I was fresh out of university. I spent some time in Sri Lanka. I was in contact with Priya, as I shall call her. Pryia was a married Indian woman. I decided to pay her a visit. There were no ferries going between Sri Lanka and mainland Asia. The civil war was just over – or so it seemed. The rapprochement was not to last but I did not know that then. But I had to fly.
I got to Colombo Airport about 5 am. I had stupidly paid for a taxi in advance from a travel agency. The driver never showed up. I got a rickshaw all the way to the airport. The army parked buses across the main streets at night. A few soldiers in blue camouflage uniforms strutted around. The Tamil driver named Raju drove me to the airport before dawn. I chatted to him and noted how I had known a Tamil driver also named Raju in Malaysia a year before.
At the airport security was the tightest I have ever seen. They had a mirror on a pole to look under the car. Soldiers with crew cuts were everywhere.
I met a Swedish couple in the airport. They were lissom and very young. They let me flick through their passports. They had accumulated many stamps.
There was ordinary airport security but then it go tighter. We were checked thrice – bags and passports. The last time was as we got onto the plane. In the depture lounge I met a Finnish couple and their little daughter. They were all slim. THE HUSBANd had black hair and the wife was fair. So was their daughter. Like true Scandinavians they spoke flawless English. They were headed to an ashram. The woman wore a loose blue dress – too modest for my taste. She carried her daughter up the steps to the plane. She was a poppet with gappy teeth. The mum told me her little one was staring to learn English because she had met a child from London at the resort in Sri Lanka.
I was extremely sleepy and dozed throughout the flight.
The pilot announced we were coming in to land at Trichy. I opened my penthouse lids. Below me was a paradiscal tropical scene. There were endless luxuriant fields of palm trees and the place was resplendent and refulgent.
Triruchapallai is the real name of this city but it is commonly truncated to Trichy. This lies at the southern tip of India.
The airport was tiny. There were few preliminaries. Stamp, Stamp. I was in. As I shuffled through customs I met two middle aged Belgian men. These men were overweight and affable. Both were balding. I think they were Flemings because they spoke great ENglish but we also chatted in French. We agreed to shhare a cab. I think it was a Beetle.
The drove through the dusty outskirts of the city. The Belgian Congo came up. The black haired Belgian man remarked, ”It was better for the people there and what they got now.” I concurred. Looking back to the Congo Free State this would not have been the case. When the Congo was the personal fief of Leopold II things were hellish for the Congolese. Once the Belgian Government began to rule it became decent.
I was dropped off at a hotel. I was a large white building on the end of town and had seen better days. I lodged in a very big room and went akip. It took me a few hours to come round.
I went down and chatted to the receptionists a bit. It was a blazing hot afternoon. This place had once been a princely stated. I asked the young receptionist if he would like the maharajah back. ”No”, he shook his head gently and answered softly, ”I like democracy.” In the time of the princely states these rulers were not mere figureheads. They exercised actual political power. Oh for dynastic principles. I searched in vain for a misty eyed nostalgic like me.
I took a look around Trichy. If monarchs were in short supply another anachronism was not. There was a huge temple complex. There was much inlaid stone. Hinduism is so variegated and colourful. It outstrips even Catholicism in its iconography. I wandered around various rooms and antechapels. There was a tower and there was a lingam at the top. I filmed it briefly and a man barked at me ”hey” so I stopped. It seemed ridiculous. How can the camera reduce the magic of this phalos shaped stone? Some people suffer from alexia in relation to logic.
Trichy is not to crowded. It offers little to the visitor. I bought some bread and wandered down a street full of bungalows. I asked a man where to buy butter. He did not understand me. I tried the word ”makan”. They do not know North Indian languages in Tamil Nadu.
I then went to the station. It was a large complex with a courtyard out front. It was not quite a car park. There were a few people recumbent on the floor of the concourse. I saw the list of prices. There were discounts for those who had been in the Indian Peacekeeping Force ( IPKF). This was a group of Indian soldiers sent to Sri Lanka in the late 1980s to disarm the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and then protect and autonomous Tamil province in north-west Sri Lanka. The Indian Government was not percipient enough to know that refereeing a civil war seldom ends well for the ref. It all went pear shaped pretty soon. The Indian Army clashed with the LTTE who did not hand over their weapons. This sparked a Tamil rebellion in Tamil Nadu – i.e. India itself. It culminated in the man who sent the IPKF – Rajiv Gandhi – being assassinated by the very people he tried to save. No good deed goes unpunished! It took decades more of fighting to bring out liberalising tendencies in the Sri Lankan Government. Then more hopeless struggle.
