westerners flock & chill out, spending a lot more money on their generally inferior food. I mean, I’ve been eating wickedly & struggling to spend more than three pounds a day on food. The walk has inspir’d the following sonnet;
There is a town the Tamils hold
As holy as a brahmin
Where spicy shops in lanes unfold
& sundry sweets in streets are sold
Where food-stalls vie, both hot & cold
With carts of local farmin’
Now with your hunger satisfied
Stroll through the buzz & bustle
Bus, bike & rickshaw dust roads glide
With shop-on-shop perch’d by their side
As with a cry bull-whips applied
To oxen of pure muscle
From country quietude an artist flew
Now drown’d in life, downtown Tamil Nadu
On my afternoon walk back from the library – I go in twice a day – I sampled the wears of a fried fish stall; very delicious but too many bones. More palatable have been the samosas & the bananas, which you buy in bunches of ten from gypsy-type women in the street. These in turn come from the banana wholesalers, where bunches of up to a hundred green bananas cling to a bamboo style stalk. The leaves have been stripped off by now & even these are sold off in the street to guys from the restaurants – that’s in the street remember, & I’ve gotta eat off ‘em. Other food you can buy on the street-carts include apples, oranges, grapes, banana fritters, peanuts, ready-to-eat corn-on-the-cobs & fresh coconuts, which they crack the top off for you so you can drink the milk with a straw, then crack in half so you can eat the creamy flesh inside.
A most interesting sight today was a circus-like spectacle of an eight-year-old girl balancing on a rope about my head high. While her dad was selling popcorn; her mum knocking out some funky rhythms on a metal pan; & her older brother slapping out a bass beat on a djembe, the girls legs wiggl;d left & right like a supersonic pendulum. Then, she did all that again, but this time balancing a pot on her head!
For the Lancastrian in me, the weather’s been great, a bit quite cloudy & rainy, with the top of Aranuchala often obscure by mist – tho’ warm enough to sleep naked. I’m not a big sun-lover, so a bit of respite from the heat is wicked.
Thiruvanamalai is certainly not a redneck place, quite affluent really, gaining an element of prosperity perhaps from the influx of pilgrims. The place is full of pedestrians & bikes – both pedal-power’d & petrol – all mingling with the Tamil animals. These constitute don’t-give-a-shit-Cows nuzzling through the roadside rubbish tips or planting themselves in the centre of the busiest roads; abandoned puppies & the same pack of dog everywhere; grotesque rats & deformed ponies; giant horn-twisted oxen trotting through the streets hauling produce-laden carts; cats, bats & packs of monkeys haunting the rooftops. I chucked a Paul-Daniels-faced monkey a banana the other day & chuckled to myself as his little hands unpeeled it – just like a human!
There are quite a few orange-clad babas hanging about the ashram, whom I have also discovered – on one of my side-street walks – are in fact unscrupulous rogues. I saw a couple of them eagerly emptying their metal carry-tins of cash – loads of it – with a lot more vigour than their semi-pathetic attempts to get some rupees out of you. They were huddled together far from the eyes of the more gullible westerner, dishing out loads of rupees & swigging back a very large bottle of whiskey.
Eating out is a bit weird; you are attended on hand & foot, with refills for food & water arriving from a team of waiters. This state of affairs, coupled with my cleaner boys at the hotel, is perfectly satisfying my colonial pretensions – all I need now is a tiger hunting blunderbuss & a bridge club. The maddest thing I’ve seen was a sleight of hand con guy, who had set up a little shrine & had two snakes & a rodent & just kept chatting non-stop & banging this little drum as he did his ‘magic’. I was quite enthralled, as were the Indians, but the point to it all was beyond me.
All the shops are the same size, & everyone is a specialist. There’s shops which contain only penny sweet jars, coconut warehouses, spice merchants with multicoloured sacks, pharmacists, clinics, speaker shops, bookshops, 20 rupee an hour internet places, garland makers with bright fluffy flowers, tailors sat sewing to the world, the most delicious looking cakes you’ve ever seen (with complementary chewy fly), busy barbers, banks, mobile phone shops, modern looking shoe shops & guys sat in the street surrounded by old flip-flops cleaning & repairing peoples footwear (one of these guys fixed my hat)… & even an interior decorators. There’s also the chicken marts, which are a real sad thing to see. Proud cocks & white hens stuck together in cramped cages, watching agitatedly as one-by-one they get the chop right in front of their sad little eyes.
I noticed the fashion sense of the Tamils – & realised it’s not very varied at all. All the women wear saris & the men have only four possible combinations of outfits – either a pair of trousers or this kilt thing to cover the legs, with either a short sleeved or long sleeved cotton shirt (in stripes or checks, so I guess that six combos). The flip-flop is the footwear of choice, though about a third of the folk go about barefoot. They hardly ever use the paths & invariably compete with road space with everything else… mainly because the paths run over stinking sewers & are full of holes. Most of the roads themselves have strange delusions of concrete, but these are basically under a pile of crud, which during the recent rains has turned to ghostbuster goo.
Tonight’s been a bit crazy in town – the leader of Tamil Nadu – of the DMK party – has just turned up & the centre has been bedecked with banana trees, light statues & a hell of a load of Belgium flags. Apparently, it’s the flag of the DMK, but just like Belgium, the rally was pretty boring, so I didn’t stay for long. The guy on the mike sounded just like the rapid-fire, one at Wigton Cattle auction, but a bit slower & more high pitch’d, whose voice is still buzzing round my brain as I’m typing this is in bed.
Today I decided to climb Arunachala. Waking at six, my ascent began in light drizzle, which follow’d a series of arrows & religious graffiti painted on the scattered boulders, all pointing upwards. As I climbed, the view of the town & surrounding area began to increase. Thiruvannamalai is not as big as I thought, & shaped like a dolphin’s fin protruding from the southern flank of the sacred peak. Beyond it lies a flat, nameless plain – very green – with a range of hills about 10 miles away or so.
After about an hour I reached the summit – a pleasant sensation made even more so by an encounter with the local guru. He is 30 – an orphan – & has been living in a shack just off the summit for ten years – 10 fuckin years meditating & shit. He’s the guy who’s painted all the graffiti at the summit – including one funny one indeed… his own fuckin’ web address. Talk about 21st century asceticism. He even has a mobile phone – there’s no reception on the top of the mountain however, but I’ve got his number if I ever need to meditate with him. He was a nice guy & gave me a glass of chi & taught me a little Tamil. If I make it back up, I’ve promised to bring him some tea & brown sugar.
The descent was delightful, passing through a little corner of the world that the gods promised the dragonflies. After musing on the possibility of anyone being eaten alive by dragonflies, & coming to the conclusion that they properly hadn’t, I paused for a while. About a hundred of them were buzzing around me, with some of the braver ones coming almost to my nose & hovering with their four delicate wings for a few moments, before darting off awhile. Further down the flanks of Arunachala I came across the two caves that Sri Ramana had lived in at the turn of the century. He’d been doing a similar thing to the guy at the top of the mountain, basically meditating for years. I guess that after a enough people turned up & gave him 50 rupees (like I’d just done), he steadily went about improving his living quarters. He first built a house around his original cave – where devotees still sit in silent candlelight to this day – then he moved to another cave higher up the slopes & built a villa around it. His final port of call – for 27 years – was the ashram at the bottom of the hill.
The Sri Ramana Ashram is quite a funny place – full of meditating souls, Asian & Western, with everyone leaving shoes at the door of what is quite a large temple complex. I witnessed quite a spectacle while I was there, sat cross-legged on a marble floor before the shrine where Ramana’s body is buried. A few brahmin – men & boys – were sat down singing with deep intonation some Vedic hymn like the drone of a Miltonic canto. It took the form of a question & answer thing, the acoustics of the room echoing their voices even further, & while they sang a few devotees wailed ceremoniously round the shrine. To me it was rather like a Lenard Cohen single played at 33. I even joined in for a couple of circuits, the music sending vibrations through my chest – but just before the Stepford Wives & their spiritual tupperware party began to somehow persuade my spirit to give my brand new sandals away & move into a cave. Snapping out of it, I quickly reclaimed my shoes & fled to the safety of the library across the road.
The few Westerners who come to India seeking ‘salvation’ are a bit offpiste – but looking at the predominance of middle-aged ex-hippies wandering about the ashram it is my conclusion that most of them took too much acid in their youths. I mean, so did I like, but there’s no need to turn into a thrill-less mind-junkie, lost in your own thoughts forever. There’s a whole world out there guys & surely personal salvation is to be found in how we live in the world, not hiding away from it.
Today I also I visited the famous temple that I’ve been walking past several times a day for two weeks. The experience begins with leaving one’s shoes at a little shack just outside for two rupees, then wading through several decrepit beggars & a police electronic bomb detector unit just to get inside. On the way in, a very cheeky monkey came & stole some food from a toddler’s hand, whose pathetic cries accompanied me inside the sacred space. Aranachaleswaram temple is a fine affair, consisting of 3 concentric rectangles leading to the inner temple at the heart of the complex. The inner courtyards are entered through similar gates to the main ones – N, S, E, W – gleaming white majestic edifices with the entire Hindu pantheon poised in many poses.
Deeper into the temple I saw my first elephant of the tour, which turned out to be the ultimate penny arcade machine. After being hypnotised by the gentle pacing, left & right, of his two massive front legs, I placed a rupee in his trunk. The elephant than patted me on the head with said trunk & gave the now mucus-dripping rupee to his trainer. Better still was watching him, ever so politely, use the loo. He took a few steps to one side, separated his back legs & pooed & peed AT THE SAME TIME – a feat we humans can only dream about. This got me looking at his penis – not in a gay way – the outer skin looked just like a big black brain & the ‘nob’ was as polished as an ebony jewel. It was the elephant’s eye which I found the most remarkable; possessing an otherworldly, almost alien aura, & with the loveliest eyelashes in the whole of nature.
That spot of rain I was talking about a couple of days ago turned out to be a cyclone – apparently, they get these later in the years this far south – it’s been proper pelting it down! This rain then apparently drives all the snakes indoors – including cobras. Luckily I’m on the top floor.
“Call that rain,” I said to a series of astonished Indians, swaggering through a downpour the listening to a bit of disco, with the arrogance of a Burnley boy who, like Eskimos & snow, knows 500 different names for rain. By evening I was wishing it would just bloody stop. The sight of Indians in umbrellas & dodgy macs, coupled with river-like, sewage-bearing streets doesn’t fit into my sun-kissed winter soiree with the Tamils. They seem happy, though, the ghats are overflowing & the state’s water supply should have enough now to see them through until next summer’s rains.
Hiding from the rain means I’ve been eating in today, & I was in my mosquito net chilling out, when I felt a wee tickle. It turned out to be an ant, which I casually flicked away. Then putting my feet under the covers I touched something weird, turning out to be a few hundred ants chomping on a bit of banana which had previously stuck to my foot & came off in the bed. I found this quite a disturbing experience, which resulted in me flailing around like a madman & vigorously shaking sheets & mattress onto the rainy street below.
Another wet day. Didn’t venture to the library & instead pour’d all my recent work on the Kural into the following essay;
The Thirukkural is a 2000-year-old treatise on the art of living, & is ranked as the first book of the Tamils – an ancient, heroic, dark-skinned race that dwells in both Tamil Nadu & Sri Lanka. As I.A. Richards noted, ‘great cultures start in poetry,’ & it is with the Tamils that this is particularly notable. Literature is held in their national esteem far greater than any other land upon the globe, whose writers are elevated to the level of saints. Foremost among them is Thiruvalluvar, the creator of Thirukkural, a timeless text that, as the giant of Tamil studies GU Pope observed; ‘outweighs the whole of remaining Tamil literature, & is one of the select number of great works, which have entered into the very soul of a whole people & which can never die.’
In the 21st century, humanity has become obsessed with books on self-improvement, written by an assorted collection of lifestyle gurus. I believe the Kural to be the ultimate self-help book, a treatise on the unchanging realities of human existence, tracing in its pages the outline of an ideal life. The thing is, despite its universal brilliance, hardly anyone outside of Tamil Nadu knows about this book. Perhaps it is the quite unwieldy, weighty translations into English that formed the problem; dense & wordy phrases that lose the beauty & immediacy of the original. As a poet, & the poet who rediscovered the poem in the post-imperial world, to create a readable transcreation is a challenge worth rising to.
In every way conceivable
Practice virtue incessantly
What are the Kural? In Tamil, the word means ‘dwarfish,’ & has been applied to the shortest measure in Tamil poetry, the Kural Venba. This is a couplet of only seven words; four in the first line & three in the second. Such uniform curtness insists on an epigrammatical nature of composition, such as that of the English proverb, ‘a stitch in time, saves nine.’ This means that the Kural seem simple, similar to the Japanese Haiku where ideas & sensations are expressed with a modicum of words. In the hands of Valluvar, however, through the act of ellipsis, he condenses his world-view into phenomenal couplets which have become sharpened knives to unstitch the fabric of mortal existence & expose it to the world. The Kural are no less than a blueprint for life; & these neat, ordered rows of words have stamped an indelible order onto the chaos of human existence. As Reverend P Percival once wrote, ‘nothing in the whole compass of human language can equal the force and terseness of the couplets in which the author of the Kural conveys the lessons of wisdom.’
The legend says that roundabout the year 100 BC, Valluvar submitted the palm-leaf manuscript of his Kural to the 49 Pandits of the second Sangam, the high-browed judges of the Tamil literary establishment. He found the Pandits sat on a raft which floated on the serene waters of the Golden Lily tank, the fabulous centre-piece of the great Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple of Madurai. At first these judges scoffed at Valluvar, throwing scorn on the work of an unlearned man from the lower castes. Valluvar remained unphased by their mockery, & according to the set custom simply placed the manuscript on the raft. Much to the Pandit’s astonishment, the raft immediately shrank, ducking these conceited men into the water & leaving just enough room on the boards for the manuscript. Once on dry land, the sodden scholars recognized through this miracle that the Kural were indeed divine, an opinion which has remained unchanged for two millennia.
Once the Kural had been accepted by the Pandits of Madurai, their influence would penetrate every facet of Tamil society. Common Tamils took this rare blend of vibrant mysticism & pragmatic realism to their hearts, concerning as it does the everyday matters which affected their lives. By 1272, the poet Parimelazhagar had arranged the 1330 kural into the order which the modern world now knows them; divided by 133 chapters of ten Kural each. These were then divided into three sections – the Muppaal – being Virtue, Wealth & Love. The theory goes that if one fully adheres to the three Muppaal, then a fourth, Moksha (salvation), shall be achieved.
