Spent much of the day in a rickshaw in traffic and waiting at a Suzuki service centre for Laiq’s car to be fixed. Rickshaw rides are always great – best way to see a city.... The Suzuki service centre was less great as they took an age. But I guess that’s service centres the world over. More patience training.... I came across a menu at a restaurant that had intriguingly named veg bullets, veg gold coins and veg lollypops on offer. If only the West could say the same.
Another all-nighter with no sleep (I’m getting too old for this shit), and thrown right back into the thick of it in Mumbai ;) It’s great to see Laiq again. He even managed to get us SIM cards! Woot woot! We had our first coffee in a month and it cost us what a week's worth of chais in the sticks would have ;) So we won't be loitering for too long. We’re staying with him in Andheri West – the views from the 16th floor are awesome. Time to stare into space.... And research online (whilst we have a decent connection!) where we will go next. It’s looking like a toss up between Om Beach, Gokarna or Cambodia.... Big tingz.
We got up early to go to Sanawad so Nix could see the doctor at the hospital. On the way there the bus driver stopped at a solitary roadside shrine to drop off marigold flowers (commonly used in offerings here). The drivers have performed the same ritual on every trip we’ve made to Sanawad. It makes me wonder if the shrine is in honour of the Patron Saint of bus drivers....
Nix had a large metal instrument inserted into her ear canal by the doctor which nearly made her jump through the roof, and made me start shouting at the doctor ;) It seems her ear is still badly blocked and will need to be checked out in Mumbai.
We stopped into the internet cafe whilst we were there. There was a message in my inbox from Facebook telling me my account was going to stay locked and so was my Indidginus page (meaning nobody can see it – I’m so glad I paid for those Facebook ads ;)), and that their decision was final. So that’s that. Ha ha ;) Life’s too short for all this “customer service” to and fro bollox anyway. Just enjoy! Down with Facebook, Long Live Weebly ;) Facebook is so passé.
I had my head and face shaved this evening at the bajar – both are now smoother than a baby’s bum. The barber left my moustache till the bitter end. When it got to the point of shaving it, he looked down at me and asked imploringly “clean, clean?” It was as if he was checking to see if I’d thought it through properly. Indian men are very proud of their moustaches. I think the barber thought I’d be stigmatized or handicapped in some way if I shaved mine off. I confirmed that I’d like it “clean, clean” and the hair in question disappeared with a few deft swipes of his cutthroat razor.
Back on the road again enroute to Mumbai. We’ve just arrived in Khrazy Khandwar, aka Hot Dusty Hellhole in the middle of India. I’m sure Khandwar must have some redeeming features, but I have yet to find them.
The bus from Omkareshwar had chillies hanging from the rear-view mirror and plastic flowers interspersed with marigolds adorning a shrine to Buddha on the dashboard. Allegedly this wards away evil and protects the bus, spiritual insurance so to speak. If I was a deity I wouldn’t be appeased or impressed by plastic flowers though. I think perhaps good driving skills may be better protection.
We drove past a building reminiscent of the Disney Castle situated on its own in the middle of a dusty field - Khandwar’s answer to Vegas I’m sure. As we reached the outskirts of Khandwar I saw an area of buildings sporting large sticks topped with red/orange coloured flags signifying ashrams/Saddhus in residence ;) An ‘ole ‘eap of dem by the look of it. I also couldn’t help but notice a young boy squatting by the side of the road with a poo hanging out of his arse. My gaze was transfixed (revulsion killed the khat), and as if by magic my desire to have lunch disappeared.
Our train experience this evening has thus far been radically different to our initial Indian rail system exploits on arrival from Sarf Afrika. We found our pre-booked coach easily and have the luxury of a 4 bunk cubicle complete with AC, fan, bedding and individual lights, with nobody shouting at us and floor space that is clear of people sitting on it. Wicked. We’re sharing our cubicle with a Punjabi granny, and have had a good chat with her in Hinglish. Auntieji doesn’t think much of our love marriage, is horrified by our lack of children, and dislikes McDonalds and Chinese food. Fortunately we managed to scrape back some points by our being pure vegetarian and teetotal. She did however insist that we need to get our acts together and have at least 1 child, and that we must do puja (prayers/offerings) to help the process along. Our laughter attracted the attention of the guy in the cubicle across from us who came to join in the conversation. He works for the Indian railways and had excellent English which helped the flow of the conversation somewhat as he adopted the role of translator. Both he and Auntieji grilled me for some time on my thoughts about love, my relationship to Nikki, and differences between the Eastern and Western mindset. I was solemnly told that I must answer all questions honestly. We laughed and I agreed to do so. There was much head shaking, nodding, raising of eyebrows and discussion going on between Auntieji and Uncleji as I spoke. When I finished Uncleji told me that this is what he and Auntieji had decided - I had given good answers, and that we were both quite Indian in our outlook on life. I felt like we’d just passed an entrance exam ;)
After a dinner of mitha (sweet) chapattis prepared by Mamaji before leaving the ashram this morning, we hit the hay to get some hours in before our 3.50am arrival in Mumbai.
4.45am - I never thought I would find a useful phone app, but I was proven wrong this morning. I downloaded a Mumbai Taxi and Rickshaw tariff app at a hotel in Khandwar yesterday as I thought it might help. Upon our arrival in Mumbai we got a metered taxi to Andheri West which I thought was a fairly safe option. When we reached Laiq’s place, the fare on the meter had rung up Rs 1300. Our train trip from Khandwar in 2nd class AC cost us Rs 2000 for both tickets! At that point I jumped on my app, input the mileage and the resultant taxi night fare came up as Rs 650. So we told him we were going with that price. Amazingly he didn’t really argue the point, which I guess implies he was indeed trying to fleece us (although I didn’t think it was possible to tamper with meters, but then again in India anything is possible).... Big up the Mumbai Taxi and Rickshaw tariff app developer. Good boy.
I’ve got the flu/fever virus that is doing the rounds of Omkareshwar and Sanawad. I decided to do some Narmada river therapy on myself, and met three very happy Saddhus whilst down at the ghats, one of whom was 97 years old. He is the only OAP I’ve come across with dreads and he bathes religiously in the Narmada twice every day (starting at 4am, which I was suitably impressed by as it’s somewhat fresh at that time in the morning). The lifestyle must work because he seemed very fit for someone of that age. We went to Raju’s to have thali this evening – his wife made us the tastiest meal we’ve had since our arrival in India. They are a lovely family, always smiling - makes me feel good about the human race to meet people like them.
