Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's Hard to Say Goodbye to Your Mother.

Three days of planes and airports got me from India to Melbourne just in time for my mother's funeral at Fawkner Cemetary where we had to drive thru all the segregated sections for Catholics, Protestants and Jews with nothing for pagans except the gorgeous gum trees themselves. There weren't even any flowers for my mother's coffin as my brother said they were a rip off, tho it was her money he was spending. Thank nogod I made the effort to show up to lead the proceedings as there was only my nephew, niece and sister-in-law present, (and my best friend, Geraldine, from my teenage days who has been with me thru all life's trials), my brother didn't bother to come, having terrible grudges against Mom that she didn't really deserve, he bitterly complains she never really cared for us as a mother should.

A sweet man greeted us, the funeral director, he was the perfect fit as he was not overly somber or obsequious and handled our "Adam's Family" approach with friendly aplomb, as if he'd seen it all before. Each of us gave a personal eulogy, the grand-kids telling how kind and brave she was, and we played our favourite music to send her on her way. I didn't expect to cry as I also had my reservations about the old dear, she was bigoted, mean and cranky towards the end, but when I stood up to make my farewell speech, I couldn't speak for the lump in my throat and the tears that blinded me.

"It's hard to say goodbye to your mother... she is the portal and the path in this awesome world... we had good times and bad but thru all the pain I knew she loved us... she cared... I can only tell you a story from my childhood to prove it. When we were kids, I was about 12 years old, my brother got in trouble with the police for shoplifting and in response we ran away from home and slept in cardboard boxes in the city. We stayed out the whole night, but fed up with fatigue and hunger we returned home in the morning, about 7am. As I came into the living room I found her sitting up in an armchair, her head in her hand, freaked out of her brains from worrying about us, she'd been sitting up all night. So I know she cared. I only hope she's at peace now, in the Void, and let's face it, there's only the Void after death... and that she'll be happy as interstellar dust again. Goodbye mom."

I asked them to play Otis Redding's "Chained and Bound" as her coffin descended to the flames, his soulful shrieking, "I'm chained to her love... she won't have to worry no more...", a truly heart-rending dirge to match my soul's pain, and as the white coffin disappeared I saw flashes of her throughout my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table, in front of the '50s/'60s TV, at the family barbeques dancing the Twist. I cried great gulps of tears, the ritual was quite cathartic for me and any acrimony still sticking in my craw dissolved. Oh nogod, we only have one mother in this life and it hurts to let go of her, no matter what the regrets.

As I stumbled out the door Bill, the funeral director, quietly approached me, (he looked very straight but was actually tolerant, understanding and cool, confessing he was a singer/songwriter but too old for it now), he presented me with a potted Rosemary Plant saying it could be a memorial for her and I accepted it gratefully. Outside amongst the Eucalypts a light rain fell as if the world was crying with me, (a cliche I know but that's how I read it.) Then as twilight grew a wild storm erupted from out of nowhere, lightning like white-hot dragons, thunder like crashing Beethoven, and a deluge of rain that had them swimming up Flinders Street, it blew me away that the Universe/Nature should meet my mood like psychedelic.

We all split to Loman's Pub in East Brunswick for the wake, me and Geraldine relishing Bailley's Irish Cream as a delicious soother of woes, and we all told stories about Gwen, the woman. The next night my niece and I went to Coburg Drive-in Theatre and saw "The Wolfman", the '40s/'50s Lon Chaney look made me think of my childhood favourite shlock-horror orgasm "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" and how they wrestled each other to death in an ice-cave below a ruined castle. It seemed the mirror-image of the domestic brawls between my mother and father in the Housing Commission flat of the same era. Fuck! The purgatory she went thru for many years just to look after her kids, not only the beat-ups and the boring-arse non-social life, but that she had to continue fucking my father long after she stopped loving him, what a drag!

