Migrating With A ‘Grey Goose’.

Paul lounged back onto the faux leopard settee and stared intently at the stone grey sea. He lifted a glass of ‘Grey Goose’ to his lips, a tad too quickly, and clumsily clinked his front tooth.

He winced.

As nature’s horizon started to sulk in her winter coat, he departed her company and began to imagine an altogether different sky. A celestial ocean of the arcane, exotic and sometimes plain bloody odd that Paul and Andrew knew had the uncanny ability to propel them to that most elusive of destinations – the present. Whenever they had donned their backpacks and hit tropical climes before they’d both been struck by the same notion, that through the unknown, the unknown known can become known.

Or something like that!

Paul suffered from a penchant to write too deep at times, he knew ‘a change is as good as a rest’ would have sufficed. Well, almost.

The familiar, however comforting, can always become, over-familiar.

Often, thought Paul, it is better to be blown along on an unknown current of peaks and troughs, gliding the occasional thermal if lucky. Soaring like an eagle. Rather than fermenting in the familiar like a flightless DoDo – going nowhere – we all know what happened to them!

And that would never dodo!

As of yet, he knew not where – only when they would be going.

The past year had continued to gather interest since Paul and Andrew had returned from their great adventure in India in May. Andrew had given up smoking,  so most of this interesting period had been conducted in the manner of the cult classic ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?’.

Paul playing the part of the long-suffering Blanche Darnell far too well, revelling, ‘Crawfordesque’ in his highly theatrical martyrdom.

Whilst Andrew, reeled dramatically from ‘Kitchen Sink’ to drink, stealing the show with his smoke-free performance of the role played by the splendidly deranged Bette Davis!

Jane Hudson had nothing on Baby Jane Kennedy sans Marlboro!

It was during this unsympathetic, cinematic state of affairs that the ‘The Lola Boys’ made a professional jaunt to Ireland and to Norway.

The Irish, of course, took it all in their stride. Taking the ‘Burton and Taylor’ style to be part of the craic! Paul and Andrew adored them. They’d discovered a second home on ‘The Emerald Isle’. A place where even the woman in ‘Boots – The Chemist’ came straight out of James Joyce. Everywhere was poetry. And everybody drank. Or at least knew someone who did!

The boys then took their ‘B Movie’ to Oslo! And the Norwegians? Well, they ploughed on like true vikings -literally! Too blind drunk to notice that Paul and Andrew were spitting crossbows at one another! Yet equally charming in a more Norsey kinda way. Paul considered them a marvellous race of ravers. Party hard – then clean up your own vomit!

The next day there was not a sign of the ‘rape and pillage’ that had occurred the previous night.

Truly impressive.

The same couldn’t be said for one particular morning following a ‘Lola Boys’ performance on the Isle Of Man, where the evidence of the naughty, the night before, was still well and truly evident. The result of one over zealous middle-aged woman dropping to her knees and attempting to felate Paul through his leatherette whilst singing the number ’I Will Survive’!

Paul was singing the number, the kneeling woman was mouthing an altogether different figure!

Paul swore he could still see molar marks along his ‘mic stand’ the following day.

But he survived.

And always did.

Indeed, he thought about the many times when he and Andrew both got groped before, after and during a ‘Lola Boys’ show.

At times it seemed that Harvey Weinstein was one of the few people who didn’t have his hands all over their talent!

Being ‘woman handled’ was no less unappealing.

Paul had known early on, from the serious teachings of Ms Mae West, that it was always better to be looked over than overlooked. He just wasn’t sure over-grabbed was part of the bargain! Worryingly, he knew he’d never complain! After all – he held the real power – really. Didn’t he? Not like the poor showfolk who were forced to succumb to Harvey’s despicable ploys.

Paul considered Mr Weinstein to be a prick of the first order, though doubted that particular part of the ex-producer’s anatomy would also get the same accolade. He was well aware any alcoholic-fuelled, over-enthusiastic mauling that went on during ‘The Lola Boys’ experience was just that. Not something sinister.

But it was still bloody painful!

It reminded him of an experience he ‘d had in Phuket, whilst playing ‘Connect Four’ with a lady boy in a shady bar in Patpong. Chancing her luck, the tricksy temptress had moved her hand into his lap during a particularly close round and had then squeezed his left testicle very firmly thinking she’d made a connection. Paul had explained very firmly, through watering eyes, that was certainly not what he had come in to connect for !

Cheek!

Paul bashes his tooth again with the same glass of vodka, bringing him out of his ribald reverie and back to his daydreaming on the fake leopard.

He notices the sky has now shed her winter clothes and there is brilliant sunshine glinting from a cerulean sea.

Frailty thy name is weather! He thinks pretentiously.

T’was the inclement state after all that had sent him into his thoughts of Bangkok and Hanoi, of Jakarta and Saigon. Of Pyongyang !

Although he knew he would never convince Andrew of the latter.

Not without a rocket up his arse! Then again…

For now, Paul thinks it is good just to bask in the late Andalusian sun. A true bonus for an Englishman in November.

Andrew lights up a cigarette as Paul turns his face skyward to feel the warm orange glow, the tobacco smoke taking him back to a dodgy alley in Dehli mid – March!

His mind begins to drift imperceptibly, broadening his own inner horizons once again.

He picks up his oversized ‘Times Atlas Of The World’ and flicks the pages randomly. The giant book falls over onto plate 19, that of North East Asia.

Bathed in a tangerine sunlight Andrew looks over and smiles. Paul thinks his partner looks particularly handsome this evening. Youthful. Energetic. Just ripe for a rucksack.