I dreamt I was on India’s Most Wanted list. I have no idea what they wanted me for, but they were going to great lengths to follow me all over the world. I woke up as they were running after me in Longbeach Mall, Cape Town. Perhaps they just wanted to ask me what my good name is and ask for a photo or a pen.
It is Election Day today, so the town has closed down. Feels like Sunday all over again. Mangla told us there will be a lot of police in town today doing checks for terrorists (they do seem to enjoy doing those), so we’re going to lurk around the ashram and river to avoid unnecessary unnecessariness ;)
We had chai and jagarry (a form of unprocessed sugar cane which is meant to be relatively healthy) chapattis for breakfast. “Chai, chillum, chapatti, chalo Parvati”. Well, since we’re off the smoking, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.
I noticed at Komal’s shop that KitKats are called KriKets. It’s the little differences.... As I was sat practicing my Hindi with him, I saw a Westerner in jogging gear run past us. That’s a first. I think he’s missing the point that parikramar is a holy walk not a holy run ;) Trust the West to speed things up. Must.... do.... more....! Whatever works I guess. Just enjoy ;)
I’ve just done the nastiest job I have ever done. I’ve done a few which take some beating but, as ever, India takes it to another level ;) I got to thinking this morning about how Western convenience can breed laziness, so thought I’d combat that in myself by offering to help Mangla clean away the rubbish from the river bank (also home to their meagre veggie patch) just outside our cells. A lot of crap (in both the slang and literal meanings of the word – good compost perhaps, but then again....) had collected there over time from river flooding/crowds of people littering/doing their bizniz and so on during melas/festivals and life in general. Mangla’s always busy doing things around the house, so I felt I could lighten the load and do a good deed. Two birds with one stone. Or so I thought.
The bank is very steep and I ventured out carefully (not wanting to fall headlong into shite) with my bucket and the two appropriately shaped pieces of wood I found to collect the rubbish. There was an abundance of plastic bags, toilet paper, tissue paper, tampons, ragged clothes, and various other objects I couldn’t identify all of which were mostly covered in shit. There were also piles of shit from human and animal alike – it felt like walking through a minefield , and there was no way I was going to touch any of it directly, so I felt glad of my handy bits of wood. As I stood there putting shit in my bucket in the hot sun it occurred to me that, asides from being a really fun thing to do on a Sunday morning, this is great non-duality training. I filled several buckets and things were going relatively well. I even started to get into it once I had let go of my revulsion. I dutifully emptied the buckets in the appropriate area for burning, just next to the door that was my access point from river bank to ashram.
Things took a turn when Mangla and her Mum decided to set fire to the rubbish pile whilst I was still out collecting more rubbish. This meant I was stranded in shit alley since I couldn’t get back into the ashram without flames licking at me from the narrow path on the river bank. It also meant that it was impossible to empty my final bucket into the pile. So I attempted to throw the rubbish onto the flames from farther away. This resulted in most of it blowing back all over me. My mood rapidly changed from fairly serene to flaming furious, funny how it can do that. I must get a handle on consistency. Anyway, it pissed me off that they both knew I was out there clearing the rubbish, had seen me on the bank and yet still lit the fire. Total absence of logic where basic safety and hygiene are concerned is an example of what can wind me up about India. At least, it can wind me up if it involves me. It can amuse and/or bemuse me if it doesn’t ;)
As I stood covered in shit and dust, I weighed up the options for my next course of action – a) burn my clothes b) chuck myself fully clothed into the Narmada river. Whilst option a) was tempting, I opted for option b) as I only have just under a week’s worth of clothing in my backpack. Immersion in water helped calm me down again too, which was an added bonus. Brian Eno’s “2 Forms of Anger” is playing on Winamp as I write this. Appropriate.
Nix was totally oblivious to all this. She had a bad night with hectic pain from the ear infection, so was lying down to try and get some rest. I hope the ear drop/antibiotics concoction takes effect soon. If not, we’re going to be doing another trip to Sanawad hospital before our marathon journey to Mumbai on Thursday.
I have been bitten in the middle of my forehead by some loathsome insect or other. I now have the profile of Cro-Magnon man, and a bug bindi from frontal view. The insects in India are clearly very desperate – there is hardly any flesh on my forehead at all, and I don’t think it’s particularly venous (except when I’m angry ;)). I’ve also got bites on my earlobes, and behind my ears. All these are places I have never been bitten before. First time for everything eh....
This evening we mostly watched “Before Midnight” – a romantic drama (if that genre exists) with Ethan Hawke and some French chick. I fell into a coma with boredom. I think it served to distract Nix from her ear pain for a while.
We're in Sanawad to take Nix to the hospital. She has an ear infection that needs sorting. It's horrible to be sick in India - you need to be 100% to deal with what it throws at you.... I'll post all the photos I've taken on my delayedagram now since the town has an internet cafe, and we'll add some of Nix's later on (as we may need to go back to Omkareshwar and return to Sanawad again tonight)....
Back again in Sanawad - big Saturday night out for us. I picked my nose on the bus journey over in full public display and casually flicked it out the window. When in India....
Random bit of info - Coke apparently has no added fruit (as proudly stated on the sides of the bottles here). You must be as surprised to find that out as I am.
Sadly Nix's camera battery charger has been fried by the fluctuating voltage here. We are hoping we can replace that in Mumbai or it will mean an end to the photo/video components to our journey (other than via my little phone camera!). Back to surrendering again – “just enjoy” as they say here ;)
We had an aloo gobi in town. As the restaurant owner chatted away to us, we mentioned getting a bus back to Omkareshwar later in the evening. He started to shake his head and look at his watch in a not very encouraging fashion. Oh dear. We had to run our dinner off a few seconds later to catch the last bus back. It was a good couple of miles through the dusty, dark town to the bus stand. We’ve done more walking (and running) today than we would do in a month in Cape Town. Feels good.
We managed to just make the last bus. The backwater roads on the way to Omkareshwar have no street lights at all, and I could see the bus didn’t have much in the way of lights either which was encouraging. There were more lights on inside the bus than outside it. I think the driver had turned them all on to help him see the road. And as it was Saturday night, he kept stopping off at all the small villages to say hello to his mates. As you do. He seemed to have a lot of mates.
