Friday, 11 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 23: London Calling

My legs and back had had enough of the limited space in my sleepless seat, so I spent the final half hour standing around, pacing up and down the aisles, eagerly anticipating my arrival in Amsterdam, like a junkie whore monger who’d been locked in solitary confinement, holding only sixty Euros and perverse thoughts to see him through. I however, wasn’t flying there to indulge in the sex and smoke famously on offer, but to catch a transfer flight back to London.
We walked straight from one plane and got onto another after a short wait, feeling suitably shattered yet excited to be nearing our beloved hometown and comfortable bed. Unfortunately, we’d been given seats behind rather than next to each other, so I had to sit with the back of Sarah’s head to stroke as we took to the skies. I was sandwiched between two big men, and the plane seats were notably narrower than our long haul flight, but luckily it was only forty-five minutes and I had writing to continue which kept me occupied and distracted from the fact that I was currently the meat in a Troubadour sandwich. I felt soothed by my view of the sun slowly rising, as we flew between layer upon layer of fluffy candy-floss clouds, homeward bound. The guy to my left had ‘Mr Rock n Roll’ written on the screen of his phone, which really tickled me considering he was a relatively average looking forty-something cat, wearing an old Marks and Spencer polo shirt and beige corduroy slacks. Turns out Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead after all.
After what seemed like a few minutes, we landed at London City Airport, just in time to see the grey morning break above us, mist falling from the sky as I stepped off the plane screaming “WOOOHOOOO LONDON, THE KING IS BACK!” We collected our luggage with ease, and I thought for a second about going through the exit to declare something, so I could declare that I was happy to be home, but instead just went the normal way and hailed a taxi. Within thirty minutes we’d weaved our way through the growing morning traffic and arrived home. Excited, I opened the front door to instantly remember that which I didn’t miss, the house was in a right old two and eight, resembling a squat that had been ignored for six months. Still, it would probably equate to a four-star hotel in India and I soon found comfort, dropping our bags before flopping down on the sofa.
Sarah went up to my room, returning to state: “There’s a boy in your bed”, which would be Christian, my teenage pal who was occupying my bedroom in my absence. I went in and said hello, and he stirred for a while before chucking on some clothes and joining us downstairs, followed by Henry who had just woken up for work and came to greet us with a hug before stating “I have some really potent bud” and giving me a joints worth to roll us a welcome home present. It was around 8.30am by now and Sarah and I sat stoned and sedated, calmly chatting on the sofa as one by one the homies would arise, then come and greet us like royalty as we eagerly awaited the arrival of the next in line.
Once everyone was up and out we retired to my bedroom to get comfortable and have a little nap. I noticed that beneath the banister outside my door a white hand-towel remained on the floor, and I had a flashback that I’d seen it before. I asked Christian about it and he said it had been left lying there the whole time. It was there for a week before I left, and walked past literally hundreds of times by housemates in my absence, yet nobody had the thought to take or move it from its position. I laughed, thinking about how that abandoned towel is the perfect symbol to describe my housemate’s stoner slackness. Hilarious, nonetheless.

Cows are a sacred animal in India, Beef is God-like and cannot be consumed, therefore if you’re a big meat eater you’re going to have to make a few sacrifices. I heard that even Big Mac’s were made of chicken, but I never visited McDonald’s whilst there so didn’t get to try one. Regardless, I was now in London, and ready to eat some holy dinner to satisfy my shrinking stomach, so I went to my local butcher and asked for nine sirloin steaks. “That’s gonna be expensive, mate” he warned, but I told him I didn’t care, and how three weeks away had left me a desperate man. Back home, I chopped up a load of vegetables and put them to slowly roast in the oven, then Sarah and I hung out with my best buddy Brenno, housemate Henry, and his friend Emma, whilst awaiting the arrival of the other housemates. By 9.30pm, my hungry homies Kris, Tobias, Jared and his girlfriend Lizzie had all joined us and we sat making ‘mmmmmmnnnnn’ noises over dinner and catching up. I could see why cows are considered holy, my steak tasted like Heaven itself.

We had a smoke and spoke about our respective journeys through life over the past few weeks, our family felt complete again, and my housemates explained that my absence had a noticeable effect on the house and how they were glad to have me back. I felt touched by that, and confirmed that I’d been missing everyone too. Mike made his way home with a few gifts, and everyone else to their respective bed-spaces, and once again my lover and I were united under the clouds of my Heaven and Hell peace hole, our tired eyes staring upwards as images of the world we’d left behind continued to flash from our memory. The greatest test we’d so far faced had brought us even closer together, confirming the pure, brilliance of our uncompromised love and leaving us both happy and confident that it is true and for real.
There is a lot to be said for and against India, but I’m happy to say that there was a time and place in another world, and I existed within it, roaming wide-eyed, consuming the realness on offer and making it my own. Yes, my heart often hurt from the pain and poverty I’d witness, yes, I felt the stress of constant bombardment, which I learnt to let wash over me, and yes, I had walked through streams of shit and tempestuous thunder storms to reach wherever fate was leading me and my lover, but I lived to tell the tale, and put a full stop at the end of my story.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 22: Bringing the bright lights home

