Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Orpheus in India.

Forgive me if I repeat myself, my words, my actions, I've long been obsessive/compulsive and repeat experiences almost ritualistically, doing the rounds of the same places, moaning about the same crap, lolling about like a situationist blown away by the same same but different Spectacle. 

And Yep, I’ve been missing from the Blogosphere for the last few months because I ran away to India, yet again, not being able to handle the quotidian banality of my hometown, Sydney, the betrayals, the rip-offs, the beat-ups, my countless mistakes and the loss of my mojo. And I’ve been so swept away by my Indian adventures that I haven’t got the energy to write about them, only live them.

I thrive on the contrasting extremes of India. In Delhi I was met at the airport by my compatriot and confessor, Nicorette, and that night she took me to a cultural festival of north-easterners, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Arrunachal etc, for exotic food and a music concert that was world-class, a soul band, (Soul Mate) then a Hindi rock band, (Local Train), both very cool. Next day I dragged Nic to the movies to see Jake Gyllenhall in “Nightcrawler”, what a shocker, a critique of modern society and the media that didn’t get any awards nominations because it cut too close to the bone I suspect, but we dug it.

From the city I fled to the mountains. I’ve been to the roof of the world, so high I vomited with altitude sickness, to a pilgrim town called Badrinath, sacred to Vishnu the Preserver, for the closing ceremony of the Temple. There was much ballyhoo as innumerable flowers were strewn about, free food ladled out and snow-storms threatening. The craggy ice-caps were in my face and landslides threw whole mountains across the treacherous road. What a rough ride! I don’t believe in the gods, do not pray to them, and yet we were preserved.

On another trip I went with Nicorette, in a car, to the source of the Ganges River, Gangotri, actually the end of the road, one can only walk from there to the Tibetan border. She was amazed that I make this dangerous trip a couple of times a year, mostly on motorbike, as the road often collapses under landslides and it’s freezing at night. I’m going again soon, to a hot-springs tank that is divine to soak in, where I get time out from the maddening crowd far below.

Motor-biking through the jungles, the smell of India redolent in my Kipling heart, at any moment a wild tiger, king cobra or rampaging elephant may jump upon us, this is what makes me swoon with joy, a thrill a minute, and the idea of returning to Sydney is a come-down, (only moving, ever moving, to Melbourne or Nimbin, promises relief from the feeling of being imprisoned on the penal island of Auz.)

Burning a body at the Deva Prayag river confluence.
I went with my best friends, the Soods, to a funeral at Deva Prayag, meeting place of the angels. The body of the head priest of Badrinath Temple was to be burned by the Ganges. On the day of his death, without forewarning, the priest suddenly took off all his jewelry, handed them to his wife and said, "Today I die!" his family going into shock. He lay down on his bed and within hours was dead. Some Indian Babas really do have sublime powers, and maybe that's why this guy got to be head of the temple. Sadly another priest at the same temple is being criminally incarcerated for sexually molesting a female devotee.

From the mountains I cruised down to the plains in the comfort of a 2nd class train carriage and in Mumbai I visited Her famous movie houses, the Sterling, the Metro and the Inox at Nariman Point, and the Regal in Colaba where I cringed at the latest Bollywood shlock-buster, “Action Jackson”, the photography, editing, special effects and music amazing but the story and acting so puerile I was left bewildered. (At one point the lead actress got punched hard in the face many times, then stabbed in the back, a graphic realization of the treatment of women in India, but to the audience it seemed "natural.")

I met an old friend there who over the years has turned to alcoholism and thus I was left desolate, half the world is a soak but not me, I hate drunks and, after the last five years of hassling and helping him, I finally gave him the flick. There’s a deadly pandemic of brain-dead boozing amongst the Indian men, the women are up in arms against it, it’s causing terrible destruction of the social fabric, most of the rapes and murders are committed by drunks, uuugggghhhh! (The “booze problem” has not arisen just because it’s been legalized in much of India: if there were no wine-shops on every corner there would be a “hooch” mafia waiting to take up the slack, the creeps are ever sneaking in the background selling cheap “paint stripper” in plastic baggies that the poor and desperately thirsty are willing to risk their lives to imbibe.)

Thus I had no companion while I loitered upon the street corners like a flaneur of old, watching the passing parade, someone to help me out of the crazy situations I’m prone to get dragged into, beating off the beggars at Marine Drive, drinking chai at midnight at Churchgate Station, warding off the pickpockets at the Gateway of India, eating bel puri on Chaupatti beach, fist-fighting with junkies outside Leopolds CafĂ© in Colaba. He’d been my traveling partner/minder/gofor/translator for the last eleven years, I’d loved him dearly and my heart was broken.

