Miles different to home

An evening in, drinking McDowell’s gin mixed with Limca, a sickly sweet fizzy lemon pop which is essential to mask the greasy taste of the gin. Ah, though, thought Bob Cranwell, not bad for 35 Rupees a half bottle (beer in hotels costs Rs30 a bottle). Normal soapy sort of taste; should do me two or three days. Tsk. Only, finding it was the problem – directions and distances being as pliable as they can be in India.

McDowell’s gin
McDowell’s gin

To be fair, most people in most places don’t really know where they are in relation to everywhere else, but when you’re looking for something most Indian males will use fairly often, it comes as a surprise to find so many variations on where the nearest ‘wine shop’ might be. The last directions I had, after walking about a mile, were from a petrol station attendant;

  • ‘Yes yes, just here’
  • ‘How far ?’
  • ‘Half a furlong’
  • ‘What ! ?’ I say, baffled by the archaic measure, used now only for horse racing, ‘How many metres, – one, two hundred ?’
  • ‘Oh, half a kilometre’ He says, giving himself ample room for manoeuvre between half a furlong, i.e. 110 yards, and half a kilometre, i.e. 550 yards. In fact it was 165 paces. Perhaps I shouldn’t press the point, because I only get the answers people think I want; sometimes, that is.

This morning, setting off from Pondicherry at 7am I was surprised by distances too. Three youths on chunky ‘Hero’ bicycles rolled up to greet my friend Moïse as he was seeing me off on the bus. They had all been home, a town called Karaikal, for the Pongal holidays – a sort of harvest festival in South India – but when returning, had become stranded by an unexpected, though not unusual event we later read about in the newspapers.

Apparently a local politician had been killed, by accident or design we never knew, but the death had sparked clashes between caste groups of differing affiliations. Buses leaving Karaikal had been stoned – not showing sufficient respect by carrying on normal life; one bus had eleven people seriously injured, so the bus service ceased until things died down.


Oh calamity ! An over ambitious driver and aftermath. No injuries!
Oh calamity! An over ambitious driver and aftermath. No injuries!


Necessity and ingenuity are drivers of all solutions in India, and both involve hard work of some sort. The chosen solution of these guys was scarcely credible, yet here they were. They had started the previous night at 7.30pm, and with a couple of hours break along the way had cycled 160km in 8 hours or so. On bone-crushing, heavy, single geared cycles along unlit, potholed roads with not a single light between them. This was because they had to be at work on the following morning or they would likely have been replaced by the next day. None looked any the worse for wear at all.

Moïse himself sets off tonight from Madras, heading for Delhi by train. The journey lasts from 915pm tonight, through tomorrow and the next night, arriving in Delhi the next afternoon. His journey, on slatted wooden seats in 2nd class, will cost Rs160.

I too go to Delhi. But I fly there, taking 3½ hours, stopping half an hour in Hyderabad. That journey costs Rs1700. Sometimes I’m sick of being European and being paid for, but sometimes I’m bloody glad.

Catch yer later !

Bob Cranwell, Amateur Emigrant

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