Pyongyang it is then, he smiles back at Andrew mischievously……

What A Pallava!

Your name sir?’

‘Paul’

‘I am Kumar. Your hair very good – very nice.’

‘Thank you Kumar’.

‘Very handsome man’.

‘How kind’.

‘I am stone carver. I carve stone for famous Buddha temple in Exeter.’

‘I had no idea there was a Buddhist temple in Exeter.’

‘It new one! You want see my stones? First we go temple – you don’t pay – I don’t do for money, but I see you are nice guy. I know special way. Come. Come….’

And so it began.

My ego up, my guard down, and I’d enlisted Andrew and I on another south Asian magical mystery tour. This time, chasing the young stonemason, at rocking speed, around the seventh century rock temples of Mamallupuram.

We staggered precariously along ancient steps, ingeniously cut from a titanic piece of granite, recklessly attempting to keep up with the young Kumar, who was practically Simian. We learnt later that this acrobatic detour was in order to circumvent the normal gated entrance, thus avoiding the need to purchase a ticket.

An artful piece of dodgery from our new found mate – though we both suspected the relationship may get rockier as the daytime heat began to rocket.

‘How the fuck do we get rid of him now?’ Andrew asked me far too loudly.

‘Oh just chill out a bit – we’re getting a free tour, and free entry’ I countered.  Knowing deep down that we’d be paying for both of those benefits at some point.

I knew Andrew thought the same. But Kumar was roguishly charming, if alarmingly pungent, and he certainly knew his way around the ancient temples of the ‘Pallava’ kingdom.

It was easy to see why UNESCO had labelled the place a ‘World Heritage Site’. The stone carvings absolutely rocked.

Along with the mad dogs it was, of course, just The Englishmen that struggled unnecessarily through the blistering midday heat. Our whistle stop tour may have been unplanned, but the location was so atmospheric, a veritable concert of rock, that we both continued on, allowing Kumar to lead the way.

The mischievous Gods and Goddesses danced out of the rock face, revealing the face of a society which had partied hard for over six hundred years.
And neither of us had ever heard of them.

The Pallavas!?!

Of course, the real Pallava occurred when we finished with the final meditation temple, and were lead conveniently through a gate directly into a small shack, in order to meditate on Kumar’s wares. His stonewares to be precise!

Suddenly the tour guide became the salesman, and we were both made to sit through an uneasy psychic energy session, as Kumar theatrically discovered our healing stones.

And then introduced them to us!

Each at a starting price more worthy of ‘The Star Of India’!

Immediately, we were transported back to the dodgy jewellery dealer we’d met in the suburbs of Jaipur, where we’d come across another absolute gem of a scam! These invariably Kashmiri Shopkeepers are sly, smart and deftly apt at the art of deceit. But they always possess a ‘tell’ – a giveaway – and Kumar’s came with his dreadful impression of an Indian mystic. He threw himself onto his own bed of nails as he launched into a dreadful mix of Derren Brown and Noel Coward’s ‘Madame Arcati’!

Hanging himself  with his own ropey trick!

The drama in his performance was nearly as exaggerated as his prices. Perhaps these blyth spirits think all Westerners completely off their rockers. We may give that impression!

But Kumar soon realised Andrew and I were not quite stoned enough to invest in his.

Then, as Andrew, playing bad cop, audibly hissed that we couldn’t afford the stoneware, and that I wouldn’t be able to eat for the remainder of our stay if we purchased the five items that had inexplicably found their way into our basket, Kumar tried to carve out one last deal.

‘This Ganesh. Good for good friend who is now without husband’.

We knew the trick. Kumar had obviously picked up on something we’d said earlier. The ploy was cheap but still impressive. Unlike the Ganesh we were practically sledgehammered into buying.

As Kumar realised ‘The Lola Boys’ were not the diamond mine he’d hoped for, his mood darkened. The glittering smile became a leering snarl and he barked in throaty Tamil to a colleague who was bashing away in the workshop next door. The workman, who looked straight out of the Stone Age, burst through the shop doorway, with a Neanderthal grunt and a wave of his heavy tool.

The one that cut the rock!

‘He not happy’ Kumar said firmly. The treacle having now dripped away from his voice.

‘Why he not happy?’ Asked Andrew, equally as authoritative, yet in an Indian accent.

‘Because he make this. Not happy with price’.

There was something mildly threatening in Kumar’s tone. Not least because we were surrounded by a weighty array of potential stone weaponry. Fred and Barney had disappeared and the whole drama had grown much darker – more ‘Game Of Stones’!

We’d definitely left ‘Bedrock’!

We stood in the dark for what seemed an age!

I was having visions of the billiard room in Cluedo. Professor Kumar had clubbed Andrew to death with the lead carving. It was time to stop this little game!

I stood. Sighed dramatically, and piped up that I was in need of air and beer. Not necessarily in that order!  That I had grown weary of the unexpected auction this jaunt had now become. And perhaps we would be forced to leave the rockery empty handed after all.

Kumar wasn’t the only actor in the room!

I then tried to appear as nonchalant as possible as I trembled past the giant with the ferocious chisel.

‘Ok’ said Kumar. ‘Ok’. He then instructed Boris Karloff to pack the elephant we’d agreed on earlier.

‘Thank you’, I said, as icily as a good pint of lager, ‘we’d love to buy more. But as you heard Andrew say, we shan’t be able to eat if we do’!

Kumar stared at me stonily.

I was caught for an agonising moment between a rock and a hard face.

Andrew grabbed the packet from Boris and we legged it.

