Sunday, May 21, 2023

Three Indian Men.


It's nigh impossible for a Westerner travelling in India, even if he/she visits and lives there much of their lives, to truly see and feel the reality of what it is like to be Indian, surviving in their familial milieu. One can have empathy, for a life-journey with its successes and failures but eventually one goes back home to a secure and comfortable life  far from the Indian reality.

You can dress like a Hindu, wear a Brahmin string and a tilak mark on the forehead but that doesnt make you an Indian, you have to be born into a Hindu family, there is no conversion process in that religion.

The Western visitor can fall into the orientalist's fantasy of only seeing India as full of exotic curiosities, stereotypical spectacles, mystical ecstasies and fabulous fairy-tale adventures, all of which excite fascination and revulsion. Some foreigners  seem to think Indians constantly need saving, being helpless simpletons, and the true nature of the people is  simplicity, generosity and poverty. Or they grumble perjoratives: Indians are greedy, lustful and so stupid that an honest, upright pilgrim has to outwit and evade them continuously. The reality of an Indian's life is veiled, hard to fathom, but they are definitely capable of organising their needs and overcoming obstacles, bringing up families and obeying the law of the land.

He contemplated three Indian men he had befriended and his dysfunctional involvement with them, real individuals without the overought superlatives and degrading criticisms an ignoramus might espouse.

Sonny is a Hindu taxi driver in Main Bazar, Paha Ganjh, New Delhi. He's driven Arthur on tours of Delhi for the past 7 years, usually at fair rates. Post-Covid everyone's money was tight, many Indians went into debt with money-lenders during the two year lock-down to survive their unemployment. Sonny picked Arthur up at the airport and charged him 10 times what a prepaid taxi from a govt office would charge, (4000 rupees as opposed to 400 rupees.) Arthur had money so he went along with it , enjoying the experience of having an acquaintance greet and help him on his arrival.

He charged Arthur way more for the tours than he used to and got him an Indian sim card phone connection extravagantly expensive, all the while softening him up by repeatedly telling him what good friends they were and he would never rip him off. Arthur gritted his teeth and smiled throughout for he knew the guy's story.

He had married for love and was ever faithful to his adoring wife. They had two sons, 5 and 1 year old. The one year old got sepsis of the blood and died. This devastated them. She lost her faith in the gods, he took on the gods of all religions hoping they would guard his family's future. After much praying he was blessed with a second son and Sonny swore he was exactly like the one who died, the gods had given him back to them.

Then the 2nd infant son caught Denghe fever and was on the point of death. In fear and despair they took out a huge loan from a money lender and put the baby in an expensive hospital and had him attended to by the best doctors available, and the baby revived and is now well and thriving. They now owe a huge amount and its debilitating interest to a greedy userer. Sonny has to scrounge together as much money as he can, every day, competing with thousands of other taxi drivers.

This is where foreign tourists come in, particularly Arthur. To sweetly get hin to pay that little bit more. He couldn't save Sonny's family, he couldn't even help him that much, the driver works very hard to achieve the loan repayments in many clever and opportunistic ways, because he has to, his family depends on it. He was no background character in Arthur's self-enlightening journey, he was self-interested and passing through Sonny's life-drama hoping the guy will achieve his goal of financial freedom with ingenuity and it will probably happen long after Arthur disappeared.

The second character in this reality drama is Shubham, now 27 and a student of yoga and ayurveda medicine in Rishikesh. He and Arthur had been friends for 7 years, he was a bright and pleasant character to get on with and Artie often hired him as a guide, gofor and driver. He was intelligent, strong willed, compassionate and trustworthy. In the covid years he fed the wandering cows because nobody else was bothering. If he found an injured dog he took it to a vet. During the Covid lockdown years Arthur paid him to feed crippled paupers abandoned by the roadside and he fulfilled the job with honesty and alacrity.

His parents had taken out a huge loan, again with a voracious money-lender, to build 4 rooms on top of their three room abode, hoping to earn money from tenants. Then Covid hit and nobody came to rent the rooms for 2 years. They went into devastating debt and, as they'd put their own land and home up as collateral, they were threatened with being thrown on the streets if they couldn't pay the monthly dues.

Family is everything in India, it's the central institution and organising principal of their society. Their religion/caste comes second  and govt, which provides little in supportive services, comes a distant last in their daily concerns. There is no medicare, no old age pension for the majority, no sick leave, no unemployment benefits, it's every person fighting for him/her self with their family as the one saving grace.

The bride comes home to live with the son's family, the mother chooses the bride, the father decides what's the best career for the son to succeed in, the wife is a home-body, the husband goes out into the world to be the bread-winner, and the whole family usually sleeps together in one bed. The parents have as many children as they can handle, bringing them up to accept the duty of looking after mum and dad in their old age. They nurse all family members in the home and only the rich farm out their beloved to institutions and nursing homes to be taken care of. In a country of 1500 million people they only have each other to love and depend on.

Arthur trusted Shubham implicitly to safeguard his interests but when it came down to a choice between the survival of his family and the discomfort of a foreign friend he chose, of course, his family.

At one stage the two friends were discussing the possibility of buying a scooter to tour about on, each of them going halves. Arthur suggested a second-hand scooter at a cost of about 30,000 rupees. Shubham disagreed, claiming a brand new one would be better, it wouldn't break down. It would cost 90,000 rupees and Artie's share would thus be 45000 rupees,(A$900.) He reluctantly agreed and sent Shubham the money. Arthur couldn't drive on the Indian roads, they terrified him, he had 3 accidents when he drove, and one very serious when pillion with a German friend, breaking his leg badly, so was dependant on Shubham to drive. They got one trip out of the scooter, to the top of the Himalayas for 5 days and it was very pleasant. 