The Kural were first brought to the attention of the European mind by a series of missionaries entering Tamil Nadu via Madras (British), Pondicherry (French) & Tranquebar (Danish). The very first translation was conducted in Latin in the early eighteenth century, by an Italian priest, Father Constantius Beschi. The next translator was the German AF Cammera, whose work was published in Leipzig in 1803. Next up was a French Savant, Monsieur Ariel, who released his translation in 1848. It was Ariel who proclaimed the Kural as, “one of the highest & purest expressions of human thought.” Once the world became aware of these compact distiches of quintessential wisdom, their assemblage into the Kural has been translated into over 6o languages across the world, including 13 other Indian languages. The first English translation was published in 1853, by the Reverend Drew, whose work would go on to inspire GU Pope, a gargantuan figure of Kural lore.
History sees George Uglow Pope as the great standard bearer of Tamil, that ‘noble language’ as he called it, immersing & devoting his entire life to its study & translation. His first lesson in the language occurred when he was an eighteen-year-old in England. Later that year he arrived in Madras, where, upon first hearing the true beauty of Tamil on the lips of a humble fisherman, he became determined to learn all about the language & to be able to speak it as fluently as a native. Setting about meeting the greatest Tamil scholars of the day, he had soon unleashed his genius upon its life-long mission. By 1840 he was staying at Mylapore, about which place he would later write, ‘while visiting the villages around here, that enthusiasm for the great Tamil poet was first kindled which has been an important factor in my life.’ After mastering the language, Pope soon set about translating its literary masterpiece, & after almost fifty years, on September 1st, 1886, he completed his noble task, which he declared to be the ‘masterpiece of human thought.’ By February 1893 he would add an excellent, poetic translation of the Nalatiyar to his many achievements in Tamil, which included an unfinished, yet massively comprehensive dictionary of Tamil. For his erudite efforts he was given honorary degrees by Oxford and Lambeth, & was awarded the much-coveted Gold Medal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1906. After a ‘long and useful’ life of 88 years, he died in 1908, when one of his last requests was to have his tomb decorated with the words, ‘A student of Tamil.’
Over a century later enter another Englishman in Tamil Nadu diving deep into the Thirukural – myself. As we are striding through the twentieth century, a new culture awaits mankind; that of a unified global village, needing its own international literature, where the non-sectarian, anti-nationalistic Thirukkural fits the bill astonishingly well. It is a book to live by; a code of moral conduct to which all creeds, castes & colors can pay fealty, whose lofty idealism has been acclaimed by all the religions of the world. ‘The Holy Kural,’ claims EV Daniel, ‘may well be the meeting ground, the common ground, of all religions.’
Thirukkural is a wonderful book, but to an English speaker it might as well be written in Gaelic. Despite being among the most widely translated texts in the world, outside of Tamil Nadu it is one of the least read. Even the vast majority of the multi-lingual Indians cannot read a word of it. On top of this, to the English-speaking mind, the translations of the Kural we possess are often too wieldy or fanciful to absorb. The most widely known & respected translations in English are the poetical couplets of GU Pope, & the transliterations of Reverend Drew & John Lazurus. I offer their renditions of Kural 36-9 as an example.
The True ‘support’ who knows – rejects ‘supports’ he sought before
Sorrow that clings all destroys, shall cling to him no more
He, who so lives as to know Him who is the support of all things & abandons all desire, will be freed from the evils which would otherwise cleave to him & destroy (his efforts after absorption)
Drew & Lazurus
A modern rendition of the D&L Kural above, made by a Tamil, Kalaimamani Kalladan, reads; ‘the mind’s nature is to cling to every thing; but that should realize the true thing & cling to it; & that should abandon all desires. If done so, any suffering destined to inflict a person, shall not occur.’ My own rendition of this particular Kural, forced as I was into only seven words, goes as follows;
By choosing true virtue
Bruising ruin debarred
Perhaps it has lost a little in the translation, but the essential essence of Valluvar’s original teaching remains. It has been my intention to create something new from the wellsprings of each kural – not just a vague paraphrase, but a simple maxim for the modern human mind. I felt each Kural needed to be immediately understood & when communicating universal teaching, less is always more, which Thiruvalluvar well understood. One of the chief beauties of the original is the compactness, or as PS Sundram observed, ‘its soul is brevity, & with it least is most.’
The saint’s succinct & subtle style, operating in such a short space, uses many poetic techniques; from rhyme & repetition, through strict rules of consonance called the Ventotas, to those intricate word-play & clever puns which expose the very heart of his philosophies. I have attempted to emulate as much of all this as best as possible, rendering a version that is as close to the original as I could possibly render. The project has been helped by the English language, that most flexible & comprehensive of our modern tongues. On our planet there are about 400 million native English speakers; second only to the Mandarin of the insular Chinese. When you add the billion Indians unified by the English tongue, plus the fact that English is the one true lingua franca of commerce & culture, then it is only right that the ‘global gospel’ of Valluvar should be funneled through the English language into the world at large. ‘It is our bounden duty,’ writes MS Venkatchalam, ‘to make the world realize the richness of Kural & that can be done, only by rendering it into English & thus making it reach all the nook & corners of the world.’ Despite Tamil being a beautifully sonorous language, it is extremely complex – a single word may need two pages of explanation. Comparatively, one of the traditional strengths of the English language is that flexing its inherent linguistic muscles has enabled the easy adoption of foreign lexicon, syntax & grammar. The subtle nuances & inflections of the English language have made it possible to translate the complexities of Tamil, for our words may also be variously expressed & when placed in combination can offer multitudinous shades of meaning.
I am about half way thro my trenscreation of the Kural & have decided to leave Thiruvanamalai & go on a tour of Tamil Nadu, visiting places where Valluvar might have gone himself, & finish off the Kural back in Madurai, perhaps, where my journey into the text began. Then I’m gonna go to the Andaman Islands by boat for a well-deserv’d holiday. It’s definitely time to leave, tho’, especially as my room is progressively turning black with rain-damp. This morning I woke up to find fungus everywhere – my hat, my bag, some clothes & even my chess pieces all had a furry look & feel.
On my last day in Thiruvanamali, I saw both a lovely sunrise & a soul-searing sunset. In the morning the clouds had finally dispersed, revealing the landscape which I hadn’t seen for a couple of days, obscured as it was by clouds & mist. All round me the mountains peeked out of the milky distance like nervous children. The sunset was amazing. I had just settled down on the rooftop, listening to my tunes & reading a spot of Shakespeare, when just as ‘Patience’ by Take That came on, I looked at Arunachala.
There is a legend that it was on the mountain that the dreadlock’d god Siva produced a lingam of fire – a measureless column – & won the submission of Vishnu & Brahma. Perhaps it was some mythological memory of an ancyent eruption, but I swear down, as the sun was setting the clouds were in just the right place to produce the same effect – a mighty golden column coming out of the mountain. At the very same time there was a wee cloud just big enough to cover the very peak of the mountain, in the same spot where I was blessed in Siva’s name by that Guru. I really did feel it – the mind monkeys had cleared from my mind on that occasion & this time I felt that Siva was saying ‘nice one son’ & wishing me well on my way
Tonight, I went to the movies – situated in a fine building – to watch an action adventure dubbed in Tamil. It was quite cool actually, for dialogue wasn’t really an essential pillar of the movie, lots of cars & guns & that, its easy to get the drift of what was going on. There was also an old-fashioned interval, when the audience of 100 percent males dived for the samosas being sold by a couple of cheeky kids. I funny way to finish my experience at the sacred feet of Arunachala.
This morning just as I was about to leave, I woke up to the sound of the rain. ‘Not again’ I cursed, but then the rains cleared & Aranachala was revealed in all her glory, a scintillating rainbow arched perfectly from flank to flank. Remarkably, the same wee cloud as yesterday was again at the summit. ‘That Siva’s at it again’ I thought & finally left town. Three buses later, beyond those scattered heaps of boulders that form the region’s hills, I was heading towards the coast, passing several large lakes where paddy fields once were – the devastating consequences of the recent rains. Apparently in the state these past few days there have been landslides, 700 bridges have collapsed, over a hundred dead
Mamallapuram is a bit of a tourist hotspot, with a fine beach & some amazing temples carved out of the rock. It got wiped out by the Tsunami in 2004, but is well back on its feet again. I’m staying in a massive marble-floored room, this huge oak table (perfect for writing), a clean double bed, a wicked fan, a big TV with all the channels & a cool balcony overlooking the street – with not a hint of damp or mosquitos anywhere
Mamallapuram is right enough; nothing too special for its reputation as a World Heritage site, but it has a beach, a few restaurants & the famous temples carved straight out of the rock which everyone visits – I couldn’t help think how voluptuous the female carvings looked – two thousand year old porn!
Around town are some proper annoying gypsy necklace-sellers, who followed you everywhere, who wouldn’t take no for an answer, & between the whole tribe of them nailed every part of the town. They were very small as well, as were the cows which were half the size of normal – it seemed I had stumbled Lilliput-style on some curious pygmy nation.
Thirukkural, is non-religious & it talks the
problems of the mankind & gives solatium
to it. Every human being should read
Thirukkural & should practice it in life.
Mamallapuram Town Panchayat
As for the kural, I spent an hour working on them sat underneath a statue of Thiruvallavar that is on the beach. This part of the beach is mainly for Indian tourists, & is accordingly cheesy. There were plenty of juice & ice guys – about 20 or so – plus fortune tellers, trinket stalls, guys with parrots in boxes & two fine looking horses – a far cry from the scraggly donkeys at Blackpool. Personally, I had a great time with an air rifle shotting at some balloons. Afterwards, my time at the beach inspir’d me to pen the following sonnet;
As I rested on a fine, empty beach, by the Bay of Bengal,
In soft seconds of existence I was alerted to a flutter of birds,
From mile or so along the coast I watch’d white robes of a mn approaching,
& expected him to pass, but on coming within a few metres,
He veer’d towards me suddenly, leaving no footsteps in the sand,
“What is your profession?” he curtly asked, “I am a sonneteer, sir!”
His magnificent eyes burrowed into the heartlands of my soul,
“By any chance, are you carrying a sylver rose?”
Astonish’d, I shew’d him those pretty blooms I’d hung around my neck…
…After humming an Upanishad he said, “I’ve been expecting you,
Ever since I felt the shimmering flux, read your Maltese proverbs rising;
As seven words a kural make, seven kural form a sonnet!”
Confirming my epiphany into the elegant depths of sonnetry
I’d had on Gozo flicking through Vassalli’s finest aphorisms!
Everybody knows that the great reversed triangle of land, with its base in the north and its apex in the south, which is called India, embraces fourteen hundred thousand square miles Jules Verne
This morning I was off again, cruising south on a couple of busses to Kannayakamari, the most southerly point in India. In one sweep of the horizon you can see the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean & the Arabian sea, all meeting in a choppy, liquid mass, the Tazmanian Devil waves coming in from all directions. The sunset was crazy, a lucid ball of red that just sat on the clear horizon & was slowly swallow’d by the sea.
Towering tall on a rock just off the tip of India is a massive statue of a man, a Tamil saint call’d Thiruvalluvar, erected by the Tamils to celebrate the Millennium. You go to the statue on a little boat where I ended up penning the following sonnet;
I stepp’d onto Vivikenanda’s rock,
There paus’d, of situation took full stock,
Before me India, some vast fan spread,
Behind, lay endless ocean, grey as lead,
Above, & to the side, a statue rose,
Some noble poet in his noblest pose,
As I gaz’d up I swear he wink’d at me
Into my mind th’Orphean frequency
Sang, “Boy, wherever in the world ye be
Says saddhu, startl’d by me, who had seen
Or sens’d a dream twyx poets, inbetween
A butterfly thro’ silver sea-spray flew
…The boat-bell rang, I sprang to join the queue.
Kanyakamari was also one of the sites where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scatter’d – the others being South Africa, London & Delhi. Throughout India there are statues of this wiry fakir everywhere & no wonder. His attitude of non-violence completely befuddl’d the warmongering English & won the day, with hardly any blood spilt in anger.
That night I hung out at my hotel with a lovely Dutch couple – who didn’t smoke weed but did play guitar. We were quite high up & it was a very cool experience to literally be at the singular point to where an entire subcontinent funnels all of its very life force.
I am currently sitting in a dark & dodgy internet cafe in deepest Tamil Nadu, & am a little – a lot – stoned after sharing a spliff with Prakesh, the owner. I roll’d into town early this afternoon with a German geezer & a Dutch couple I met in Varkala. Outside this cafe lies the fascinating city of Madurai, & it was here that I was first flung into the world of Thirukural. In the lanes close to the great temple that forms the city’s heart, I came across one of the Manivasagar Pathippagm bookshops that are scattered across Tamil Nadu. These are both publisher & bookseller, & one of their publications caught me eye. It was a small red book, I was browsing thro’ a bookshop when I saw a picture of a man I thought I recognized. It was in fact the poet-saint, Thiruvallavar, the statue of whom towered over me back at Kanyakamari, now sitting cross legged in flowing white robes, a pen in his right hand & a scroll in his left. The book was a mere 20 rupees, & on first glance found it a fascinating thing – a kind of guide to life. Then something happened to really kick off my fascination with the book.
On my way back to the hotel I was accosted by a scrawny guy offering to sell me some smoke. I was running out, so agreed to top up, biting a little of the ‘weed’ to check it out. There was a crush, & then a rush of liquorice flew round my mouth. ‘That’s not weed.’ I said. ‘It’s opium,’ he replied. I’d never tried the stuff before, so my curiosity get the better of me, I bought a bit & started skinning up with it. Not long after my first bite I was spun out on my bed, staring at the spinning fan above me. I didn’t exactly have Coleridgean, visions but it trigger’d off a shed load of poetry. On my first ever look thro’ the Thirukural I was immediately touched by its beauty & simplicity, & tho’ my western mind was finding some of the maxims a little difficult to digest, I felt there & then an affinity for the text.
Almost immediately I started converting them into a more poetical English, using the same form as they appear in Tamil – 4 words on top & three below. There are 1330 individual ‘maxims’ & I already intend, one day, to translate the lot.
I love Madurai, me, a crazy melting pot & a most magical place. The 12 gopuras of the great temple here dominate the skyline, but this time the technicolour pantheons are covered up by these massive brown hats – basically rush matting on a stick-scaffold. The 1000-year-old temple is busy as buggary, & just as noisy. I can’t blame them tho’, there’s so much detail on the sculptured phantasmagoria in & around the temple, from the huge cow at the main gate to the horses prancing like the Scottish lion rampant. There’s also the Golden Lotus Tank, a wonderful ghat a little larger than a basketball court. It’s very lush & looks like some ornamental garden-fountain, with the said golden lotus emerging from the waters. In the early morning when the sun just peeps above the high porticoed walkway that surrounds the waters, it is a wonder to behold.