I had to ring my brother, I was still hoping for a reconciliation, and I gushed about the cool appropriateness of the funeral service and how sad it was he'd missed it. He grunted in sour pique and then whined on and on about some new clothes he'd sent to mom's nursing home and now they'd gone missing, it was a huge scandal. I mentioned that her diamond rings had also gone missing but he kept harping on about the fucking David Jones clothes, his overly-officious wife had bought them, with my mother's money, and she was urging him earnestly to find closure on her grand project of dressing Gwen nicely as she slowly died.

I tried to cut him off, my mobile's balance was ticking to it's end. He went into serious lawyer mode reeling off the facts of the Will, (a control freak, he'd gotten power of attorney), in reality he lives in the backwoods of Tasmania making handcrafted furniture, he's uneducated, socialises with no one, is cut off from the real world but he thinks he knows, he's the responsible, upright one, the successful businessman and I'm a deadbeat gypsy artist bum. "What good did it do you to dedicate your life to art? Where's the money?" He doesn't understand, it wasn't about money, it was about living ART, this old argument is like a Z-grade pulp movie plot.

I finally squeezed in a few words telling how I'd spent all my money getting from India to Melbourne in time for the funeral, and I'd heard the old girl had left some cash in the safe of the nursing home, and could he give me a hundred bucks to get me back to Sydney as I was stranded. All I got was a gruff "No!" Gee, what a great guy, a measly $100 can't be found. My dad would turn in his grave, generous to everyone, always help you out of a spot, the very man my brother says he admires and emulates, but he's grown prematurely old, into an uptight Scrooge, and spent the money on himself, for his own fares to Melbourne to wrap up Gwen's affairs, and didn't even bother to stay around for the funeral. (He has "strined" on about her defects for years, she's a gambler, boozer, spendthrift and cold-blooded slut, especially when she left dad for a slob called Jack she'd met at the shoe factory.) I took his frozen grunt with good grace, I didn't need another fight with my brother in these dolorous days, "Oh well, I've been broke a thousand times before, I'll find a way out of here, like I always do. We'll talk again, my phone credit's gone, goodbye."

Hmmm, he dumped me by the side of the road. I put out my thumb and got a ride back to Sydney anyway, in reality my sister in law, his first wife, paid for it. My brother never did get over his resentment towards my mom's new husband, Jack, a blob who looked like Jabba the Hutt's afterbirth. All my father's jealous accusations of her promiscuity with blokes at the shoe factory came true, she went on to live with the creep for the next thirty years, hating his guts for the last fifteen of them, for her it was like swapping Frankenstein for the Mummy, all he ever did was sit on the couch watching footy on the TV while she waited on him hand and foot.

Towards the end she confessed her loathing for the male species, a childhood of beatings from her father during the Great Depression, the cruel restrictions of my father and the boorishness of her last partner, for women of her era there were no refuges, social security or sympathy. Fat Jack, she told me, was a dirty pig, wiping his shitty fingers on the toilet wall, going thru her purse for money to gamble away, flirting down at the Rosebud Pub with a mob of blue-rinsed 70 year old dotties who hung on his every word as if he were the gallant Casanova of Geriatric-ville. Mum and Fat Jack had two dogs which they doted upon, the one big as a horse his, the little yapping/biting one hers, she was always getting it to stand on two legs and beg for scraps to which she'd enthuse, "Oh you sweet little thing, isn't he gorgeous!"

The day she decided to leave mug-head Jack, unable to stand his cretinous ways for another minute, we had to wait till he went down the pub so she could sneak away without any big drama. We put her little dog in the laundry so it wouldn't snap at out ankles while we heaved her many boxes of junk to the new house around the corner. When it came time to fetch the dog, much to my brother's shock he found it swinging limply from the window, blood flowing gruesomely. In it's hysteria it had entangled itself in the window-blinds cord and, twisting about furiously, it had strangled itself with the cord cutting deep into it's throat, leaving a pool of blood to swamp the laundry floor.