Then Shubjam broke the news to Arthur that he had accepted a job in Kerala and was leaving in a week. He had known this for 7 months and not said a word, abandoning Arthur who now had no one to drive him. Arthur soon discovered the scooter had been bought on hire purchase, the parents paying 2000 rupees a month to the bank while Arthur's 45000 rupees were paid to the money lender. After a few weeks the scooter itself disppeared, probably sold to raise yet more money to pay that avaricious userer.

Arthur was pissed off at the deception, especially from Shubham, who, of all his Indian acquaintances, he trusted the most. But what easier alternative could Shubham have taken? It was a choice between his family thrown on the street or a bit of discomfort for his foreign friend. Family wins out every time with Indians, even if it meant losing a best friend. While Arthur understood the boy's predicament he didn't like the dishonesty, his estimation of the lad fell and he intended never to see him again. This was a real life drama, not exotic, not mystical, Arthur agreed that his discomfort at losing some money was as nothing compared to their homelessness. He empathised but still went his own way, able to team up long term with no one.

The third Indian man Arthur could never forget, had the harshest story of all and his name was Pankaj. They had been close friends for 12 years and Arthur knew every twist and turn of Pankaj's sorry road. They first met at a hotel Arthur was staying in, the Yellow Laxmi Hotel, at the back of Tapovan, Laxman Juhla. One had to walk down a long, muddy road around many corners to get to it. Pankaj had opened a restaurant there for the hotel guests and visitors, only in winter there were few guests and no visitors who found their way to the premises. Arthur only occassionally ate from the grungy kitchen and Pankaj went broke.

He next tried going partners with a wild man named Jittu. They both invested in a space on a clifftop looking down upon the Ganges River with wonderful views of jungle and mountains. They named it Tat Cafe after a famous yogi, Tatwallah Baba, who Arthur had meditated in front of in the early 1970s. It had much foot traffic past its front door and with Pankaj arranging musicians to play on many nights it was quite a success with the tourists.

While Jittu rushed about the village and jungle, yahooing drunkenly on his motorbike, Pankaj put in the daily grind of recieving guests, encouraging the cook and waiters to do their best, and watching the till. Jittu didn't have to try too hard as his elder brother, working in Canada, was pouring money into the business and keeping Jittu's side of the enterprise afloat.

It only just made a profit, Jittu smoking much of it in hash, and the waiters robbed the till claiming they weren't paid enough. It didn't take long before Jittu stated the entire cafe was his as his brother had put the most money in and he kicked Pankaj out. Tat Cafe never did succeed as a business as Jittu continued to get both high and drunk, brawling with the local lads while his brother continued to support him.

Two doors down was another space similar to the Tat and Pankaj took out a huge loan to decorate, furnish, supply utensils and foodstuffs and hire the staff, even putting in a toilet. The premises were owned by a retired Indian army officer and he strolled about the place twiddling his thumbs while Pankaj did all the hard work. They shared thirds in the profits with an old entrepreneur named Pappu, the soldier taking his share in lieu of rent.

Again Pankaj hired musicians to play nightly and connected up with the local yoga schools to have their foreign students patronise the place as well as neo-hippie tourists and trendy Indians hoping to join the cool set. Arthur was asked to name the place and he came up with Shambala,(otherwise known as Shangri-la, The Secret Community), and it was promulgated on social media and Tripadvisor as a laid-back paradise for hip cognoscenti types.

Word spread as it became a popular hang-out for wannabe hippies, this it was profitable, finally Pankaj had a thriving business and a regular income. Arthur visited daily, enjoying the milieu, except when the bongo thumpers started up their infernal racket causing Arthur to flee back to the sanctity of his room. He was lounging back one day talking to the son of the ritired soldier who said to him as he looked about at the glittering decor, "My dream is to one day have my own restaurant." Arthur thought to himself, "Oh ohhhh! It's Shambala you've got your eye on, how long before you take over?" Not long.

2020 and Covid hit, no tourists, no yogis, no people at all, total lockdown. The old retired soldier continued to demand rent, even though there were no customers, Pankaj couldn't pay so he was asked yet again to move on.  Now was Rahul's chance, he and his father pounced, complaining that Pankaj and Pappu had kept most of the profits. The partners were tired of the old miser's constant complaints and, fed up, gave him all the furnishings, utensils and new toilet, even the name Shambala, as payback for any rent they may still owe. Shutdown ended, the business thrived on its previous reputation and its grand setting above the Ganges River. They made a lot of money, that filthy lucre that many unenlightened souls think is the epitome of righteous living and would sell your baby to get more of it. Rahul went to China to teach yoga, made more money and sent it home, cash raining down on them like dead frogs.

With smug, sour faces they surveyed their kingdom as they sat upon their heap of gold, hoping to hatch a few more coins. They didn't actually own the property, only the trinket shop at the front. They had encroached upon the rest, a common Indian subterfuge of claiming and building upon govt land that surrounds their meagre holdings. Apparently all the buildings lining that clifftop above the Ganges were on encroached govt property, hotels, restaurants, homes, temples, nearly every structure teetering upon the precipice was illegal.

The Modi govt had a hsrd on for the Ganges River, considering it a goddess. They were determined to clean it up, stop waste being dumped it and close all the river rafting camps set up on every beach and cove of the river to stop its further degradation. 7 years previously they had annoynced all the buildings built illegally on the clifftops of Laxman Juhla hugging the edge would have to be demolished or pushed back leaving a 200 yards wide safety zone. This was to stop the undermining of those cliffs and be safer for any residents who were in danger if the cliffs collapsed into the river, as they were want to do.

Nobody took any notice of this order and not only continued to live there but to build more, level upon level, like a tower of cards. In 2023 the Modi govt passed legislation that demanded this demolition take place soon, it could wait no longer and the residents should take heed. Again, those encroachers ignored the notification and live on in complete defiance, of the law and the danger ad they have done gor years. This includes the Shambala shambolics, one day they wake up in their plush beds with a bulldozer knocking tbeir wallscdown and their entire wealth sliding quickly into oblivion. Pankaj prayed for his own upliftment and left the fall of his detractors to their karma.