I shook dreams from my hair around 6.30am and stared out of the window as we rolled towards H Nizamuddin train station, watching as daylight slowly broke through the night. By the time we were in New Delhi the sun was in full control of the blue ‘good-bye’ sky which would cover our final day. We went back to the New King DX Hotel, where we’d left a bag with the owner Sunni a week and a half prior, and checked into our dark dingy room. My throat felt more ripped than a body builder’s bicep so I left Sarah to lie on the bed whilst I went out in search of nourishment, returning with two teas, some water and three samosa’s that I’d brought from a street vendor. I ate two and drank my tea whilst lying on the bed watching Seinfeld, set my alarm for 11am and then caught some zzzz’s.
We awoke and showered in the dark, the ‘light’ was the most hilarious electrical installation I’d ever witnessed, two wires going onto a bulb that was hanging out of a broken hole in the wall. Shocking! I paid my tailor a visit to check out the suits I’d had made to measure and all three pieces of each suit had been crafted to perfection and fit like a dream. I crossed the Sikh shop-keeper’s palm with the remainder of the £115 total which I had outstanding, thanked him kindly, then happily skipped back to my room to drop them off.

Sarah and I bought a pretty little princess dress for my three year old sister, and agreed a price with some young guys to replace the henna on her hands which had long since faded since I’d arrived, before ascending a never-ending staircase to have lunch and look down on the town, voyeurs on a farewell tour of the streets we’d seen the most. The last unsatisfactory lunch over and done with, I went off in search of a music shop, leaving Sarah to have her hands turned into works of art, although I’d argue that the artistry in the palms of her parents’ finest creation is already perfection in itself. I followed a sign up some stairs and found myself surrounded by sitars and all manner of fun things to play. I told the chirpy proprietor I was in search of a small gift for a friend, and within five minutes I was on the verge of buying a full sized sitar for myself. I sat messing around as he gave me a brief lesson, then showed me how the pros do it, enticing me furthermore with the allure that the strings bring. I picked out two small, stringed instruments and a flute made with a coconut in the middle that I liked the sound of, fighting back the urge to return to my lover with another massive load to carry, and made it out of their unscathed.

I saw a store which sold my favourite sherwani tunic shirts and went in to see what they had on offer. The seller pulled out numerous boxes to show me, and I found one that I wanted to try on which he said I could. His manager seemed a bit put out by this, so I asked him if he had a problem with me trying it, which he denied. I said “Don’t worry, I just had a shower” with a laugh, but he didn’t seem too amused. I liked the shirt, but the price the manager gave me was three times what I’d paid for a near exact one when I first arrived in Delhi, so I gave him the price I’d paid, which he deemed impossible. He wouldn’t budge, so I told him not to worry. He started going into one, having a go at me for trying it on and not buying it, saying no other shops would allow someone to try it on (they do) and how I shouldn’t have tried it if I didn’t want to buy it (I did). I told him he was being an unreasonable prick, whilst his co-worker strangely stood alongside me with a calculator trying to give me a better ‘best price’. I walked away saying “I wouldn’t buy it from him if it was 10 rupees”, before looking back at the shouting aggressor with a farewell “Fuck you”, which he kindly returned. I walked on with a wry smile on my face, and a guy a few doors down said “Namaste” and told me I looked happy. I told him that I’d just had an argument and he laughed, wishing me a good day.
I met back with Sarah who was now unable to use her hands, so I fed her some water and we went off for some more excessive gift shopping, everything is so cheap and so cool that your list of people to buy for seems to grow as you go. After finding furnishings for a thousand friends flats for five pounds fifty-five we headed back to pack and shower again, squeezing everything I’d acquired into my once empty backpack and near filling the holdall that I’d bought earlier that day. We smoked a joint of our remaining hashish and lay together a while, in the hot haze of our ending days, semi-silent and still.

It was now 7pm and we were back on the same streets, which now looked completely different. I love how the night does that. There were a number of things which flashed through the stonedness as I strolled, staring in their direction as they called out through the dirt and flies, compelling me to stop at the shop and admire their neon charms. Within the bright wonders was a glowing picture of Shiva, sat cross-legged with eyes closed, looking peaceful, with a hypnotic rainbow coloured wheel spinning behind him, and a bright blue background. I loved him. Sarah dragged me away, eyes still fixed at the store, but sense told me it was too big to buy, I sighed, stating that if I have to pass it again, I won’t be able to fight its allure.  We walked past a three or four rickshaw drivers, and Sarah sighed afterwards, saying that one of them had blown kisses in her face like a leering pervert, but she wouldn’t tell me which one. We walked back a few minutes later and I blew kisses at each and every driver in the vicinity, kiss attacking back like a confused rent-boy. We found the place that we’d had Masala Dosa’s from before, they’re a south Indian dish so not particularly common in the area, but the small place was heaving, not a spare seat in sight. In the time it took us to decide whether to wait or come back, they had thrown a table and two bench seats from out of the upstairs window and we were sitting out front, looking at menus. Now THAT is what I call service. 
After a hearty meal Sarah took me into an underwear shop, where the seller and his kid spent an age showing her every size and colour they had. There was an ultra-violet strip light at the front of the small store, and all of the little flies from the street were attracted to it, so as we stood there thousands upon thousands were flying into it manically, quickly dying, and their corpses were collecting all over us, the counter, the floor and the products they were showing us. After too long being the final resting place of baby bugs I finally snapped and wigged out, telling Sarah I couldn’t take any more as I shook my way out of the store dancing and brushing my shoulders off. She followed soon after, and we patted each other down before marching homeward.

