As the uncle who disappeared for lengthy periods, usually in winter time to India, I was curious about what my very young nephew thought I might be finding in such a place. It may have been his exposure to the enigmatic Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, but he only had to think for a second or two and announced that there were probably egg trees.
When we travel, many of us will at least pay a nod to the old saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. I guess that this is generally useful advice, in particular paying attention to socially acceptable dress and behaviour, and I have heard numerous instances of people thrown out of places of worship for wearing shorts, hauled off for kissing in public, and of course being obnoxiously drunk. It seems to me rather odd, even disturbing, that so many people will demand that visitors to their country adhere to the current views, but obstinately refuse to adapt their own behaviour when abroad. However, the choices we make once out of the office and ‘into the wild’ can be surprising, even to the participants. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me ‘I’d never have dared do that before’, and am glad I was able to help them go off the rails a little, its good to get out of your comfort zone.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, arrivals in India will encounter a deluge of offers, entreaties and unexpected, labyrinthine connections that will leave them reeling, or laughing their heads off. I heard that J.K.Galbraith described India as ‘functioning anarchy’ as depicted in the postcard I found in Goa. I also heard a description I particularly liked, which is ‘5,000 years of poetry and no two lines rhyme !’
The BBC recently broadcast a series of one or two hour films on #slowtravel, one was a canal journey, another a reindeer sleigh trip in north Norway and another entitled ‘The Country Bus’ featuring a local bus journey through the narrow lanes and wide landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales. They recalled a time not long past when travel wasn’t really about timetables, or at times, even specific destinations ! The early forerunners of modern adventure travel almost all operated on the basis that the traveller was not guaranteed to get to, or to see all the sights along the way, but they would do their best to attain a final objective. Thus, London to Kathmandu, Cairo to Cape Town became ‘routes’ followed by a steady stream of buses, converted trucks filled with hopeful wayfarers happy just to take things as they came.
In India there are uncountable religious festivals, drawing in devotees, pilgrims and other people from all walks of life, in uncountable numbers. One such is encountered at Pushkar, in Rajasthan, a desert state. From all over India and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands gather at the full moon in November, around a temple dedicated to Brahma, the creator in Indian cosmology. It is said to be the only such temple in all India, and is sited in the centre of the village.
Do not be mistaken here; it is not begging as a western-bred assumption might conclude. This is Zaqat, one of the principal duties of all Muslims, to behave charitably toward those in need. It requires a person to give directly to those in need and is a mainstay for elderly people of the community who may find themselves in leaner times. The older man is not a beggar, he is aware of that, and is aware that it is his right to expect support. For his side, the shopkeeper is aware that his obligations include giving a percentage of his income directly to those in need, and that he receives blessings for his act.
Or; a funny thing happened on the way to the theatre.
I’d never envisaged a situation where I would encounter a sculptor with a scalpel; well, perhaps becoming the object of a sculpture is taking the analogy a bit far, but it certainly involved phenomenal levels of skill, imagination and attention to detail. In life we rarely become part of the ‘installation’, but this is the best image I can conjure of a surgical team. I felt at the time that I was absorbed into the cosy collaboration of a dedicated repertory theatre group in a spirited rendition of a favourite performance for them, but an important one for me.
Collecting STUFF. We all do it in some way or another but collecting passport stamps as a pursuit in itself, rather than incidentals that just happen from time to time always veers a bit close to braggadocio for me. Nevertheless just as train and car number plates fascinate some people, so do passport stamps. It takes all sorts ! (I have to admit my own peccadillo is collecting CAA airport significator codes – LHR, DEL, MCW etc).
Podcast version here
Two Glaswegian girls had arrived in Luxor, some 650 miles up the Nile and site of many of Egypt’s archaeological treasures, during the middle of the previous night on a charter flight from the U.K. By early afternoon they were understandably still looking a bit groggy, but enthusiastic about starting their holiday. Read more . .
As might have been expected, India burst in on me like a storm. Sometimes it’s the proverbial wall of heat when you’re coming off the plane, or the overwhelming chaos of rank and sweet smells and eye-jarring colours, but most often for me it’s the milling mass of humanity which ambushes you.
I’d read somewhere, (I think it was in Trevor Fishlock’s brilliant compendium of essays called India File), that the elephant god Ganesh, or the Taj Mahal in Agra are usually seen as emblematic of India, but the true motif of India is the crowd.
Podcast version here