This is some of what's going on in that exotic background of temples, yoga schools, trinket shops and masala restaurants. The foreign tourist can find it all quaint, the scenery picturesque, the locals colourful, polite and servile, they are only passing through for a few weeks, they dont want to know about the daily struggle, the betrayals, the greed, the nastiness, the desperation, the scramble to get on top, the strength to get out from underneath oppression, the compassionate heart to continue and succeed in one's given lot.

Pankaj in the meantime had taken what he could salvage to other premises across the river. It was right next to the Laxman Juhla Bridge, visitors could see it as they crossed the river, a glowing sign enticing them, they marched straight in. With cushions, low tables, wall tapestries, a glorious view of the river, people again enjoyed kicking back and hanging out. Arthur was an honoured guest and given pride of place, for him it was paradisical, with no hippie bong bong twang twang to get on his nerves.

Pankaj had once taken Arthur to his home village, way up near the Tibetan border, hidden deep inside  a craggy valley, as if it were indeed The Secret Community, Shambala itself. The people lived very simple lives, up before dawn, tending their milk cows and their crops, participating in age old rituals to appease their gods. They also had satellite television and it was there that Pankaj saw the wonders of the modern world, far down below in the cities  with the consumer goodies and easy lifestyles on tap. He desired it all badly and migrated down, into the contemporary maelstrom.

While visiting his archaic village Arthur met Pankaj's sister, blind since birth, and partly deaf and dumb. Both his parents had died young, his aunty looker after her in the main, but Pankaj had to support them, always scrabbling to get money together to send to them, life was a trial for him. Add to this a wife and two children, and a lazy, no hoper brother and his existential predicament was dire. He visited every temple and shrine, praying to whatever god or saint his mind could lock onto, for succour and upliftment. Arthur felt deep empathy for him and gave him whatever assistance he could afford.

The Laxman Juhla Bridge Cafe was plodding along nicely for a year and Pankaj was gradually paying off all his debts, though he still continued to under pay his staff. His sister's survival was uppermost in his consideration, much money went to hiring specialists who could operate and give her some sight, but it was hopeless, her blindness was incurable.

Then the Uttarakhand govt decided the bridge was too dangerous for the amount of traffic using it, about to collapse any moment they closed it and started constructing a much bigger, stronger version in the shadow of the old bridge. This left Pankaj's restaurant empty, as it did all the businesses around it. He was unable to pay his debts, his staff's wages, or the rent. It was a disaster and he was thrown into deep despair as well as thrown on the street with all his furnishings. He just couldn't get a break.

He'd opened a daily needs shop in a shed next to a petrol station up on the highway to Badrinath. A plague of mice rushed in and ate up all the goods till there was nothing left to sell. He threw ratsack all over the place and poisoned any customers who still showed up. His brother crashed his scooter into another scooter ridden by a woman and her child, and even though she was driving on the wrong side of the road, the brother was blamed. Mother and child are iconic, they were all cut up along with the brother and Pankaj had to pay their hospital bills as well as fixing the scooters.

Will Pankaj's run of bad luck never end? When praying to Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, for sustenance she told him, "I've given you Arthur, ask him for some money." For the short time Arthur was in Rishikesh he hired Pankaj as his driver and the fellow worked assiduously to earn enough to keep his family housed and fed. Even when Arthur returned home he dent small amountscof money to help out but not near enough to keep the Indiam's head above the turbulence. This was up to Pankaj him self to achieve and he did it, without crime but with a lot of gift of the gab and applying his unstoppable ingenuity to the task.

In writing of his own fatigue at the daily grind of survival, the betrayals and disappointments  Arthur had to mention his travels in India, fot it was there he could see his privilaged background and know his worries were comparably smaller. It was his story, his life, his confession, those he met were incidental to his travails, some actually played a part in his undoing, and many in his success. He didn't see them as exotic background characters in his drama totally extraneous to his survival, people existed everywhere no matter where he went, they were with him, against him or indifferent, that's life.

If he comes across as a confabulating orientalist it's because that's what he was, an outsider looking in, a lonesome traveller, a narcissistic wanderer. India was not his milieu, it WAS  different, exotic and heartbreaking because that's how he experienced it as a stranger. He was existentially and sexually exhausted and lost himself there, looking for a way to begin again or end it.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Bipolar Bear Who Eats Art For Breakfast.

This is not another version of my faux boo hoo hoo story, it's fact, a hard social realist tale. I have suddenly woken up. After all these years it has hit me like a punch to the heart, the travails of struggling through a class-war planet has driven me into dysfunction. To be a pauper artist, unconnected, rejected from the NAS,a refugee from social housing, and still exhibiting is pissing in the wind.

There have been many surveys which have discovered that the majority of artists who get State/bourgeois recognition and make a good living from their work are from wealthy families. What hope is there for an unconnected working class boy but to make do with communicating from the gutter? Where can I pin the cause of my madness? Is it a delusion, a myth, a romance, a calling? Is my art practice just therapy, a compensatory mechanism for a broken heart?

In 1971 I hit the road at the age of 21 travelling across the world for 7 years. I slept on the streets of Sydney, Mackay, Darwin, Penang, Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Istanbul, Athens, Crete and some years later Paris, Spain and Morocco. Often I sat on the street and drew pictures, occassionally selling one. That's as "street" as one can get.

Returning to Australia I lived in Sydney squats for 13 years from 1977 on, one step up from the gutter. I guess I got used to living in a squalid space, the ceiling caving in and rain-water running down the walls. I thought it was fabulous, the dirt and dust most suitable for the "grunge era" of the 1980s, and let's face it, a partial roof definitely beat the streets. In 1990 I got shifted by the Sydney City Council to social housing in Surry Hills, a secure roof over my head at last, but actually it was leaping from the frying pan into the fire, murders, suicides, police busts rained down and I devolved.