The city itself is quite clean, very busy, but generally a nice place. I’ve been showing off my primitive Tamil, & it’s gone down like a house on fire. My best memory of the day was taking a walk along the river & seeing a few slices of Indian bankside life The river itself was serenely beautiful, lots of grassy islands with a few horses grazing on them. The main event was the washerwomen, hundreds of them bearing the rocks with their wet washing, leaving gleaming white bedsheets on the grass like sails in the Spanish Armada. Further along I came across about twenty kids – 6-12 years of age – holding hands & trying to tig each other. They were playing kabbadi, a great wee game, sort of rugby without the ball, full of dust & cheers. I loved their celebrations, like raving away at a dead good techno-trance night.
Spent the evening working on more of the Kural – they really are starting to flow & I’ve decided there is no time like the present & seeing I’ve got 20 weeks left in India I can spare a few of them in transcreating an ancient Tamil text, right?
Today I woke up with a plan – I will go to Thiuruvanamalai & translate the Thirukural at the library there which my Danish friend, Rita, whom I met in Goa, said is very good. Leaving Madurai, I was forced into my first Indian train jump of the tour – the sleeper train was full & I didn’t want to hang around now I’d decided to go. I got a couple of hundred k before being collar’d – & despite my offers of baksheesh (bribes) & beers the fella just wouldn’t let me stay – the best I got was a third-class carriage. I took one look at the hot, thirsty mass of humanity & opted for a new mode of transport. As usual, luck was on my side, & right outside the station was a luxury, air-condition’d coach heading exactly where I wanted to go – I paid my hundred rupees & off we went into the balmy night.
The winds blew me up to Pondicherry, where I stock’d up on the duty-free booze its well cheap, like! Now Pondy is famous for two things; it has the highest suicide rate in India & is also a former French Colony & connection between the two cannot be ruled out. Pondicherry is the old French morsel of empire that carried on during the British Raj in much the same way the Portuguese held on to Goa. Cue boulevards & avenues & white-washed villas that are positively Marseille at the seafront, but then get swallow’d by India street-by-street as one drifts inland, until about ten blocks in all traces of the French have disappeared. I didn’t stay long tho – at the merest smell of a cooked garlic clove my toes curl in anger & I begin to shout very loudly – in bad French – at the nearest French person, or even a Dutch or Spaniard if I’m drunk. So fifteen kilometers from Pondicherry lies Auroville, the place I’d chosen to chill for a couple of nights. Auroville is an experiment in communal living, like a European Eden. Thirty years ago a holy woman called the Mother bought a load of land, planted forests of trees & decreed the area to be devoted to spiritual, artistic & intellectual study. It is virtually a cashless place (I managed to blag free food by making up an account number) & very serene.
Across the several square miles of land that Auroville takes up, there are various places to stay, & I got quite a good ‘un called Reve (pronounced rave), where Vics I’ve got a great hut on stilts. The place is full of young, mainly French, ashram-heads, & is a picture of perfect tranquillity. To get about the place, a moped/scooter is essential, & these are a good quality & cheap to rent. I was soon scrambling about all over the place – keeping the company of an American lass from San Francisco called Rhonda, who let me ride her buzzin’ blue bike while clinging to me quite tightly. In return, I kept rolling up spliffs in various scenic woodland spots & I would definitely have pounced if it wasn’t for her exploding acne!
I began the day this morning razzing down the red dirt-roads of Auroville to the Boulangerie for chocolate croissants, listening & singing to Betty Boo – the choruses especially startling anyone by the roadside. Also filling the roads are loads of cute birds on bikes, from all over the world, which is always good for a poet’s soul. Auroville is a place I could hang out in for a while, but I’m too damn restless. I’m sure I’ll be back in India one day, tho,’ so that’s a rain check.
On my last, & only full, day in the spacious international ashram of Auroville, I encountered a majestic & divine epic poem called Savitri, composed by an Oxford-educated Indian ascetic called Sri Aurobindo (born 1872). It was the main work of his life, & is read out at the ashram once a week to devotees, an occasion which I was lucky enough to had arriv’d for just in time. The poem is wonderful, all epic & omniscient blank verse made even more wonderful by a sneaky opium joint before I went in. That’s how I’m smoking it, by the way, crumbling a little bit into a joint every now & again.
Auroville is the world’s chief repository of Aurobindo’s works, stored in a modern library on site, in which I have found a number of interesting paragraphs that have assisted me in my studies. It was while studying his words, I came across this remarkable description of poetry, which lovers of the art must enjoy.
‘All poetry is an inspiration, a thing breathed into the thinking organ from above; it is recorded in the mind, but is born in the higher principle of direct knowledge or ideal vision which surpasses mind. it is in reality a revelation. The prophetic or revealing power sees the substance; the inspiration perceives the right expression. Neither is manufactured; nor is poetry really a poiesis or composition, nor even a creation, but rather the revelation of something that eternally exists. the ancients knew this truth & used the same word for poet & prophet, creator & seer, sophos, vates, kavi.’
All in all a very erudite day, I was well inspired to work on the Kural, & I also read a little of the writings of Aurobindo’s partner in asceticism, the Mother, penning the following sonnet;
THE MOTHER ON YOUTH
You will become the Person you want to be
Our future is in our own hands
The higher our private aspirations
The higher our realisation
This is the key to youth
Never accepting the irreparable
& with firm resolution follow our true life´s aim.
Those useless years age us
Contentment beginning the decline
But unquenchable thirst for progress
Keeps us moving ‘til our dying day
Those deeming completed tasks
The start of things to come
Will never feel the weight of passing days.
Left Auroville this morning & cross’d Tamil Nadu, which seems to consist of a verdant flat plateau interspersed with solitary bouldery peaks. One of these pointy geological reliques is the Annamalai hill, beneath which Thiruvannamalai nestles. It took me three buses to get here, but I’m here & I found myself in a very holy place, whose its temple is huge. I’ve booked into a cool hotel (Hotel Ganesh) for a week or so – alright, there’s a few ants crawling about at the front door – but I figure if I leave no food in my room then no ants will invade. Downstairs is a restaurant where I get my thali served on a giant banana tree leaf – makes sense really, perfectly bio-degradable. The hotel owner has also agreed to help me with my translations of Thirukural, while the reception on mi telly is wicked for the weekend’s footy. I think staying in a madcap town off the traveller’s trail is gonna be a nice way to get used to Tamil culture, seeing as I’m dedicating myself now to transcreating an ancient text. Its proper Indiana Jones, like – Indiana Damo, chasing down the lost literary treasures of the world in far-flung corners of the world.
As Edinburgh is the Athens of the North, I would like to declare Thiruvannamalai the Edinburgh of the East. I swear down, Mount Arunachala is just like Arthur’s seat, with the town curled around its base – there’s probably a few other comparisons to be made, but to tell you the truth Scotland seems a long way away right now, bombarded as I am by all this nonsense. Did I say nonsense? I meant to say life-reaffirming, spiritually awakening, international cultural exchange.
My hotel runs a catering & management college next door & gets the students to do work experience, which involves cleaning my room whenever I want, & bringing food to my room & other little errands – very Agatha Christie. I’m on the top floor of the place, which means I’m among the rooftops of the town, always a cool sight. It’s made a lot sweeter, however, by the vision of Mount Aranchala, that fills up the panorama less than half a mile away.
At the foot of the mountain is the Sri Ramana Ashram, full of brainwash’d westerners who wouldn’t know a good time if it bit them on the ass. I tried to blag some free food there today, but they saw through my attempts at self-realization – & I’d even paid ten rupees for a bindi painted between the eyes. However, I do get to use their library, & that’s a fuckin’ godsend. I spent my morning & afternoon there today, under a fan & transcreating the Thirukural. I don’t speak Tamil, but I’ve got several English translations spread in a semi-circle about me, plus a dictionary & thesaurus. Additional help comes from my personal librarian, who is assisting me with the thornier moments thrown up by classical Tamil. It’s actually a very cool experience & the Tamils are rather quite taken aback by a Burnley boy poeticizing what is to all extents & purposeless their Bible!
My first port of call was Thiruvannamalai, a bustling town nestled beneath the holy red mountain of Aranachala. It was here that the 20th century Sri Ramana Maharishi had spent most of his life in deep contemplation. A famous ashram had developed about his mediations, which still thrives to this day, many decades after his death. One part of the ashram houses a library, & it was to its silent desks that I found myself drawn. To my delight, there were many books on the Kural, whose pages I plundered in order to create as exact & enjoyable a rendition of the Kural as possible. While I sat at the long desks, keeping cool beneath a spinning fan, several hefty tomes spread before me, I was helped many times by the librarian, Ramesh Babu, who would assist me upon awkward points of classical Tamil. All in all I am passing my day in complete discipline, focussing thought on page & poetry while my cortex is soothed by some cool cerebral wind! Its proper bangin!
Bangalore is a city very much in the vein of hectic Mumbai, but a hell of a lot cleaner. I arrived there just as the sun was rising, & honestly I’ve never seen so many trucks as they lin’d the roads for about 3 miles on the western approaches to the city. We then passed a golf course slap bang in the city centre, protecting pedestrians by these giant nets that ring its monsoon-lush greenery. Lining the route were loads of billboards & brand-new apartments, signs of Bangalore’s status as the most western city of India, growing fat on the IT industries & being the principle centre for telecommunications in India.
Nick-named ‘Silicon Valley,’ Bangalore really does paint itself as a modern western city – the Seattle of the east. I got dropp’d off into its pulsating heart at rush hour (about 8am), where many an American-clad youth was hurrying off to their call centre work. I then spent most of the morning in search of some rizlas to go with the very fine Nepalese charas I’d been tripping out on in Hampi, but to no avail. God, I would have paid ten pounds for a single fuckin’ rizla! So, ‘fuck Banglore,’ I thought, ‘I’m outta here,’ & ended up in a nearby fortress-town with the wonderful name of Sriringapattanam. It was once the capital of a king called Tipu Sultan, the ‘Tyger of Mysore,’ who was defeated by the Duke of Wellington, well before he was a duke, in the first significant victory of Wellington’s career.
Tipu stuck in the imperialist British throat like a chicken bone. It took them years to defeat him & make their first major claims on southern India. Tipu was martyred thro’ a vaguely noble death, personally defending a breach in the walls of his capital, where thro’ the smoke of battle the piss’d-up redcoats could not differentiate him from a common soldier & slew him, his body turning up next morning underneath a pile of his dead soldiers. I saw the very spot he died as I spent the evening being carried around the town in a pony-driven carriage, checking out all the sights, then later on deflecting an Indian businessman’s attempts to marry off one of his daughters!
I am beginning to get used to India & the people, if not falling head over heels in love with them. The country itself is generally quite scruffy, but the vegetation & scenery are often stunning. I’m also finding that on breaking away from the main tourist trail I am regularly encountering a non-hostile curiosity as to my country? my good name? my marital status? & my job? It;s all very cordial & it’s a case of so far so good, while somewhere south of here there’s another beach with my name on it. All is good!
In the hotel I was staying at I had a crazy conversation with this English guy. A month or so ago he had been kidnapped at gunpoint in an alleyway in Hyderabad & held captive for three days in a derelict house. He had no food or water & was forced to telephone his family in England for some cash, inventing a reason as he did so. Luckily, they didn’t understand enough English to realise he was telling his dad what was really going on & the gang was intercepted outside a bank just before they collected the money, with one ‘bandit’ being shot dead. However, instead of flying immediately home the guy has kept the two grand & is now writing a book of his experiences in the much more tranquil environs of Sriringapattanam. I mean, this country, it’s such a place of wild extremes, I love it !
This morning I moved on to Mysore, where fate once more push’d me into the company of this old, bald Swiss guy I’d bumped into at both Goa & Hampi (weird). We agreed three random meetings is more than a coincidence & we’re thinking of hiring out a houseboat to sail the Keralian backwaters in a couple of days. I’m meeting him in a place call’d Fort Cochin tomorrow.
Mysore was the most pleasant city so far – wide European streets & a genial atmosphere, – but not enough to make me stay. I spent instead another six hours on a bus winding thro’ thick jungle. As my soul’s boatman cut thro’ Karnataka I burst once more atop the feisty Ghats, drinking in the heady views that lead to Kerala, Calicut & the Arabian Sea, drinking a £1 bottle of whisky & grooving to my tunes.
Calicut’s a big, historical city, & the site of Vasco de Gama’s 15th century arrival in India, as celebrated in the epic poem The Lusiads by Camoens. On Vasco’s first arrival, the shock’d natives carried him head high in palanquins to their king, who made the eternal error of doing trade with the White Man. So, Vasco swaps loads of gold & silver with the Indians, including 50 knives with ivory handles, for all the spices of the east & takes them back to India where he’s heap’d with praise & honour. While being lauded, a second expedition went to Calicut, but this lot clearly didn’t have Vasco’s charm & were all slaughter’d instead. Vasco the return’d to India with a mini-army & was this time full of retribution. He took captive 800 merchants trading peacefully; cut their hands ears & noses off; tied their feet together; covered them with dry mats & leaves; then set the ship on fire. European imperialism & all its evils had just arrived in India.
On Vasco’s first visit, he was piloted to the Keralian shore by two Thomas Christians, a subsect of Christianity that hold the apostle, Saint Thomas, extremely high in their religious esteem. Some even think he was the twin brother of Jesus. Anyway, about the year 52 AD, he is said to have landed on the Keralian coast & establish’d seven church communities. Apparently, he went on to die near Chennai in Tamil Nadu, where I will be heading at some point. But back in today, by the late afternoon I was taking a wee walk thro’ a proper jungley suburb of the city, where I pass’d a large group of village lads playing footy. I was soon barefooted & joining in, playing in defence with an occasional Highland charge into the goal-scoring area. My fellow defenders were three coconut trees, seeing as the rest of my team all seem’d to be strikers, & we did well to shut out the other side despite our goalie also being a striker, & went on to win the match 3-0. Afterwards, I shook about thirty pairs of hands & went home in my merry old way.
This morning I delved deeper south into Kerala, which unfortunately is an alcohol-free state. I am currently nestled amidst the rooftops of Fort Cochin, an old Portuguese enclave & very pleasant indeed. It’s all rather charming, & it seems very much like a typical English Sunday; reading the Hindu times, drinking tea & watching cricket in my hotel. I have just enjoyed an excellent meal watching the end of the latest one-dayer between England & India, which we won, much to the waiter’s chagrin! I’m glad I got my food before the English won! I’ve totally discover’d now that the Indians – all Indians – take their cricket so seriously, so passionately, because here cricket is one of the actual Gods, it seems, with Sachin Tendulkar the messiah & Sehwag the second coming.