Out in the Bay of Mumbai.
I went down to Goa with some trepidation as I’d heard the “Sunburn” Electronic Dance Music Festival had shifted to my favorite beach, Vagatore, and was set to explode again, umpteen thousands of excitable Indians swarming like soldier ants, clogging the narrow roads with their SUVs, shattering the peace with their unruly drinking. But I needn’t have worried, for some mysterious reason the hordes of delirious techno headz stayed on the other side of the hill, drifting over to Anjuna Beach, mostly leaving Vagatore for the cognoscenti to kick back and relax upon.

“Sunburn” seems to me to be a big rip-off: for three days, each day expensive, THEIR buy-line, "Where the party never ends" is bullshit, it's from 10 am till 10 pm, after which all are tossed out into the void; while the organizers brag about 7 stages, in truth, unless you pay for a VIP pass, you only get access to 3 stages; and the music is of that laid-back style that sounds like a dysfunctional ceiling fan or ancient washing machine: chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug. (I'm a hardstyle techno head and only the Hilltop Pub, original and best venue will do it for me.)
The new Chronicle Club on Vagatore Beach.
Lying in my room atop the cliffs at Vagatore I was constantly disturbed by the sonic boom from competing nightclubs all around, the Banyan Tree a block away, the 9 Bar next door, the new club, Chronicle built onto the Vagatore rocks, and Disco Valley a short way up the beach. The “boom boom boom” till dawn made me feel like I was trapped inside an amplifier, the walls expanding and shrinking with every bass beat.

My only pleasure was the thought that the hideous three star hotel, Alcoa, that had usurped much of the cliff-top and halfway down the cliff to the beach, where once pristine jungle ruled and us hippies frolicked in the nude in the early ‘70s, must be spewing in their luxury beds, they’d paid so much money only to get this sonic torture. Sure enough, as I went down the stairs beside the hotel in the morning, I saw many of the middle-class holiday makers moving out in a huff, lugging their many suitcases and cursing.

Strangely, on those same stairs one night, as I was traipsing up, sat an ancient crone, dressed in classic Karnartaca gypsy gear, head-veil, giant nose-ring and ear-rings, embroidered bodice and innumerable flounced skirts. Her legs were spread rather provocatively and her face was so craggy she looked about a hundred years old. And yet out of that scary visage issued a mellow voice and in perfect English she said to me, “Why don’t you sit down next to me and talk for a few minutes?”
I grimaced, in a fright, and replied. “No thanks, I’ve got some where to go.”
“Oh, and where would that be?” she inquired.
“Well that’s my business, not yours!” I said snootily, and she seemed quite put out by my rebuff.
My favorite hang-out, the Regal Cinema, Colaba.
The next night she was sitting there again, this time I was going down and, weirder yet, on the step above, next to and below her were ranged some Indian models, absolutely gorgeous girls draped against drop-dead handsome men, in erotic poses reminiscent of those painted/sculpted at Ajanta and Khajuraho. They were subtly lit by photographers who were taking their snaps as I approached. The old bird was smoking a large beedi and it gave off the putrid stench of burning cow-shit.

I ignored all the beauties and turned to her and said in Hindi, “Ye badbhu hai!” (That smells real bad!) I noticed the models and photographers lost their concentration for a moment, dropped the lascivious posing and stared at me, some smiling. I wondered if the old witch wasn’t some famous, eccentric Bollywood director or producer and I’d just missed my chance for fame and fortune on the silver screen as “the angry firanghi”, a red-faced stereotypical villain in Bollywood movies. (He represents the British Raj.) I regretted my snobbery in not talking to her, she might have been a real interesting person but I had the silly feeling she was trying to crack onto me.

Ajanta Cave Painting.
I’ve often commented that Goa can not only be the ultimate fun but also somewhat dangerous if you don’t have your wits about you. At the famous Hilltop Christmas party I was just getting off to the wild clashing, primeval sounds of an Italian DJ named Guiseppe, dancing my little geriatric butt off, when a blond British cow with huge blue innocent eyes approached and held out a large can of beer to me and said in ever-so-friendly and genuine tones, “I don’t really want to drink this beer. Would you like to have it?”