I live a lot in my head, studying, researching, reading, looking, watching, discussing, dreaming, wanking, thinking, thinking, thinking... and I don't notice the entropy grunging down my apartment for dust, dirt, mould, hoarded crap piled up. I live on my couch or my bed where I do all my drawing and writing, the dust building up on everything around me till it seeps into my lungs and slowly kills me. The carpet has not been replaced for 34 years! The Housing Dept inspect the place twice a year to make sure I'm not living with anyone or growing pot, they ignore the filth, possibly hoping I'll sink into it and drop dead, then they can sell off the flat.

Whenever I have a big project on the boil I let everything go even more to pot, busy making posters, paintings, online promos, while all art materials, clothes, books get scattered everywhere. I had a show on recently and in my preoccupation with it I ran out the door and left a tap running in a plugged sink. I came home 7 hours later and found my entire apartment flooded with 3 inches of water. Sludge, wet paper, soggy carpet all turned into a swamp that I squelched through to cross the room. Feeling defeated I daily mop, scrub, wash and sweep, throwing heaps of rubbish out: perhaps the ordeal a blessing as at last my apartment is getting a good clean out and all put neatly in order. But as I pushed the detritus around with a mop I flashed that indeed I have been quite mad much of my life, acting out the role of a bohemian with delusions of artistic grandeur.

Let me again go over my life of poverty, intransigence and mistakes. Both my parents came back from the 2nd World War with PTSD, to no counseling, no jobs, no accomodation. We moved 7 times in and out of share-houses with arguments raging between all the detainees. We finally got social housing in 1956 in the Olympic Village after all the athletes split. Domestic violence was rife, my dad beating my mother into the floor and beating me, from infancy on, for crying loudly and squealing like a girl.

As a boy's boy and a sissy boy I got in a lot of fights in childhood, the local kids beating me up, my teachers strapping me on hands and legs for disrupting the class, my brorher often punching me out for acting effeminitely: life was a riot. In my teens I was poofter bashed, raped, unemployed and homeless, my burgeoning queerness alienating me. Then at 19 I was conned into having psylocibin (LSD) therapy by an undercover cult called The Family to convert me to heterosexuality. It didnt work, I was bent further, my conditioning to accept the bullshit of the society I lived in was blown out my arse like so much crap, particularly religion and authoritarianism. I wised up, clearly seeing "the emperor has no clothes." I became cynical, twisted, angry, angst-ridden, the classic outsider. This scrambling of my sense of self was the ultimate shove not just to the edge but over the cliff into vagabondage.

After 7 years on the road, mostly all over India, I washed up in Sydney and unleashed my madness on that much abused, old convict colony. I papered the walls of the entire inner-city. What better gallery could I have? That got me the tag of "street artist" and hopefully "street cred." To communicate directly to the people without the middle-person of gallery entrepreneur or govt bureaucrats is my aim and pleasure. There's no money in it or State sanction, it's raw and uncensored, liberating and outrè, just how I like it. If Arthur Stace can do it with "Eternity" I can do it with "No God No War."

There are those smart arses who realise they dont need any great talent to succeed, as long as they are proficient con artists. All they have to do is get on a committee and influence it, and/or appeal to govt bureaucrats with a PC proposal, always putting on a smiling, polite middle-class face to hide the venal, ambitious, lying desperadoe. They will get the money/space to do with what they desire and also present themselves as great artists, and many polite suckers will fall for it. And if you don't have the class background of good manners and designer dress you dont make the grade. Anything for the money, the kudos, the power to say who gets in the door. As if such access to fat pickings wouldn't attract the most clever/banal villains.

I was recently informed of the perturbations going on behind the "Sydney Gay Mardi Gras" scene. I've always wondered why I and my art got cold-shouldered by the Gay Mardi Gras organisation, never invited to show my art: after all, I am queer, a long time working queer artist and a '78er. I always knew the SGMG was conservative but I hoped not mind-fucked also, I have since learned a long time CEO is a coke head, that type of hedonist gay is anathema to me, snippy, elitist, vapid. 

Worse is a dude who has comandeered the art side of the "gay movement" in Sydney, a queer South African come to touch up the soft Aussies. Previously he floated a project to raise funds for the gay media and gay nursing homes. Many queer businesses and empaths invested around ten million dollars in the caring idea. He embezzled it all, sending much gay media broke with all concerned losing their jobs. He went to gaol for it. Since graduating from prison he has "turned over a new leaf" and taken over the "queer arts scene", namely Fuqtopia, the supposed queer history/art museum.

And what do you know, the artefacts chosen to exhibit are, in the main, banal, depoliticised, safe, unchallenging. A female assistant, when asked if she'd hang my painting of the '78 Sydney queer riots in the musem, used the censorious excuse Ive often been given in my artists' non-career, "there's not enough room on the walls." These are the right wing creeps that have agreed to take a million dollars from the Murdoch's for their vacuous queer mauseleum, a pink-wash for an entity thatvhas trashed queers, and all else progressive and humane, forcthe last 70 years.

Lying Nasty Parasite voters seem to make up the bulk of the Fuqtopians. When a friend of mine told them at their committee meeting that such a donation was anathema to queer history she was "screamed down" for her temerity. They must all be siphoning off some of that million dollars into their own pockets, only that could explain their over-reaction to the thought it shouldn't be accepted. Nothing riles up RWNJs more than a threat to their pockets.

The Murdoch "bribe" is a fait accompli, presented to the community without any consultatiins. Money talks, zombies walk. I'm persona non grata to the right wing queers who have infiltrated the movement and taken over much of the organisations, for therein lies much moolah, kudos and power. 