“What’s that light over there?” I said knowingly, swiftly stepping to my right, towards the light. Nothing could dissuade me, Shiva was coming back to The East Village, our Hackney home. I stuffed the electronic light frame with everything else I’d bought into my bag like I was playing Tetris, we had yet another shower, then sat chatting with Sunny the hotel manager until our taxi arrived. This was the beginning of the final stretch; we were ready to leave India.

The taxi was warm and we both sat silently, even the usually constant horns seemed to be non-existent as we were escorted away from the world of constantly odd and interesting adventures which India had offered us. As we progressed, my head started to ache more and more, going from a mild discomfort to a throbbing migraine by the time we made it to the airport. You needed a printed ticket to enter the airport, which Sarah didn’t have, but I played the stupid English person role well enough to see us past two burly security guards with only a slight bit of a grilling. We worriedly approached the check-in desk with our backpacks, my suits, and our ridiculously large hand-luggage bags hidden beneath the counter. I was overly friendly and affable from the off, in the hope that they wouldn’t give us shit, and we got away with our extra weight and bags through the good graces of our faces. By this point, my head was boiling over and steam was shooting from my ears. I ran into the toilet cubicle and wretched a river of orange bile into the hole on the floor, followed by more heaving and hurling. I washed my face and looked into the mirror, rueing my luck just before a nine hour flight. I bought a few cheap cartons of Marlboro Gold cigarettes from the duty-free shop, then sat holding my head and sweating profusely. I could feel the sickness getting a grip on me from the inside, and it couldn’t remain, so I flew back to a toilet and threw my entire insides all over the place, every bit of food and fluid exploded from my stomach which crunched and grinded until the dry heaving had ceased and I was entirely empty. I felt like death, but less attractive as we made our way towards our far away gate, which was now being opened for boarding, stopping for sustenance at a ridiculously priced Haagen Dazs stall. Still, that ice cream turned out to be essential in my swift return to health, I ate it immediately, then flagged down one of the indoor cars which I noticed was carrying people from our flight, skipping the fifteen minute walk, and by the time I was on-board with a bag of crisps in me, I felt pretty much normal again. Sarah blamed the street food, I blamed the Devil.

We had discussed potentially joining the ‘mile high club’ on this night flight together, but Sarah fell asleep pretty much as soon as we took off, and a lot of people didn’t, so I had to leave that fantasy unchecked until next time. I struggled to sleep all through the flight, especially with Sarah’s sleepy head placing itself everywhere except on its own side, and her legs following suit, but I did doze off for thirty minutes or so at the end of Russell Brand’s ‘Arthur’ re-make, and again during ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’, both of which were decent enough flicks, but they couldn’t match the dreams that I was missing out on.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 21: The beginning of the end

We said farewell to the comfortable bed and hot shower and packed in preparation for another night on a sleeper train back to New Delhi, the wheels were now in motion for our journey home. We checked out by mid-day and had breakfast at the poolside, where we got chatting to a Liverpuddlian traveller named Michael who’d been travelling alone for a good few months. He was a gas engineer on oil rigs, which pretty much made him a made man, and man, he had it made. He told us how he’d work for a few months a year, and the rest of the time was paid vacation, which basically meant they covered all the costs of his travels. Feeling fulfilled I wished Sarah and Michael goodbye before catching a ride back to my tailor Praveen’s store to collect my jacket. I tried it on, but wasn’t keen on its vertical double border, as I was under the impression it would be a single strip and cover less of the coat. He took it back for the tailor to rectify, along with instructions for two white business shirts which I decided to have tailor-made to go with my forthcoming three-piece suits back in Delhi. I was told he would deliver them personally to my hotel at 4pm, and I left to do a brief bit of gift shopping.

I was approached by a shop-keeper who said “Do you know Danny DeVito?” I said yes, and he replied “I’m his Indian brother”. I did a double-take and realised he was indeed a great likeness to our favourite Penguin, before being swept into his store for another round of business. His likeness did him well, if he’d looked like Bob Hoskins I’d have been less enthused.

I went back to the hotel and swam a few laps whilst getting to know Michael, sharing tales of life travelling and back home being beasts. Turns out he is friends with some big swinging dicks of the drug trade back in Liverpool, young guys in their mid-twentys who were already swimming in millions of pounds worth of dirty money, well, dirtier money, that shit is stained with the blood of many men before it is even created out of thin air by the Devil incarnate. He told me of a friend who is a chemist and makes his own pills to sell, along with a special batch of 250 or so for friends, which were like popping the power of every superhero rolled into one, then being thrown into a nightclub like the Tazmanian devil. I told him I’d be in touch.