Talk about a run of bad luck, my mother never ran out of it. We couldn't tell her the actual circumstances, it was too bloody awful, we kept her out of the laundry and told her the poor thing had had a heart attack with all the excitement, we buried it in the backyard and quickly moved her to the new house, wondering all along if old Jack had somehow gotten wind of the great escape and had strung up her dog in revenge, but no, he was too dumb and fat for such an effort.

And her precious diamond rings that she'd hung onto thru thick and thin as her only assets and possible savior for her old age, thought more of than the well-being of her kids and grand-kids, even when lost in dementia and abandoned at the local hospital her last cognitive thoughts centered on their whereabouts, all she wanted and cared about was that the diamond rings should be on her fingers and next to her heart. Well the fucking things got lifted by some pathetic piece of shit in the nursing home, a cruel comment on the stupidity of the world's and her venality. A curse upon those diamonds, may they do the thief no good!

At one point I stood upon Princess bridge and checked out the city of Melbourne, place of my birth but not having lived there for forty years, and I flashed how beautiful the city had become, the illuminated towers, Gothic spires, the landscaped Yarra River, the ferris wheel near the MCG, the neon-spike of the Art Centre, all of it like an idyllic fairy-town, Melbourne could now compete with the grandeur of Sydney's Harbour precinct. We went across the road to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Botanic Gardens and I got blown away hearing Tchaikovski's Piano Concerto No.1 played by an 18year old genius, music to live and die by. As I sat on the lawns my mind was called back fifty years to a ballet performed there, "Don Quixote" with Robert Helpman and Rudolph Nureyev dancing the principle parts. Oh, what a feast for a little fag boy, two of the most accomplished poof artists in the world and I saw them in their heyday.

Two days after my mom's funeral we went to a concert at Federation Square for National Apology Day for Indigenous Australians. It was a cosmic welcome back to Auz for me as Fed Square stands upon a sacred site by the Yarra River for yours queer truly, below used to be Melbourne's premier beat for lost homosexuals of the '50s and '60s, Princess Bridge Railway Station toilets, where I met my first lovers as a teenager, and found my Way, now long ago and long forgotten. I was honoured to hear Archie Roach sing with his wife, Ruby Hunter, I'd never seen them perform together and they were the best Auz had to offer in music, as far as I'm concerned. When Archie talked of sadness towards the dear departed and sang "They Took the Children way" I cried and cried a gutfull of tears for my mother, for I had much howling locked up inside me still trying to flow out, and it was a huge relief for me, death is so final.

And only a few days later precious Ruby Hunter herself died of a heart attack, I'd seen her last performance, after a big rush all the way from the Himalayas, as if it was all meant to be, and we were all connected, the Universe, my family, Indigenous Australia, everything fragile, transient, glorious, heartrendingly sad and beautiful for being thus.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tears for Pune and the German Bakery.

I first went to Pune in 1975 to visit the Sri Bhagwan Rajneesh Ashram, (now known as Osho's) to sit in front of the big man himself for three days, then splitting quick because I didn't want to belong, to anything. I didn't go to that city outside Mumbai again for 35 years, not even in all the years of late that I've been traveling around India. But a few weeks ago I made the journey on a creaky bus as a friend of mine lived there and he invited me to stay with him for a weekend.

I was surprised how big it had grown in those intervening years, a vast shanty-town then concrete-cancer metropolis, then post modern mirror-glass skyscraper centre for the rejuvenating IT revolution. My mate lived out near the airport and, because I desired espresso coffee and European food, we shot into town every night on his motorbike, me risking my life every second for tucker without chillies in it. The traffic was like quantum-flux, sub-atomic particles flying in every direction at the speed of light, no rules, no brains, a zillion motorbikes driving on the wrong side of the road with no lights, I screamed and screamed and screamed. And somehow survived the melee.