Of course it had to happen, many of us queers are good guys, soft-hearted, ripe for take-over by ruthless fascists. They purport to support all gay art but when I advertised my latest show, "Dancing in the Garden of Pan", via posters, flyers, online posts and video grabs, not one supposed queer art fan came. Only my '78ers compayriots, my best "straight" friends and the Pasd-Port Gallery crew of young skaters and hip fans supporting me. Their antipathy didn't stop one of the Fuqtpians from coming to the gallery the day after my show closed to try and get them to have drinks at the Stoneall pub with their committee to celebrate their vacuous museum, all the while sniffing around at the prospect of also grabbing the Pass-Port Gallery space as it's garnering a lot of "hip" cachet for them to exploit.

So, the arts, among many fields have always been a  site of elitism, exploitation and propaganda. Only the ruling class and the ruthless class succeed with notoriety and bullion, the rest of us live in poverty, ignominy and desperation. The real kicker is those money-grubbers ruling this class war have the nerve to present themselves as "caring, humane, progressive, uplifters of the downtrodden and marginalised" but in reality they're the opposite, they are terrifying social oppressors and capitalist money grubbers. 

My life's hard journey, working class, impoverished, queer, brutalised, dysfunctional due to a cult's queer conversion attempt, activist arrested 7 times on intersectional concerns, suggests these supposed social uplifters should support me, but instead they kick me in the arse and starve me. It's always been this way, the class war, yet it doesn't stop or defeat me. I roam free and exhilarated, creating art, painting the walls of "the Temple", the world at large my sanctuary.

Monday, January 02, 2023

The Lonely Traveller 2

For all of you with romantic ideas about Goa, well it's changed, more built up hotels,  techno cyberpunk discos but still fabulous! Everything changes and the wild freakiness of Goa changed 25 years ago, around the year 2001 when the Towers came down. Then too im murders, rapes and robberies occurred in the jungles and on the fringes of the out of control parties. Gradullay walls got built around the jungle dance floors, armed guards were put on the gates, entry was by hard cash and cops scrutinised every punter to see who was high, (they wanted to control the drug trade.)

This uniforming process set in with a vengeance in 2008 with the terrorist attack on Mumbai, night life got shut down and everyone had to watch their step. The days of dancing wth Pan in Goa, naked around the bonfire, tripping the light fantastic on pure LSD, faded out but freaks have hung in there for fifty years, till 2023,  hoping to keep the flames of pagan orgies alight, with abandoned dancing, lost in a crowd of jumping trancers, safe, and nobody giving a shit about who you are. 

When I came to Goa for the New Years season of 22/23 I travelled alone for one last nostalgic time, mostly just to see my Indian friends in their beach shack on Vagator, to be reassured they had survived Covid. This is the beach where I've partied, danced and laughed every year from 1997 to 2018, (also the very beach we froliced tripping on LSD 1972 to 1976 when it was jungle and we built grass huts to live in.

I got ripped off big time on arrival, the hotel on Anjuna Beach I booked and prepaid $700 had sold my room on for bigger money and greedily still kept mine. The booking company I used, WOTIF, wiped their hands of any responsibilty, sayng they had to abide by any hotel decisions, thus ennabling the robbery. I had a fever and found my self dumped on the hot, dusty street like a dog. The hotel is called Goroomgo Laxmi, an apt name as the manager told me to  "Go, no room, go!"

Thus I hated Goa and felt it had gone to the dogs but my friends on Vagator Beach helped me find another room, better, closer to the place I loved, so I shelled out another $500 and settled in. And I soon caught the Goan vibe, relaxed on the beach, ignoring the chaos swirling around, watching the passing crowd of India come to play. I was fed delicious meals, mostly local seafood and fruits, and got to sink into beautiful sunsets over the Arabian Sea, contemplating my life and how I lucked out at getting here.

Between Xmas and New Years Goa really jumps, its the peak of the tourists season and life-affirming festivities. Vagator has about 21 nightclubs that pump out techno music nightly and on 28, 29, 30 December there is a huge trance festival called Sunburn, 10 am to 10 pm, costing $500 for the three days. It attracts near 7000 young Indian punters dying to relive the notorious, ecstatic dance party mythology. Very few dance in the hot sun, most showing up at 5pm, but they still get burnt, money-wise, as the clatter of different, (but the same), computer beats bursting from 7 stages sounds like a thousand washing machines gone haywire. The chaos of innumerable goons and their tear-away girlfriends ripping up the night on motorbikes is amusing.

I ignore it all as I'm too old and too wise to get immersed in such commercial, alcohol-fuelled shenanigans. But a trip to Goa wouldn't be complete without a visit to the biggest, and the original, techno music club, Hilltop, especially on New Years eve.

I wasn't even going there this year but the fireworks at midnight in Vagator Beach was so spectacular, with an Indian crowd roaring, that I got overly excited and felt it had to be topped by some frenetic dancing. I paid the $160 entrance fee, which hopefully bars the gangsters from the boondocks from entering and grabbing the women, and I joined a crowd of about 5000 punters in the huge, walled backyard of the Hilltop Hotel.

The first 4 DJs I found boring, I'd heard far better way back 1997 to 2007, not just at Hilltop but all the other free, lawless venues: Siva Valley, Bamboo Forest and Monkey Valley. There were real geniuses in mixing disparate beats and sounds: Infected Mushroom, Woozy, Sounds Unlimited, (this last group got me so worked up I danced like a whirlwind dervish, on the best Molly, what one needs I guess to really go for it.) Here in 2023 the techno was derivative, nothing innovative, relying on a single base beat, "Boom, boom, boom", that covered over any counterpoint sounds. Then at 4am on came an older Indian DJ who provided weird melodies and oriental orchestrations in and out of the beats that made for pleasant listening.