I looked into her spaced-out blue eyes, heard the false note of jolly comradeship in her voice, as if an old gronk like me was just dying to fall for a young frump like her, (as many a horny, blond-loving Indian or dried up Euro curmudgeon would), dressed in her daggy pseudo-hippie gear, her tits hanging out. (I was targeted because I looked an easy push-over, my wallet bulged in my back pocket and I wore a nice watch that flashed in the disco lights.) I wanted to reply, “Fuck-off bitch!” but instead stepped back and said, “No thanks, I don’t drink beer, I only drink water.” She then looked over my shoulder at someone, as if to say, “What do I do now?” I turned to see who she was looking at and right next to me stood this tall, fat Indian goon, tiny pencil mustache, sleazy grin on his cruel face. I know a goonda, (gangster), when I see one and I shuddered.

She then seemed to remember her lines, tearing her eyes from him and spluttering, “Would you believe you’re the second guy who’s knocked me back?” I stepped further away, “Yeah, I’d believe it.” Just then a tiny Indian fellow, about 4 foot high, rushed forward and snatched the can from her and hugged it to his chest. I watched as she tried to wrestle the can back from his clutch and I wondered what the whole tableau portended. 

I’m pretty sure they were the usual vicious gang targeting victims at the party, feeding them drugged drink and then robbing them, pretending solicitude as they helped the dopey fellow to the shadows beyond the chai mats, all the while rifling his pockets. I drifted off into the safety of the crowd, distracted by the hot music, so I don’t know if they escaped or got kicked from the gig. She was probably a junkie in thrall to the goonda for smack, helping rob her fellow tourists, much like Cleo Odzer shamelessly did in the old days when she was strung out in Bombay: anything for a comfy bed and a nasty high.

The little Indian guy was either an innocent bystander who ended up unconscious by a coconut tree or actually part of Security, paid to watch out for this kind of activity, as over the years the most horrendous crimes have been committed in just this way. The worst was when a young woman was drugged and taken from the party, horrifically raped and beaten to death in the nearby jungle. I knew of this history and so am constantly on my guard, not a nice way to enjoy the Dance, but I'm an old survivor and so enjoy the Dance I sure fucking did. But it gave me the willies and I decided to ring a friend in Mumbai and ask him to join me in Goa as my body-guard and companion for the rest of my sojourn , and it was the best thing that could've happened as he was a wonderful guy who made Goa shine for me, no goondas came near me while he was my chaperone, and I dream I will always have a traveling partner as loyal and as attentive as him.

I went back up to the Himalayas for the last month of my Indian idyll, hoping for rest and adventure. Everything was going according to plan, fun and exhilaration lighting up my eyes. I again visited one of my favorite places in all the world, Gangonani hot-springs, high amid the snow-caps, driving through a snow-storm with an excitable companion to get there. And for three days I jumped in and out, in and out of the hot-water tank, from ice-chilled air to blood-hot water that I would totally immerse myself in, it was blissful.

I failed to take notice of the slime clinging to the pool’s bottom and sides or think about the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of dirty men had also bathed in it over the last few months. I wishfully hoped “they” cleaned the tank often; sorry, not in this far-off place. Then the village idiot got in beside me, a shriveled up gnome of an old man, skin like wrinkled leather, three teeth in his head, absolutely filthy, scum drifted from him like bad news from a war zone. Where was my scientist’s mind? I swam about in a tizz, my head in the clouds, my eyes gazing into infinity. Maybe it wasn’t there that I picked up the infection but most likely.

On our journey back down the mountains we stopped off at Uttarkashi, they were having a Mela, a fair, and the usual hundreds of thousands of people had flooded in to push and shove, poke amongst the junk on sale and ride the Ferris wheels. I learned long ago to be wary of large crowds in India, too many people and the water supply and environment gets quickly polluted. I had to pay a visit to the public toilet and it was ghastly to get the water splashed all over myself as I tried to clean up.

Whatever, by the time we got back down to Shangri-la a light-fever set in and I found I couldn’t piss, only with the greatest of pain. I quickly surmised I had contracted a urinary tract infection, some bug had crawled up the eye of my cock, perhaps some monstrous hybrid created Frankenstein-like in the Petri-dish of the sulphur-springs tank, lurking to jump upon unsuspecting, vulnerable firangh like me. Let’s face it, UTI’s are a disease of the old, and I’m old, getting older by the day.

For the next two weeks, heaven turned to hell, I felt the urge to pee every fifteen minutes but that was like having acid poured into the tip of my penis! Imagine! Some would think it’s exactly the torture I deserve, “live by the sword etc etc.” There were nights I thought I was dying; oh if only it had happened, released from my pain, and an end put to this long travail called life. The only good part of the experience was I stayed in my room most of the time and read Tennessee Williams’ “Memoirs”: what a great read for an old reprobate like me, how close to my own sordid life, except for the brilliance, the success and the amazing times. His art is immortal and sheds light upon my own flawed human condition, uplifts me from the muck and gives me momentary relief. I cried throughout the reading, I’m not the only fuck-up, even the greatest of poets can be dirty old men too.