India is an extremely noisy place. Since 4am this morning the dam(n) sirens have sounded every few minutes, drums have been beaten and conch shells blown at neighbouring ashrams, and squeaky voiced Bhajans have been piped out over (very) loudspeakers. If I can be at peace here, I can be at peace anywhere ;) Cities like New York and London would be a tranquil retreat for Indians I think.
Since we were both awake, Nix and I got up at 6am to beat the mean streets of Omkareshwar. We noticed the level of the Narmada was extremely low, which made us wonder if the urgency of the dam sirens meant something had been broken. As we walked past a colourful little house with blooming bougainvilleas growing outside I made a comment to the owner about how beautiful the flowers looked. Five minutes later we realized that I had in fact made a comment about how beautiful their bridge was. Ooops. “Phul” and “pul” have a small difference in writing and speaking, but big difference in meaning. Oh well, live and learn ;) On the flip side, the good folk of Omkareshwar cannot get their head around the pronunciation of “Michael”, instead calling me “Micro”. I think it has a certain ring to it.
I dreamt I was invited to live on a sustainable community called “Nigeria”. I told them I thought the name was a bit crap. Then I woke up. They may have retracted the invitation.
I’ve got track marks all up my arms and legs from a variety of different insect bites (I think from spider/ant/mosquito and a few other very odd looking insects we’ve seen lurking around our room), and they are itchy as hell. They seem to love me – Nix hardly ever gets bitten. Perhaps because she is more shanti than me ;)
We did a litmus test this morning to measure our acidity/alkalinity balance. My score erred on the right side of alkaline, so India must agree with me ;) Nix was a bit more acidic. She might be more shanti, but I’m more alkaline - booyah. The grapefruit seed extract we take every day seems to be doing its job (it better do, it tastes foul).
Komal asked us when we will next be in India. We said we had no idea – it is entirely paisa dependant. He told us we could stay with him, all food and accommodation taken care of, no problem, which illustrates another facet of India I love - generosity of spirit.
As we sat on the river bank this afternoon, Nix pointed out that the only times I have got annoyed in India thus far have been the three times I’ve tried (and failed) to get online. Spending all day on a computer (or even 5 minutes on a computer if it isn’t working as it should) doesn’t agree with me any longer (if it ever did) – I’ve spent too many years of my life on computers and have little to no patience for them these days. So I’ll have to make changes on my return home, where I spend much of my day in front of a machine chasing/attempting to create opportunities, writing music, “social networking”, then rinsing and repeating ad infinitum for an end that I seem to have lost sight of (maybe I’m finally letting go of the end)....
I am enjoying not thinking about music, much less writing any. Instead I am enjoying writing down my thoughts and experiences during our travels – I’d even go so far as to say it’s therapeutic. Writing for writing’s sake, without caring if it will be well received by others, whether I will get gigs out of it or earn money from it, whether it’s grammatically correct and so on.... Whenever I feel there is an expectation on or from something I am doing, the enjoyment dissipates and I snap into “means to an end” mode. This inevitably means I am completely pulled out of the moment (and enjoyment) and dropped unceremoniously into “worrying about the future” mode. I need to break that permanently. Balancing enjoyment with sustainability is a tricky tightrope to walk....
One of the best aspects of travelling is the feeling of starting again, of being able to reinvent yourself. There is no history with place or person, only a feeling of freshness and newness. I’m content to be nobody and content to do nothing – a blank slate presented with an opportunity to live life differently, if only for a short time before the past catches up again and old habits return.... What I now have to do is learn how to integrate that same approach into my daily life – that is where my biggest challenges lie....
Nix and I bumped into Angelina the hijra in the market today. She speaks no English at all, but from what she was saying I gather her “husband” had left her, so I made a simplistic joke in Hindi about good husbands staying and bad husbands leaving which, amazingly, seemed to be understood (and even laughed at) by her and all the traders in the vicinity. We then said our swift goodbyes and ducked out for chai before my faltering Hindi became over-stretched.
As I was helping Mangla prepare dinner tonight she confided in me that she had “too much tension.” This surprised me as she always seems so bright and breezy (as indeed do most Indians). I asked her what the problem was and she told me that she was not happy about the marriage that had been arranged for her - her fiancé is lazy, expecting her to do everything for him, but doing nothing for her in return (from what I have seen of him this is an accurate appraisal). She is also plagued by doubt about the future and fears she will not get any help from anyone in her life – she feels alone. Evidently the upbeat “no tension” approach to life which I have been admiring in so many Indians of late may simply be a jovial smoke screen concealing underlying worries and concerns that are fundamentally the same as mine albeit under different circumstances. I asked her why she doesn’t talk about this with her Mum. She intimated it would upset her Mum and that she wants her Mum to be happy. I told her that her devotion is commendable, and suggested that her Mum (and her Dad if he was still alive) would want her to be happy too. Her response was that things don’t work that way in India. I think it’s sad that someone so young feels her future is mapped out before her and that the road ahead is looking troublesome, but recognize that I also feel my future is uncertain. She feels we are lucky to be able to choose our partners in the West. Maybe so, but choice is no indicator or guarantee of happiness as soaring separation/divorce statistics clearly illustrate. Confusion and uncertainty seem to be the keystones of life.
Big day out in Sanawad today. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth (power cuts/internet cuts/viruses on the shop pc causing extremely odd behaviours/language barriers with the (very nice) shop owner etc) we managed to get Mangla a basic site up and running. Mission accomplished. Praise Bhagawan. Here's the result:
When I got round to checking my own tings, it would appear Facebook has blocked or deleted my Indidginus music page as well as locking me out of the personal page side of things. Nicely. Anyhoo.... The universe is definitely providing me with opportunities to let go of aspects of my life that drive me mental much of the time in my home environment, so in that regard I should be grateful. I’m still working on actually being grateful ;) Getting there - direh, direh....