Beyond my little enclave, Cochin is a bit touristy, but a pleasant place where you lounge on the rooftops among the Portuguese buildings, or lazily stroll along the sea-front, admiring the Chinese fisher nets & checking out the catch of the day. Also in Cochin is the Swiss guy, who has pick’d up some quality weed back & we were sharing it on the hotel rooftop terrace, the both of us suitably stoned & swaying, when not so long ago he nearly lost two fingers in a fan above us – it sounded fucking painful. Because of the accident he says he’d rather stay in Cochin & heal his wounds, so looks like I’m doing the backwaters on my own.
Elsewhere in India-land I am winning the battle of the Mosquitoes. The Nazi bastards & their droning whines have had the upper hand up until now, but I have recently been developing some new techniques. At first, I would set up a safe defensive position under my net, only venturing out for some ‘zapping’ with my heaviest book. It is very dispiriting to look at their ‘splats’ & see your own crimson life-force sprayed across the wall. However, I have started to use the net as, well, a net, & catching the fuckers in it & then crush them to bits – it’s been a very effective strategy.
I have just penn’d the following sonnet while enjoying the evening ambience;
Come share a second with serenity
Up in this lake of European rooves,
This crescent lamp’d oer th’Arabian sea
Lulls me thither, I hear the sound of hooves…
At once a sacred chime grows on the breeze,
Some teller of a thousand ancyent tayles,
Some from the world’s crop-fellers overseas,
Some cross the Karakoram’s lofty trails,
Some were seekers of immortal glory,
Some content to be husbands, to be wives…
Tho’ the vision all clutter’d & hoary,
With me a single memory survives,
Being extras in the global story
We are stars in the movies of our lives.
Left Cochin, got myself to Aleppy, then went on an 8-hour boat trip along the gorgeous Keralian Backwaters. It was serene as fuck, passing pretty little villages, some of the menfolk fishing with spears as they dodging the steady flow of humming boats. Cue exotic birdlife, waving kids, & a ten-mile an hour cruise on what has to be one of the most beautiful ‘bus rides’ in the world.
I’d bought some brandy for the voyage, which the captain soon noticed, on which he immediately invited me into his cabin for a drink (of my brandy). Coming in towards Kollam I, & all my soul, paid witness to one of the golden treasures of Kerala… the narrow backwaters suddenly fanning out into an awesome, horizon filling scene… 360 degrees of palm tipp’d coastline. I was literally hauled onto my feet in one of those intrepid explorer moments. Many others had seen the scene before me, but I genuinely felt I was the first to ever see it!
A wee while after this wonder of travel the sun set, it got dark & I found myself finally nestl’d in beach-hugging Varkala, of which I shall describe in more detail tomorrow. It’s definitely nice to be by the sea again, however, my spirits are soaring.
Ah, the beach!
Varkala is well chill’d out. Dark, golden sands hugging the bottom of volcanic red cliffs, on which sit a number of restaurants. Life basically consists of lying on the beach interspersed with refreshment breaks (those steps up the cliff are a killer). I have never been this close to the equator before, & it’s hot! We’re also close to the Indian Ocean & I can sense as much from the waves – they are mean fuckers. Already I have lost some beads, a pair of shorts & got a nasty graze on my arm from being flung onto the sea-bed & for I while convinced I had broken my neck!
I’ve got great accommodation, pleasant rooms by a pond (so the fish eat all the mosquitoes), with my own private eating hut set out in the water. Tonight, I was sat down smoking with a woman, who works in a Milanese publishing house, with whom I was practicing my own limited, but relatively proficient apprenticeship of the Ausonian lingua franca. Meanwhile, my tantric landlord has just leant me a guitar so I’m gonna sit down & write me some kind of psychedelic ‘Eastern’ number – I’ve bought some Indian tunes & a big bag of grass so wish me luck…
A very shanti day. Shanti means peaceful I think. Nothing happen’d of note, tho’ I did complete the song. This is what I came up with, the main impulse of which seems to be some kind of desire for neo-imperialism. I’m not quite sure where it came from, but the tune’s bangin!
I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna plant me my standard there
I’m gonna claim it for my country
As I build my country there
I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me my palace there
I’m gonna fill the pool with diamonds
Fountain rosemilk everywhere
Following the eastern star
Sailing to the shores of Shangri-La
You don’t have to travel far
To find out the star you are
I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me my prison there
I’m gonna chain the native wisemen up
In mucky dungeon’s air
I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me my harem there
I’m gonna bed the native beauties
Scatter rubies thro’ the air
Following the eastern star
Sailing to the shores of Shangri-La
You don’t have to travel far
To find out the star you are
I’m gonna buy myself an island
I’m gonna build me a harbour there
I’m gonna send a boat for all my friends
This paradise to share….
After a lovely full day on the beach, I left Varkala; one song & two bags of weed to the good. I was soon heading into a new state call’d Tamil Nadu, where up & over the Ghats I found myself in a place call’d Ambassamudram. The electricity was only on for a few hours at a time, but you don’t need electricity if you’re exploring amazing forestry with a driver & guides, wandering about the gorgeously green uplands of the Western Ghats, on the trail of an Indian saint call’d Agastya.
I’d read about him online yesterday in Varkala, studying the area where I was going & all that, & he sounds a very interesting fellow. According to this one guy (Dr. Mandayam Kumar of the Siddha Medical Research Institute in Bangalore), ‘Jesus Christ had his training under Sage Agasthya and spent nearly twelve years at Paradesi Kundai of Courtalam Hills, undertaking Yogic training.’ I mean, Jesus Christ, studying in south India, that’d be a turn up for the books. Unless it’s in one of the 50-odd books kept secret by the Vatican City that are thought would be devastating for Christianity at once if they ever saw the light of day.
It kinda makes sense, y’know. Agastya was said to be able to render his body into a state of suspended animation at will, a meditative state known as samadhi. Yogic masters slow their breathing and heart rate down to such an extent that they would appear dead to the onlooker. This is surely the most important connection between Agastya and Jesus, for it tells us the exact way in which the latter survived the Crucifixion. There’s also a fascinating connection between the ‘miracles’ of Jesus & the medical system known as Sidha, whose home is in the hills near Ambassamudram. One of Agastya’s preparations, for example, Boopathi Kuligai, could bring the dead back to life, just like Jesus did with Lazarus. There’s also Choondu Varma (mesmerism) and Kirikai Chikisai (psychiatry), which were the same disciplines on which Jesus drew in order to cure daemonic possession (Mark 1:23-27).
I found quite a lot on the internet, actually. There’s another Siddha-Jesus connection comes thro’ the curing of ophthalmological disorders, which we may discern from Dr PJ Thottham’s, ‘certain oils believed to have a cooling effect are applied to the head. They keep the nervous system active and healthy. Among other types of medicine are the ones instilled into the eye, such as mais or kattus which are rubbed on a stone, along with the juice of a plant, milk, coconut water or rose water. The resultant paste is applied into the eyes with the help of a stick. Similarly, there are certain medicines in a paste form, which are applied externally on the eyelids of the patient.’ This method, of creating a paste to rub into the eyes of the afflicted, has an intimate resonant tone with the curing, by Jesus, of a blind man;
When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with clay. And said unto him, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam. He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.’ (John 9:7)
Agastya was suppos’d to have lived upon the Potiyil hill, which I witness’d towering over the locality like the Tamil Mount Doom, a cone-shaped edifice erupting out of its less aesthetic shadowy cousins of this portion of the Western Ghats. On arriving in Ambassamudram, however, I discovered that to visit the mountain I had to go in from the Kerala side, gaining permission from Trivandrum forestry commission en route. I’m not going back for Kerala, fuck that, so my new plan was to get as close as to the Potiyil as I could, which involved travelling with a couple of local guides who helped us cruise through the security checks & avoid the Ring-Wraiths (Forestry Commissioners). I had a splendid old time, including a dip in a powerful waterfall at the Agastya Falls. Another highlight was a boat-trip across a man-mad dam, whose surrounding scenery was more beautiful than anything I’ve seen in Britain – it was so epic! But this was as close as I was gonna get to the Potiyil Hill, for as I’ve already, said the trekking paths up it actually started on the other side of the Ghats, back in Kerala. I didn’t mind, however, for the day had been a majestic one, & I slept the soundest of sleeps back in Ambassamudram.
This morning, & scratching my itches like fuck, I set off for Hampi, arriving on a bus just as morning was breaking, as all around me appear’d the ruinous environs of an ancyent city called Vijiyanagar. Several hundred years ago it was the fabulous capital of a great empire, with six-mile wedding processions on cloths of gold, & kings with 12,000 wives. The ruins are reminiscent of Rome, but instead of mad Italian traffic rushing about inbetween, there are banana plantations. It was razed to the ground half a millennium back & has remain’d uninhabited until recently, when the hippies arrived. After passing abandon’d temples full of monkeys, I was ferried by basket-boat to a little settlement across the river from the old city. Crossing the river is quite an experience as you pile into this wee boat with up to 20 others, along with mopeds & massive bags of food for the restaurants – its a miracle the thing doesnt sink.
However, once across it so serene, a tantalising place which bathes the soul. It is call’d Virpapurgaddi, across the Tunghabadra river from the more bustling, Indian-heavy Hampi. The village spreads out alongside the river, & is made up mainly of restaurants. Beyond begins the wonderful bouldery landscape that is a sheer joy to wander in – very alien – with the ruins blending into the landscape, while a wonderful river flowing through the area. I had a wander first thing this morning & came across the Saraswathi temple, totally inspiring.
There’s a few of the residents here at a hippiefied ‘rainbow camp’ – full of chess, guitars & even Nedved from Gokarna with his gonzo instruments. Then, as pastel lustr’d sunsets muster’d oer Vijiyanagar, silhouetting a bongo player stood on a boulder playing to the heavens, I shared the stunning scene with Doratha, a beautiful little Romanian creature. We were led on these warm giant boulders, still retaining the sun’s heat, & there she taught me a soothing meditative technique.! I think she was too hippy for a Burnley boy on heat, tho, & our time together ended without my wooing her. A great shame for she was hot as fuck ! It seems my mojo is finally spent, which is a great relief, all in all.
The mosquitoes came out last night to bite, but a bike-ride early today to Hospet saw me equipp’d with a mozzy net, and a couple of things I didn’t really need – when you enter an Indian shop they treat you like an old friend & offer you everything in the shop. Anyhows, by the end of the day my new ‘armour’ kept out most of the bugs & I zapp’d the couple that got inside – a peaceful night’s sleep.
I’d cycled to Hospet on the place where I’m staying’s push bike, & I’d done it without wearing a hat. So when I got back the guys didn’t recognise me so sun-soaked had my skin brown’d. Proper camouflage for the rest of my trip in India thro’ those packs of infernal touts.
The rest of the day saw more touring of the area; overbearing statues of lionesque frog gods, funny-faced monkeys, fluorescent birds & the world-fabled Monkey Temple, a white edifice perched high atop a boulder hill about as high as Edinburgh’s Arthur’s seat. This Instead of climbing the tortuous steps, I traced a route up the boulders & went scampering up them like an agile monkey. The boulders themselves are a tottering bunch, forming mad wee caves beneath your feet on which a slip could prove messy. However, I handled them well with monkey-like agility & found myself at the temple. This turned out to be Hanuman’s birth-place, Anjamadri.
At the top I saw a great many of Hanuman’s descendants, the males of which, both old & young, were stood uprights on the backs of the female’s knees & nailing them in front of all & sundry – a very curious sexual position indeed. I also shared one of those karmic moments with a wee laddie with big fangs. As I skinned up, I’d left my bag on some rocks, complete with money & passport & all mi weed. Then I turned around & came eyeball-to-eyeball with a monkey who had his hand outstretched an inch from mi bag. We stared each other down like something out of High Noon, before he scampered off emptyhanded. A lucky break, I found out, for deep in the boulders lies the graveyard of lost baggage, stolen by these theivin’ monkeys.
I am currently convalescing from a fall.
This morning I went for a scramble over the huge boulder piles, like little hills but full of batfill’d caves. Believe me, they stretch for miles – like the ruined columns of some ancient giant temple – I’m right next to the fuckin desert here. Anyway, I stumbl’d across a small village & smoked my last charas joint, on which the tripp’d out guru-owner of a restaurant offer’d me some nice Nepalese black, just in time for an after-breakfast spliff.
In the afternoon I set off to ‘boulder’ the environs of a lake. En route I passed through this wee village & began to take notes on a possible ‘scene’ poem; of the chai shops at the crossroad with old men chatting & smoking beedies – a small amount of tobacco wrapped in a tobacco leaf & cheap as fuck -; of the water buffaloes plodding through town; of the school-kids with their oversiz’d backpacks & their baskets with a bottle of water & lunch wrapped up in newspaper; of the two identical ‘universal shops’ in the village, with the same frontal displays full of soft drinks & Lays crisps – magic masala & tangy tomatoes –; of the stray dogs wandering around; the barbers & the mad political flags from some forthcoming panchiyat elections. The last thing I noticed was a wee clinic, as I left the village for the gorgeous reservoir dammed above it. I began to bounce along the boulders round its rim, when after only a couple of hundred metres I came across what seem’d to be a ‘stream of rust. Unfortunately, under the rust was water, & with a yelp I slipped & was carried down it, water-slide style. 10 meters down I was coming to the ledge, tried desperately to grab a branch, then went over. Luckily the fall was wee enough, but the momentum I’id gained span me sideways & my fall was broken by a boulder, on which I then cracked my head with a spot of whiplash. Ouch!
I immediately got double vision, which still hasn’t completely subsided – & about twenty cuts, mostly along my left leg. I’ve also got back pain & cannot lift my left arm up above my head. Still, I’m not dead, so happy days. From the scene of the fall, after ripping up my shirt to stem the blood flow, the chief of which was on the bottom of my right foot, quiet a gash, I hobbl’d back to the village. Luckily, the first house I came to was the clinic I’d seen before, & I got my wounds dressed & bandaged by some very friendly Indians, before hitching a lift back home.