We made it to a cineplex and I saw "Avatar" in 3D and it lifted my spirits, worth riding an out-of-control rocket for, maybe. And we went to a kooky restaurant called the German Bakery, the omelettes, custard pudding, cinnamon rolls, all delicious and delivered with a friendly smile by a gorgeous Nepalese boy even tho he was run off his feet. Half the crowd of patrons were Westerners from the Osho Ashram across the road, once called the Orange people, now they dress in maroon like Tibetan nuns, they swished about as if it was all about spiritual haute couture, but live and let live I say, whatever you want if you think it's doing you good and you're not hurting anybody. The other half of the crowd were students from the many colleges, and a few IT technocrats all dressed very hip, digging to be part of a cutting crowd. I sat in their midst and munched my sweeties, nobody turned a hair at my outre looks or said "hello" but a few Israeli stoners sat at my table and recognising a fellow freak, they smiled at me. I should've talked to them but I was shy, what a waste of precious seconds!

Oh with what sadness, horror and fury to hear that a week ago some murderous bastards targeted that very restaurant and bombed it to oblivion, killing 13 and injuring 45, body parts blown across the road, the entire city of Pune thrown into mourning. The beautiful Nepalese waiter who smiled so sweetly at me gone, gone for no good reason. Bombs go off daily all around the world, we've become desensitised to the horror, it all seems so distant, with no personal connection, but for me the pain was driven straight thru my heart as the cafe's milieu was fresh in my mind, so relaxed and enjoyable, now gone forever, and the people, such hurt, has all human history been like this?

I just can't fathom what crack-pot religious/political/economic psychopathology could justify such awful pain and loss. Because there is an enormous population in this world with untold competing ideologies it makes room for quite a few nasty cold-blooded creeps. I cant help but be medieval in my response, the fucking perpetrators should have their balls blown off to try to equal the wounds, and then made to live as sex-slaves in a whorehouse, so they can see what oppression really looks like!!! (Just being poetic, I don't really want to feed the "violence beast") What the fuck, I can't really comprehend murder, tho it's all around me. And my tears are hot and strong for the victims.

Bombs have often gone off either before I arrive at a place, or after I leave, it makes the tourist's journey in India so hazardous, but it doesn't put me off, not even for a second, these bastards are creeping about every city of the world, we all risk it everywhere. I will always return to India no matter what, I am an Aussie friend who has often cried at their funerals with them.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

This Is India: Incredible!

Since childhood I've had a mad fascination with India, obsessing over Sabu, Jungle Jim and Ali Baba movies and Rudyard Kipling's books. As soon as I had the wherewithal, the freedom, guts and brains to leave my homeland, when I was 22 in 1972, I flew to India and have been going there ever since. It's a kind of madness where I get lost in the jungles, mountains, cities and beaches, have the ultimate in anarcho-mystic adventures, and forget my existential worries for awhile. It's reckless, irresponsible and flaky but it thrills me no end and I'd have to be dead to give it up.

Whenever the train is 5 hours late or the bus breaks down on the side of the highway, when the power fails for days on end and the crowds stampede down the stairways, or the internet crashes and I moan, "Kya hua?" (what's going on ?), I'm told that nasty truism, "This is India!" and I can only reply, "Incredible!" THEY are always announcing, "Economic growth is 7 % every year!" It makes me worry that India might collapse under Her own burgeoning weight, nothing seems to work, everything is dug up or falling down, and yet India carries on regardless, not just as a "functioning anarchy", to me it's methodical madness that has to be endured as well as enjoyed.