Before we knew it he had led us into an entirely unfamiliar part of town and we stood sweating, legs leaden, attempting to get our bearings.

‘I knew this wasn’t the bloody way’ I gasped.

‘I just wanted to get away from him. That selling! Jesus!’, Andrew complained. ‘I was losing it!’

I had to agree. The hard sell was akin to being whacked across the head several times with a large lump of marble. These salesmen sculpt such a convoluted life story, that before one realises, one is lost in their retail maze, as they attempt to chisel away at one’s sanity. Mining skilfully  until they strike a precious seam in one’s wallet!

It was both wondrous and enlightening to clamber amongst the boulders into an entirely different strata of history – one we were both entirely igneous of !!!

But sadly our relationship with the pushy Kashmiri Kumar ended somewhat, on the rocks.

Sting! Stoned! Stung!

What a pallava!

*********************************************************************

That evening we were both laid out motionless on our beds, after too many hours spent negotiating the debilitating heat.

It was our last night in India, and we had mixed emotions.

Feeling burnt in every way possible, her beauty and her beasts managing  to sear themselves onto our collective consciousness.

The sweet stuff here clings to the imagination like the gooey Indian confectionary, found on every street corner, sticks to the teeth. One cannot simply brush it away. India’s beauty is both ephemeral and eternal.

And the indisputable ugliness? Well that just seems to disappear after a while. Down the pan quicker than a dodgy biryani!

I’m almost certain we shall be back to sample her wares once again. She is too much of a good saleswoman to give up on us completely, and her shelves too well stacked to resist.

Her people are infuriatingly charming. The geography sometimes unfortunately alarming, and the holy spirit, which undoubtedly resides here, utterly disarming.

Love ‘Mother India’ or loathe her, she won’t be ignored.

She certainly won’t go quietly!

As we pack our rucksacks ready for the long hike back to reality, I can hear her already whispering to me on the tropical breeze. Her hot breath invading my senses.

‘Namaste’ she purrs into the black panther night.

‘Namaste’ x

Escape From Horrorville!

As I attempted to clamber into the tiny rickshaw I winced in agony. My spine complained painfully at what I was asking of it, each vertebrae sulking from carrying the burden of two weighty rucksacks down an uneven colonial staircase. As I struggled into the diminutive cab, Andrew looked on unsympathetically. A damn cheek I thought, seeing as it was him that had dragged me into the massage parlour that had caused the said lumbar damage.

The previous day, on one of our sweaty promenades through Pondicherry, the fierce temperature had proved to much to bare for my husband, who, like the sun, was also fighting with a hot temper. The remainder of his nicotine habit leaching from his body in poisonous rivulets. We dived into the welcome air conditioning of a very ‘local’ establishment in order to partake of a foot massage. However, once Andrew’s balls were being tickled, I was informed that there was no-one available to play with mine, and therefore would I like to plump for an Indian Head Massage instead? I agreed, and joined Mr Kennedy in a small room, where I was prepared for my therapy, as he groaned in satisfaction whilst already undergoing his.

A friendly young Tamil chap proceeded to rub thick scented oil into my scalp, whilst pulling roughly at my curls. When he came to a knot, he yanked a little harder until the hair came apart, and then parted company with my scalp. After ten minutes he’d pulled at least three handfuls out, and deposited each clump on the small plastic table beside me.

Alarmed, I gave a slight yelp. Andrew chuckled beside me.

I’ve never enjoyed the hairdressers, but this was akin to a cat fight in Holloway Prison, and certainly not the calming experience for which I’d been hoping.

After relieving me of at least a third of my follicular activity, the little git punched me all over the head, taking in my temples, ears, and jawline. I thought I might cry.

He then slapped me repeatedly, a la ‘The Benny Hill Show’, so hard upon my crown that I felt my spine contract under the pressure.

It was one of the most hair-raising experiences of my life.

To cap it all, little Vidal then shampooed  me five times with an acidic herbal concoction, and applied intense heat whilst he dragged a plastic comb through my unconditioned barnet.

When we hit the pavement again I looked like Phylis Diller!


‘Never again’ I said ashen faced to Andrew.
‘Mine was great’ he said, with smug satisfaction.

.
Oh just have a cigarette I thought, but didn’t say it.

He is,after all, doing so well.

And so, with my aching back, and Andrew squashed beneath a pile of already far too heavy hand-luggage, we rattled away from the sophistication of ‘Pondy’ towards the hippy utopia known as ‘Auroville’.

We bumped painfully over speed humps and swerved to miss the wildlife, as we left the town and skidded across red dirt roads into the forest of the 1960s township.

‘Auroville’!

An ideal pioneered by a Frenchwoman known as ‘The Mother’ during the age of flower power.

A city where all citizens of the world, despite their creed or nationality could come and live and work together, searching for the universal truth. No religion, no politics and no cash.

‘Eight hundred rupees’ our driver informed us, when we eventually found our guest house.

‘We were told three to four hundred’ I objected.

‘It’s far in Auroville’ he countered, ‘very far!’

‘We’re not paying you that’, Andrew said, his patience light without a Marlboro Light, and knowing the journey was well overpriced. ‘I’ll give you five hundred.’

The driver accepted the amount readily, and drove off rapidly, leaving us to squeeze around the locked gates of the ‘Joy Community Guest House’, throwing our luggage before us onto the rusty dusty ground.

There was not a soul to meet us.

