Saturday, February 05, 2011

Captain Sindbad Meets Balu the Bear.

I first met Balu in the town of Shangri-la when he was 18 years old, already married with a child, such a bumptious character that his friends gave me warning glances when he cheekily snatched the cap from my head and demanded I give it to him. “Watch out for this one,” they seemed to say but I took no notice and became his good friend for the next 12 years, he had a wicked sense of humour, cracking me up with his mimicry of the dumb locals and pompous tourists.

I knew he was straight, a terrible pussy-hound in fact, chasing every woman unattached, and I told him of my queer sexuality from the start, there was no sexual attraction between us, we could travel together and sleep in the same bed and there was never any tension to mar our sojourn. I was discreet with the few sexual liaisons I’d managed over the years, sex just wasn’t an issue and we avoided the subject, except when he told me of his latest female firangi conquest, (he’s a very good-looking guy with the gift of the gab), which I’d gently decry as immoral for a married man with children. In a town of ashrams, yoga schools and temples I was amazed to see that many white women from 16 to 60 had a hot young Indian guy hanging off them, yoga notorious for squeezing the gonads and making one horny, so after all those asanas a bit of ass was quite welcome.

Balu runs a river-rafting business and often takes me down the Ganges River rapids in his huge rubber raft, or on wildlife safaris in his jeep to Rajiji National Park to see wild elephants and leopards. For many years we went on treks to the top of the Himalayas, to my favorite temple to the Nature Spirits and though he often over-charged me on the cost of things, even cheated me at times, I always forgave him as it was only small amounts of money and I knew he needed it for his family.

When we drove around Shangri-la on his motorbike he would nod in condescension to the townsfolk he met like a grand government Babu and they would bob their heads in return, namaste tactfully, me thinking it was out of respect, later on discovering a lot of it was out of fear, for he was a life-long terror in the town. Riding pillion it never struck me that I was somewhat used as a white-wash cover to his schizo Jekyll and Hyde nature, I was his captive firanghi Maharaja who made him look happening, successful, esteemed.
He did have a good side, with sheer hard-work he got his adventure-business off the ground, finding employment for many people, a good thing in 80% unemployed India, and he was known to help many poor souls in distress, taking them to hospital when ill and nobody else cared, arranging funerary pyres for the penniless dead. When the Ganges overflowed its banks last year and flooded the nearby village he tirelessly rowed about in his raft and rescued the sodden peasants from their rooftops, and because of all this the townsfolk tried to overlook his nasty side. He was indeed a jolly character, fun to have at a gathering, he’d tell stories that’d have us pissing ourselves laughing or wowed with awe at the dangerous exploits involved in chasing adventure, and this was why I liked him so much.

The only problem being it was usually alcohol that loosened his tongue, he had a fatal addiction to it, like many of his countrymen, to the ruination of his marriage, (his wife hated his guts and was forever leaving him), his friendships, (every year I visited he had a new set of friends, the old ones having had enough and keeping their distance), his business not as successful as it could be as he often had a hang-over and couldn’t do anything on time), and relations with the townsfolk often on the nose, (he fights with everyone when drunk, enamored of slapping faces for no good reason).
I’ve mentioned many times in my stories how alcohol is really fucking with the general populace in India, it was banned in most states for many years, only lately did the big industrialists and bureaucrats realize they were missing out on much moolah and so all brands of booze now flow freely from every street corner, violence, liver damage, road accidents be dammed, and Indian men guzzle it furiously as if to make up for lost time.
I’d seen him half-drunk many times, he becomes belligerent, abusive, demanding, nasty, fucking awful really and I try to avoid him if I see a binge coming on. Thus I should’ve known better when on my last days in Shangri-la he invited me to a bonfire party at a river-rafting camp 35 kms up into the Himalayas. I’d always wanted to go on one of these camps, like boy-scouts under the stars singing jolly songs, canvas tents all in a row, but being a non-drinker, I didn’t flash that it was actually an excuse for the men to get drunk without the restraining influence of their women-folk.

When Balu pulled up in his jeep there was a mob of men waiting to jump in the back, one of them stepped forward and introduced himself to me, the honoured firangi guest, as Captain Jasinder Sindbad, and Balu whispered to me that he hoped to make a good impression on the Captain who had leased the river-camp. Balu wanted to be the one that got hired to take wealthy groups of Delhi businessmen rafting down the white-water Ganges, so we all had to be on our best behavior. Right on, I thought, maybe the experienced Captain was strong enough to keep everyone in line and the alcohol wouldn’t get out of control.

We tore off up the winding, precipitous mountain road, the Captain in the front next to Balu, me in the open-top back gazing up at the splendid view of the stars. As we rushed along, someone asked me, “How do you feel Toby?” “Fucking fantastic!” I replied, “Look at those stars, they’re so far out!” Everyone laughed and I really hoped it would be a marvelous evening. The guys were all homely family men, so I didn’t have to worry about any sexual tension arising between us, for all my fantasies of hanky-panky emanating from the canvas tents, (I’d always wondered about what went on late at night in these rafting camps.)