One night in Mumbai I was out for a walk with my friends and had just stepped off the shopping concourse at Colaba when out of the shadows stumbled a totally naked woman, sans pubic hair, who raced madly up onto the footpath and seemed to bounce off the walls before running towards the bright lights of the bazaar, body flip-flopping, mind gone. Somewhat stunned we marched over to Marine Drive and sat on the sea-wall to get a breath of Arabian Sea air. Another lunatic staggered past dressed only in his grungy underpants, the dazed look of a zombie on his dark face. The Electric Co. had cut the power to Mumbai's biggest mental hospital at Thane for unpaid bills and the inmates went berserk and ran terrified from ward to ward trying to escape the darkness. Some of them possibly had escaped into the public at large, or maybe they'd been set loose to give the city a taste of what they're up for if THEY continue to neglect giving humanist succor to desperately needy places like "mental hospitals". (Three days later the State Govt paid a part of the outstanding bill to have the electricity turned back on.)

Relaxing, facing the wonderful skyline of the Bay of Mumbai and the sky-scrapers of Malabar Hill, my friend decided to roll a joint and I said, "I don't think you should do that here, the police might see you." Just as he was replying, "Don't worry, the police can't touch us, I was born in Mumbai and I know how to talk to the cops...", two nasty cops snuck up behind him and grabbed him forcefully. He just had time to throw the joint into the sea before they spun him around and, as he was about to say, "Hey, buddies, I'm a fellow Mumbaiker...", he got a godawful slap across the face that spun his head around. As the two thugs in uniform dragged him over to their cop-car I said, "You deal with it, I warned you! This is your city, talk your way out of it, I'll meet you later." I strolled casually away, the cops not daring to lay their mitts on a precious firangi who hasn't been caught doing anything amiss. At the car they harangued my mate then took all his money, a few hundred rupees, the incident giving me the willies and shattering my complacency.

We met up at the Gokul Pub in Colaba, my most favourite watering hole in India. Across from us sat A. with his middle-aged Italian buddy, a grumpy homo who has a "thing" for fat men in uniforms and A. was connecting him up with a devious old cop he knew, the two fatties squeezed into their table and gazing hungrily at each other...yuk! Cops! They're like Rakshas, (demons) with handle-bar moustaches and great dark baggy eyes, (they are low-paid, abhorred by all, they eat bad, are sick and take their dyspepsia out on everyone), the two fatsos were welcome to eat each other, the variegated fetishes of this world always astounding me. I noticed several obvious (swishy) gay men patronising the pub, nobody blinking an eye, tolerance in Mumbai gaining ground as only a few years ago Gays were much more underground and secretive.

I myself had finally joined forces with my best mate of 7 years, a Muslim named Mohammed, who is my companion, bodyguard, minder, guide, go-for and the joy/ordeal of my soul here at the end of my life, like Johnny Weismuller with his turban-clad side-kick in "Jungle Jim". He was over his sadness at the murder of his non-friend, Jhavood, it seems the villain had been having an affair with a married woman in Delhi and the husband had bumped him off in a jealous rage, whether any justice got done I don't know. The next day M. took me to Haji Ali's Mausaleum on its' little island out in the Bay of Bombay, in front of the Tomb sat a group of Sufi musicians singing songs of mystic adoration to the man whom nobody seems to know much about, Haji Ali, except he'd gone on pilgrimage to Mecca and was a great Muslim Saint from long, long ago. I got high on the "Thief of Baghdad" vibes, IT doesn't need a GOD to underpin it all but I understand the jumbled attempts at coming to terms with living in a world so AWESOME it's made sacred. My mate teaches me patience for others' crazy beliefs, "everyone has the human right to believe what they will" is one of the basic credos of the bright atheist.

Weary of roaming the streets of Mumbai like feckless French Situationists looking for the city's quintessential spectacle, we trekked into deep Maharashtra to a hill-station, where no cars are allowed and you have to walk the last few kilometers to the top or ride a horse. Here the mountains of sandstone have been rounded like a goddess's breasts or sharpened into giant pyramids by wind and water, you can see vast misty distances, it's magical, like all Nature can be, a bandit from the 18th century might ride out of the jungles any moment, these hills were the hide-outs of many Maharashtran rebels against the British Raj.