That night I proudly showed my wounds to a couple of French lassies back at base. A jewellery maker/seller called Sagoo, who lives in Ardesh – a hippy envirnoment near Nice. The other is a Parisian, & is on a wee break before going back to work in Calcutta as a French teacher. Her name is Amelie, & I think we’ll meet again – she says she’ll help to find me digs in Calcutta if I get there on this trip. Calcutta sounds cool, the capital of the British Raj, no less, so I should go. It was also from Amelie that after teaching her ‘no worries’ in English, she taught me the phrase ‘l’ecole de l’echeque’ – which means learning from your mistakes… i.e., if you’re bouldering & there is something that obviously looks slippy – don’t fuckin’ step on it!
Today I slow’d down a hell of a lot, letting my wounds – & chiefly my foot – heal, & trying to shake off the concussion. Out of sheer boredom, however, I manag’d to hobble to this sacred temple where I came across a baba just like Father Ted, who has been there 50 years & moans at everyone who turns up. There is another baba at the temple, however, a thirty-year-old gorgeously-bearded dark-skinned fellow, with only one leg. We got on famously & he gave me a wonderful overview lecture on the Ramayana, which along with the Mahabharata is one of India’s two epic poems. It’s all about Rama’s bird, Sita, being nicked by demon call’d Ravana & being taken to Sri Lanka. Then with the help of Hanuman, Rama goes & rescues her.
As I sat down with him on a rock in the shade, he got out this weighty bi-lingual tome (Hindi & English) & read through passages for me. It was so cool as he skipp’d the more difficult words with a wee mumble, & then elaborated on the ‘main points’ of the lesson. It turns out the temple is built on the very spot where Rama met Sagriva, the chief of the monkeys, & where their friendship was sealed with a handshake. Sagriva then agreed to send millions of monkeys out in search of the lost Seeta.
On the way back home I was attracted to a wedding by this amazing sound of drums & horns. It turned out to be two drummers, a trumpet & a clarinet indulging in call-&-answer eastern psychadelia. Around them a great troupe of Indians were indulging & chit-chatting, with the wee ones making mischief at their feet. I was invited to join them in some food & observed a lovely ceremony. The bride & groom were knelt down on something of an ironing board, covered in turmeric, which gave them a yellow hue. Then out came the shampoo sachets & they were both drenched in water until they were clean – some cleansing poojah before the evening’s sexy victuals I think.
Today I got a job. I can’t believe it, that’s two in a week with my DJ shift – I’m supposed to be on fucking holiday! I spent the day hanging around my place, lounging in hammocks or on the comfy matresses by the low tables, watching the ferry to & fro over the Tunghabadra. The view is gorgeous, with the ghats of Hampi sprawling for a quarter mile across the silky waves. There’s this posse of folk staying here who all seem to have had a knock to the head, as they are just as lazy as me – reading smoking & making jewellery. There’s four Austrian birds & a gaggle of young Israelis buzzin’ about on bikes. There’s also this young brahman caste lad (the elite) from Bangalore with karated-up forearms. There’s this wild nineteen-year-old French bird who has boys following her like lost puppies, & so on.
My concussion seems to have almost gone now, despite it being occasionally topped up by banging my head on the door frame of my cottage. I’m simply too tall for India. Since my fall, every time I ate anything I went out of my idyll to a small, popular street restaurant round the corner. It’s run by two brothers – Faruk & Ismael Hussein – the latter being called Smiley. In fact, he’s like the Indian version of me, grinning constantly. He keeps saying we are same-same-but-different. Anyhow, every time I’ve tried to pay they keep saying pay next life. Tonight I came to the conclusion they might mean it, so with, when Smiley being away at his local village getting ‘jiggy jiggy’ from his wife, Faruk was suddenly inundated with annoyingly aggressive Israelis, so I stepped into the brink & waited my ass off. Great fun. I noted down the orders I took – this is what you get for just under a British tenner;
A special thali (loads of bits n pieces)
3 daal frys
2 aloo gobi
1 mattar paneer
2 malai koftas
3 mineral water bottles
2 plain nan
3 maslala dosa
2 chicken fried rice
The experience in the kitchen, observing Faruk in action, led to me penning the following two sonnet;
First make paneer from boiling pans of milk,
A little lemon juice to seperate,
Then freeze the cheezy tofu to smooth silk
& place it by the veggies on a plate.
Heat up the oil, two cloves of garlic fry,
Toss in red onion & a pepper green,
Stir in ’til scent of cooking warm & dry,
Now add paneer with soft & salty sheen.
Mix in the sauce, Tesco’s or one’s own brand,
Of soy-sauce-brush’d tomatoes flush with spice –
All the colours of the hot desert sand.
Cook up & then your curry will appear,
To serve upon a bed of saffron rice,
Wash’d down with white wine or a nice, cold beer.
After another day’s convalescing, come the evening I was waiting the tables at Smiley’s place again, who was back with a very smiley face after getting laid with the missus. We were soon inundated by fifteen young-uns from Halifax & Leeds. The Roses banter was friendly enough, but a Yorkshire lad did start to raise the decibelic temper levels the longer he had to wait for his eggs – ‘are you waiting for the chicken to lay them’ – followed by a rude comment as to my county persuasion. Still, I got the following sonnet after watching Faruk whip up an egg curry;
To make Curry hot & tasty
First fry your veggies odours free
Then mix some meat in if you like
From fleshy ham to fresh caught pike
Milk & tomatoes make the sauce
Good curry powder puffs the force
Add other seasonings to taste
Then stew awhile, no need for haste
Now find an egg or two to boil
Heat water up by kettle coil
Then let it bubble in a pan
& add the egg & boil to plan –
A good ten minutes, – then, of course,
Ye’ll crack it… shell it… serve with sauce.
About 3 hours into the shift, the police arrived in the village – this time with a couple of JCBS knocking down any restaurants & houses that had been built without permission. One of them was Smiley’s place, unfortunately, so with my job prospects in the area rapidly dwindling, I’ll take it as a sign from Saraswathi, leave my little village idyll on the morrow. I think I’m gonna head south – there’s a place called Kanyakumari which is India’s most southern point, then if I head to the Himalayas at some point I can say I did India Top & Tail.
All pack’d up & ready to go this morning I was told that the boat to the other side of the river (& freedom) had been cancell’d for the day – stranding me on the wrong side of the river for my journey south. However, it came after three hours, & with a few warm hugs & ‘happy journeys’ from the locals I left the Jupiterlike landscape of Hampi & delved further into the sub-continental hinterland.
I began with a bus to Hospet, halting once when this oldish woman was trying to blag a free ride, & a loud & entertainment argument ensued. Keen to continue, I bought her a ticket (13 rupees) & we were happily trundling along when there was another screech to a halt. This time the bus had knocked a guy off his scooter. He was proper dazed & confused, with snot coming out of his nose, but a few bottles of water over his head & he was compos enough to begin an argument with the bus driver. Then we were all shunted off the bus onto another one, & finally we made Hospet, where a big board above the station wished me another;
Leaving Gokarna involved catching a sleeper bus to Bangalore – an overnight journey of 12 hours that tossed me into the air every time we hit a bump – even the bottle of whiskey & two Valium’s couldn’t keep me asleep…
After calling in at Albina’s nursery & telling her I had to leave. tho’ giving her my contact details just in case she was pregnant, I set off south. After a couple of busses through the flattish jungle-covered world of north Goa, I hit Panjim, the state capital. It has been fifty years since the Goans kicked the Portuguese out, but the place still retains a lazy, continental European air.
10K up the banks of the wide, glimmering Mondovi River I came to Old Goa – the former capital. Today it is just a few – admittedly stunning – churches. The old houses have all been swept away, & grass’d over like the terrac’d streets of Burnley. One of churches contains the bones of Francis Xavier, which you can see through his glass coffin. I also had a wander round a museum of Goa, where I saw this ceremony of tall portraits of every governor or viceroy the Portuguese ever sent, with the whole experience inspiring the following sonnet;
They were the first white faces to arrive,
& the last fascist faeces to depart,
Whence inbetween a race envangelized;
You can still taste the breeze of the Tagus
By Mandovi, in spacious Spanish rooms
One takes whenever pausing in Panjim,
O pocket Portuguese emporium!
The stuff of fallen empires lingers near,
Array’d as if an eastern Nuremburg
Had Speer inspired, these barrel-vaulted rooves
So cleverly conserv’d, where faded scenes,
Like Shivapurams on a temple wall,
Paint papal hagiographies, spread proud,
Around us in the old Latino style!
I am currently staying in this old Portuguese guest house, where among the guests is a lesbian bird called Fee. She heralds from Todmorden, a town just 10 miles from Burnley. ‘I’m thinking of going to Gokarna,’ I said. ‘You’re coming with me!’ she replied energetically, & apparently tomorrow I am. By taxi, half of which I’m paying for, which is possibly my main attraction to her as a travelling companion. The feelings mutual, tho, for with my mojo so off the chart at the moment, if I’m travelling with one of Sapho’s darlings I might finally feel safe to draw breath.
This morning jumped in a taxi with Fee & headed south, majestic views all the way. A few hours later we hit Gokarna island, took a sneaky back road & suddenly found ourselves at the eponymously titled Paradise Beach. What a touch. Fee’s a regular here, a founder member of the hippies that first came to Paradise, years ago. Arriving with her felt like being with royalty; everyone knows her & as her ‘friend’ I’m getting good prices on the weed / illegal beer & my room. This is a beach hut, with the floor & bed carved from rock (mattress on top) all covered by rushmat roof & walls – its wicked & only ten meters from the sea. Fee has slung her hammock up right outside (for free) sleeps in its lazy arc like lavae in a split cocoon. She’s also put rugs & plants around the place making it into a little villa. The restaurant is literally 5 seconds away, where I am currently building up a tab, as I am at several other very friendly places along the beach, you don’t actually need money here, just honesty.
Fee, or fi-asco as her friends call her, tells me she sometimes spends an entire 6 month visa on Paradise Beach, & spending time & chatting with such a season’d traveller has led to me penning the following sonnet;
THE INCREDIBLE INDIA CODE
1 Book your tickets in advance
2 Separate your money sources
3 Never trust a tout
4 Keep tabs on yer tabs
5 If they say they’re a masseuse – they’re not
6 Murder all mosquitoes before bed
7 Never trust a fart
8 Anything is possible in India
9 Check your room thoroughly before leaving
10 Picking up stones scares off dogs & monkeys
11 Eat with your non-wiping hand
12 “I was an Indian in another life!”
13 Plenty of change for journeys
14 Ask five different people for directions
Rock-gouged, sandswept Paradise Beach is at the end of a long chain of beaches which are travelled to by either clifftop walks or boats. Inbetween are rocky headlands – great for scrambling – & many a restaurant to grab some shade & drink a lassi. Currently there’s an Israeli lass call’d Shiri staying in the beach hut that lady-of-the-manor-like overlooks our own private part of Paradise, & she & Fee have begun to waffle on incessantly. One conversation is very interesting. ‘How is your wife,’ Fee had ask’d Muli, the guy who owns the central restaurant, ‘O, she died in a house fire in September,’ he’d said solemn faced, & proceeded to show her the scars on his hands & belly. I then overheard Shiri saying that Muli probably kerosened his wife cos he was fed up with her, apparently a common event on round these parts!
The whole island of is about 6k-3k square, half of which is luscious jungle & the other rough red scrubland peppered with black volcanic rocks. The coastal strip is dotted with coves, from the huge boob-shaped expanse of Om Beach, to the quietude of Half-Moon Beach. These are fill’d with scantily-clad ladies, led like golden fleeces, daring argonauts to pluck them as we pass. The beaches spread out from Gokarna town, one of the holiest spots in India. After following Fee through half-lost paths in the jungle, we came across the town & its wonderful water-ghat. Sat on the steps were four young Brahmin adepts, knelt cross-legged, their right hand on the guy in front of them’s shoulder, & all four were repeating, word-by-word, the song-chant of their bearded teacher. A very amazing scene.
Back at my hut I settled into a stony haze, chilling above the waves with my 23-year old Russian journalist neighbour, a complete starry-eyed stoner who speaks impeccable English. To break things up I swam round to the next beach – Om Shanti – a tiny place with 4 beach huts & one restaurant. The sea is not the cleanest but the swim was quite invigorating
This morning I swam to Half Moon today with Shiri, who proudly states her age as 38 & a half. Her Jewishness is apparent in both her business acumen – renting out properties sends her round the world – & her nose. She is a very warm lass to be around, smoking weed & playing chess furiously. I played her, beat her & agreed to become her teacher, Karate Kid style. Today’s lesson involved a kilometre swim round the green warm waters that fringe the coast – she was third best backstroke swimmer u-15s in Israel, apparently – & I was amazed at her practically effortless stroke, especially as she had a plastic bag with chess pieces, board, weed & water tied to her legs. I found it wonderful fun swimming with a lady in a bikini, stealing furtive glances of her breasts or watching the water roll off her sinewy back.
At Half Moon the restaurant was still being built, a 60-year-old landlady smoothing off the cement that gets ruined with each annual monsoon. After food & chess, the swim back was lovely; dolphins flipping flippers, lone butterflies fluttering over the waves, sea eagles skirmishing above us & out at sea the lightning bolts of a distant storm. Great conditions to write in, with the sea-waves accompanying every sound. Being here has chilled me out big time & I’m loving these wicked coconut lassis I’m now completely addicted to.
In the afternoon Kate, Steve & a couple of the Tantra crew (19 year old Jake from Cornwall & 26 year old Suze from Cardiff) caught a train from Canacona to Gokarna Road – an hour & twenty minute journey that only cost them 16 rupees! They all only stayed one night, having come down especially for the Full Moon Party, but it was very good fun & we were drinking til daft o clock as we boogied to the bongo-happy hippies. Music, nudity, magic & stars – you can take the party of out of Goa, but not Goa out of the party.
Another sunny day in Paradise, watching from my lofty beach-hut the toing’s & froing’s of scantily clad ladies lazily frolicking below like some Restoration Masque. I awoke before sunrise, both sky & sea a beautiful pastel. My Russian neighbour was also up having his ‘cream’ – a ridiculously dodgy looking pure skunk spliff with bits of rizla hanging off the Dry Gonzo style spliff like wedding streamers. As soon as I had bought my obligatory bag of weed I joined him, watching the sun’s orb rise in the direct centre of a little chink between the two hills that framed the eastern end of the beach. Not long after that a boat arriv’d at my local restaurant with a big block of ice to keep all the drinks cool. This, like other days, was divided between studying, sweating, siestas, getting stoned & going on increasingly adventurous swims. I’d never swam these distances before, & with the sea warm & easy it was a very pleasant experience.