Michael made a move and Sarah and I had a light lunch whilst waiting for Praveen who was running late. He arrived just before we needed to leave and Sarah unhappily looked over his work, which she wasn’t that impressed with. I was happier, but agreed that it could’ve been made even better had he listened to her instructions properly the previous day. We bid him, Alex and the waiting staff farewell and jumped into a rickshaw. The driver said “Hey flower power, you want any smoke?” but I declined before asking if we could smoke now. He said yes, so I sparked up a joint that I’d rolled for some pre-thirteen hour train ride relief as we zipped through traffic, and arrived at the station with time to spare and still half a spliff. We finished it whilst being mobbed by some poor little street kids who looked post-apocalyptic with their get-up and grubby cheeks. We passed out a few coins then boarded our train which was on-time and waiting.

Typically, I had gotten ill just before having to go home, so I’d be returning from sunny India with a cold. ‘How very British’ I thought to myself as I flooded a roll of toilet tissue with my dripping hooter, whilst the train rolled us closer to our final destination. There wasn’t much in the form of entertainment, but our trusty deck of cards kept us occupied for the first two hours, playing Shithead and Blackjack for money, which again saw us end up happily all square. All of the best relationships are based on equality. We spent another hour or so doing arrow words, then by 9pm most of the people around us were readying for sleep and turning off the cabin lights, so we were soon reduced to darkness, as shadows scurried all around us. Sarah lay in my arms and we spoke for hours into the night, letting each other further into our respective histories as we laid brick and mortar, building a strong base for our joint future to thrive.

After a midnight kiss in our carriage, Sarah jumped up onto the top bunk that I had made comfortable for her with blankets and bedding, and hung her hand down for me to hold a while, until we were both rock-a-bye’d like babies on the train-track tree-top, and fell asleep.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 20: Magic Rug Ride

We checked out at 10am and grabbed a bite in the downstairs bakery before seeking out the local silver selling shops in search of a ring that Sarah had seen the previous day. We didn’t like that guys hard-line staunchness with his prices, even doing the final ‘get up and walk out’ manoeuvre which usually results in a call back with an even better ‘best price’, but had that time resulted in silence. After a lot of looking at lesser versions, we decided to go back to the guy with the good stuff for round two of bartering. After getting a slightly better deal for that ring plus another, I told Sarah that I would treat her to it. It had been on both of our minds since she walked away from it the day before, and was therefore a worthy gift to give.

I stopped to check out a tunic coat and was greeted with an unlit floor with four or five shopkeeper types sitting chatting. They soon scarpered, leaving me with Praveen, A four foot something portly pygmy with a sweet, welcoming disposition. I shook his small, chubby fingered hand and discussed having one of his jackets made for me, choosing from a wide array of fabrics and border patterns with the help of my own personal designer and stylist, Sarah. We shopped a little more for presents before shooting back to the hotel to grab our loads and chuck them onto a waiting rickshaw which whisked us over to Mahendra Prakash, one of the best hotels in Udaipur which had its own pool. Since we were at the end of our journey, we decided a well-deserved stay in a swanky place was in order, so we’d booked ourselves a one night stay in room number 8, which is my lucky number and was by far the best place I’d stayed the entire time. It had a huge king-size bed, strange and interesting art on the wall, a stained glass wall with sofa in front and an expensive looking marble bathroom. As we lay on the bed I decided that this would be my treat to my lover, she deserved it, after all without her I’d not have been on this amazing journey, nor had such amazing company.

We spent a while testing how comfortable the bed was, then got showered with welcome warm water before hitting the pool. Two tortoises, that were aged sixty and forty years old respectively, roamed in the quaint garden as I swam lengths to let my heart know he still needs to stay strong. I got out, instantly dried by the 2pm sun as it darkened my olive skin, and laid beside the tortoises who after a few seconds of staring into each other’s faces leant in and actually kissed for a few seconds. I wish I’d caught a snap as it was hilariously beautiful.