In the morning, sitting at our window calmly eating breakfast, a hairy hand suddenly parted the curtains and there on the window-sill sat two huge bull-monkeys, their fangs bared grotesquely as they lunged forward and snatched at the omelettes in our mouths. I instantly swept up my pillow and banged them both hard in the face like you do in a pillow fight, the beasts fell backward out the window in shock and we finished our food most satisfied.

Then we heard a lot of shrieking and, looking out the window, saw a hapless young Indian girl upon an ornamental bridge struggling with a monkey on her back pulling at her hair and tugging at her handbag. She threw it off but it leaped upon her again and really tried to tear her face open. She screamed and writhed and eventually flung the horrid thing into the murky pool below where it squawked and shot off like a fury, the girl splashed wet and bedraggled. Then she tidied her hair, laughed and toddled off, all in a day's outing at this wild wild east, weekend Mumbai-cowboy town. It made me realise one more reason for the patient, stoic, tolerant, "carry on all-suffering" attitude of the general populace whom I've watched on the buses, in the crowded stations, by the road-sides: Indians are constantly under attack from the innumerable monkey tribes, their food taken, items broken or stolen, their hair torn and flesh scratched, so not much else fazes them either, (except us Aussies, it seems.)

We went on many soothing walks in the jungle, bird-calls ringing thru the tree-tops. We passed a group of youths out on a gambol and they asked me the eternal question, "From where you are coming?" "Australia," I replied hesitantly, for we've been getting very bad press lately over the so-called racist attacks against Indian students back in Auz. They grumbled to each other in Marathi, "Let's go bash him up in retaliation!" My mate, ever vigilant, overheard them and yelled, "Don't even think about it. It's got nothing to do with him. He is my guest." They sauntered off but it left me annoyed with the beat-up the Indian media have been giving Australia, and everybody's been jumping on the band-wagon to join in with the bitch, politicians in the Foreign and Home Minister's Office, Shiv Senna right wing hooligans and Bollywood patriarchs.

Everywhere I've gone the man on the street has asked me about this problem against Indians back home, ("I hear you're murdering Indian students in Auz?!") and I've tried to explain to them the realities of today's big world. First off, how can there be racist slurs when Indians and Aussies are of the same race, Caucasion? (Round eyes, narrow noses if you believe in such definitions.) I'd call it xenophobic/moronic if some white trash gave trouble to anyone of darker skin. Australia welcomes all races to come live there and most Aussies are trying hard to get a suntan and turn brown, to the point of getting skin cancer. Where I agree Aussies can be collectively racist is towards our own indiginous Australians, the Kooris, and that's because we're guilty about our history with them, killing the majority, stealing their land, demolishing their cultures. We have such different paradigms of what this universe consists of we just can't seem to live together harmoniously. Many of us Aussies are working to improve this however.

And what about the crime statistics in America or England, nobody gets slapped there? Compare the attacks against Indians with those against Aussies themselves, we all suffer from crime, I myself got bashed up 6 months ago by a fucking ICE zombie. And with Indians having more money to spend they are traveling the world in greater numbers and so are more likely to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (And make no mistake about it, I'd get between any bastard and his/her victim getting hassled for the colour of their skin.)

Indians themselves are obsessed with their skin colour and think that's what we pick on them for. If you look at the class-pyramid here in India you will see light-skinned people at the top, Bollywood/TV has only wheat-complexioned actors, the few darkies get villain roles, and dispersed ad nauseum thru the turgid dramas are advertising commercials for skin-lightening creams. And if you look at the bottom rung of society, the rag-pickers, road-diggers and rock-breakers you will see only very dark people, they toil like slaves.