I got myself and ticket. I wandered around the city centre a bit. There were very few Muslims. It is one of the most Hindu regions of the country. I was approached by a short middle aged man with a deep and sinister voice. He asked where I was from. ”I really like foreigners” he boomed in a voice that was so peculiar I feared for his reason. He asked, ”have you done graduation” and a number of very frank questions that Indian often ask when meeting people. They are open about seeking to gauge someone’s standing. I then headed home. I managed to balls up. When I went back to the station the next day I found I had been looking at the time of purchase not departure.
I did not wish to tarry. I decided to do something I disliked. I caught a bus. That night I boarded a bus to Chennai. I was hastening to Delhi. The overnight bus did not go that fast despite the land being level. We passed huge convoys of brightly painted trucks with horns that sounded incessantly. There was only one police roadblock. AFter dawn we came to Chennia.
I stayed at a three star hotel in the middle of town. I could not get a room in somewhere more reasonably priced. I would fain have saved the money. I had a very smart room with excellent air conditioning but the view was of a car park.
In the dining room I was approached by a French couple who were probably 20 years older than me. They had their Lonely Planet Book – l’Inde. I had trouble pronouncing it Ond. We discussed tips on where to do.
I am not sure I saw anything in Chennai. I find it unattractive. Soon I was on a choo choo to Bhopal. That bit nearer Delhi. Going all the way to Delhi in one go was too much.
So it was that I boarded a train to this northern Indian city. I have a feeling I slept on the train. I managed to get through a lot of reading. I had not shaved for a few days. This was in line with Priya’s request.
At some point a hijra came along. A hijra is a eunuch. This eunuch sat down between another man and I. He/she/it was a hideous creature. The hijra wore female clothes and reeked of bad perfume. This person was heavily made up. The hijira tousled the man’s hair. The other man became uncomfortable. The hijira then said something. The man paid some money and the hijira then started harassing me in a similar fashion. I felt extremely gauche and did not know what to do. I wanted to punch this harpie but if I did so I feared the hijra would attack my gonads since the hijra had nothing to lose. The hijra said something in Hindi and a chubby middle aged woman on the other bench translated. ”She says if you do not pay her she will show her scar where her man parts used to be.” I retched and paid up. I just wanted this fiend to begone. Finally the eunuch left. It is a scandal that such revolting people should be allowed to intimidate others on trains. It is exploitation and very anti-social.
We came to Bhopal. This city is infamous for a chemical leak in the early 1980s that left thousands dead and tens of thousands scarred for life. Many were blinded for instance. The factory that caused the chemical leak was subsidiary of an American company. The parent company was several degrees removed from the factory in India. They disclaimed all responsibility but they did not disclaim the profits they used to make. They refused to pay a bean in compensation. There is a strong emotional case for saying that the company should compensate those affected by this deadly leak. However, I looked at it objectively. That American company is not necessarily morally responsible. It could be so far away geographically and in layers of management that they could not have prevented it. It would be wrong to penalise them. Just because they are affluent does not make them turpitudinous.
Anyway, I got a cab to a hotel that arvo. It was in a high rise in a fairly built up area not too far from the station. I chatted to the Nepalese bell boy on the stairs. This why faced youth was endearing. I showed my charisma by singing to him ”Reom piriri resom piriri udera junki dara a majyang resom piriri.”
Thence abed. Well I showerd too. A couple of hours later, refreshed, I emerged.
I took a cab somehwere that evening. I shared it with a young women – perhaps even young than my 22 tender years. She spoke hardly any English. She looked embarrassed at this but that did not stop her gabbling. She told me her father was a policeman and that she would love to be able to speak ENglish. Then she said a lot in Hindi that I was unable to understand.
That evening I called Priya and her husband on the phone. I spoke to the hubby and told them of my arrival time. I had bouht a ticket for the next day.