I got told off by Nix because I asked the guy sitting right on top of me to move coz his socks were absolutely honking (they ask you to take shoes off at internet cafes here – not a good move for those with smelly feet). I reminded her that our idea of what is considered rude is relative to our culture - these guys gob and snot (and worse) all over the place ;) In India they don’t have words for such niceties as “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” etc (well they do, but they are “pure” Hindi words that nobody ever uses. A bit like speaking the Queen’s English I guess). From what I can tell Indians are not fussed by being told off – they just nod their head and get on with it. And to give him his due, the guy did actually move! If I’d done that in SA a fight would have broken out ;) Ear bashings are par for the course here (as was our experience on the endurance test otherwise known as a train journey that we went on from Mumbai to Kandwar), and are not to be taken personally.... The best way to deal with it is to smile and shake your head furiously ;)
We didn’t make it to the mela last night after all, instead crashing out at 8.30pm. I guess the sleep deprivation has finally caught up.
I was told recently that I “sit like a cock”. I replied that sitting like a cock is my speciality. I have no idea what they actually meant by that unique turn of phrase (I wasn’t aware that cocks of either variety sit), but it made me laugh out loud to hear it.
Having a day off from India today to watch Lord of the Rings ;)
The mela reaches its pinnacle today. Hordes of devotees have been walking past the ashram since 4am this morning to bathe at Sangam. Nix has bravely headed out to photograph. I’m about to have chai and poha (reminds me of Busta Rhymes’ Wooha song every time I hear that word), then I might pluck up the courage to walk beyond the safety of the ashram gates. There are a lot of people out there....
Sweet Jesus, it looks like the mela may just have come to me. I can see out my window that a bunch of Indians have appeared in the ashram courtyard and are shouting. Run away, run away.... Bar the doors and baton down the hatches. A couple of days back I saw Saddhus at an ashram further down the road putting up barbed wire fence to keep people out. I thought at the time that they may have been overreacting. I’m beginning to think differently now. I believe machine gun turrets may be in order....
So, I spent the morning helping Komal drum up business for his chai stall as the hordes walked past en-route to Sangam. Having a white person standing there brings much interest and top dollar ;) And a multitude of photo requests – they wanted me to pose (cheesily) with each and every person in their extended families. I told them it was ek so (100) rupees a photo and they quickly changed their minds. Ha, take some of your own medicine! I waived the fee for the ones who seemed nice ;)
I sat for a good couple of hours observing the Indians walking by. They behaved very much like flowing water (ah so Mr Braithwaite) – they moved around all obstacles in their way without any complaint, irritation or aggression (unlike commuters in London rush hour for instance). A good lesson there for me, although I did enjoy observing the incessant river of devotees from the comfort of my chai stall river bank ;) I also took some time to paint a bright orange Bindi on Lucy the ashram dog to get into the spirit of things. She was very well behaved about it, and looked awesome when it was all done.
Later on Nix and I headed towards the insanity of the bazaar. I’m not sure what we were thinking ;) The town is looking filthy now, as you can imagine with over 100,000 people walking the narrow streets dropping litter as they go. Eco-consciousness is a concept foreign to India. The walkways were filled with paan stains (betel nut chewing baccy mix that Indians love to spit all over the place), and the sweet smells of urine and poo wafted around us. I thought I had died and gone to pooey heaven. Despite this, everyone was happy and I found this to be most contagious - it helped me to retain a good humour through the heat, chaos and crowds. I was “hari om’ing” and “narmadehar’ing” my little heart out.
Nix wants to go to the Mela again tonight to capture the busyness on camera. That means I’ll be going too, so am busy psyching myself up now. Bend like bamboo grasshopper. Wax on, wax off....
Managed 3 hours continuous sleep last night and I am feeling stoked about that today. It’s the little things in life.... ;) Parents with small children must feel like this.
The Mela was an experience. The Mort Ka Kua was particularly impressive - 2 guys doing mental tings in a centrifugal fashaan with motorbikes and a car. They would be genius in traffic, although you might shite yourself if you were their passenger. Somewhat less impressive was the circus (bit of a misnomer really as it was effectively only a short magic show). The extensive signage looked (unintentionally) hilarious and alluring with promises of levitating skulls, vampires and Bollywood babes being saw-milled in half. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this was merely a ruse to fill the seats (which had no bottoms to them so when you sat down you got stuck – I think this also may have been a deliberate ploy to keep punters from leaving after the matinee had begun and did not live up to its promises). Men had to sit to one side of the tent and women the other. I’m not sure what they were expecting to happen if men and women sat together. I myself did not find the show over stimulating or especially arousing.
After extensive hyping by the guy outside the tent for about half an hour or so, the magic began. We waited with baited breath.... Two masculine-looking hijras (transgenders – look out Debbie McGee) stood on stage looking bored out of their skulls (disappointingly no levitating was involved with those) and a “magician” who looked like a Desi version of the Lone Ranger ran through some outrageously bad tricks in a similarly comatose fashion. The “best” trick was a floating/moving ball held behind a sheet, which he held in front of his crotch whilst doing a little dance. This gave the impression of a pulsating erection. There were children in the audience, shame on him. All the while the Desi Ranger was flanked by his two swaying/pouting hijra assistants. This scene will be indelibly etched into my mind for time immemorial (in the section that stores surreal and ludicrous experiences).
During the performance the Desi Ranger made use of an exceptionally loud sound system to explain what he was doing (forget sleight of hand – I think the sound system was used for the purpose of distraction as we sat wincing with fingers in ears). The soundtrack to this magical extravaganza was a manic Bhangra mashup of what I think was “Club Tropicana”. The local attendees seemed to absolutely love the show. Indians are a great crowd to play to. Penn and Teller would send them into a frenzy. No wonder I had such fun last year when I played music here. You can basically do anything and they will love it (perhaps that doesn’t say much about the quality aspect, but the enjoyment aspect goes through the roof!).
Nix found the only hijra in the village (Mangla tells us that Angelina is Omkareshwar’s solo transgender) at the show. She was sitting next to her in the female section, so Nix took the opportunity to get her number and ask her if she can photograph her to continue her hijra story from last year.
Komal, God (or should I say Bhagawan) bless him, kept us plied with chai throughout the night. He seems to know everyone in town, and jumped on various chai stalls to brew us up VIP teas as we moved about the festival. Nobody seemed to mind, and we loved it. Chai is good any time. Mangla acted as bodyguard against drunken Indian guys ;) I wouldn’t mess with her. She might be tiny, but she can give a serious ear bashing.