As we headed further into the steamy compound, several scruffy dogs suddenly came at us howling in a most unfriendly fashion. Andrew and I, having a moody mutt of of own, and being quite aware of these canine tricks took no notice. The hounds realised they were barking up the wrong rucksacks and backed off.  We eventually came to a seating area and dropped our heavy baggage on the floor both perspiring heavily, with my spine still complaining. A glum faced Indian asked us if we had a booking and I answered in the affirmative.

‘Someone comes soon’ he snarled.

‘Thanks’ I smiled. He glared back.

So far this place had a distinct lack of joy, and there was certainly no community. At least, not one in which I wanted to commune!

After a sweaty quarter of an hour, a young, attractive Tamil woman arrived and asked us to follow her. We struggled across the gravel behind her, laden with bags, and came to a small shack like affair, which she then informed us was named ‘Progress’! Perhaps this was because it didn’t look as though it had finished being built, but I said nothing, and asked Andrew to do the same. When the lady eventually found the correct key she let us in to our home for the next few nights, and then immediately asked one of us to accompany her to the office with our passports.

‘Oh. You go babe’, whined Mr Kennedy, ‘I’m not having a good day!’

I followed our hostess into a small room which contained nothing more than a desk, two seats on either side, and some books stacked in an untidy pile near an archaic looking router.

‘Passport’, she said, without a smile.

I gave the passports and then had to complete the most inordinate amount of paperwork. When I’d finished, she asked me to fetch Andrew to come and do the same. I duly did this, he was not best pleased.

After the formalities were over I asked if we could meet ‘Sara’ the girl with whom I had made the booking.

‘No. Sara only here in morning’ she replied. ‘But you pay me now. In full.’

I did as I’d been told and then asked if there happened to be a shop nearby at which to grab some essentials. Our landlady replied in the affirmative and gave Andrew and I directions to the ‘Ganesh Bakery’,  a ‘ten minute walk’ away.

After three quarters of an hour trudging through scorching red earth, in and out of the sticky forest canopy, there was still no sign of any retail business. Only thick woods, unpleasant geriatric hippies on motorbikes and signs directing us to places called, ‘Certitude’, ‘Aspiration’, ‘Sincerity’ and ”Fulfilment’. Overheating and beginning to dehydrate, I was sincerely losing all aspiration and sure that if we didn’t get any liquid fulfilment soon, one of us would certainly be certified!

Finally we arrived at the the ‘Plaza’, a scruffy corner consisting of a bakery and a grocers. After imbibing two flat lime sodas and a couple of vegan samosas at the former, we made our way into the ‘minimart’ to get supplies.

No-one was very friendly. The other ‘Aurovillians’ went about their business in the most uptight of manners. Disconnected and disgusted that any visitor should have the affront to be sharing their sacred space. I threw some manky organic veg into the basket , a bag of rice, and a little sack of spice, Andrew added a packet of Nescafé and a lump of cheese. The most bad tempered Indian we’d yet come across, weighed every pepper, potato and pea-pod individually and then gave us a bill that would have raised eyebrows in the food hall at ‘Harrods’. We were both shocked. So far the only thing spiritual about this place was the fact we were both getting crucified!

That night I made us a strange curry in the communal kitchen which we shared with a charming set of Brazilian twins, definitely the friendliest guys we had come across yet in this most closed of ungated communities. They possessed much more of the spirit of peace, love, harmony and understanding we were expecting of the place.

‘Auroville’, was to have been an inspirational city where those who wanted to live outside the bounds of ego, status and greed could come and join together in an egalitarian unity.

A large piece of barren earth was purchased on the scorched south-east Indian plain and idealistic volunteers from across the world proceeded to create a green and pleasant land on what was once an eroded and infertile desert. Millions of trees were planted, innovative architecture built and the people began to come. There was to be free schooling and free healthcare for all. But not quite as many residents as expected made the move to ‘Auroville’. In a city that was designed for a population of fifty thousand people, only two and a half thousand residents now reside in the town.

The next morning, Andrew and I rose early. Mainly due to the fact that we had spent the night in a tandoori oven. Our tiny room, for which we were paying three times as much as anywhere else in India,( a significant contribution going to the ‘Auroville’ community), had been built out of brick,  in a manner of which ‘The Three Little Pigs’ would have highly approved. The temperature must have hit ‘cremate’ at one point and I awoke to find Andrew almost ‘Tikka’d’!

We fled into the cooler forty odd degrees of the wooded grounds outside in an attempt to look for the elusive ‘Sara’. She was still non-existent. A Holy Ghost, as it were! I managed to get what information I could muster from the Indian help, and was advised that we should head to The Visitors’Centre if we wanted to explore the new age town. This we did, as we were keen to get into the vibe of the place.

Feel the energy man. We were both especially excited about visiting ‘The Matrimandir’, a gigantic golden globe at the centre of the sprawling community, which purported to be the spiritual heart of the conurbation.

On reaching The Visitors’ Centre we were both dripping, the forest was more than hot, and the lack of air conditioning and cold water in our shack of a room had taken it’s toll.

I approached a terribly genteel sareed westerner to purchase tickets to enter the spiritual dome.

‘I can give you a pass to the viewing site’ she intoned softly, ‘but if you want to go inside ‘The Matrimandir’ you will need to go upstairs and speak to someone else’.
I thanked her, pocketed our entry passes for the viewing site, and made my way up to another incredibly modern building in order to gain entry to the giant meditation capsule, which was now becoming more intriguing than ever.

I was beckoned forward and asked to complete a yellow card in order that I may enter the special sphere. I was told that if Andrew wanted to do the same he would have to come and apply in person himself, it was the same rule for everyone. A kind of vetting process. I suppose, if they didn’t like the look of you, they could bar you from the ball. Luckily we fooled them, and were both granted entry. Just like the ugly sisters!