There were only five other people in the poolside garden, one being a little pot-bellied ten year old Israeli girl who swam alone, unmonitored by everyone except me and the few other strangers. She spent the rest of her time sipping from bottles of Coke on her wealthy parents’ tab whilst they were off doing something which was obviously more important than spending time with their only child. There was a German couple too but they departed soon after we arrived, although their towels were left saving the limited sun-beds for the duration of the afternoon, whilst I remained on the floor. Some stereotypes ARE true. Hahaha. The final two fellows were American guys from California named Alex and Larry. I though Alex was actually Paul Simon for a split-second before we spoke, but alas there would be no renditions of ‘Me and Julio down by the schoolyard’. He was very outgoing and sociable from the off, and we spoke about football and our own travels to each other’s homelands. Larry seemed like a harder nut to crack, his silence as he sat reading creating an air of mystery and intrigue that, unfortunately, could never be achieved by someone fully open and outgoing like Alex, or myself. I rued him for being the catalyst of this realisation, but the interest remained. He went and sat with his feet in the pool and Alex told us how Larry had adopted two Indian children, one of whom will be competing in the Paralympics in 2012 and how the other worked at the hotel and they were both visiting for a ceremony. The little girl came and shared her Tic-Tacs with us as we sat chatting until the sun disappeared behind the hotel wall.
It was the perfect time, the time that we’d all been waiting for, the time our taste buds feared: ‘Mixed Mushroom Munch-off time’. Sarah, the ballsy little so and so had been on a mountain trek with a guide before I arrived, and he picked some magic mushrooms from the path and put them on a rock, telling her what they were before walking on. She had cheekily chucked them in her bag, carried them in a plastic photograph film case for days, then smuggled them in her skirt on her flight from Bangalore to Delhi where she met me. Amazing. Four weeks’ worth of being sealed away had done them no favours at all, they smelt and tasted absolutely rotten and we had to shot them like pain pills to get them down without gagging. For dessert we had the leftover majority of the mushroom chocolate that we’d sampled in Agra, enough for five or six portions apparently, but we wanted to go a lot further than last time so we ate them all as well.
I didn’t want to come up in the room that we’d be sitting in all night, thinking it would be more fun to let it creep up on us as we were out and about doing normal things, so I suggested we go for a stroll to get a few drinks for later. After about half an hour, whilst sitting on a cushioned platform in a shop, I spent a while staring at the multi-coloured rug on the floor which had a new found vibrancy to it and laughed to myself, knowing that things were about to change. Sarah was bartering over the cost of an embroidered kaftan for her mother, which was white but very dirty from dust, and she questioned whether the size would be too small. I replied saying, “That’d fit me”, much to the shop keeper Manish’s disagreement. I jumped up at the first chance of a bet, exclaiming “If it fits me we get it for 150”, before pulling off my shirt and worming my way into the tight-fitting woman’s blouse and strutting about like a model with a victorious grin as they both sat watching and laughing. Manish still declined the sale, even though we had shook on it, which irked me a bit, but when he started speaking about his business and money his voice broke and developed a desperate stutter which worsened as he went on. He said he’d been there, away from his home and family running the shop for over fifteen years, and how in the last few he was barely making anything. He even showed me his sales book for the past few months, September only showing 3900 rupees, about £50, and said he wanted to shut up shop and move back, but that even shifting his stock for a decent price would be difficult. I told him to get out, it was clear that we was unhappy and breaking up being there, and it broke me up inside.
We were both feeling pretty sorry for him, and he was an unfortunate but kind soul, so we started looking at more stuff. He was pulling out pashminas left, right and centre, piling them up on top of us to display the variety of colours and we came to one, the colour of which none of us could define. It was a browny, red-ish, purpley, coffee-ish, dark thing and we all laughed over the confusion it caused. Sarah bought it just for the fact that it had amused us so, and I bought one in red. We didn’t haggle on the price. He told us about the origins of the word pashmina, which we all know to be those thin scarves that are ‘two for five pounds’ in most markets in London, but a pashmina is actually a small mountain goat, and the scarves are made using the wool which grows on the underside of their necks. He showed us an old magazine article about it, with a photograph of a cute baby pashmina attached. It’s a shame I can’t get two actual pashminas for a fiver, they’d make great living clouds to go with the ones I have painted on my bedroom ceiling. Manish then cracked open his own personal Pandora’s Box, handing me the granddaddy of all woollen neck wear, a black pashmina made of the finest material I’d ever felt, which he claimed  was either 7000 or 70000 rupees (£93 or £933). As soon as I draped it across my shoulders with a pull that made it stroke the back of my neck, I was in love. I wanted to live in this material, swim in it and eat it for dinner so my insides felt as rich as I did whilst prancing around the store like a dandy aristocrat. “Lar-dee-dar” I remarked whilst swishing in-front of a mirror, before dragging it over Sarah’s bare back so she could enjoy its effect. I had the thought, in amongst my psychedelic swanning around wearing rags for the rich, that perhaps Manish thought his luck was in with us, and that his mortgage would be paid before we left his shop, but unfortunately I had to hand him back his piece of Heaven, with a handshake, and we departed with two unwanted scarves and a dirty top.