I also walk’d into Gokarna with the Patnem posse, a lovely 6K amble pass’d deliciously mellow Om Beach, over the black volcanic rocky wasteland that leads to Kudle Beach (the busiest) & finally a walk over a lush green hill, past a wicked cricket pitch (with hysterical loudspeaker commentary) before the main Gokarna beach stretched for 8k into the milky distance. As I stood there, the distant hills framing a very tropical scene, I imagined pterodactyls circling over the jungle. After buying supplies, on the way back I photographed a few kokava’s… crazy white heron-type birds that follow their chosen cow/buffalo everywhere, nibbling on the insects that nibble on the cows, bobbing along thro’ life like a perfectly happily married couple.
The sun is now setting, an orange sphere lending the Sea of Araby an oriental glow. This is being accentuated by Nedev, one of the annual ‘family’ that spend some of their travelling days in this place. He is playing a 72-string Persian instrument called a Santur – each of the eighteen main channels is split into four steel wires as the western 12-strings are split into two. He is playing them with two metal sticks & the sound is just divine.
Not so long ago I always stood up to bullies – it was a Lancashire principal instilled in me at a young age – hence me spending most of my chemistry lessons outside Mr Mansfield’s classroom. So today I decided to get ahead of all my tabs, so walk’d into Gokarana Town drew out some money & paid off everyone I owed on the way back – lots of coconut lassies. Anyway, when I got to Muli’s restaurant, suddenly my four bottles of rum had turned into eight, & as I disputed the fact I was thrust into a hornet-swarm of threats, including bamboo massages & my severed hands being thrown about the beach. At first I stood up to him, saying ‘go on then & do your worst,’ kinda stuff – then remembered he’d probably just killed his wife & it was only a few quid for god’s sake. So, I paid up & thought fuck this, I’m off first tomorrow. Besides, I reckon the brain begins to turn to jelly after too much bumming about on the beach & it’s been almost four weeks of sunshine, sea, sand – it’s time to hit the hinterland. Fee tells me Hampi is really cool, so I’ll be heading there tomorrow.
I finally managed to peel myself from those lush, green dolphin shores of golden beaches & the company of all those hedonistic ambassadors of the west. There are only so many lazy hours one can stand with a book & a beer, hot semi-naked babes frolicking in the surf, & spectacular sunsets a man can take before he’s straining for some proper culture.
This morning I set off east on a government bus & was soon trundling thro’ the plush jungles of south Goa, rising steadily up to the Western Ghats, jagged mountains that run for a thousand miles, affording us an incredible palm-laden vista that spread west through as far as the eye can see. We then began to descend into Karnataka, which at first seemed like the undulating agricultural realms of England, before spanning out into a vast plain, something like the steppes of Russia. At one town we were just stretching our legs when we were hit on big time by curious beggar-kid. His upper body seemed to be shifted to the left & his rib cage jutting out of his back forming a hunch. Holding out his gnarly left hand touched the heart strings & I found a few spare rupees. Then the sun began to set, a red-hot cannonball that seem’d to shoot into the eyes & nestle in the brain after only half a glance.
Back on the road was startled to see old Indian women carrying baskets of stones on their heads & others operating a concrete mixer as they were building the road I was travelling on (road? I don’t think smate). Several more hours of numb-bum later, as the fullish moon rose a bloody red, we reached the outskirts of Hospet where a crazy convoy of trucks seemed to go on forever. To amuse myself thro the traffic jam I watched Bruce Lee clips on this Indian’s mobile phone, then a bit of the new Incredible Hulk.
As I reached dusty Hospet, things suddenly got tense. As we pulled into the bus station I was set on by this pack of braying jackals – young rickshaw drivers all braying for my blood. Wherever I went they followed & soon I turned into the Hulk himself – ‘what part of shut the f**k up & leave me the f**k alone don’t you understand,’ kinda thing. Then I resorted to are you stupid / deaf – but still they insisted on following me everywhere. In the end I was forced to take a very dirty room in a lodge just for some peace, where I was subsequently eaten alive by bugs.
Back on the road, my first port of call was Chapora – a narrow cowboy-style frontier town with folk riding in on mopeds. It’s mellow by the day, but at night it comes into its own, with the bars knotty with half-cut travellers drinking beer & smoking chillumgees. The clientele all seem to be something out of Camden – lots of neo-punks & tattoos. There are some major long-termers here, whom on asking where they’re from, despite their thick Austrian accent, reply ‘I am from nowhere’ – bloody hippies. The nicest part was the harbour, calm with chilling fishermen & a few stray dogs, but pungent with the smell of fish. There are about twenty multicolour’d fishing boats all flying the flag of India, & among them I shook the hand of Raj, his skin as rough as treebark, & I soon found the reason why, as I helped him haul in a boat using thinnish rope, ripped my hands to shreds in the process!
Spent the evening very stoned – when in Rome, & all that, & Chapora does actually have some very fucking strong weed. I’ was chilluming the stuff in Bee’s Bar, named after Brixton Bob who used to manage the Stray Cats. A cool guy.
I’ve just reached Arambol & its plethora of market stalls. The quality of goods is great, & there are a few places which specialise in sending your buys home via air & sea. The theme is generally arty throes & bedsheets. At first, I was a bit miffed about the vibes, but I’ve just spent the evening by a gorgeous pinkness of sunlight setting into the sea, dancing with about a hundred folk to a load of bongo players on the beach, & even jammed along on this guy’s guitar – very good for the soul. I’ve got a well plush pad, perched between a tai-chi school & a yoga centre, for 6 quid a night. Our neighbour is the lovely Helen from Stevenage, a married woman out her on her own. There was definitely chemistry, however, & a theme is developing to this trip, I think. QPR bird, BBC bird & now stoner bird, who passed me a charas joint at hers which induced my first sick-surf whitey in a long time, swiftly rushing from her pad to fall asleep in the road – the irony is I was only ten seconds from my own house.
Also here is my mate Kern from Aberdeen. I bump’d into him quite randomly at the sunset jam & we went from there to an open-mic night at a place call’d the Surf Club, hosted by Phil, the 60-year old owner, & a right old raver, who used to supply pills in 250,000 consignments to Bristol. There were some great acts on – it was like this quality international jamboree –; Russians, Africans, Americans & me singing ‘Ye Jacobites By Name’ on guitar with Kern accompanying on trumpet. We were so good the owner, Phil, offer’d us a gig, introducing us to this mad Russian bird called Katia who will play drums. Also on board was Dirk, a sound German who will lend me his bass guitar.
Arambol is great – full of Russians & hippies, & seems to be a drug-filled, fun-heavy festival of a place. The night life is buzzing & there’s some beautiful coastal walks to tranquil beaches. I’ve also been taking out my landlord’s very handsome black dog. I can’t bear to see it on a chain all day, so I’ve been struttin’ the beach with him, disturbing all the strays who hang about for free food. Then, when we’re strutting the main shopping street, for once I don’t get disturbed at all by the cowering shopkeepers – trust me, this dog is that big. It also made me look cool when I approached the Coco Loco, a beach bar, & blagg’d a DJ gig later in the week when my mates from Scotland arrive – they said sure, why not, & so my career as a top Goan Dj continues.
Arambol should also be known as the place where I invented a new adverb – Stevenaged, – an experience not for the faint-hearted, believe you me. This entails meeting a mad group of birds from Stevenage who get you high, laugh a lot reyt loudly, drink you under the table, & then… you know the rest. Helen was not impress’d, however, when after all her inner turmoil about flirting with me & being married, I was ‘intercepted’ by her mate & taken back to a beach hut for carnal adventures. I then get a phone call from Helen who invited me to hers for a smoke, where I’m currently typing up this after she seduced the fuck out of me. I’d love to go on, but this black acrobat guy from Kenya’s just dropped off some crack & Helen has fixed up a bloody mary, ‘I Am The Ressurection’ has just come on the stereo, & so for the second time this year, after visiting my mate Charlie in Brixton & that mad night with Ketamine Karen – I’m thinking it’ll be too rude not to toot.
Waking up in Helen’s bed I decided it was not the best time to become a crack head, & swiftly decamped on an 8k scooter-ride north to the island-like Kerim, at the northernmost tip of Goa; one side of which faces a river estuary, one side the Arabian Sea, & the other side crown’d by a long, wall-like hill which paragliders chuck themselves off thro’ the day. There’s only one road in – by the river – or it’s possible to walk here along the hazardous, overgrown coastal paths up to Arambol.
On route I got chatting to this Irish guy in a restaurant, who mentioned there was a place for rent near his mate’s house in Keri. His name is Martin & only has one leg – bitten off by a shark he told me. A funny guy tho’, we’ve swapp’d numbers & will hook up soon.
So I got to my Keri & found Martin’s mate, who led me to this like a four roomed bungalow divided into two, with a toilet at the back of each half. There’s a kitchen, a lovely porch where you can set up a mattress, & stairs up to the roof for a sun-bathe – & my half of the house is costing only £2 a night. For another £2 a day I’ve got a sexy yellow pussy-wagon of a new scooter from a local lad.
Keri village itself is quite widely dispersed, with a few ex-pat English gangsters avoiding cops at home & the Russian imperial venture at Arambol. The places possesses a gorgeously vast & tranquil beach, & a ferry that takes you across the river to the next state of Maharashtra.
Back in Arambol, the Surf Club gig was wicked – we got paid in money, beautiful tandoori & a free bar – which of course I availed myself of wholeheartedly. I also met Albina, a tall & very hot Russian lass from beside the Black Sea & after the gig I drove her back to Keri where she is currently snoozing off our lovemaking in what appears to be a curious dialect of Russian.
This morning with a ‘goodbye sweetie’ Albina went off to work at an international nursery school & I thought I’d drive the 35 k south to Anjuna, pausing every now & then to watch a bit of the cricket. On the way back, I stopped off at the Mango Tree for a beer, & met two cute 20-odd year teachers from England, fresh off the plane from where they work in Dubai, & looking for a rave. After informing them that Arambol was wicked, they promptly said they’d come up that night. Which they did, & after scoring some quality MDMA in the back room of a dodgy shop, we proceeded to have one of those classic Goan experiences; dancing to trance, partying on the beach, etc. It was funny as, I mean they really were hot girls & I went round telling everyone they were my wives – a little bit of kudos for the new-boy in town. Come the early hours, the girls were ready to go home, so I sorted them out a taxi & watched them sail off into the distance, before hopping on my scooter & driving to a bar. There a 25 year-old Pakistani lass call’d Simi was DJing & we soon got chatting, I gave her a dab, she let me play some tunes. Her idea of disco & my idea of disco were very differeent things, however once off we went back to her pad we were definitely playing the same kind of music. My mojo is proper rampant at the moment, you wouldn’t believe!
My guitarist pal from Edinburgh, Al Roberts, turn’d up today, with his guitar slung over his shoulders, along with George & Shady – two lads from Galloway. Their plan is to buy bikes & drive around India like madheads. Cue beers & drugs & jamming on Al’s rooftop with all & sundry including Kern & Martin, with the latter almost falling off the roof after trying to stand up drunk on his fake leg.
Then, in the afternoon a Scottish lassie I know turned up; my ubercool DJ pal ‘Needle Sista’ Teri, along with Cornish Stella & Glaswegian Lorraine, who were both in India for the first time. So, I tells them about Keri & we all agreed to go & get dinner down there & catch the last of their first day’s sunshine, where I penn’d the following sonnet.
I watch’d the reaching out of Dawn’s arms red,
Both wrapp’d about the beach on which I led,
Saw little twitters skip the zenith crest
Of waves flung shorewards, falling foam abreast;
Ahead, the full moon gave the waves good gold,
Behind, deep-banded amber branding bold,
When starry rays made way for planets three,
They, too, into the blue illume did flee.
As round the moon rose-fingers floating meet,
Morn’s cyan-curtain’d opening complete,
As fishermen & dogs began day’s dance
Still on the sands I lay, a man entranc’d,
For as full moon thro’ blinking cloud distills,
What flaming sun-chink winks out from the hills!
That evening Albina turns up wanting to see ‘her Damo,’ with her sister on the book of their scooter visiting from Russia. By now most of the group had gone back to Arambol – Ttere was just me, Martin & his mate. Albina’s sister took an immediate shine to Martin ‘I looovveee him’ – she drawl’d, & they ended up driving off to Arambol, while of course Albina stay’d at mine.
It turns out Albina wants a baby with me. It’s definitely time to leave Arambol for that & two other reasons. The first is the banging night put on by me, Teri & Al at the Coco Loco – we called it Tinky Disco & was a blend of DJing & live guitar, all proper good fun & the punters were loving it including our massive posse. Mission accomplish’d. The other reason is a bit fucking dark. Earlier in the day, after leaving Albina’s sister’s place, Martin had an argument with some Indians in a bar who ended up battering him with his own fake leg. He must have been well piss’d off because not long after he’d gotten into another argument with this Swedish guy he was living with in Arambol, hit him over the head with the Swedish guy’s own drum & actually fucking killed him. The police caught up with him about 40 k away & that’s him fuck’d, for what’s gonna be a very long, long time. Totally mental! I didn’t find out about this until quite late on at the Casa Loco, but the vibe of Arambol has suddenly alter’d drastically. Goa has its highs, but also clearly has its lows. Too much drugs, too much sunshine, & when the fun flips to fuck’d up, all hell breaks loose!
Today I bumped into my Scottish mate, Barry, who persuaded me that a couple of k away to the south was the gorgeously mellow Patnem beach. It makes Palolem look like Benidorm & I immediately felt more comfortable. The beach is lush, while the waters, tho’ a little cloudy, are silkily dive-in-able; warm & wet 24 hours a day. As for India’s sacred cows, on the beach there’s a herd of about 20, while on the back road near the beach there’s another herd, haunting the rubbish dump for snacks. Inbetween are all the shops and villas and huts, then the crescent of beach-kissing restaurants & bars.
I settled in straight away, buzzing about on my scooter, finding idyllic spots to study in, then spending the rest of the day relaxing, swimming & eating, messing about in the giant adult playground that is Goa. It reminds me of the Shelleys/Byron mentality as they lived in Italy, something which has always inspir’d my life. Being in Patnem, however, does have echoes of when the Shelleys hit Bagnia di Lucca & declared it quite sardonically to be full of the English. They, & of course the Scots, really have taken over Patnem.
After m’lady departed for other shores this morning, it seems she had left me with a revitalised mojo. First to pick up on it was a nurse from Hastings. I’d gone out for few beers, playing pool in beach bars & stuff, which led to a riotous rave at a headphone party where we I had my first proper dancing session in Goa ata place call’d the Alpha Bar – an open-air affair with great aesthetics & a stage. After. Cue some wild driving, an all-night party & a morning frolic in the waves with the aforementioned nurse. Her boyfriend is a QPR fan & she said, ‘I won’t tell him you’re a Burnley fan, he hates Burnley!’ I was like, ‘you’ve got a boyfriend, why don’t you just not tell him about me at all!’