However, we were told we could only view ‘The Matrimandir’ first and then return the following day at 8.45am so that we may be escorted into it’s inner chamber.

That afternoon we made our way through the immaculately manicured grounds towards ‘The Matrimandir’.  A place where all people can go to raise their consciousness and get in touch with their higher selves – apparently. This used to be a club in South London, but since ‘The Mother’ had her vision, the place for such communion was now here in southern India.

We learnt that, late in her life, she had dreamt of a round building which contained a twelve sided meditation chamber. She had described it as having a white interior and being surrounded by twelve rooms, each a different colour pertaining to a unique quality on which to meditate. ‘Creativity’, ‘Peace’ etc.

As ‘The Mother’ wished, so the meditation centre was built, with the help of thousands of people and millions of pounds. Began in the early seventies the building was only completed in 2008.

And there is still more to do.

On first sighting the glowing orb, I was reminded of a huge metal ball that had fallen from the sky after a galactic round of golf. It looked unnatural, unappealing and most unwanted.

Groups of Indian day trippers were having their pictures taken in front of the spherical monstrosity as if it were ‘Stonehenge’ or ‘The Pyramids Of Giza’. I felt perplexed. Confused. It appeared nothing more to me than something one might find at ‘Disney World’ or ‘The Epcot Centre’. But I reserved judgment – I hadn’t been inside yet!

That was to come!

After ‘viewing’ ‘The Matrimandir’, Andrew and I managed to fumble our way through steaming fields and land at an organic farm, where we were served a wonderfully fresh vegan thali, consisting of mysteriously coloured vegetables.

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Vive La Difference!

Andrew and I have now traversed The Subcontinent, and made our way from the torrid heat of the south east, to the baking oven that is the south west.  We have now hit the steam-room of that ex French colonial town known as Pondicherry.  Or ‘Pondy’ to those in the know.

Oooooh La La!

Or Fuck Me!!!

This has to be the steamiest place I ‘ve ever been – other than an infamous sauna I twice visited in Munich, but that’s by the by!

The temperature here steadily remains above forty degrees et plus during the day, and creeps down only marginally when the sun bids adieu.

Even the locals find it tiresome!

My hair has gone crazy!

I have a look of Queen’s Brian May after a blow!

A ‘Blow-dry’ that is.

(God forbid the lovely Anita Dobson would do anything like that!)

 

We have appropriately arrived on the eve of the first round of the French general election, and are staying in the inappropriately named, ‘Whitetown’!

Madame Le Pen would be thrilled!

However, thankfully the place is nothing like it’s nomenclature. There are a few colonial hangovers, but most of the town seems to be run very successfully by Indians. Or should I say Tamils! One is never sure how to be politically correct here.

Here Here! As I’ve never been one for ‘Le politiquement correct’!

Our guest house has just four rooms, and is definitely one of the most charming locations in which we have lodged during our Indian odyssey.

It would cost at least ten times as much were it located somewhere in La France. Therefore I shan’t be revealing the name of the place.  Sorry!

It has air-conditioning to die for, which is preferable to the current heatwave here – which, tragically, is also to die for!

It’s a welcome treat for Mr Kennedy and I, as we’ve been quite adventurous when it comes to boarding houses this trip, up until now.

However, the cuisine so far has not yet come up to that of the unfashionable state of Karnataka, from where we’ve just arrived. There, the Tikka, Tandoori and hospitality were phenomenal. Not least, because we were taken into the home of a new found Indian friend and made as welcome as could be at his baby daughter’s naming ceremony. An evening we shall never forget.

But, let’s put things in perspective, here in Pondicherry they have cheese!

Proper cheese!

I had know idea that ‘fromage’ produced here in Tamil Nadu could be so good! I should have realised that since The French didn’t leave here until 1954, their Gallic pong is still incredibly fragrant. Not just evident in the dairy produce, but also in the architecture which has a charm that exudes that certain, ‘Je ne sais quoi’!

Today, Monsieur Macron would have been proud, as we elected to make a ‘Frexit’,  and crossed the stinking canal, making our way into the ‘Tamil Quarter’.

Or ‘Browntown’ as ‘La Front Nationale’ would no doubt have it.

Equally as chaotic as any other Indian city we have visited, it had a vivacity and ‘Joie De Vivre’, that is somehow lacking in our upmarket French Quarter.

Amid the humidity which was as heavy as the traffic, we stumbled for hours along uneven pavements, negotiating open sewers and bumping  into the most friendly of folk. Most of them more than happy to to say Bonjour with a toothy grin. Yet, also content to run you down at the drop of a ‘chapeau’!

Our temples sweated in sweaty temples and we managed until midday before we had to surrender to the blistering heat and return to the safe cool of our colonial splendour.

Sadly, this heated excursion has taken it’s toll. We have both lost about three pints of liquid, not to mention a touch of dignity,  as we’ve manoeuvred over cracked concrete and played numerous games of ‘Poulet’ with the ubiquitous rickety rickshaws. But it’s been more than magnifique to visit the other side of the canal.  The less fashionable part of town.

Still with colourful shutters, yet with less of the colour shut out!

Perhaps if Madame Le Pen were brave enough to do the same she may change her petite mind. I do not mean to be either political or judgemental. But ‘Browntown’ is so much more colourful than ‘Whitetown’!

Un peu more unusual perhaps. A tad more unnerving.   But no less chic!