My friends often moan to me about how ugly they are and when I say, "But why?" they inevitably reply, "Because I'm black! I'm so dark it's shameful!" I enthuse, "Black is beautiful, and don't you forget it!" They look at me somewhat assuaged but I know they're not convinced. I see Shane Warne on TV with a cheesy grin trying to placate the Indian hordes, "We really miss you... we really love you." For all the hand-wringing grief of the Press nobody else in all the length of India hassled, threatened or ill-treated me on knowing my nationality, they were the usual hospitable, good natured, caring, jolly, curious, friendly people that I've always found them to be.

What's the bigger picture, I wonder? Are THEY trying to psyche Auz out for the next big cricket match? India takes the game very seriously and is determined to stay on top of Australia, they don't seem to be over that fight Harbinj Singh had with Ricky Ponting 3 years ago and the Mumbai crowd aping "Monkey, monkey" to Mathew Simmons, the Pacific Islander, that revealed India's own pathetic racism. But there's got to be greater reason for the egregious finger-pointing at Auz. I noticed India has just opened it's 18th nuclear power reactor and is probably highly desirous of Australian uranium but we've refused to sell it to them, and we do sell it to China, which pisses India off no end. (Yeah, yeah, India refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, but that didn't stop China from flogging nucear technology to it's favoured lackeys like Pakistan and North Korea.)

I don't think it should be sold to anyone as some of it will surely end up in weapons programs but if we're going to sell it then we should sell to India also as our countries have always been good friends and are in fact next door neighbours across the Indian Ocean. India feels herself surrounded and threatened by China and her proxies in Pakistan, Tibet and Burma and possibly sees Auz as being in China's pocket too and THEY are maybe trying to tell us, "Look, we are adding to your economic prosperity just as much as China and we can withdraw it if you don't be a good friend and give us what we want." It's all a pity as Auz and India have much in common, i.e. both are free-market pluralist democracies and both are fluent in English, and there's an underwater land-bridge connecting them, the two countries are part of the same continental plate. WE WERE BORN TO BE FRIENDS.

When our idyll on the hilltop was over we caught an ornamental train back down the mountain and back to the city of Mumbai, and in a cab at a traffic intersection a beggar came to the window, his shirt sleeves empty, his arms gone. I was suffering from charity-fatigue and ignored him, he turned and walked off and I could see his arms folded behind his back under the shirt. Aha, a trickster! Then an old man rushed the cab, he thrust a very skinny 3 month old baby thru the window and held out it's horribly burnt arm, the hand twisted into a shapeless claw. I gagged but then thought of the kids in "Slumdog Millionaire", it wasn't their fault they'd been crippled, feeling a kind of sad-guilt I gave him some coins and my friend yelped, "Don't give him anything, he probably burnt that baby's hand on purpose!" "How horrible!" I groaned, "but still the baby might get fed from a bit of that money, it's woes are real." Then I flashed that maybe the burnt hand could also have been a trick, water-soluble glue and clever make-up, but what the hell, India is a land of hard-edged illusions and still I hoped the baby would get fed.

While in Bollywood what else to do but get your pants pissed in laughing at a bad movie so off we went to a classic Hindi cinema-house called the Eros at Churchgate Station to see Salmon Khan's mock-epic "Veer". He tried to do a cross between Russel Crowe and Sylvestor Stallone, only coming across as bug-eyed effete and flatulent. It got off to a good beginning with armies clashing, sword fights and train robberies but after 2o minutes it descended into hours of ludicrous poncing about Victorian London in snappy suits with white-beauties in diaphonous gowns floating, twirling and drooling upon him, (it was hard to work out the actual era as the period costumes kept chopping and changing from Victorian to '20s flapper.) It was so bad we laughed and laughed, especially when the light-skinned heroin came on with her card-board performance, an insipid, saccharine melody played as her signature tune for the rest of the movie, over and over, till I became quite bilious.