But it was at 5am that came the killer DJ, at last, the original techno dance beats weaving in and out of fantastic melodic rythms and soundscapes. The huge crowd went bananas and the dance marathon rocketed off. Though many gronks got in ny face and waved their arms while trodding on my toes, I realised it was a free-for-all, everybody and anybody could have a go. Dags in boring Nike Ts and style concious hipsters mixed with straights and freaks, black and white, obese and skeletal, het and queer, one got lost and freed in the crowd, dancing how one willed, nobody cared.

I danced from 12.30am to 6am, and it seemed many hipsters meandered by and had a gander at the old dick with the white beard making the moves. As always the coolest dudes wore black, the wannabe groovers wearing amazing fluro designs on black T shirts, but disco fluro is passe as far as Im concerned. I wore white pjama pants and a plain powder blue T with the falling angel, Lucifer, on a siver chain around my neck. Tied around my waist was a long white cotton shirt with a blue silk-screened design of a giant Mad Max deviant head. From the back it looked like a dress. My white outfit lit up under the black lights positioned on the trunks of every coconut tree, I stood out like a  glow J.C. statue, only I was Lucifarian.

What an old fool I must of looked in that vast, jiving crowd, but Ive been doing this for 60 years and I'm not gonna change now. I'm th type that thrives in crowds gyrating to syncopated, jive beat, charging around thru the coconut groves on fast motorbikes, then chilling by the ocean eating fish and drinking fresh orange jiuce. Only those of similar temperment would truly appreciate Goa.

The Goans work very hard to give the tourist a pleassnt, comfortable holiday. They race back and forward in the hot sun setting up beach beds and umbrellss, taking orders and delivering meals. I eat every day at a shack called Green Eyes run by three brothers who I've known for 25 years. One of them, Pani, the cook, dropped dead in the kitchen from exhaustion and heat. I was the only foreigner asked to attend the "laying in" of the body, a terribly sad occassion for all of us.

I like being on my own, no hassles, little drama. I used to travel with Indian friends and whew, did they cause trouble, fights, thefts, girls touched up, goonda gangsters dressed as cops robbing the entire town, real cops searching the punterd hoping for a bust and a bribe. Now I travel alone, few hassles, how peaceful to be my own best friend, chill out and write my third book. For the entertaining reports on my Indian misadventures 1997 to 2017 read the forthcoming conclusion to my trilogy, "Lone Stranger."

It's true that the cars, motorbikes, importunate pedlars, insistant beggars, oafs from the hintetland sneakung photos of white women in bikinis, the incessant thump thumop thump pulsating from nightclubs could drive the placid peace-lover to an incandscent fury, then the quuet of South Goa would be more your cup of tea. I try not to lose my temper when a huge SU tries to run me down on the narrow Vagator streets. My summation of India is it's a cross between a boot camp, an adventure park, a motor bike rally, a health retreat, a horror house, a jungle safari and a trance party. If you can't handle such a mash-up scenario don't come to India, especially not Goa.

I've truly had a wonderful time here in Goa, I take back my condemnation of the place. If you want a tripped out dance and chilled trance holiday here. But bring lots of money and guard it close. Oh, and hold your girlfriend closer, there's a lot of horny guys around.

The last sunset of 2022

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Lonely Traveller - Goa.

Me about to get f#cked by Goa.

This is what happens when an online business won't guarantee its product nor support its customer. It's my recent experience travelling to Goa and getting both ripped off by WOTIF and thrown on the streets of India like a mangy dog after robbing me of my money by the hotel, Goroomgo Laxmi Guest House in Anjuna Goa.

WOTIF - Hi, we're willing to help you with your concern. Please allow us some time to check and review the previous conversation with one of our representatives. We will get back to you shortly. ^Ian

ME - The woman manager was extremely rude, there are crowds of people here at Xmas demanding rooms and offering big money. I think she simply dumped me for better money but didnt have the good grace to return mine. Things are always desperate in Goa, greed is tantamount. She told me she had been hacked, that's the excuse. Being ill with a fever it was a terrible experience. The fact I was refused accommodation there should be proof enough.

WOTIF - Thank you for patiently waiting. We have spoke with the property and they mentioned that your reservation is confirmed on their end. They also stated that you denied the room that was offered to you initially and was offered a different room but you rejected as well. The hotel told us that they don't have your phone number so they didn't able to contact you as you leave the property. Our apologies for this inconvenience. May we know why did you deny the room that was offered? ^Iaìn

ME - I didnt deny the room, she is lying! At first she said she had no rooms, all were booked but on Jan 3rd she had a small room I could have for 2 days. I said I had booked and paid for a "deluxe room with city view" from Dec 23 to Jan 3. She then screamed there was no booking for that date and no payment, she screamed it twice then said she or WOTIF had probably been hacked. When I said I had the receipt for the booking and payment she screamed for me to go, to not come in. Why would I refuse after a night of hard travelling, tired and with a fever, longing for the room I'd booked and paid for, twice the price of the smaller rooms, absolutely looking forward to resting in a cool room. She's lying, she offered me nothing, she cruelly shouted for me to go. I had to wander, with my luggage, under a hot sun, all day going from house to house asking for a room, told everything everywhere was booked, finally at sunset on the next beach, again going from house to house, finally I found a room, and tired and ill I grabbed it, fairly expensive, and no receipt, but I was desperate. Why would I put myself through this? What's in it for me? Zilch!What's in it for her? More money from other customers and her keeping my money as well. She actually shrieked, "Dont come in here!" She couldn't care if I died. She didnt even think I'd complain to you, she must've known you wouldn't care. Think about it: why would I refuse any room? She didnt offer me one! Get the money back from her and banish her from your listing!!!

WOTIF - We hate to disappoint any customer, and we imagined the frustration you experienced over this. We do apologize for all the inconvenience it has caused you. We strive to provide the highest level of customer service, and it’s disheartening when one of our vendors does not work to meet that goal as well. Our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience that it has caused you.