Come on Marine. Don’t snort.  Why not leave le pen and cross the tracks?

And in the words of that marvellous Francophile Ms Petula Clarke.

‘Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you, there are moving shows – Browntown’.

Or ‘quelque chose’ like that!

‘Get Us Outta Here!’

As Paul ambled purposefully beneath a torrid ‘Noel Coward Sun’, he wondered how it always transpired, that at the hottest time of day, in the hottest of climates, he was always the Englishman! He’d left the ‘Mad Dog’ behind, at the cool guest house. Andrew was terribly busy ordering new flavours for his Vapouriser! So Paul set off through the smouldering back streets of Panjim.

As he made his way down narrow lanes, simmering with colourful heat, he dabbed at his brow with an old hankie he’d kept for that very purpose. The vivid pigments which reflected from the Portuguese houses both blinded and enthralled. It was difficult to avoid the open drains and meandering traffic as Paul made his way to the railway agent to collect the tickets for the next leg of his and Andrew’s Indian adventure.

They were soon to be on their way to Karnataka, in the deepest south west of India.  Their new pal Santosh had become a father to a beautiful daughter and it was time to hold the ancient baby naming ceremony. Andrew and Paul had been thrilled to be invited along.

Before that, somebody needed to pay for the journey. Having experienced one too many railway booking counters belonging to ‘The Indian State Railways’, the boys thought it wise to avoid the bureaucratic  hideousness that is inevitably involved, and let an agent take the strain.

Which one did, for a cool fiver! Quite a lot considering the price of the journey was only a tenner. Still….

Sweating alone in the tiny booking office, Paul felt a thump on his left shoulder, and turned immediately, half-suspecting to see Andrew grinning, having caught up, post Vape order. Instead, he was greeted with a gappy smile and a thick set bloke in a sari.  Admittedly, a very pretty piece of clothing, but it was doubtless, a fella.

Jewellery laden, make-up free and a jaw like a like Joe Bugner!

Paul learnt later, that this lady was a member of an Indian caste of transvestites. Some of them gay, some hermaphrodite and some, poor sods who’ve been kidnapped and castrated!

Known as the Hijras, they often performed, uninvited, at functions and sometimes worked as prostitutes!

Paul couldn’t help but see the similarity to his own line of work. The Lola Boys’ were little more. Only better paid!

At times!

‘Oh, hello’, he said.

Open as ever, yet a little perturbed. This was no ‘Ladyboy’!

He smiled as the guy done up like a gal clapped his hands fiercely and then made a furious begging action. It was quite obvious what she wanted.

And it weren’t make-up tips!

Paul shrugged and showed his empty trouser pockets, attempting to appear as nonchalant as possible, yet failing dreadfully. The fact that it was an honest action, that he’d parted with all his cash moments previously, the ticket agent having no change, made no difference. This was a frighteningly heavy-set woman, with the charisma of Vin Diesel, and she made Paul very nervous.

‘I’ve no money’, he mouthed largely, in the way an ignoramus talks to foreigners.

Ma Diesel  gave several nods of the head, and thrust her hand forward in the manner of a Right Jab! Paul ducked, but she was too quick and her palm slapped on to the top of his scalp. She muttered a few words and then again made the same begging gesture.

Paul knew at once, that he’d just been blessed. And Ma wanted something for the collection box!

‘I still have nothing. No Rupee!’ he said.  Too slowly, and far too loudly.

Ma stared for an endless moment, and then made a furious action with the saintly hand she’d just used to bestow her blessings. She whirled it around and made a couple of tapping motions as if trying to reverse the spell.

‘No good now love,’ Paul said calmly, ‘you’ve given it so you can’t take it back!’

He laughed to himself, in a slightly condescending way, and would have felt guilty, were it not for the fact Ms Diesel had followed him into the travel agents and had then been terribly bullish. And bullying was something Paul always stood up to, after having had a very good training at naval school in Waterloo.

This bully was gonna meet Waterloo if she didn’t bugger off.

Feeling the resistance and perhaps, believing the lack of cash line, the Hijra took her leave, without so much as a smirk.

Paul put his head though the small brick doorway and lent into the brilliant sunshine. He watched as the brash and bejewelled beggar-women made their way down the narrow lane. Criss crossing the street and putting their hands together with a violent clap, to let people know they were around. Some gave willingly, and some were more than cajoled.

The ‘girls’ hit the butcher, the baker, and the joss-stick maker before they finally turned the corner and their riotous energy dissipated. Paul felt a collective sigh, much as if a hardened girl-gang had just left one’s subway carriage.

‘They may have swiped some jewellery – but we’re all breathing’ he thought.

He was sure he wasn’t the only one.

He then made his way back to the very pleasant guest house he and Andrew were sharing. He looked at the third class railway ticket for which he’d just overpaid enormously, and wondered if he would still be breathing when Andrew found out.

The following day, following far too many hours on a hot train, Andrew followed Paul into an equally hot hotel and they both wondered what the hell they were doing there. Mangalore, a coastal city in south west India, at first sight seemed ordinary, shabby and most unchic.  After venturing out, and having time to explore, it seemed ordinary, shabby and even more unchic.

After stumbling through the early morning  fumes, along a crumbling dual carriageway, and finding nowhere for miles which served anything resembling coffee, Andrew said, with some tongue in cheek,

‘Get us outta here!’

*******************************************************************

An hour later we were in a taxi heading deeper into Karnataka. A state which has yet to convince us of her charms, of which there are doubtless many. But perhaps, more hidden.

Much like those of the bolshy Hijras I had met in Panjim.