At some point along the wild roads of last night’s drunken shennaningins I managed to total the front of my scooter, which Dinesh says will cost £35 to repair – ouch! However, it looks like I might be able to pay that back from real wages, because on returning to the Alpha Bar I have managed to secure a gig in a few days of my very own. After a few business–like chats with the boss, sat on chairs drinking chai & arguing over prices like any other Indian transaction, I pulled the thing off. God bless Saraswathi! There are two channels going at the same time so I will be playing alongside someone, but also to about 300 punters, half of which will be birds in varying degrees of hotness.
I’ve also moved to a beach hut at a place call’d the Magic Cinema, ran by this guy called Jimmy Van de Mere. I met him last night & he invited me along to see his place – I moved in straight away. Its stuffed full of hippies & healthy food, & shows a couple of wicked films each night in an open air cinema – tonight was one of my favourites, The Sting. I loved hanging out there during the day, shaded by the coconut boles & palm trees, playing chess with this mad German bird & one of Jimmy’s mates call’d Steve, whose here with his girlfriend, an Australian call’d Kate. They are the most relaxed, hedonistic couple I have ever known.
After the Sting, me, Steve, Kate & Barry bought some ‘happy pills’ from the chemist, hoping they’d be amphetamine based. At first they seemed to work, but after a while we levelled out & Kate discovered that they were, in fact, Prozac. It was time to resort to plan B. This involved chipping in together to buy a bottle of liquid ketamine from a chemist in Chaudi, the local amenity-laden town. It was shipped in on the 9 PM bus by a nice young chemist & by 10 PM it had been cooked up. Kate professionally held a metal pan over 4 candles & after a few minutes the liquid suddenly turns into white powder, smooth as untrammell’d snow.
Ketamine’s a tricky drug, you have to find the right length of line or else you fall into the K hole. However, experience & common sense paid off & we managed to have a great time at the Neptune’s Point disco, a wave-lapped promontory full of Goan party heads. Me & Barry decided to have a couple of lines on the bar & b4 long we’d met these pill’d up Norwegian birds who gave us our ecstasy lead – Curlie’s Bar in Anjuna. “We’re gonna have to go Damo, it’s what I do,” said Barry.
We didn’t go to Anjuna today. I found Barry still sleeping off on an all-night drinking binge commonplace round these parts. Barry knows some Scots out here, who basically hang out all day at the same restaurant (the Tantra). A few of the ‘in crowd’ hang out there also, from Cornish DJ’s to the long-locked Londoner Leigh, who runs the open mic nights on Patnem & Palolem. Yesterday they’d all gone off to see if some baby turtles have hatched, a story which is currently gripping the local geaches. Apparently they are all still in their eggs yet.
Today I learnt the lesson that drink-driving is fine if ya going slow, but drinking, driving & smoking charas is a definite no-no. I almost ran into this group of Indians – not touching one, mind – when all of a sudden each one began clutching mythical broken shoulders & screaming in agony. I saw one of ‘em later on, who declares he’s been to hospital, it cost him 6000 rupees & he’s complained to the police – apparently he took my photo & registration number – & if I give him the 6000 rupees he’ll take back the complaint. ‘Mate, I’m from Burnley,’ I replied – he didn’t understand what I meant, but he got the intent – you can’t blag a blagger, end of. I mean, I’m a top Goa Dj now & I’ve only been in India a week.
This morning began with me shaking Barry awake & stuffing him into the waiting taxi. It was time to score some pills. Anjuna is in north Goa, the original home of the Goan party scene in the 90s, but now a shadow of its former self, turning into something of a middle-aged Majorca. However, you can still get pills there, & we arrived at Curly’s Bar in our getaway taxi, where after initial contact, a couple of hours pass’d by slowly as we waited for a shady young lad called ‘Roy,’ who Barry swore had tried to sell him drugs just up the road a few years previously. We shared the haggling between us, & left north Goa 30 pills to the good & one each down our necks. The journey ‘home’ was magic – quite euphoric on what were flying fucking pills. Whether it was my 2-month abstinence or just their sheer strength didn’t matter so much, suffice it to say that after the scenic two-hour drive, past the deep fjord-like, jungle-backed rivers of Old Goa, I was well off my head & so was half of Patnem Beach an hour or two after our return. Another Silent Disco ensued, this time inland & surrounded by palm trees, where a wee line of ketamine initially sent me to heaven, but then spun me out for a good two hours.
“You know the thing about ketamine,” said Barry, “is that people always go on about it.” He was right, my mind was verbalising its fight back to relative sanity (I was on pills remember) – & the whole psychic mess was cured only by another cheeky half. It was then time for a damn good rave, ending up at the all night Palolem strip, whose mile-long chain of restaurants & beach bars become at night a multi-coloured ribbon of neon light – & then to Cleopatra’s Bar for pool. At daft-o-clock me & Steve drove back to Patnem, leaving his missus in the capable hands of Barry. A few hours later Steve got a rickshaw back to rescue Kate from Barry, who by now had donned some English woman’s feminine attire in full tranny flow, fuell’d by some anti-narcolepsy tablets, which contained the grail-like amphetamine kick much needed in times like these.
It seems the Siberian snap that has recently hit Europe has penetrated the subcontinent – here’s a report from the Times of India.
Panaji – the mercury dropped to its lowest this season as meteorologists recorded a minimum temperature of 19.6 Celsius yesterday morning.
I must admit, I had to turn my fan down a couple of notches in the night to keep out this unwanted coolness.
Today I met an old mate. I was sitting in this chai & samosa hut, recovering, when I heard ‘I think I know you.’ I turned round & there was Danish Rita – she used to see my mate in Bognor Regis – clutching a new-born baby. It turns out she’s married now, has two kids, & has the ability to heal people through her hands with ‘the light.’ Her husband is cool, despite not having a drink in ten years, & it was lovely getting to know them. It turns out they adore a place call’d Thiruvannamali, in a southern Indian state call’d Tamil Nadu & I should definitely check it out if I’m in the area.
At the Magic Garden, the newly-arrived Phillipa had a bottle of liquid acid, which gave my day a myriad-hued glow. Jimmy had also taken some acid & took us out to Galgebag beach, where the sea turtles had still not hatched, their eggs protected by human fencing. There’s a cluster of restaurants at Galgebag, one of which comes recommended by Gordon Ramsey, while the one next door is recommended by Jamie Oliver. Whether this is true or not, the oysters were great & the beach sands are lush… Happy Days indeed!
That night saw a party on in a place called the Secret Garden. That was pleasant enough, ‘til the police halted it mid-flow; so a big bunch of hippies, led in some vague fashion by Jimmy, hiked over to Neptune’s Point for more silent disco fun, & a little flyering for my own gig tomorrow!
There’s something about being a DJ which is an aphrodisiac for the ladies. lt was my debut at Alpha Bar’s Silent Noise night – the flyer says Palolem’s premier outdoor nightclub. It was wicked actually, a really pretty space illuminated by purple laser beams. Earlier in the day I’d been handing out said flyers along the beach – a great way to get chatting to folk actually. Come 8.30 I was the opening act, & for two hours played mi tunes out loud thro’ the speakers before the 10.30 watershed when Goa turns its music off. Then the headphones come into play & as the venue filled up, people began dancing. I couldn’t tell if they were dancing to mine tunes or the guy’s next to me. He was a nob actually, proper DJ ego. It was great to see folk dancing, tho’. & having a good time, singing along to the classics I squeezed in among the disco. Because it’s all silent, it’s a bit like Weatherspoons with everyone having epileptic fits – the only music one can hear is the cricket opera from the surrounding jungles.
After my set I was ‘pulled’ by this hot English lady who I first noticed was dancing to Cats In the Cradle by Jonny Cash, one of my favourite tunes, showing she was a cultured woman. I was soon proven right because she actually works on the Culture Show for the BBC, & after a skinny-dip at dawn I woke up beside her delectably naked form, upon silken white sheets, at her mate’s gorgeous Portuguese villa. ‘So do you have a boyfriend at home?” I asked – & it turns out she’s actually married. Apparently, she’s never done such a thing before, or ever will again – but she’d told her husband he couldn’t expect her to sleep with one guy for the rest of her life & it turns out I was the lucky fella! It was a lot of pressure to be a charming young plaything actually. I read her a little Keats & sang a song or two like a proper cavalier servente, but if this is what happens when you’re a DJ, I’m thinking about packing in the poems!
There was an episode of Eastenders a few years back – I remember it distinctly – when Alfie Moon turn’d up at the square at the beginning, & by the end of it was firmly entrench’d behind the bar of the Queen Vic. A similar thing has just happened to me. By a blend of timing, tenacity & sheer front, I am now a Goa DJ shaggin’ a hot BBC producer. She tracked me down herself & we hung out again all day, including a moonlit drive to Galgebag where the baby turtles were finally hatching – a divine sight indeed & my lady friend was so full of the romance of the moment, she took me right there on the beach.
So, it’s time to move on – it’s gonna be hard to top that moment again in south Goa – while a few of my pals are arriving quite soon at a place call’d Arambol in north Goa. Tomorrow morning I’m gonna burst my Patnem pleasure-bubble & sneak out of my lady’s bed – I’m in her villa at the moment writing this – & head north.
I am nearing the end of my last full day in Britain for a while. I’ve just had the delight of a little farewell fling with a bonnie philosophy graduate. I told her she was something of a champagne bottle that smashes against a ship’s hull as it sets off on its maiden sailing – with better curves. She’s gorgeous, with really curly red hair & delectable lips. I’d met her at a hairdresser friend of mine’s house, where she was trying to get a 60’s style bouffant, but I said it looked more like a volcano – this brutal honesty endeared her to me & we took it from there.
After a night of wine & her fine efforts at cooking a steak, my journey to India began early this morning, departing her lovely warm bed, & continuing onwards up the long slope of Edinburgh’s Leith Walk, my pavement slapping flip-flops conjuring in my direction a number of funny looks.
It was then the long boring, drawling, droning haul on the megabus to Victoria coach station in London, from where I’ve just caught the tube to Heathrow, bought myself a beer & am writing this with a couple of hours to wait til my flight to India, & to say I am excited-slash-shitting myself is a massive understatement.
Rudyard Kipling once mused, ‘East is east & west is west & never the twain shall meet,’ & boy was he right. The flight to the sub-continent began in a dull pre-dawn, slowly permeating the skies above the galaxy of stars that is the city of London. The capital was surrounded by the bright, wavy circuit of the M25 & thro’ the murk it seemed like the delicate golden stitching on some Chinese emperor’s sable suit. Then everything disappeared as we burst through the thick cloud into the strange & eerie nothingness of the upper stratosphere.
We got a break in the clouds as we flew over Turkey & the southern shores of the Black Sea. Beyond a coastal strip of towns, the rest of the landscape bubbl’d with beautiful khaki-coloured hills, some of which were skipp’d with snow. In the distance I could make out the Caucasus, while underneath came the Tigris, & I mused upon the start of mankind, where Mesopotamia irrigated these very plains between the Tigris & the Euphrates, from which culture rose the first cities 8000 years ago.
It was now time to change planes & we dropp’d into Abu Dhabi, a part of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, seven princely states who joined together about 40 years ago to exploit the petrol-guzzling nations of the world. The airport was a bit mad, full of guys in white shirts, sporting red & white chequer’d tea towels on their heads, fastened in place by two black rubber rings. There were models of formula one cars everywhere, & an amazing departure lounge that looked like the inside of a curling ball, whose hexagon-pattern’d central pillar fanned out like a vase. to merge curvingly with the roof. Then we were off again, for the three & a half hour hop over the Sea of Araby to the subcontinent, towards the end of which I penn’d the following sonnet.
Across Europa we have both progress’d,
By foot, by boat, by tram, by bus, by train,
But this hour, from a cool & pleasant plane,
Sees me sailing air on a grander quest,
The scenes by cyan skies & soft cloud blest,
How seldom seen & varied the terrain
Of ashen peak, urban sprawl, verdant plain,
Gleaming sea, wastes of sand & wylde forest.
As soon as we abandon Europa,
I could already taste the eastern scent,
The sun was setting west of Syria,
The starry heavens singing its lament,
As somewhere yon the grey Arabia
My pilot was beginning his descent.
So I arrived in Mumbai, the former Bombay, another wonderful galaxy of stars in what was to me an obscure corner of the universe. My first impressions were the stench… it stinks! The sweat of a billion people mingling with pollution & sulphur emissions – like one of my own more lethal moments of flatulence, but permanent! After showing my passport & my shiny new six month Indian tourist visa, it was deep in the wee hours & being slightly fucking scared mate I shared a taxi with an innocent & very clean Australian, & off we hurtl’d through the epic sprawl of Mumbai. The city is huge, about 30 million souls rushing around its virtually identical roads, & I felt we were like a couple of white blood-cells surging around the arteries of some phantastical chimera of the days before legends. The taxi driver took us to a reasonable hotel – I think he got commission for it too – & I’m sharing a room with the Australian at this very moment.
So I’m now in India; the diamond of the Victorian crown, a mad labyrinth of a billion souls, a vast myriad of language, race & faith, an empyrean melting pot of empires to explore. Bring it on, I am definitely ready to do this!
My first full day in the very European Mumbai – complete with red double decker buses straight from the Strand – was a sensory montage of sights & smells. As I cut a swathe thro’ the city, all a-sweat with lips parch’d dry, I was assail’d at all sides by various beggars, touts & conmen – but you can’t blag a blagger & I even managed to haggle down the cost of my first score – a strange blend of Indian weed, which proper works!
My first target was the Britannia-topped, Empire-kitsch wonder that is the Victoria Train Station. I bought a ticket for Goa departing the next morning, wanting to get out of the crazy days as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I will have to head across town to my train via the Mumbai rail network, the busiest in the world. In fact half of all India’s trains come in & out of Mumbai, with people clinging to every spare bit of atom, hanging off the roof & sides – I guess it’s gonna be fun.