Next day I went oa nearby cinema. There was some 70s documentary called the birth. It was in English but done in France. The audience was entirely male. This was a s close as they came to seeing porn. It was dull seeing a hefty woman give birth.
That arvo I went to the iron horse station. There were many men hanging around and I mean men only. Many of them had saffron collarettes. No this was not a meeting of the Orange Order. These were Hindu nationalists. They were chanting something and they were very chipper. I might even say boorish. Boorish. Oh shit, I actually said it.
I boarded my train for Delhi. The journey passed without any shemale threatening to show me where the testimonials once dangled.
I got to a station in Delhi – the one near Pahar Ganj. I got out. I looked one way and then I saw a plump woman aged about thirty in a sari. She wore glasses and had a black beauty spout on the point of her nose. Not her. I looked the other way and began to walk in that direction. But no. That WAS her. I turned back again. Yes, sure enough it was Priya whom I had not seen in two years. She greeted me guardedly. We walked up the stairs. She chatted slowly at first – getting to know each other again. It was all calm and reserved.
We took a minicab van We stopped at India Gate briefly. Then we continued to her house. It was a flat on the outskirts of Delhi. It was a very modern development. There was a warning in my mind but it went unheeded.
We got to her place on the 10th floor or something. I met her husband and sister. They were welcoming but her sister was a stand offish sort of person and similarly chubby to Priya.
There then followed a couple of days that I shall not describe here.
I ended up staying in Pahar Ganj. I lost my debit card. I absent mindedly did not take it out of the machine and walked off. I have done that twice since. The bank would not return in. Once in Ireland they did. I was stupid enough not to travel with a back up card.
I had not a lot of cash. I went to the British Embassy. I think I was on an Irish passport but I called the embassy and they did not want to know.
It was a weekend but there was someone on duty. I won favour with the burly ex Gurkha on the gate by reciting the one Neplai song I know. I was the admitted to the inner sanctum. The diplomat there was a geeky looking girl of about 30. She was named Emma and I knew somsone of that name who was just the same. This pale skinned brunette had a generous crop of acne around her mouth. This was winningly adolescent. She wore a white cotton blouse and beige cotton trousers. Very weekend and dress down. I called my sister Geraldine and got her to sned money. I was able to pick it up on Monday
There followed along and penurious weekend. I could onyl spend so much time in the interent cage. I came to know the cap who worked there very well. The fumes of fresh apint gave me a heaache. He lived on the edge of Delgi and the commute was very long and costly. He asked my job. I told him I would be a teacher. That is a noble profession he said.
I looked up a lot about the Indian Army.
In the restaurant ther ei chatted to a Russian who ahd lived in London. there was a very smartly dressed and trim Israeli. We chatted to British Greek girl who was a bit ditxy and alternative. She was no less sexy for it.
There as a blonde British single mum. She had a two year old boy who was badly brought up. She was also very desirable. The Israeli smiled wryly and said he had asked the two birds f they were lesbians ”I am so rude.” They seemed very straight to and were.
I emailed DLLY my Jain friend. She put me in touch with a friend. I met her female friend. It took a few phone calls. I was going around in a cap. We went to SOuth Delhi to a hardcore Muslim area. WOmen wore all over abaayas. This yiung woman was very white but pure Indian. She said she spoke absolute local Hindi so people would know she was Indian.
I was so bored I took to reading a Hindi self teacher and using the words in the guidebook I was able to ask a few things and count.
I went around in a cap. I was worried I would be recognised not that I did anything wrong. I even went to the manky zoo.
I went o te Imperila Hotle Bar. Met some British chaos. Tow middle aged northenr ENgosuhmen were seling construit equipment. There was a boy of my age. Turns out he knew Izzy and may have met me before.
After a couple of days I got the train all the way to Thiruvathanapuram/
I had a French book. Chatted to a few people. there was an air force man. He said some people said it was better under the Raj. He seemed unsure on the issue. My French book got nicked.
Finally got there. Had booked a flight. wandered around. There were rip currents and I dod not realltt swim
i MET an Indian American who told me about his fasicnation with astronomy. He got married and it was palaver to her his Indian spiuse into the USA what with 9./ 11 and all that.
I got a bus to the airport . Very tight security. I flew to Sri Lanka.