At the camp a bonfire was eventually lighted, with copious amounts of petrol, me the boy-scout admonishing their tardy bush-craft, and we all introduced ourselves very formally, Indians loving ritual. A throne-like chair was brought out for me to my embarrassment but I’ve long learned to go with the flow in India and simply do as the locals ask and expect of me, the grand visitor from foreign lands. Captain Sindbad told me he’d indeed sailed the 7 seas, and the men we had found already ensconced in the camp were his ship’s crew, the river camp just being a side-hobby and investment opportunity. One of his sailors introduced himself in fluent English, admitted he’d visited Sydney and knew exactly what we Aussies were like. He was extremely handsome and I was a little flustered as to how I’d remain cool until I discovered he was the Captain’s younger brother, the other good-looking crew members his cousins, and so I felt safe, there’d be no impolite advances, I’ve always been restrained and discreet, not an all-devouring fiend like some I’ve heard of.

The Captain and the crew got busy cooking fish from the river and waiting upon us motley lot until I insisted they join us, it was silly for them to act as our servants. They then all blabbed in Hindi together and I was left to stare silently into the fire, which I love doing so I didn’t mind that I was being ignored. The Captain noticed my exclusion and indicated to his brother to come and engage me in talking “English”. The younger brother was named Arjun and he was studying nautical science, a really smart guy and it was a great pleasure to talk science, philosophy, culture with him, at last an intelligent conversation, mostly in India it’s religious nonsense or sexist shit that gets blabbed endlessly.

His cousin Sandeep, a computer science major, also jumped into the conversation enthusiastically, we all got on like a house on fire, they asked me if they could call me “Uncle” and I told them it was a good fit as I’d ripped off a well-known Aussie breakfast cereal brand-name, Uncle Toby Zoates, as my artist’s tag. Again everyone laughed at my enthusiastic response, things were going wonderfully, we even liked the same music and sang Akon songs together around the bonfire, “Nobody wants to see us together but it don’t matter, no…”

In the meantime Captain Jasinder Sindbad had brought out the whiskey bottles and with dread I watched Balu and his alco friends get progressively drunk. Only the ship’s crew and me refrained from drinking, continuing our deep and meaningful conversation, the boys asking me why I was not married and had kids by the age of 61. I fobbed them off diplomatically, “I just never wanted to, in my country I’m free not to if that’s what I want, there’s too many people in the world as it is. And it’s my personal business, maybe when I know you well enough I’ll tell you.” They kept questioning me as to my sexual disposition, hinting that they knew anyway, and I tried to close the investigation by declaring, “You’re smart guys, you figure it out.”

Balu, half-drunk, sidled up to me and said, “So you’re playing the girl at the party tonight, yeah, everyone only interested in you and you lapping it up?” I winced at his jealousy and exclaimed, “Oh oh, here comes the Rakshas, (demon). Fuck off, for once I’m having a good discussion with some intelligent people. And anyway, I hope you want to go back soon as I don’t want to stay here all night, I’m dying for my warm bed in my clean hotel room.” This seemed to mollify him and he went back to drinking, glass after glass of fire-water whiskey. And again the boys went back to interrogating me as to my mysterious essential nature.

Suddenly Balu and his ugly, dark-faced mate exploded, they’d taken exception to something said and started roaring like enraged bears, hissing, whistling, yelling insults over and over, they jumped in and out of the fire, fists started flying, all my fears realized, they picked up sticks and tent pegs and attacked the good Captain and his crew maliciously. Ten men jumped on them but they couldn’t be restrained, a burning log was picked up and swung about, I tried to wrench it free and got my hand burnt.
The melee wrestled backwards and forwards, the fire kicked all over, my bag stood upon and all its contents crushed and broken. The Captain turned to me and said, “This is a bad show!” “Yeah, they can’t hold their liquor. Balu is an infamous drunk, you shouldn’t have served up the whiskey!” “Yes, it was my mistake,” he admitted ruefully.

The fighting went on and on, no kidding, for upwards of an hour, Balu and his nasty side-kick just couldn’t be pacified, screaming, stumbling, hitting out at anyone and everyone, he was cross-eyed drunk, a real nasty bastard. I knew my time was coming, he staggered thru the detritus of the camp-fire and bellowed at me, “Toby, come on, we’re going, fuck these arseholes!” I yelled back, “I’m staying here, you’re too drunk and abusive, there’s no way I’m going with you!” I ran to escape his swinging fists, him screaming in Hindi, “You cocksucker, all you want is ling, (dick), you just want to stay here and suck all their cocks, and take it up the arse, you dirty faggot! Here, you want land, (cock), here’s my cock, suck that!”
And in front of all these men, most of them strangers to me, who we’d been trying to be on our best behavior with, he stepped forward, unzipped his pants and pulled out his noxious penis and swung it in my face.
I sat by the dying fire with my hands over my face moaning in horror and disbelief. The rest of the men went into shock, homosexuality is taboo in India, perhaps secretly indulged in but never mentioned in public, and certainly not in an all-male environment where it lurked unbidden. I had never been so humiliated, and certainly not by a supposed friend, a guy who for years I’d helped when he was in trouble, given copious gifts, taught him English, accompanied him on many adventures, it was just unforgivable. The men all whispered in dismay as he stormed off with his one drunken compatriot, continuing to bawl like bull elephants, crashing thru the jungle, revving the jeep over and over, knocking down trees in mad rage, or that’s what it sounded like. They even came back to the camp and started fighting all over again, the nightmare just wouldn’t end and I had to hide in a tent till they finally bulldozed up the mountain path and down the winding road to town, me hoping they’d drive off the edge and be done with it.