But as I’ve learnt, it is not always the most obvious that has the greatest appeal.

And so we wait, with baited breath, for this part of ancient India to reveal herself to us.

She’s already been quite a tease.

But if she slips her sari off her shoulder and gives us a wink, we shall no doubt fall for her dubious charms.

Just as we’ve done with the rest of this intriguing country.

Hopefully!

Beached Wails!

For too many nights and days , Andrew and I have been practically marooned on a first-rate beach, in a second-rate guest house, with third-rate plumbing, fourth-rate bedding and fifth-rate company!  We’ve loved it.

After the rigours of Rajasthan it has been just what we needed. An almost antidote to India, but it has taken it’s toll…

I have developed a near psychosis attempting to tan in what is constant sunlight – and yet, failing miserably. T’is true I’m wearing factor 30, but without, I would resemble a Heinz Ketchup bottle within minutes. Minus the superior branding!

It just ain’t worth it, I tell my wan, washed out self in the filthy mirror, as a geriatric Oliver Twist stares back.  Why do I always become so ‘Dickensian’ during our travels?  It’s as if I grow paler by the day. Unburnished! Despite my earnest attempts at Bronze Ageing! Still, I gain assurance from a quote from the aforementioned author, that such things take time.

‘The Sun himself is weak when he first rises, and gathers strength and courage as the day gets on.’

And so, just like that great star, I shall live to tan another day.

It’s good to read – especially when beached!

And beached we have been. Outcasts ashore. Unwilling to crawl from our hermit like shells, much like some of the other more diminutive residents down by the shoreline. Their crabbiness has rubbed off on us, especially Andrew, who is now celebrating almost a month free from the claws of Mr Marboro.

Unsmoked, he has drifted slowly into quicksand and fast booze! This is not entirely his fault, and with my own vintage and effervescent history, I am certainly not one to judge. My husband has been helped ‘roll out the barrel’ by the carbonated charm of the bar-staff, and the convenient fact that the normal beer runs out terribly early and so the ultra strong – ‘husband-beater’ – is the only pint available!

This has invariably ended with Mr Kennedy either panicking in the sea, burning his feet on the sand, or losing his footing entirely. Today, after a particularly heated conversation, which ended with me telling him to ‘travel to somewhere fiery’, (or words to that effect), my hot lover jammed his foot heavily against an obvious brick and fell head first towards the just lit tandoori oven.

It was almost ‘Andrew Tikka’ on the menu!

I hadn’t actually meant ‘Go To Hell’!

‘Sit down’ I say. He seems flushed with embarrassment, or severely burnt – I can’t tell which.
‘Oww’, he wails, sort of manfully, ‘look’.
He gestures towards his left ankle, which is horribly grazed with skin hanging and plasma oozing down to his in-step.
‘Look. I’ll never dance again’ he says. Laughing.

Pissed.

‘I’ll get you the Savlon shall I?’  I spit.  Cold, hard and impenetrable after days of sharing a hut with a less well-heeled Jack Nicholson.

The beach was bringing out the bitch.

‘Nurse Ratched’ was beginning to kick in.

‘Itsh fine’ he manages.

After the entire establishment is greeted to a loquacious treatise on the rights and wrongs of ‘Brexit’, the plusses and minuses of arranged marriage, and the growth and implementation of radical Islam, Andrew then retires for a siesta. Leaving his entire audience wanting to do the same.

Exhausted, if not amused, by his malty rhetoric.

It’s quite clear it’s time we left this paradisiacal malaise and made our way on to harsher climes. Other Kulcha and culture beckon. Colour and squalor are calling us on.

Plus the fact we have to get to a ‘Vape Shop’ fast before Andrew runs out of juice – literally.

He’s down to his last phial of coffee flavoured liquid nicotine. If the pot boils dry I dread to think what could happen. I could be the fag he lights first.

He has a quick fuse when unlit!

There’s enough to last the night, and then we’re off, to inhale the fumes of another Indian city in search of the vapours.

I do hope they stock the stuff…..

All play and no vape make Jack a very dull boy!

I’ve hidden the axe!

It’s A Real Goa!

Somewhat jaded after our month-long jaunt around majestic Rajasthan and four more ragged days spent in the arhythmic heart of New Dehli, we finally arrived in the tropical south of this giant country.

Palm trees waved a breezy emerald welcome and the Arabian Sea lapped us up like an ocean of warm salty Chai. Not a Mediterranean Blue it’s true, more like the shade one’s jeans come back after they’ve been to the ubiquitous ‘Loundry’ here. An Indian Denim. Faded, yet oh so comfortable.

The long journey here was less so, but we’re both used to that by now, and the destination is always much more pleasurable when there have been a couple of life threatening moments on route.

Our eventual taxi, to the very south of Goa, went at a pace that would have put Michael Schumacher to shame. We nearly ended up in the same condition as the unfortunate sportsman on more than one occasion. Things only improved when Andrew convinced our wacky racer to come to a halt outside a ‘Wine Shop.’ We both sank two large bottles of beer faster than our driver had completed the last ten ‘K’ – and that’s saying something! Now, as pissed as Mr Magoo in the driving seat, we were able to enjoy the blind corners and oncoming juggernauts with the same hilarity.

After our hastened arrival we settled into our modest hut, content amid the candied bougainvillea and fluorescent hibiscus, we didn’t care that we had no running water as of yet. We knew that it would probably arrive sooner or later, and anyway there was always nature’s bath in which to cleanse our weary limbs, just yards away across the almost golden sand.