India is not a good place to get sick, especially if you’re a nobody, you have to be strong of body and mind to enjoy India. Through the blurred eyes of fever the reality was seen more clearly, the veil of romance and exotica lifted and the filth was exposed. A top tourist destination like Shangri-la and the roads are quagmires with no footpath to walk on, shit in piles everywhere, rubbish strewn all over. I staggered to the market place in a delirium, cars splashed me with mud, a giant truck being towed snapped its cable and, as a runaway behemoth, it trundled towards me and I had to dive to the side. A tethered donkey shied from the traffic and tried to trample me. Pea-brains on speeding motor bikes aimed straight for me so that I had to constantly jump out of the way, the same for cars and buses.

A pharmacist gave me the right medicine but told me the wrong dosage so my torture got prolonged for an extra week. For fourteen days and nights it was as if I’d descended down to Hell, like Orpheus seeking his female counterpart. Red shadows danced macabre while live electric wires were inserted down the eye of my dick, myriad demons stabbed me with pitch forks and shoved red-hot pokers up my arse. Before dawn one morning I really thought I was dying, I hallucinated myself as Vidya Balan in “The Dirty Picture” in her tragic role as Silk Smitha, the South Indian soft-porn actress, where she's dying alone, forgotten by the world, in her sleazy apartment in Chennai, about to hang herself from the ceiling fan. I myself contemplated the same act, so tired of it all, only I figured the fan wouldn't hold my weight and would come crashing down, alerting the hotel staff.

I saw her face projected across the ceiling and I felt myself lifting out of my body to merge with hers. I fought hard to draw my dream-state back into myself, the world was out of focus, reality shifted and I crashed back down onto the bed, my flesh heavy and alive, I found myself as One again, clinging to my tangled bed in that alien hotel room in the Himalayan foothills. What a crazy place to die, not so romantic when it’s actually happening. (And I wondered if the old witch in Goa on the steps down to Vagatore didn’t put a curse on me for snubbing her: hopefully I’m just being a misogynist.)

I was in tears of frustration and pain and when I met the few Indians I hoped I could call friends and told them of my condition, they said, “That’s sad. Can you lend me some money?” This is a pathetic side of the Indian character, always needy, always with their hands out to the foreigner as if we owe them a living. As the British Raj drained India of Her resources for three hundred years, leaving millions to starve to death, a history which even now India is still having a hard time recovering from, I guess every English speaking dude does owe them something. 

And you can't blame their seeming heartlessness as the cost of living here grows by the day, the population is so vast, and viable employment so scarce, everyone is at each others throat to scratch a living. Prime Minister Modi, that slickest of charismatic politicians, has promised to kick-start the economy and get every family a well-paid job, a house and a functioning toilet by 2020. Good luck mate! India's so desperate for succor and a true leader they'll believe him and follow blindly, even over a precipice. he actually could be the next Mahatma Ghandi if he only realised his place in the people's history and not just be the best mate of the upper class

Finally a good Indian friend came straight away when I rang and told him of my predicament and he took me to a compassionate doctor who didn’t even charge me for the consultation but put me immediately onto the right dosage of anti-biotics, that miracle drug that nogod help us the world is running out of.

And now the nightmare has receded, the pain still tweeking but not burning me up and I can consider running back to Auz while I still have some energy to make it to the air-port. I have this fantasy that I will die not far from the very spot where my old mentor, Compassion, died in 1974 and my body will be burned close to where we threw his body in the Ganges River. He’d gone into a terrible fever for three days, without painkillers, and he died sitting up in lotus position, meditating. What incredible courage he must’ve had, and concentration and determination. I have none of these strengths, am just a bum, an ordinary human, on the run from my stupidity, and my failures.

21 years Under Northcott.
What I head back to in Sydney is not pretty either. Apparently there have been more suicides jumping from the towers of Northcott and in some dumb attempt at cutting down their numbers, instead of working hard to make it a happy community and a fair society, the Powers That Be have covered the building with scaffolding, working hard like beavers to wall-up the balconies, possibly hang nets to catch the fallen, vainly hoping it will make it more difficult to jump from the heights. 

Or maybe THEY are renovating the dump to eventually hand it over to Yuppies, moving all us bums out into the wilderness, Northcott Housing Estate is in the inner-city and the property is worth a fortune. Good luck to everyone, including me, to survive this hungry 21st century.

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.