We didn’t imagine that we’d end up shopping on ‘shrooms, and didn’t bring much cash, so after getting lost in that small shop for an hour we only had enough for the snacks we’d set out to buy. We were in hysterics as we skipped down the street in a lively fashion, everything more flowing and alive than usual as we discussed our shopping experience, confirming that we both came up in there, and both pity purchased from Manish after hearing his truthfully uttered stutters about his financial situation. Now India is a strange place to be in general, when tripping, even more strange and hilarious. We’d always chuckle through the agitation of shop-keepers who think they’re somehow psychic when you walk past their stores, offering any array of things that you’d never feasibly want or use instead of knowing their demographic enough to only approach potentially interested parties, but experiencing it high was just hilarious. As we stumbled, arms around each other, past a few stores one aged Indian seller loudly whispered ‘look on this’ whilst brazenly waving a yellow elephant fridge magnet in my line of vision with a hypnotic wrist action that could only have been mastered over decades of enticing tourists to buy whatever he holds. However, I just burst out a bellowing guffaw, leaving Sarah wondering what was so funny. We found a little shack with drinks and snacks, bought a few drinks and crisps, and then I spotted the sweets. I grabbed our purse, pointed at every chocolate bar and a gummy pizza sweet, which was all they had, telling them to hook a brother up stat whilst giving them all the cash from our kitty. I noticed when leaving that I just casually said “Cheers mate”, then patted the guys young son on the head saying “See you later, boy”, and remarked that it’s funny how when intoxicated you forget where you are and just revert to your most standard self, instead of shuffling around politely saying ‘Namaste’ to every passing stranger and child to let them know that whitey is in town, and he’s carrying love.
We ventured back to the safe sanctity of our room, jumping over missing drain covers like they were great craters to overcome on the road to righteousness, and started smashing through the snacks in a fort that I’d made for us on the bed, using the multitude of cushions from all around the room to create a comfortpalaceloveden for us to relax in whilst staring, enamoured by a framed wall hanging. Neither of us had liked it at first, but with these new eyes came a new found appreciation for its warped brilliance. It looked like it was painted by a three year old kid with one bad eye, the giant monster-ish red, yellow and blue faced people with hook-noses above their eyes, walking in the same direction across the canvas, which also contained a wonky border and stoned flowers that were made of love-hearts. We had seen the strange, alluring cohesion of this brightly painted masterpiece, and we wanted it. I checked the wall to see if it was removable, so we could buy it, but it didn’t seem accessible, so we vowed to enquire the next day, Sarah stating she would reproduce the scene on a wall in her future house. I tried to convince her to chuck in £10 each with me, in order to go back and buy everything the sweetie shack had to sell, saying “3000 rupees will clear them out, it will be great”, but she dissuaded me and we instead opted to get a bite in the hotel restaurant. We grabbed a table outside in the sunbathing area, and I left her seated whilst I went inside to get menus. Alex and Larry were sitting at a table and we got chatting about their evening, Alex was the kind of guy that could converse for hours, and before I knew it, it had been about ten minutes of chit-chat, no menus, and Sarah left tripping on her own, out of sight, about ten metres away from us outside. I invited them to join us if they wished, being polite and friendly whilst potentially lining us up for a mass exposure of stupidity in our spacey states.
I returned to my lady in waiting who asked if I’d really been gone for ages, or if it was just her, saying that she’d been watching a shadow rabbit drumming in a distant plant pot. I could see it too, the leaves all alive and playing their part in the nature’s painting, and he looked to be keeping a good rhythm. I explained that I’d seen Alex and Larry, and almost instantly they arrived at our table, the game was on. I clung onto conversations like a cat thrown at curtains, whilst delivering the humorous ramblings of a mad man trying to feign normality, explaining that I wanted to consume everything on offer, and remarking on how the missing moon was now nearly full, and finally showing-off her face to me. I ordered Aloo Palak, I had no idea what it was, but I liked the name, and a garlic naan, which Sarah and I demolished like beasts, mopping up potato from the bowl of delicious green sludge we’d been served. Larry stayed true to his modest and to-the-point demeanour up until we spoke of the tortoises, and where they slept. With a new sign of life he jumped to his feet to check out their dwellings and I followed him over to some plant pots where they supposedly slept. “Oh wow, a frog” he remarked, then turned to me with his hands out, holding it. I had a flashback to my sixth birthday, when I found one in my back garden, and kissed it hoping it would turn into a Princess, and considered kissing this one to see if it would turn into a second Sarah, but before I could do anything it leapt out of Larry’s hands right towards my face, landing just in front of my feet, then hopping away. I don’t know why it wasn’t up for a smooch, perhaps I had some Aloo Palak in my beard, although I’m sure the green would’ve resembled a lily-pad.

Alex and Larry left us doing damage control, Sarah in disbelief that I’d let us in for such an experience, and telling me about all the crap I’d come out with whilst she’d sat there staying silent and sensible. She also told me that Larry was reading Christian magazines by the pool earlier, but luckily we hadn’t got onto the topic of religion or I might have offended them with my crazy theory that dinosaurs actually existed. I downed a banana lassi in a matter of seconds and shared a pot of tea with my partner in crime whilst laying on loungers looking up into space, before retiring to our room to lay on the bed. You could hear an almost-song in the ‘silence’ surrounding the room, crickets outside our window providing a steady rhythm, the beat, as oncoming cars in the distance approach, creating a bridge which built up natures constant tune, the chorus coming as the car passes, often with a number of beeps that could make an ambient noise rave hit its peak, being the crescendo of our habitat’s harmony.

We smoked a joint on the bed, within the wondrous walls of our comfort emporium, and watched Dave Chappell’s Block Party whilst entwined in each other’s arms, until the magic fell silent and we drifted away.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 19: Octopussy’s Pineapple Palace

I awoke to the warmth of warm skin pressed together with mine, my weak and weary body writhing in-sync with that of my woman, and the walls dripped with our combined love until the final burst of my illness left my body with a shake and a conclusive kiss.

We showered together to wash away our sins whilst sinning some more, and sat on the roof of our hotel to look across at the Lake Pichola and the two islands that lie in between. The first, Jag Mandir, comprised of a beautiful palace and courtyard, and played home to Shah Jahan whilst he was revolting against his father, Jahangir who is the emperor that built Fatepur Sikr, the abandoned city that we had visited a week or so prior. The second was known as the Lake Palace, which was
originally built in 1746 as a royal summer palace but is now a five-star hotel, costing an army of arms and long length of legs for a night’s stay in this majestic marble manor. We only had eight arms and legs between us and we need them to climb all over each other, so we decided to just view it from afar whilst eating scrambled eggs and drinking orange juice which tasted even eggy-er. I tried to make the waiter take a sip, but he just knocked it off the bill.