The movie churned on and on, finally ending with a tedious fight between father and son, then Salmon-face getting pierced by an arrow and dying in his pop's arms, all very Freudian but does Salmon, the writer/producer/hero actually get the symbolic meaning of the shaft sticking him? At one point early on in the film I felt a hand creep thru the seat and grab my left tit and then a voice say, "Uncle, please sit more down in your seat." I looked behind and there was this hick slouched low and he wanted me to also slouch so he could see better. "No!" I spat imperiously. Next I felt two hands pressing down on my shoulders trying to force me down into my seat against which I wriggled and pushed, up and down, up and down like a yo-yo, me finally yelling, "Fuck off!" and he desisted, moving to the next seat where nobody blocked his lazy view.

The next piece of drama was in the boring movie, an ugly old red-faced British bureacrat came on screen spitting chips, "You horrid Indians! You're dirty, lazy, ugly, stupid creatures with your cows, dogs, pigs, monkeys walking in and out of your huts. You are all disgusting!" The theatre went dead silent. Then fish-faced Salmon Khan got up and heroically spewed a tirade, " You call us Indians dirty, lazy, ugly, stupid with our cows, dogs, pigs, monkeys! Bloody bastards! If we are so bad what the fuck have you British been doing in India for 150 years, cleaning it up?" The hall broke into an uproar, cheers, whistles, stamping of feet, clapping of hands and cat-calls of "Kill all firangis! Bloody bastards! Down with whities!" Now I really cringed in my seat, it was all my nightmares come true, I whispered to M. that I dare not go out during interval as the crowd might tear me to pieces, the only foreigner in the place. But when I did sneak out for some popcorn the film-lovers all laughed with me, we all got the joke, it's just movie fantasy.

After the movie M. took me deep into the Colaba slums, to the fishing village by the sea where we sat by temple to Shirdi Sai Baba and he told me stories about growing up there. He took me to Nariman House, the Jewish refuge that got shot up by the Mumbai assassins, the rabbi and his wife murdered, and he showed me the bullet holes the murderers shot in many walls thereabout. Apparently when the firings and bombings were heard by the locals, a bunch of layabout drunks, who usually spend their days gambling, drinking and arguing, got all fired up angry that someone should dare attack their enclave and so they charged over en masse to where all the action was exploding at Nariman House, in their drunken stupidity hoping to take on the terrorists. In response the Jihadis tossed two hand-grenades into their midst, blowing a few away and injuring the rest with shrapnel. All victims of the attack got compensation by the State, including the foolish drunks, they got one hundreds and fifty thousand rupees each and now swan about on magnificent motor-bikes, better than the rest of the villagers, heroes of 26/11, the rest of Colaba seething with resentment and jealousy at their strange good fortune.

Eventually I had to leaved Mumbai for one last trek in the high Himalayas and I journeyed up into the foothills but before I could go further I got a phone call from Auz that my mother was dying and I should come home to be by her bedside. I sat by the River Ganges and felt deep sadness at our estrangement and those few years in my childhood where she really tried to look after me, staying with my father whom she didn't love and who brutalised her. The Ganges is a magnificent natural phenomena that's given sustenance and joy to humanity for thousands of years and as such needs no extra plaudits but She also looms large in the collective psyche, the Indians have made a Goddess of her, Ganga Ma, the myths of Her fabulousness are legion, and thus She is able to really to impress, to influence, to flow thru one's soul, for we all live in the MIND.

I felt I wouldn't make it back to my mother in time so I did my own personal prayer of send-off for her, I placed a palm-leaf bowl into the current of the Ganges with flowers, incense and burning candle in it, at first the eddies brought it back to me, over and over, as if my mother didn't want to leave me, wanted to stay in this world. But I determinedly pushed it out and finally the offering floated away down stream, I was letting my mother go, setting her free, and the burning candle disappeared into the sunset. I learnt that my mother died only a few hours later. Yes, the Ganges River is very powerful in spirit and so is India, life and death writ large. I was up in the mountains but the plains called me back down, back to Auz, and thus I went, forlorn but exuberant.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.