We tried our best to communicate with the property regarding your refund concern, however, they decided to stick with their policy as you denied accepting the room that they are offering. ^Anikca

 We have checked that your reservation is confirmed on our end. Our apologies for what you've experienced for this inconvenience. We assure you that this is not the experience that we want you to have. Please allow us some time to coordinate this with the property directly. We will get back to you with an update. We will appreciate your patience and understanding while we are working on your concern. ^Ian

ME - Of course they're sticking to their lies and you are complicit with this. WOTIF is getting a bad reputation. They didnt offer me a room at the time I arrived, they told me to go. Why wasnt the room I booked and paid for available? When I booked and paid I wasn't told , "Oh, we'll take your money but you wont get the room you paid for" Because they had sold it on. If this is your response to a lying, thieving vendor then your business is complicit. All your apologies are just white-washing your uncaring business practice. I will keep telling this story online and report your response. Like many businesses you refuse to guarantee your product, but dont mind taking the money. As I said, what's in it for me and what's in it for her? You should refund my money and ban that hotel!!! Why dont you believe me the customer? Ok, I will report you to Consumer Affairs and contact TV and radio talk shows to tell of this outrage!!! (I know some insiders who'd love to report this story.) I was ill and she refused me something I paid for and I could've died. And you support her. It's a great story. What makes my blood boil is she screamed at me not to come in, she didn't offer me another room, and you blather on with apologies and refusals, and belief in her lies. Great company WOTIF (NOT)

WOTIF - We understand where you are coming from, and our sincere apologies for the inconvenience this has caused you. As much as we love to assist you with your refund, however, our hands are tight in regard to the policy of the hotel. As a travel agency, Wotif is subject to the rules and restrictions of the vendors whose travel products we sell.  ^Anikca

ME - Its not true what she says!!! I will report this in all the media. She screamed for me to get out. You can squirm your way out of it but I will report all this verbatim. WOTIFs bad reputation will grow.

WOTIF - We understand how you feel right now. As mentioned, we tried our best to communicate with them regarding your refund concern, however, were advised that your reservation is confirmed they offered an alternative room, but you denied accepting the offer and left the property. ^Anikca

ME - Oh, the robot has taken over. I wasnt allowed onto the property!! She offered me nothibg! She screamed for me to "Go!" This provides great reading for all those interested in a travel companies response to a failed booking and obvious robberry.

WOTIF they screw me?

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Long Con For a Short Shlong.

I first met Raksham when I had hired a car and was driving from Rishikesh to Gangotri, the source of the Ganges River. I was going alone except, just as we were leaving, my driver stopped and two strange men piled in. My driver informed me they were two friends of his and would I mind if I gave them a lift to Uttarkashi, about 2/3s of the way to my destination.

I threw a temper tantrum and screamed, "I'm not running a fucking bus service!" I jumped out and tried to drag my luggage from the boot and as I did I caught sight of the second stowaway, he had the face of an angel and a humble mien. I immediately relented and, beaming upon him, got back in the car and urged him to join us, turning to face him and gloat upon that gorgeous visage throughout the journey. Eventually he taught me a hardwon lesson, a handsome face and a winsome smile doesn't necessarily mean a good heart.

Halfway to Uttarkashi we stopped for lunch and to thank me for the lift he bought me a banana sandwich. I was most impressed as in my experience very few Indians have bought me anything, they expect me, the Angrezi Maharaja, to pay for everything.

We talked in an almost intimate, friendly manner, I found him quite charming and dreamt of him being my close friend. We dropped him and his friend off at the place they requested and I promptly forgot him.

Three years later he reappeared as a waiter in my friend Pankaja's restaurant. I didn't recognise him and he reminded me where we'd first met. I was swept away, stunned that my fantasy of getting close to him could come true if I pumped out the good vibes. Over the weeks we conversed, laughed and flirted but as he was straight I saw little chance of seducing him and gave up on it. What O didn't flash on was him being an expert in the ling con and he slowly reeled me in.

I noticed he was often sitting with a young woman who looked upon him adoringly. On talking with her I discovered she was Israeli, a psychologist by profession, and was very hard-arsed about her opinion of everybody's approach to life, particularly mine, sternly informing me I was a naive fool.

Pankaj, who knows everything about everybody, told me Raksham had been fucking her for 6 months and that they were possibly going to get married. I didn't care about what they were up to and turned my attention elsewhere, there were adventures to be had and Raksham didn't figure.

One day I saw her sitting in the restaurant, staring into space, not just glum but quite distraught, devastated actually. She moved as if in shock, in slow motion, like a zombie. Raksham sat distant from her, not kooking in her direction, with an unconcerned, blank face, as if to say, "Who me? It's got nothing to do with me."

She soon disappeared and on questioning him he confessed she was coming on too strong, saying "I love you!" a hundred times a day, insisting he go to Israel with her, he was the man of her dreams, she even swore they'd shared a past life together. And he wasn't ready for such a heavy relationship.

I asked him if she'd given him any money and he replied, "A little." Hmmm.... a little, that's interesting, usually the guys get a lot. He told me he wasn't interested in money, he wanted to be free to choose his own destiny and I agreed with him, she was a tough lady, a psychologist carrying a huge psychodrama in her head, things in Israel probably wouldn't have run smoothly with her as boss.

Sometimes I think yoga and meditation are not the only tourist attractions in Rishikesh. Every second doorway is an adventure business with a sign that says, "Rafting. Trekking. Camping." I think a more truthful sign should read, "Rafting. Fucking. Camping." So many Indian guys sniffing around the tourist areas have white women hanging off them, as if the poor cows aren't getting fucked enough at home. Or maybe their Indian sojourn must include a holiday romance with a brown guy as something neccesary on their bucket list.