The James Bond film ‘Octopussy‘ was filmed in Udaipur and we were quick to find out, every hotel we walked past seemed to advertise nightly showings of it, a unique selling point so common that it may as well just be a given that wherever you are, at whatever time you need that fix, somebody somewhere within screaming distance will be able to play you a worn out VHS of that 007 classic. We didn’t bother watching it, there was plenty more to do.

We walked through the relatively peaceful streets, very few vehicles or pushy proprietors of shitty souvenir shops to put us off of looking, and a lot of interesting art and crafts to indulge our eyes as we made our way to the City Palace. Sarah stopped to get her sandals sewn and resoled by a street shoe-smith whilst I fought my way through another sea of men who didn’t wish to wait patiently for passes, literally throwing money through the worker’s glass window, expecting paper aero plane tickets in return. We made our way past a couple thousand guides who were lined up like tour whores, thrusting ample facts in our faces, dripping with seductive secrets, and trying to lure us in with promises of guaranteed satisfaction which we weren’t in the market for. We just wanted to hold hands and see things for ourselves, and did just that, reading all the historic stories and admiring the artifacts and architecture. There was a room with paintings that were made as 2D reliefs that made you feel stoned just by looking at them, the topsy turvy, swervy, curvy surfaces sending you in a slight spin so that all you can remark is ‘I’ve gotta get me one of these’.

After a few hours we left the palace, collected Cinderella’s slippers, bought a whole sliced up pineapple for a little street luncheon and made our way to the spot where the city’s cable car can take you up to a mountain top. We bought a couple of tickets and our change of 2 rupees was given to us in the form of two boiled sweets, which I found amusing until I put it in my mouth and realised that it was in no way worth any money at all, coughing it straight out of my mouth and onto the floor as Sarah reacted similarly. I questioned the safety of using a cable car in India for a few seconds as it took off, hanging a couple hundred feet above an awaiting jungle below, but then I reminded myself that we’re all dying anyway and to just enjoy it instead. You could see the whole of Udaipur from all angles at the top of the mountain, and we climbed over a barrier and onto a further ledge to sit and have a chat and smoke whilst watching the sun lower itself in a rather rapid fashion as I waved and wished him goodnight. Sitting opposite a young Indian couple on our return cable car ride, I thought I would make use of our leftover pineapple to amuse myself, so I took a piece from the bag and laid in wait for the other cable car to approach on the left. At the perfect moment, I frisbee’d the soggy slice straight at it through our window, and scored a direct hit, celebrating as it bounced off the front plastic screen. Sarah and the stunned couple all cracked up, and the young girl even gave me a high-five.

Back at the rooftop restaurant, I sniffed my glass for scent of fowl play before filling it with orange Mirinda and ordered two Thali’s, which came on a huge platter with four little curries, some yoghurt, four chapattis, a popadom and a mountain of rice for £1.50. It was an epic battle, Sarah was slain early on, but after an almighty belch space enough to feed my greed saw me succeed. We waddled to a café so we could contact home to let them know we were still living like loved-up lords, then had a pot of tea and a wrestle of wits in a place called ‘Cool Restaurant’ which lived up to its somewhat humorous name with loads of cushions as seating on the floor and lasers flashing across the ceiling which made me feel like a redneck cowboy in the desert, staring skywards, awaiting imminent abduction by a U.F.O.

Back in our white walled room at bedtime, we rolled a bed present then sat smoking on the balcony with Janis Joplin, who was singing about Bobby McGee and Summertime. Suitably soothed and smoothly stoned I sat hunched uncomfortably over a keyboard for hours, playing back past days in my head whilst writing, until the matchsticks between my eyelids snapped, and I snoozed.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Freewheelin’ in India - Day 18: Loco-motive for murder

‘Fucking fan’, I said to myself as I awoke to see it slowing to a standstill at 7.30am. That music was pumping again, rolling drums sounding off tempo and a boiling hot room aren’t two of my favourite factors for a decent sleep, but checkout was at 10, so I laid there as long as I could bear it before getting showered and ready to leave. I had no more clean clothes, so I bought two new casual lightweight tunic shirts to roll around in, collected our train tickets to Udaipur and got a new leather-bound notebook bought for me by Sarah, to replace the near-finished one that I’ve been writing poems on the go into. I’d been craving a day to relax by a pool in the sun, and have a swim, so we jumped into an auto rickshaw which took us to Jagat Palace Hotel, which was a really expensive place Sarah had found that let you use their pool for a fee. It had great gardens with swings and beautiful, well maintained rows of flowers which seemed to be getting constantly watered by one of the large number of staff at hand.

We ate lunch at the poolside, as the burning sun beamed down on us at the hottest part of the day, and got speaking to an American couple who recommended a nice hotel in Udaipur, after I told them how I wanted to stay in a nice place for the last night or two. I spent the next three hours listening to The Beatles and jumping in and out of the pool for laps every five minutes until it was time to shower and leave for the next dreaded train-ride. The hotel had booked us an expensive lift to the station in Ajmer, but it was worth it to have a nice car for once, instead of having beeps blasting your face off whilst fearing imminent impact in the Tuk-tuks.