If the boys hadn’t worked out my particular bent, by now they had plenty of clues. They could hardly look me in the face, were constantly apologising and insisting I stay in their camp for the next three days where they would feed and entertain me, all for free. The Captain promised me a jolly volley-ball game next day and swimming in the freezing river, all of which I politely declined, asking only for a bed for a few hours and some blankets as I was very cold. For another hour we sat around the newly-stoked fire and again sang jolly songs and when it was my turn to sing something from one of my favorite singers, Nat King Cole, I stupidly chose “Haji Baba” but made up the lyrics as I couldn’t remember the actual words,

“Haji, Haji, Haji, Haji Baba, Haji Baba, he is always in love, he is always in love. Come to my tent, come and be my lover, I’d roam the whole world over, if you’d be my friend, be my friend to the end…”
They listened bemusedly, most of them getting the gist of the poetry, they politely clapped and then quickly went on to sing more incomprehensible Hindi folksongs in out of tune voices. When I finally crept off to my tent, the one I’d hidden in previously, I found the cousin Sandeep in the other bed even tho there were many empty tents he could’ve slept in. I quietly lay upon my cot and pulled the blankets over my head and meditated till dawn, there’d be no hanky-panky this night, no matter what was now expected of me, it just wasn’t going to happen, it was never going to happen in the first place, all I wanted was my comfy hotel room with no complications!

In the early morning I staggered out into the empty camp, the naval crew nowhere to be seen, just a few of Balu’s friends recovering from their shock, even they had swollen ears from where Balu had thumped them. We went up onto the road and hitched back into town, I thankfully rushed to my hotel room and had a hot shower, I had sand in my mouth and great disappointment in my heart. How could that non-friend be such a bastard? I saw him in the next few days, he even tried to smile at me as he rushed by on his motor-bike but I ignored him.
Apparently he rung up Captain Sindbad and apologized for his drunken behavior, hoping to get back in good and not miss out on lucrative contracts, such a venal sod he is, but he never rang me and apologized, it seems our friendship was expendable and I left the halcyon town of Shangri-la without saying goodbye. I hope never to see him again, the whole thing putting me off India, true friends there being very hard to come by. (I heard he got drunk the very next day and beat up some hapless soul in town and thus I knew he was probably feared everywhere.)

This brings me to reiterate that homosexuals are treated very badly in India, tortured, jailed, murdered, disowned by their families, their balls cut off and made to be pretend-women if they liked men that much. There must be at least 50 million of them, dykes and poofs, but they remain hidden for the most, underground, meeting in dark parks and toilets like gays did in the bad old days. I’ve met some GLBT types at the gay clubs in Mumbai and Delhi who seem to have come out but they’re rich, middle-class people whose money can bribe their way thru any contretemps. 

What’s really fucking India up is the population explosion, the wall to wall crowds creating filth, pollution, corruption, mass poverty, starvation, disease. I read that India had planned to balance the population by 2045 but now had put the date back to 2065 which means they’ve given up, they’re not serious, they live in the past worshipping animal-headed gods and fucking like rabbits, maybe sex is all that the poor have left to enjoy. Perhaps the Hindus fear the Muslims will out-breed them so everyone has to be married by 21 and having ten kids per family. I’m sure they’re really scared China will take their water and invade their territory and so India desires a huge population like that of China’s with a vast army to match. They certainly need a brave army to take on the threat of Pakistan which has stockpiled many nuclear weapons to threaten them with. Perhaps they fear Gay lib will water down their masculinity and weaken their soldier’s strength, whatever, gays are frowned upon and done away with.

And let’s not forget the fact that the untold millions provide a massive slave labour pool and consumers market, eg. who ever makes soap can sell a billion items a year and be a trillionaire.
Many demand rightly that Indian women need to be emancipated to get the population under control, and I think Gays need liberation too, men and women encouraged not to marry, bath-houses and sex on premises opened up for men to masturbate each other to relieve the sexual pressure ever building up in the populace, excited by Bollywood tits and advertising come-ons; it sure would put an end to much of the horrific rape of women and children that goes on daily there.
But no, humanism and rationalism don’t get a look-in. I hope one day a Mahatma Gayndhi will rise up and lead his/her brothers and sisters to freedom and respect and India will be that much better for it. Right now it’s kind of a living hell, so dangerous just to get down the street, (it is still calm and hospitable in the hinterlands and up in the mountains but you have to go thru the cities and towns to get there.)
I for one will wish them well, I love the people dearly for most of them work hard and try to be good, they deserve better. The country is not going to collapse into one big out of control homo orgy, as a liberal democracy they will simply be happy, progressive and on their way to being more sustainable if they enact gay liberation.

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.