I was the first to succumb to her watery charms. Hobbling clumsily over the red-hot sand,like a lobster missing a claw, I practically fell into the warm embrace of the mighty Indian Ocean. My limbs melted into the tea-like waters and the ache from weeks of wearing a rucksack dissolved within her saline cloak. As I floated easily on my back, appreciating the dusky sky, I began to daydream. Of fairytale forts, and lakeside palaces, and huge castles in the desert. Of mighty mausoleums. Of all the wonders we had been fortunate, and intrepid enough to visit. This was my first moment of real stillness in weeks, and as I sank into it, my mind melted into a kaleidoscope of colours and scents and sounds, of all that had gone before. The beauty, the poverty, the kindness, the stupidity of this great nation.

Our entire Indian adventure washed over me as if I were a giant floating canvass and this miraculous country, the most vibrant of palettes.

I felt grounded, yet aloft, as I became my own watercolour awash with a sea of memories. It was almost spiritual. I breathed in ……

‘Ooommmmm’,   I exhaled pretentiously, open-mouthed….

Then, without warning, the biggest wave imaginable crashed heavily over me, filling every orifice with a gallon of seawater and sending me crashing onto the seabed. Tumbling amongst sand, and God knows what else, I held my breath and attempted to resurface. As I did so, another massive breaker hit me and took me back to the ocean floor. I spun violently, in the uneven style of a cheap Indian washing machine. Eventually, I staggered, in the most ungracious of manners, back onto the shore. My ears, nose and mouth grit-ridden and full of seawater.

My exotic reverie had been cut short.

My fantasies were instantly drowned in that stagnant pool known as ‘reality’. Really! In an instant!

I had to smile – perhaps through gritted teeth. Yet even this experience was so terribly Indian. The sublime becomes the submerged so readily here!

If there is one thing I have learnt about this incredible nation it is to expect the unexpected – at every turn – with every smile – and with every wave!

What I’d not yet come to expect was some of the sheer ignorance some tourists readily unpack as they arrive to avail themselves of some of the more obvious pleasures India has to offer.

There is a distinct difference, in my opinion, between the holidaymaker and the traveller. I, rather snobbily, put Andrew and myself into the latter category, even if my husband can sometimes veer towards the former, the nightmare train journeys and rattling local buses surely put us firmly into traveller class. Not to mention the dodgy choice of lodgings we invariably make.

Our current abode, for example, has no air con, just a giant ceiling fan that resembles a defunct chopper. It spins so angrily sleep is made quite impossible. The only setting is ‘Chinook’! So one is either forced to swelter in silence, or nap fitfully, as dreams of ‘The Deer Hunter’ surface horrifically between fantasies of ‘Miss Saigon’! I woke several times last night whilst pressing an imaginary gun to my head and screaming ‘Do it then you bastard’  to a confused Andrew, who I was convinced was a crazed Christopher Walken…

It is not a restful room!

However, with an asking price of eight quid a night and a sea-view to die for, we ain’t complaining. Well not to the management at least! They are far too accommodating.

Others, sadly, do. I overheard a very fat British woman impolitely send back three salads yesterday because they weren’t to her liking. Not calorific enough I should imagine. All of it done in the most graceless fashion. Shortly afterwards an elderly gentleman from ‘The West Country’ assured Sandhu, our charming waiter, that the Kashmiri was quite wrong when the poor chap brought out a fruit salad with curd, as ordered.

‘What’s this white stuff ? I never asked for that!’ The old fella huffed and gruffed.

‘Yes, it is mentioned on the menu’ Sandhu smiled.

‘Get me the menu then. The MENU!’

No ‘please’ in sight, not even in the near distance.
Reading the menu properly the old fart had to concede.

‘Oh yeah. Right. With curd – You’re right’.  Still charmless and unapologetic.

Rude git!

Sometimes when encountering this, almost colonial behaviour, it can make one quite unproud to be British, especially when remembering our history here. I’m surprised these idiots don’t receive a swift fuck off please from their graceful hosts. I know what I would do were the salad bowl in the other hand!

But then I’m not Indian. It is not in the Indian nature to be rude. Certainly not in my experience. It may be very easy to mock their choice of the vernacular when speaking English, as I have heard many idiots do, but I am yet to hear an Englishman who speaks Hindi as well as they do. Or Urdu. Or many of the other 1652 local languages spoken in this land. Some of the very ordinary people we have met have been in possession of quite extraordinary linguistic skills.

A young waiter called Abdul, whom we met in the desert city of Jaisalmer, spoke five languages. Get your tongue round that Joe Bloggs!

I must emphasize it is, of course, not everyone who visits this land for just a short time, that comes with an inferior mind and a superior attitude. We’ve met some great lads, builders from South East London, (who,coincidently, happen to be old friends of our good mate Dave in Spain! What’s the chances eh?) They adore it here and couldn’t be nicer to our Asian friends, even finding time to teach them the art of cockney rhyming slang. The look on their hosts ‘boat-races’ when they get it right is a picture.

A harmonious one!

A shame all The Brits don’t behave with such class – some of them should be taking a sharp ‘Brexit’ off of the subcontinent. Just as they did once before.

Other than the odd visitor, Goa makes a great visit! Marvellous beaches, stunning scenery and replete with friendly locals and some great tandoori fish. It’s going to be hard to leave and return to the other India, but easy at the same time. One can have too much of a good thing.

India teaches you that too.

Although when we’re sweating and swearing in Madras come the blistering May heat – that may be a lesson both of us have forgotten.

This unique country wouldn’t have it any other way.