Nix found a snake in the toilet today. Who needs Toilet Duck when you have Toilet Saap? We were told that it’s poisonous. I have no idea if it was or not but it was fascinating to watch nonetheless. It was quite beautiful in it’s in own right – shining brown coloured with white/grey stripes running along the body. I let Mangla know we have a guest and her normally smiling face turned to one of horror and she started screaming for Mamaji. I was somewhat taken aback by the strength of her reaction and asked her not to kill it (as it wasn’t actually harming anyone), but her response was that a snake is a snake and that one had badly bitten her father.... All a matter of perspective I guess, like everything else in life. At this point Mamaji leapt (literally) into action with a stick, nearly knocking the tin roof off the toilet in her eagerness to chase the snake away. Nix and I were canning ourselves with laughter to see this little old lady in a sari going after the snake in full power mode. The snake began to writhe around (I would have too) and slid off to the relative safety of the darker recesses of the roof. We think it’s still lurking there somewhere. Should keep us on our toes during late night toilet trips ;)
I keep smacking my head on doorframes all over the place. They are way too low for me in India. I’m not exactly what you would call tall, but I seem to be a Goliath compared to the average Indian. Darth Vader would get properly hacked off moving about here. “Luke, join me and together we can.... Ouch! For fuck’s sake.... Goddam these bloody doors.”
I spent the night staring at the ceiling and observing my breath. I’m amazed I’m not hallucinating from sleep deprivation yet. Maybe that is still to come. At dawn we went on parikramar around the island. Nix got some good photos of pilgrims bathing at Sangam, and I partook of some instagram bidniz with my trusty phone. Although it’s more a case of delayedagram since telecommunications don’t work very well (or at all) here.
Further down the road Nix was rammed by a cow, then a goat and rounded off the hat trick by slipping on her butt in some muddy slime (at least we hope it was just slime – you never know round these parts). Fortunately both she and her Canon Mark II were OK ;) For my part, I got slapped by a monkey (not a euphemism) atop the Shiva Temple. Fortunately it wasn’t a Bombay Bitch Slap ™. I’ve never been spanked by a monkey before. It was a surreal experience, and a great way to start the day. Everyone should be spanked by a monkey at least once in their lives.
We went for another walk to the main bazaar (or “bajar” as they say here. The locals can’t seem to get their tongue around “Nikki” either – she is known to all as “Jiji”) this arvo and down to the Nagar Ghat so Nix could take some more photos. On the way we had to run the usual “Hari Om Give Me One Pen” gauntlet. Street kids in most other countries tend to ask for money. In Omkareshwar they prefer school equipment. Respect.
We also had to dodge Feather Duster Guru who uses what looks like a large feather duster to shepherd in passers-by to pay homage to the Ganesha statue he guards daily and give him paisa. I’ve worked out an avoidance technique that I like to call “The Rajasthani Method”, which basically involves hovering just prior to the shrine until a large group of Rajasthanis walk by (and you can rest assured they always do). I then cunningly place them between me and Feather Duster Guru so they can be herded whilst I run off into the sunset. Feather Duster Guru always notices mind you, and shouts a variety of God’s names after me as I disappear into the distance.... He hasn’t caught me yet though, and I’m not superstitious.
Further down the road we came across a guy who had a mountain of coins in front of him at his stall, nothing else. Most of the other folk who had set up at the side of the road were either selling chai, cheap plastic toys, religious paraphernalia or begging for grain. It struck me that this guy had the air of a sacrosanct second hand car salesman about him. He definitely seemed to have the Del boy banter down pat and to be doing well out of it. And last but by no means least, we came upon Disco Guru just before arriving at the Bazaar - a Saddhu who was sitting comfortably in front of a hifi (more a lofi really that had the volume set to 11) with accompanying flashing lights which was blasting out the latest and greatest Bhajans. I quite liked him (more so than Feather Duster Guru at any rate).
I found out from Komal (our local chai wallah extraordinaire) that the large inscribed stones running along the length of the parikramar route contain excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita. It didn’t surprise me that the stones were religious, and it’s another thing I dig about India - bringing in the sacred wherever and whenever possible. The flip side of the coin is that the very same beautifully carved spiritual stones had graffiti all over them! No doubt it was blessed graffiti ;)
Mangla is feeling happy because Nix and I are going to help her put together a basic website for the Ashram – that was part of the reason we did the early walk this morning, to get some good photos for the purpose. We sat together last night after dinner brainstorming copy and have got that sorted. Next week we’ll head in to Sanawad to attempt a session at an internet cafe to upload and finalize the site. Hopefully the stars will be aligned that day and it will all work as it should (technology hasn’t so far for us). It feels good to be of service to someone, especially people as deserving of help as Mangla and her Mum. I often wonder if the skills I have (such as they are) are actually of any use to anyone. It seems that in rural India they just might be.
We’re all going to head to the funfair tonight. Mort Ka Kua here we come. I reckon some good video footage could be had as it’s not meant to be too busy today. We’re also going to brave the crowds on Sunday when they are expecting over 100,000 people to attend. That should be interesting, and challenging.
Passed Hindi 101 (by the skin of my teeth), got annoyed by internet issues again, had a pointless trivial argument with Nix, went for a walk then a swim, and pondered uncertainty on the river bank. Uncertainty – not knowing how things will turn out. Implied in that is the possibility of a positive outcome not only a negative one. Despite knowing this, I often assume the negative. I must have a severe learning disability if I haven’t understood it yet....
I also got to thinking about money. We live in a world obsessed by money, and don’t know how to live without it. Money features in pretty much every aspect of life. So how to make positive changes that involve less chasing for/needing the green? I have no idea. Maybe it will come to me during my next swim ;)
Another night of no sleep for me. I managed to finally get a couple of hours at around 6am (Nix went on the photo mission on her own ;)) and dreamed vivid dreams about gypsy thieves and loss. During the times I have managed to get some shut eye thus far I have had many realistic dreams, which is unusual for me.