Leaving the VTS I was soon bless’d by a priest of the elephant-god, Ganesha, & painted with a bindi – the spot in the centre of the forehead which represents the third eye. Ganesha is one of the major deities in the epic Hindu pantheon. ‘In religion,’ said Mark Twain, ‘all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire,’ & there are over three million of them here, emanating divinity thro all sorts of obscure things, but the most fascinating one appears to be Kali, a goddess who wears a necklace of shrunken male heads & a dress of sever’d arms. Her whole vibe reminds me a bit my ex, Sally, when she was rife with PMT. Very fucking scary! My protector goddess, however, seems to be Saraswathi. I was immediately drawn to her, sitting cross-legged playing the sitar, with my favorite bird, the swan, in the background. Turns out she’s the goddess of the arts & wisdom, which is kinda me really, & she’s quite hot too, the whole experience of which led to me penning the following sonnet;
I fixt mine inner eye upon a star,
In darshan stood disturbing deity,
Lull’d by the tantric strains of her sitar,
This purest drop of goddess flew to me
Upon a swan of hue ambrosial,
Her fertile smile still’d time, her luted look
Consorts my heart – sublimely cordial,
She read from the Pustaka’s sacred book;
“Wand’rer, welcome thou art to India,
This sari I have sewn know as thy guide,
Where e’er she willows there stay close behind!”
She closed the page, sail’d high skies to Brahma,
Performing blissful duties of the bride,
Rare have I seen such beauties in my mind.
I then tried my first proper Indian food & tuck’d into a thali; several mini pots of curry + rice bready things, all for 40 rupees (60p). The money is mad; I got 5000 rupees all in fifty notes & feel pretty loaded. I then went down to the beach and somehow ended up renting an elderly ‘friend’ for a hundred rupees (about a pound) who told me where all the Bollywood stars lived (basically pointing at random houses and saying the name of a random Bollywood star). He then took me for a ridiculously cheap & exquisitely hot curry in a kind of shack cafe on the edge of a shanty town call’d Dharavi, made famous by the recent film Slumdog Millionaire. His chat was disturbing, all about his childhood in 1947 when at the dawn of Indian independence, he watched Hindus massacre Muslims in the city streets.
On my way back to the hotel, I visited the Asiatic Society’s Library. A splendid old, white building which still uses cards to catalogue its books. It is also full of life-size, marble Graeco-Roman statues of not very famous Britons, who had all been involved in the Empire. It reminded me that India is a land of opportunity, the essence & energy of which exploded upon me that very evening. I was just about to chill out for the night, y’know, catching up on some sleep, shake off the last of my jet lag, when I was approach’d in the street by this fifty-year-old English reprobate, all long hair, criminal-slouch & drug-abuse-strained drawl, who goes ‘do you wanna be an extra in a Bollywood movie.’ Of course I said yes – I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t – & soon found myself on a bus with about twenty other young travellers spinning through Mumbai. At first, I thought it was like Nightmare on Elm Street 2, or Jeepers Creepers 2, & we’d all get slaughtered – but before long we were at this old English school, eating some wicked food & dressing up in Edwardian costumes. The women looked especially wicked, but apparently the silk arm-gloves itched & they were murder to get into. Anyway, the shoot took about six hours & we got paid 500 rupees to do it! All we had to do was sit in a big hall & be an audience. The film will be at next year’s Cannes festival & goes by the name of HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY. It tells the story of the first ever Indian filmmaker – Dadsaheb Phalke – who took his film to England where I would be in the audience!
After about three hours’ kip I was back on the road, jumping the morning commuter trains out of VT station. My journey was relatively peaceful, but the grand tide of humanity passing by me in the other direction was mental – Indian office workers taking up every inch of room on the trains, inside & OUT!
On the outskirts of Mumbai I had to change for the Goa train, & met a Canadian who was going south too. We spent a couple of hours in the vicinity, chilling in a temple while swapping books & literary anecdotes. He’s called Danny, a nice guy, who looks a bit like Jim Morrison & was brought up in India at an expat school. Apparently, the weed he smoked there had been laced with opium, which helps to explain the otherworldliness in his ambience.
The Goa train came in & Danny took 2nd class sleeper while I took a first class carriage for about a tenner. The journey was pretty nice actually, about 12 hours of air-conditioned easiness, punctuated by hand-delivered hot meals, watching the monsoon-fresh greenery of middle-India pass me by. I was sat with these Catholic Indians; a violin player named Errol, his lovely wife & their eighteen-year old daughter who kept giving me the eye. They were fans of Alexander McCall Smith & were amazed when I told them that I used to live on Scotland Street… but were disappointed to discover there was no number 44.
At one point Danny found me & ask’d if he could hang with me for a couple of days. I was like sure mate, & we soon found ourselves at about midnight in sea-girt Benaulim, about two thirds of the way down Goa, at about midnight. Unfortunately, all the hotels were shut, so we ended up squatting a half-built villa for the night. A nearby guard dog had seen us & proceeded to bark its head off for about an hour & half – the last thing you need when you hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for four nights.
On waking up, the dog turned out to be a tiny thing (with big lungs), & Benaulim was a bit boring. We then shared a taxi to a place call’d Baga, where speedboats whizz people in parachutes high over the Arabian Sea & we found a wicked cottage right on the beach. The weather’s great – night & day – about 32 degrees in the mid-day sun, & thanks to a hairdryer/sirocco-like breeze blowing in from Arabia, about 25 at night!
I am staying next door to a cool Indian family, sharing their garden & toilet – which is in the middle of the street! The other streets roundabout are narrow, sandy & really serene. An old woman visits my patio with a fruit basket on her head, while a cheeky little scamster (who beat me at pool) will get me my food from the restaurant – for a small fee of course! Beyond my little domestic heaven Goa is better than its rep, believe me. Even tho’ I cannot drive I have hired the funkiest looking moped for 100 rupees a day & have been cruising round the sandy roads, listening to my tunes, dodging the cows & burning the straights. My petrol ran out on one occasion, so I blagg’d some from a roadside shack & headed for my pad in Baga. On the way back I pass’d my first elephant – all truss’d up in psychedelic garb, stomping his way thro’ the street. As for partying, there was a crazy taxi ride to a sunset techno bqsh in Vagator – reminiscent of the Hackney squat raves, but on a balmy evening & cool’d by a soft sea breeze. This was follow’d by a game of snooker with a mad Scotsman & a chill out with some Camden girls on a rooftop terrace drinking beer, listening to the tunes I just happened to have in my pocket – my first DJ slot in Goa! In a world full of comedy characters & cheap bear I felt that I had well & truly arrived at the party.
So, Goa is like Glasto, only more strung out – Glasto on bikes!
I woke up buzzing & went for a walk along the coast when I penn’d the following sonnet;
THE EAR CLEANER
Stepping out one golden Goan morning,
Drowsy with the sunken sun’s adorning,
Content was I to be in nature’s hand,
Soul-freshen’d as bare feet sunk into sand,
From out of nowhere stept a wizen’d man,
“Sahib! cleaning your hearing well I can!”
Shows Western praises in his little book,
Black blocks of wax from both my ears he took.
I shook the hand that scrubb’d my hearing clear
Said fond farewells & watch’d him disappear
Round red & rugged hill flank’d by the view
Of Konkan coast careering into blue,
When first found I the profits of his fee
I’d never known how sweetly sounds the sea!
It was then time to head south, following the advice of the Camden girls who I’d been partying with yesterday. Apparently it’s even better down there. So, leaving Danny to the cottage – he was happy to stay – I caught a train to Canacona station & walked towards a place called Palolem. As I strode its long curvature of bar-lined luscious beaches, a huge smile broke out on mi face – this was proper paradise!
Taking a beach hut & a moped from a lovely guy call’d Dinesh, I’ve really enjoyed the area, buzzing about from bar-to-bar on my shiny green moped. The scenery is semi tropical, & South Goa is backed by these lush hills call’d the Ghats & its all very amazing to be here. Things got even better when that night Saraswathi parachuted me in a wee muse to help me in my work. She is a cute 30-year old journalist from Limerick in Ireland, & a woman of infinite patience. I got free beers for playing some tunes in a bar, & let’s say I was pretty steaming. That didn’t put her off though, & she kindly escorted me back to her 2000 rupee a night posh hut. Come morning I blinked myself awake to be met by, ‘Do you remember what happened last night?’
‘No,’ I replied sheepishly.
“Well, Damo, I woke up to you pissing in my suitcase, after which you knocked the window pane out of my door.”
There was a certain karmic irony to this, as back in the spring I’d gotten all high & mighty on mi drummer, after he’d smashed a similar pane of glass in Cagliari, after an argument with his girlfriend over whether he could take the local stray street-cats home. In this instance I was just clearly pissed, for which I apologised profusely, did some cute kissing & shit & seem’d to get away with it.
After apologising to my new lady friend, the rest of the day was quite Eat Pray Love which seem’d to make up for my nonsense the previous night. First port of call was Kola beach, a lovely spot at the end of a terrible road, with wild waves & a freshwater lagoon to paddle in. After this we continued north to Cabo de Rama, an old Portuguese fort with splendid views of a miraculous bay, at the other side of which we observed a restaurant clinging to the cliffs. Driving out there, we passed a mad Russian flying a three-wheeler wheelchair-paraglider, & then just as the red sun was dipping below the clouds, we walk’d along a practically deserted beach to reach the restaurant. So romantic! Cue fresh fish & wonderfully warm sensations of having a lovely time at a place called, appropriately, ‘Mi Amore.’
We drove back a good hour thro the night, accompanied by the constant chorus of chirping insects, cutting thro swathes thro moody junglerie. Then, back at Palolem, we drank wine on the beach, ending a perfect day in the horizontal fashion in a tired, but the happiest of glows. It was to be our last night together, alas, for she was heading to Thailand the next day. Our liaison was brief but beautiful, & yeah, I’m fucking loving India, me!
Arran Community Theatre
August 27th 2022
On the very last Saturday of the Edinburgh Fringe, 3 weeks after my first of far too many reviews there, I found myself culturally convalescing on my home island of Arran. Looking at the listings as one does in the dog days of summer, I suddenly noticed the Robert McLellan festival was in full flow. My pal lives next door to his idyllic white cottage at High Corrie on Arran, & it is not hard to figure out why he was such an important literary artist to Scotland, so inspirational is that scene. I personally find his dialectical Scots even harder to penetrate than Burns – but I did crack the latter after 6 years of living in Scotland & I’ve only been on Arran sixteen months, so let’s give that one time to gestate.
So… to the poetry prize given in Robert McLellan’s honour, the fifteenth in succession. A hefty whack of cash goes to the winners, & it was ‘awards night’ last night. The winners were to be announced after Hollie McNish had chosen the ‘best’ from a shortlist of 114, whittled down to 8, the finest quintessence of this year’s seven hundred entries. These had trickl’d & thunder’d in from all over the world, & there will be a comprehensive awards night on Zoom later in the year to celebrate the victorious pantheon. Yestreen, however, saw two of the ‘commended’ poets & the winner all poised to perform on stage, all female, & all clearly serious agents of the ancient art of poetry. Of the ‘commended,’ Penny Shutt gave a rather prosaic poem about her crush on an English teacher, while Morag Smith endear’d us all into an internal exploration thro’ her poem call’d ‘Lost.’
Our winner, Annaliese Broughton, from not faraway Ayr, is currently in the ascendency. A poem of hers, New Meanings, is being animated by the BBC, & fangirling (her own expression) next to Hollie, she nervouslessly took the stage & deliver’d the prize poem in that orphean pitch that lies somewhere between the common tongue & the discourse of the gods. A gritty, edgy & heart-warming epistle to child poverty, it resonated even more in such a middle-class enclave as Arran.
After our three poets had left the stage, they were replaced by the recent gregarious joint-winner of the Edwin Morgan award, Michael Mullen – a fellow Rutherglennian like Mr Morgan -, oozing confidence, & a poet of some substance as he bounces toxic masculinity of his kevlar-armour’d bardic brain. As an award-winner he wryly asided something along the lines of, ‘I’m an award-winner & can read out what I like now,’ & continued to do so, excavating his oeuvre for some proper classic barb’d wire down the brain, but in what felt like couplets of heptameter & Sanskrit sloka. ‘Sad Boy’ was well good, especially. I could definitely tell how his talent first brought him to prominence.
It was now the interval, & the wine was on donation in the Brodick High School, where Arran’s fine community theatre resides, but as I enter’d the day’s twilight I was suddenly struck with the will to walk home & chew the ambrosial morsels I’d just ingested on a hike back to Brodick. I’d already travers’d most of the route on the way to the show earlier on. Burnley had won 5-1 at Wigan & in such a supremely happy mood I thought let’s get all poetical on the day’s ass – & hiked off up the hill to Lamlash. I veered off at one point, found a Pictish stone I’d never seen before hidden in a gorgrous forest clearing (how Arran), got stuck in a bog – which was luckily dried out it being quite droughty these days-, then dragg’d my way through prickly thorn-bushes (why did I wear shorts?) onto the Lamlash golf course & the safety of the main road. Sweeping my legs for possible sheep ticks (why did I wear shorts?), I realised I was now in quite a receptive mood for the poets once I reach’d the school. In fact I was mad for it.
The way back was much more convivial, fired up & fuell’d by the spirit of poetry, & with the dwindling twilight never quite striking blackness I made it home in time watch Burnley’s highlights – yet more poetry, especially the second goal -, then took out a copy of Attilio Bertolucci’s ‘The Bedroom’ & drown’d myself in the Italian language. I can darely say, after three weeks of reviewing the Fringe & my very recent isit to the 15th Robert McLellan Poetry awards, my own poetry mojo is back!
I am now on a train heading from Glasgow to Ardrossan, returning from Edinburgh for the third time this Fringe. I have been reviewing, quite fastidiously, the Fringe festival, in the middle of which I visited the Edinburgh International Book Festival twice over two days for my annual pimms & poetry session.
It began more than strangely for we were no longer in Charlotte Square, on the grass, under the grandiosity of the New Town. Instead we were tuck’d into the grounds of the Art School for a different, but interesting alteration in the vibes. The theatres were now in the old lecturing halls, or whatever the spaces were used for in the throes of academe.
A new factor was the open air big screen, open to the public for free, which streamed a steady supply of online chits & chats, while the main events were also available online – the festival is now truly living up to its name.
I saw two talks of over the two days – a small slice of the 550 authors that were heading to Edinburgh. The first was Scottish thriller Tsar, Chris Brookmyre, talking about the Cliffhouse, his new book set on a Scottish island where every member of a Hen Party are sitting on potentially deadly secrets. It was lovely to hear him read a section, filling the chit-chat patter of partying women with a naturality that belies his sex.
The next day I spent a delightful hour with Northern Irish short-story writer, Wendy Erskine, whose Stories of Belfast was an hour of praising the short story as a vital form, & also a chance to explore some of her second collection, Dance Move, full of modernity & magic, & of course Belfast.
It was great to be back at the Festival, I had a couple of nibbles, & next year I’ll be knee-deep in it all. A highly successful & enjoyable scouting mission to the Edinburgh Art School.