Sarah was adamant that we cut costs so to save the equivalent of £2, our tickets were booked in the general section, one of the lower class areas. I don’t think that ‘lower class’ could accurately describe the reprobates in this carriage, these cunts made the floor seem high, they were that low. I realised this right away, when a guy was practically climbing over women and children’s faces to get a seat that probably didn’t belong to him anyway. Everybody adopted this mentality and it was a gross display of humanity, watching everyone fight their way on instead of patiently boarding in a civilised manner. I was strong-arming everybody that was coming near to crush my lady, whilst spitting disgust at what I’d just been thrown in to, a pit of hungry wolves, and to make matters worse, we realised that we were sat separately on opposite ends of the carriage.

Once I got Sarah seated, I made my way back through the bloodbath to find four people squashed onto a narrow three-seater bench, two of whom were in my seat. I was near breaking point by the time I got there, and asked them to move, which they luckily did. Unfortunately, they only moved into the space right in front of me, so I had these two sweaty dudes standing right in my leg space, practically on top of me, whilst every other row remained free from intruders standing between the seats. It must have been as my row was closest to the door that they wanted to be there, as there was no other explanation, even though that’s not much of a reason in itself, there’s over an hour in-between each stop. To add insult to injury, there was another older fat guy leaning over my seat, with his chubby fingers constantly touching the back of my head every time either one of us moved. It was really grating, so after the fifth time I turned back to signify it was bothering me, but it continued until I finally turned again and asked the guy to stop touching my head. The surrounding guys laughed, talking in Hindi about me, the wormy looking, bald bastard that had been in my seat saying something to me, with my response being to put my hand bang on top of his head, saying “I’m going to leave this here for half an hour, let me know when it becomes annoying”. They all laughed some more, as did I, half cracked-up from the humorous side of the happenings, the other half cracking under the pressure of it all, whilst also constantly having to look towards the far away area which my lady was sitting in, worried that she’d also be enduring all kinds of problems with the perverted and immoral ingrates that unjustly inhabit an otherwise innocent body.

I haven’t fully switched in as far back as I can currently remember, and didn’t want it to happen here, so I turned to my trusty ‘other method’ of overcoming anger, and wrote a poem about what was peeving me. It helped for a while, until the same guy decided to antagonise me again, forcefully kneeing my long legs in order to give him an extra millimetre. That was it, he made me lose my cool, and that ain’t cool! I told them to move somewhere else, pointing to the other rows saying “LOOK! LOOK! NO ONE THERE, OR THERE, OR THERE, BUT YOU TWO BOTH HERE ON TOP OF ME, LAUGHING LIKE THIS IS FUNNY TO YOU”. The other guy in my personal space told me to calm down then said something in Hindi which amused the others and infuriated me. I responded “I’M A HUMAN BEING FOR FUCKS SAKE, YOU DON’T TREAT PEOPLE LIKE THIS”. I heard one of them utter “This is India” and replied “THAT’S NO EXCUSE, YOU’RE A BUNCH OF FUCKING DOGS WITH NO DIGNITY, YOU GIVE YOUR COUNTRY A BAD NAME”. Almost instantly a translucent white light broke through the red mist, like an angel entering Hell in order to retrieve a misplaced soul. I looked up to see Sarah, unaware of what was happening and delivering news that the guy next to her had offered to switch seats with me. I jumped up, with the two cretins pushing towards my seat before I could even leave it, and followed her back through the ocean of bodies, to the other side of the carriage where a rotund old chap asked me to show him to the seat. I fought my way back into the dark depths with him, told my enemies that it was now my portly pals place to sit, and swam back to my mermaid.

Heaven seemed a lot better than Hell, but it still wasn’t perfect. Too many seekers of seats that are spoken for seemed to cause trouble up there too, and soon after my arrival I witnessed another epic argument between two Indian men which made me feel a lot better about my earlier outburst, as I was disappointed that it happened, but it turns out that it’s a common occurrence. We’re all just primates, after-all, you cram us into a narrow cage for too long and we’ll start fighting to get out.
My love for babies continued with a cute little chubster named Krishna, initially freaking him out with my big grin, before playing peek-a-boo to make him laugh whilst the surrounding passengers looked on in amusement. He was with his mother and grandmother, whom I’d helped with putting her bags up and passing things to her a few times, and they shared their home-made dinner with us, which after a few hours of riding and rioting, went down like Goliath to David’s stone.

After a stop another fight ensued between two old boys, one of whom was trying to claim a seat as his, without a ticket to confirm. At one point during the ruckus, this white haired wannabe fat cat pulled out some ancient I.D. which looked like either an army, or rail company card perhaps, but it didn’t hold much weight with the other guy, or his friends. They kept kicking off with each other, across my chest, as I sat in the middle smiling. The fat cat was persona non grata amongst everyone for a long time, sitting smarmily in his seat until an inspector came, and made him move into a different carriage.

I wrote for the rest of our journey into the night, as baby Krishna slept on Sarah’s leg, and we arrived in ‘India’s most romantic’ city, physically and emotionally drained and ready to crash. We asked our rickshaw driver for Gangaur Palace, he tried to take us to his Dad’s hotel, we kindly declined. We checked into spacious, comfy room 305, which set us back £5 a night, and smoked a bed present on the balcony before I read Sarah pages from my book of poems, and some diary entries. Inspired to continue, I continued, and my time slipped away with every click of a key.