I have spent much of the day thinking again - danger, danger, free thinking alert. I feel like I fit in better here than I do at home. I would have thought it would be the other way around. Maybe I was Indian in a past life. Or maybe I am just having more experiences which feel fresh and new here than I do at home – life feels less monotonous and mundane. Not having any sort of schedule helps a lot. I find that I get way too stuck in doing at home – always feeling that I should be doing something and pushing, pushing, pushing to get money, improve prospects blah, blah, blah. Whereas here I am being more than doing, which is a great feeling. I know that it’s not possible to draw direct comparisons between daily routines and requirements here and at home, and I know the feeling can change in an instant (India has that love/hate switch) but I really enjoy the feeling of being much more so than the feeling of chasing/doing. I’d really like to maintain it at home. That’s where lifestyle comes in - it can really help or hinder. Being seems to be a lot more supported/considered normal in India than at home. At home people are mostly of the opinion that being doesn’t achieve anything and is basically just being lazy ;) I don’t agree (if the intent is correct). It feels more like stepping out of the madness and enjoying what is right in front of me - appreciating how amazing life can be through watching fish gently swimming in the river or seeing a kingfisher skimming across the surface for instance, and feeling lucky to be present to that. I don’t often feel that way when I’m doing the usual at home. The world needs be’ers as much as it needs do’ers – frequency holders of sorts ;) I always thought I should have been born a trustafarian. I am quite brilliant at doing nothing – I excel at it in fact. Further, I find myself having less and less ambition as I grow older. I also have to trust in life more, since it is worry that spurs on my chasing.
Nix and I had a fairly lazy day meandering around the market. She took some shots of devotees at the ghats whilst I practiced my bartering technique on a boat owner called Akash (which means “Sky” in Hindi – nice name. Better than let’s say Kev or Trev, which sound blunt and mean absolutely nothing. No disrespect to the Kevs and Trevs out there). We also wandered over to check out the Wall of Death (or Mort Ka Kua - “Well of Death” - as they call it here) at the fairground they are building. It looks hardcore. They have built the wall around a small car, which I assume they are going to take for a spin. The circuit is so small and steep that I cannot see any way that physics will allow the car to get up on the wall in the first place. But we’re in India – land of faith, not physics. I’m intrigued to see what they pull out the bag.
Now for some Hindi revision. I’ve got my “Level One” No Tears Hindi exam with Mangla tomorrow ;) It should be interesting to string together days of the week and numbers 1 to 50 (if I can remember them all) with words such as when, happiness, goat, lemon, incense, tired and turban and make any sort of sense, but I’m up for the challenge. Reminds me when I did an American sign language exam at the University of New Mexico having missed (skived) every class in the semester. I was more into doing lifeguarding (think I had delusions of Baywatch) and Aikido than attending uni classes. I spent the night cramming at Denny’s (where they gave out free bottomless coffees), managed to get a couple of “phrases” together and felt pretty good about myself. Sadly my phrases fell woefully short of hitting the mark when it came time to do the exam. I guess there’s only so many ways you can sign “cat” without getting boring. The examiner just shook his head after 5 minutes and gave me an F ;) I took that to mean F for Fantastic. Glass half full all the way.... How Indian of me.
The mela began first thing this morning. As we were sat meditating in our cell (getting spiritual brownie points) we could hear women singing as they walked past the ashram in droves – it felt like we were in One Giant Leap, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind ;) They were doing parikramar – walking from Omkareshwar to Sangam following the Narmada river and heading back down to Omkareshwar following the Kaveri river. We decided to do the same so Nix could work out good spots to document the journey tomorrow with her trusty Canon Mark II. There are some amazing old ruins along the way – they looked like props out of an Indiana Jones movie and are probably about one thousand years old. We are told that there will be some five lakh people (500,000) doing the walk from today until Sunday and that the crowds will reach full power on the purnima (full moon). I think I might have a dentist’s appointment on that day. Actually, scratch that. I’ve seen what the street dentists are like here – medieval torture instruments a plenty without the benefit of novocaine. Maybe I’ll just do the walk on the busy day after all. As we arrived at the point on the parikramar furthest away from our ashram, Nix had a sudden urge to use the loo - dangerous. So we had to walk/sprint all the way back through town to return to our lodgings, and the welcome familiarity of toilet paper.
The quintessential poor quality/broken loudspeakers that are indispensable to all gatherings in India have started up. Gonna have ‘em blazing 24/7 during the festival. Today all we’ve heard is “Hello, hello, hello Omkareshwar” repeated over and over. Perhaps this is the Indian version of Good Morning Vietnam. We headed back into town later on to check out more photo opportunities and I realized I was very hungry, so we stopped off for a couple of aloo parathas (potato pancakes, of a fashion) and watched the world go by. As we sat munching on our savoury snacks and observing the endless stream of pilgrims walk past, I noticed that Indians really, really like garish colours – from fluoro green Rajasthani turbans bobbing about in the crowd, to extreme orange henna hair colouring (amber sunrise for men?) on older gents who were shooting the breeze with each other in the marketplace and comparing moustaches, to neon blue and pink painted Shiva and Ganesha statues that adorned the parikramar route. India doesn’t do subtle.
On our return home, the walkway to the ashram along the river had filled up with beggars (considering that the walk back to our gaff from town is about thirty minutes that is a lot of beggars). The monkeys and goats were also out in force stealing traders’ wares and offerings made to shrines and said beggars. I had Nix’s monopod in hand ready to mete out punishment to any that tried it on with our bags. Interestingly mela means “dirty” as well as “festival” (may have different spelling in the case of dirty, but sounds the same when spoken). Very appropriate ;) When we returned I opted for the easy option of a shower and crashing out whilst Nix soldiered on to Sangam to get some sunset photos of devotees. Apparently I’m going to be accompanying her on a 4am photo mission to the ghats. It will no doubt be an experience. And if life’s not about experiences what is it about?
So, today was another lesson in patience. We spent a full day of travel via bus (including the usual obligatory delays for goats, rickshaws, trains and so on ;)) and walking to reach the neighbouring town of Sanawad and an internet cafe. We had more luck getting online here, but I discovered I’ve been locked out of my Facebook account for using an unfamiliar computer, and there ain’t any way for me to get back into it without some confirmation code or other that is being sent to my cellphone in South Africa. Fat lot of good that is in India! So my online experience lasted all of 5 minutes. Thusly, it looks like there will be no updates from me via my Indidginus page for some time.... Nice one Zukkerberg. It’s crazy that we are so paranoid about security these days over the most trivial things – I can’t get a SIM card in India in case I’m a Pakistani terrorist, and I can’t get on to Facebook because I seemingly hacked my own account from an Indian cybercafé. Ha ;) It’s all pushing me in the direction of letting go again.... So bring it on. We are living in increasingly unhelpful ways I think, and I’m keen to take a backseat on much of it. Or avoid it altogether if possible.
On the plus side, we ate some kick ass samosas (which hopefully won’t kick our asses later) and managed to book our train tickets to Mumbai on the 28th November with the help of the very nice geezer who ran the second internet cafe we went to (they had more than one in the town!). We even got some free chai thrown in. And his good vibe definitely lifted my day. Note to self – be more like him.... It’s much better. 2nd class AC booking this time – no more unreserved general class for us (unless we *really* have to)..... The last journey was an endurance test of epic proportions – my hips and knees still haven’t recovered! We also bought some ayurvedic medicine to help on the sleep front. Looking forward to trying some of that tonight – it tastes really good, which is a plus. Had a wicked bath in the Narmada earlier this evening as the sun set the sky pon fire - definitely lifts the spirits.
Doing hand washing in a bucket at dawn (as I did this morning, bizarrely enough) also lifts the spirits – Omkareshwar was so quiet, and the colours were amazing as the sun rose over the river and forest. The bird life was kicking off too. I saw the most amazing parrots, minah birds and other feathered friends of unknown genealogy flitting about the place, which beats a run-of-the-mill washing machine experience hands down. And to end my day, I got some good feedback on my Hindi tonight at dinner with Mangla and Mamaji, although I still sound as though I am saying “coriander” when I mean to say thank you ;) Apparently I also look a lot happier now than when I first arrived.... Hum myahan bahot kush he.
Talk about surrendering to what is - I’ve spent the last few days attempting to get said SIM card and to get online to post this lot. No joy. A good example of how India can push buttons, and then break them ;) The latest phone story is that we apparently need to show our father’s name in our passports before we can buy SIM cards. It’s got something to do with Pakistani terrorists. I’m not sure how my Dad is mixed up with Pakistani terrorists, but you never know. You can’t be too safe these days. Stranger things have happened, especially in India. I tried explaining that both British and South African passports (and probably any other passport in the known Universe) will only show the passport holder’s name, not their father’s name, their mother’s name or their uncle’s name. Sadly my logic did not prevail. From what I can tell Indian passports must give the whole family tree. None of the shop keepers were budging (we tried several in two towns). Here again there may be a silver lining though. When we told Mangla the cost of the SIM cards that we couldn’t buy (we asked for a price anyway just to get an idea) she nearly fell off her seat. A local can get a SIM card for 5 to 15 Rupees. We were told by the shopkeepers that it would be anything from 150 Rupees to 300 Rupees. It is basically impossible for foreigners to get anything for the price it says on the tin ;) There’s an unwritten “foreigner tax” that goes on top of almost everything. One shop keeper said there is only a single option available to us and that would be to buy a SIM card for the “Reliance” network. I could see in his beady little eyes that he was holding something back, so I turned his “offer” down. I found out later that Reliance is a network that only works in Gujarat! This isn’t going to help us much in Madhya Pradesh, or anywhere else we’re going to in India for that matter. Indian businessmen take the gentle art of conmanship to another level. I thought things were bad in Africa, but these guys could scam the Nigerian crew under the table! And all for number one best price.
On the internet front there is only one shop in Omkareshwar. It is massively overpriced and has a Hindi language pack on the one computer it possesses, which makes typing in English particularly challenging ;) Ah well, we wanted to unplug from the matrix, and behold, that is wah Jah provide. It’s also a great way to help increase my (generally low) patience tolerance threshold. India provides an abundance of opportunities for practice in that arena. So for now, I’m able to type on my laptop which is cool, and I’ll upload these tomes when I next get a chance to hook in to the net somewhere else in India. It’s all good – it gives Nix and I time to focus on other things, like learning some basic Hindi, getting cooking lessons from Mangla and swimming in the Narmada. I also want to see if I can get some harmonium lessons. I’m keen to play Peter Tosh tunes on a harmonium. Not sure if that’s been done yet. It should make for an interesting kirtan session at any rate. There’s a mela (festival) coming up next week which should afford Nix some great photo opportunities. We’re particularly looking forward to experiencing the Indian version of the “Wall of Death”. Although it might be prudent to observe from a distance as they might mean it literally. Health and safety aren’t exactly key priorities here.
Today we mostly walked along the ghats (bathing areas and sometimes dead body burning areas on the river banks – in India the 2 are suitably juxtaposed to get your whites whiter) and spent some time in the market using our best Hindi to buy dahi (curd) and nibu (lemons) for Mangla and her Mamaji. I was feeling suitably proud of myself but had absolutely no clue what the replies I received meant, so resorted to my best sign language and mime to complete the transactions. And we only had to pay about 1/3 on top of what the local massive do. That’s Asda price.
I am considering getting a t-shirt printed up that says “Namaste. My good name is Michael. My good country is South Africa” to save time during future excursions. We had many groups of Gujaratis asking us for that info throughout the day. They also asked us to pose for the obligatory “Gujarati extended family with random white persons” photos. I am stupefied by their intense interest in us. Now I know what Brad Pitt must feel like. Poor guy, rather him than me. He can keep his fame and fortune innit.
On a different note, we’ve basically not slept for more than two hours a night since arriving in India and yet feel strangely up-tempo. That is not at all usual for either of us. At home we would both be miserable gits under the same circumstances. Perhaps there’s a raised vibration here. Or perhaps they put speed in the chai. I don’t know. We’ve decided that if tomorrow morning we’re still staring at the ceiling at 5am we will go down to the ghats to join in the pujas (prayers) that go on at that time there each day. That should take us one step closer to our seats in Heaven ;)
India really is an assault on the senses. Actually, assault is putting it too mildly. More like a weapon of mass destruction for the senses. We arrived in Mumbai at midnight on Monday, lay on the arrivals hall floor for 4 hours or so then got a rickshaw to LLT station for our onward train journey to Khandwar. The smells are so intense when driving through Mumbai. Musty urine blends in with potent wafts of incense, and both are amplified by the heat. It’s not as crazily hot as when we were in India last year (when it often hit the 50 degrees mark with 98% humidity), but it’s still hot enough for 5.30am. When we arrived at the LLT station I was surprised by how orderly the queues were. I have never experienced an orderly queue in India before, and I had amped myself for a free-for-all fight to get a ticket. It soon became apparent why the Indians were not queue barging. The station master spotted a queue barger in our line, came over and slapped him hard through the face (Bombay Bitch Slap ™). His method seemed to do the trick nicely and order was maintained. Next he turned his attention on us. After I determined he wasn’t going to slap me, he motioned for us to jump the queue (the irony wasn’t lost on me). He was going help us get our tickets. The Gods were smiling on us at that moment I think, although I felt very guilty that we were the only ones in the station who were officially sanctioned to queue barge! Mind you, when I looked at the length of the queue (which we’d been stood in for an hour already) I soon got over it. He warned us that the only tickets available were for general class and that it would be very busy. That rung all sorts of alarm bells in my head (for an Indian to say it’s busy you know it’s going to be insane), but Nikki went on to cheerfully say we were seasoned travellers and that it would be no problem for us. I kept quiet.
We had 10 minutes to catch the train, so made our way to the platform. It was immediately evident that the station master hadn’t understated himself. There was absolutely no space to move. I had to get into London commuter mode and barge us a path through the luggage and crowds of people standing or sitting on the floor. I offered multiple “excuse me’s” as I went past which made me feel a bit better about the forceful approach. Without force though I don’t think we would have made it onto the train at all. Every carriage was rammed to overflowing – people were hanging out the doors and faces were pushed up against the bars of every window. After running the length of about half a dozen carriages it dawned on us that this was as good as it was going to get. So, time for some more good old British force (accompanied by a suitable amount of “pardon me’s” to offset the karma mileage) in getting us on to the carriage. Next challenge – find a place for our butts and our bags. Luckily our lack of Hindi meant we could play dumb to the max. And we did. So after much shouting from other passengers and lots of smiles from us we claimed a corner of a ground level bench (there are 3 levels of benches/sleeping platforms in 3rd Class). I thought we were home free, but then another family appeared (God only knows how) and started shouting/waving a ticket. I thought it better for me to get up without argument to give Nix a chance to stay where she was, so I did that and climbed up on to the corner of a 2nd level bench in the corridor opposite Nix that was housing a multitude of luggage. A few seconds later another guy got up from below and began shouting at me in Hindi. I adopted the same inane grin/head nodding approach. Eventually he gave up and let me stay in my perch, for the time being.
It wasn’t long before other passengers started shouting at me. I had to deflect them for the next 10 hours from a position where I could not move at all (all I can say is that it is very fortunate I have flexible hips and that I’m in surrender mode). I could see Nikki doing the same on the ground level. I felt proud of both of us – neither lost our temper, which could easily have happened in the midst of the chaos combined with the heat and lack of sleep we were experiencing. We found out from another passenger that it was the Diwali holidays and the busiest time to use public transport since families were moving around all over India. So for anybody thinking of travelling in India at the beginning of November - don’t ;) Next mission, should we choose to accept it, was to find out when to get off the train.... It’s next to impossible to find out when your stop is in India – everyone tells you something different, a theme that tends to recur throughout all things in India. Our general approach is to ask 3 different people the same question - if there is agreement from 2 out of 3 then that must be right (or as close to right as you’re going to get). If there’s no agreement then it’s time to breathe, a lot. And then surrender.
We eventually made it to Khandwar that evening and decided to stay the night. It would have pushed us over the edge to carry on to Omkareshwar. We ran the gauntlet of ubiquitous touts and rickshaw drivers and found a decent (but expensive) hotel near the station. We were too tired to argue on price or look for anywhere else so went with it. I was looking forward to sleeping but had those hopes dashed by the bus terminus conveniently located on the side of the hotel where our room was. Horn OK please. Loud please. Throughout the night please. Bus horns in India have a volume similar to World War II air raid sirens. Luckily, we didn’t have far to go to catch our bus to Omkareshwar the next morning. Silver linings in everything ;)
Omkareshwar is much less chaotic than either Mumbai or Khandwar. And there was much rejoicing. We spent a couple of hours wandering the streets with our backpacks to find a place to stay and eventually came across the Gayatri Temple in Sangam (the point where the Narmada river meets the Kaveri river). We are basically staying in a meditation cell, which suits us perfectly. Very basic, but cheap and quiet (being about a half hour walk from the hustle bustle of the main town area). The Temple is run by Mangla and her Mum – both are amazing people. Her father was a Sanyasin (travelling mendicant) who established the Ashram some years back. Sadly he died of liver cancer two years ago. When speaking to them I was truly impressed by their ability to get on with life happily and accept the hand that has been dealt them without any trace of negativity. This is why I love India. In amidst the con artists and pandemonium there are some beautiful human beings who could teach the rest of the world a thing or two (hundred). The vast majority of us in the West are so busy running about chasing “success” that we put no focus towards anything else. Our mantra is “money, money, money”. And it does us no good at all. We live in our little (or in some cases massive) Ivory towers looking out for only ourselves, until life throws us serious suffering (which it will inevitably do – just a question of when) and then we cry about it and fall into victim mode. Then the Ivory towers start to crumble and we realize too late that all the money in the world ultimately does not help.
We are very happy to be here. And it’s great to eat with Mangla and her Mum each evening - their cooking skills rock. I’ve got myself a “Learn Hindi Without Tears” book and am slowly learning/remembering how to say such gems as “mosquito” and “this chai tastes great” (much to the amusement of all within earshot). The Narmada river is at the foot of the Ashram so each night Nix and I have gone swimming in it accompanied by the soundtrack of Saddhus chanting in the temples along the banks. It feels amazing after the dust and heat of the day, and makes the hectic journey to get here worthwhile. I’ve spent a good while observing the abundant wildlife too – so many species of birds.... And monkeys.... I am a particular fan of the white monkeys with the big eyebrows that make them look like grumpy old men. Not such a big fan of the pink faced ones who seem to be inclined to be thieves, and puts me right back into African mode ;)
We’re off now to find the mythical SIM card for foreigners. We have thus far come up against crazy rules which make it impossible to buy them if you are a non-Indian in Madhya Pradesh. But where there is a will there is way I suppose. And if not, then there’s always the option of surrender to what is ;)
Greetings all. My original intention of posting about our travels to Facebook has been foiled by Facebook ;) They've blocked me from accessing my page and appear to have removed my Indidginus music page. And all becuase I tried to login via an internet cafe in India. Anyway, internet connectivity here in rural India is almost non-existent, and life is too short for emails back and forth with Facebook customer services, so we are instead setting up this blog for anyone interested in reading what we are up to....
There will be several posts all in go, because we can only rarely get in to the neighbouring town of Sanawad to the internet shop here. Please bear with us :)