Over the next few weeks Raksham and I developed quite a friendship though nothing too intimate, me telling stories but ommitting my queer nature as it was simply inappropriate. He knew damned well where my eyes strayed. He seemed a genuine fellow, honest, hard working, curious about the greater world. Eventually I returned to Australia and again forgot about him, as a political artist I had much to do in my fight against the neo-fascist govt that was poisoning Australia.

Then I got whatsap messages from him and I was quite chuffed, it looked like I mattered to him. Then he sent me a dick pic, I was quite surprised, he wanted an affair with me, he promised a torrid romance if I ever returned to India. His dick looked like a little black worm that even a starving fish would flee from so I can't say I was very attracted. But I thought I'd play along with him to see where it led. After all, he had that incredibly beautiful face and I have a gut-dropping face fetish.

I should've remembered that one clear sign you've got a Rakshas on yourvtrail is the fact that they're always eager to drop their pants, and their genitalia is malformed. Another sign is tbeir feet are turned backwards and Raksham never would show his feet, always tucking them out of sight.

2020 churned on and COVID took over, all planes grounded, no visas to anywhere and 2 years of lockdowns crashing upon our heads. India was out for the forseeable future and I filled my isolation time completing my second novel "Punk Outsider."

I got more messages from Raksham, he had COVID and was wasting away. He lived on  a mountaintop, medical treatment was hard to come by, his weight was down to 49 kilos, he was dying and was desperately afraid.

I freaked out. My dream boy on his death bed! Oh no, what can I do? I sent him money to buy nutritious, fattening food and any medical treatment he needed. His condition didn't improve, he continued to lose weight, things looked grim, months drifted by and I was distraught, I even cried in terror for him, fearing the worst.

He kept asking for money, only that would save him. "What is money compared to human life and health?" I quivered. 2022 finally dawned, vaccines were keeping Covid in check, planes started to fly, visas were again offered for India, and Raksham informed me he had now recovered thanks to my munificense.

He asked me for one last tranche of money to help him get on top of things and start life again and I, as a ditzy dope, sent it to him. Then he went silent, he disappeared, I even feared he was dead. I finally tracked him down where he was working in another cafe and rang him. In so many words he told me to "Fuck off!" He was never interested in me, he despised me for I wanted to "fuck him like a woman!"

I laughed bitterly, "No, if I wanted to fuck you it would be like a man! But you're ugly, behind that angelic face you are a demon, preying on whoever you could to gain their confidence!"

When I got back to India Pankaj informed me Raksham never did have COVID, it was all a ruse to get money. He had a few other firanghi suckers also sending him money. He was seen buying an expensive Smart phone. He wore a brand new three piece silk suit to a wedding. He was a complete cheat. In Indian mythology demons are called Rakshas and that's what he is, his name suited him perfectly. 

Now I know why the Israeli woman looked so shocked. I'm sure he'd promised her marriage, and for sure he took a lot of money from her. Demons like him think they've gotten away scot free with their egregious behaviour but that ugly nature is what he will carry with him for the whole of his life and that is not a measure of success.

We foreign tourists are seen as ATMs on legs, we're all rich, and I suppose we are in comparison to many of them. When tbey crack a firaghi tbey call it "capturing" them, it's an unspoken project they work on. And quite a few of tbose women captured by a horny brown man are in for quite a shock. I myself have recovered from the betrayal. What did I expect? Farrrrk, I pray I don't get sillier in my old age.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Trip to an Indian Goddess.

Oh humanity, where are you going, what do you know? In an infinite universe there's no high or low, just us in the dust swept along with the flow.
I have been exploring the Himalayas since I was 22 in 1972. Byways and highways, backroads and dirt tracks, always something beautiful, wondrous, even mind-blowing to discover. I've been all over the mountains on motorbikes and scooters, buses and share-jeeps, friends' cars and taxis. I even went on foot in the 1970s when such vehicles were not available, walking the old pilgrim paths to get to sacred sites such as Badrinath above the snowline, abode of Vishnu.

Recently I visited a small temple perched on a mountain's edge which I'd driven past 49 times but never looked close at.  On going down to it and peering inside the mandir I discovered it was dedicated to a snake god. 7 snakes had appeared on that spot over a hundred years ago when they were constructing the first proper dirt road to Gangotri, the source of the Ganges River. I now zoom about on a perfect ashphelt highway but the reverance for the snakes still exists, and it stuns me that Indians often find the number 7 in many of their numinous sites and happenings. I'm in nirvana in these high mountains and am always sad to come down.

In 2022 I decided to go somewhere I hadn't been before so I chose Nainital, the Goddess of the Lake, in the Kumaon Himalayas. I had tried to go there once before, in 2003, on the back of a motorbike with an experienced biker, a German friend. Halfway there a young Indian fuckwit on a motorcycle ran straight into us and broke my leg, horribly, and we had to turn back.

(Read about it in the third instalment of my trilogy, "The 7 Lives of the Punk Poofy Cat",  the story "Escape from the Jungle but Not Without My Leg.")

I hired a car and off we went, me determined to make it this time, though as usual the Indian psychodrama descended upon us like a flock of excited swans.

At one point we got stuck in a traffic jam in a grungy, medieval/cyberpunk town, me squabbling distractedly with the driver over money. The car jerked slowly forward in the crush of vehicles, motorbikes, buses, trucks, rickshaws and buffalo carts.

Amid my tight-arsed bargaining a fat man of about 50, wearing a dirty turban that unravelled as he ran, squeezed through the slowly moving traffic and rushed up to my open window waving two arms that had been severed at the elbows. He thrust the two stumps into my face, wailing his existential downfall while I tried to out-yell my demanding driver and reach for my wallet. One of the stumps poked me in the eye, the other threatened to enter my gaping mouth as I yammered in annoyance, the poor turbaned beggar also screaming for mercy. Before I could hand him some rupees the traffic opened up and our car shot forward, leaving the poor fellow in the dust, a look of utter desolation on his face. 

Cruising up a newly built highway we came to a roadside dhaba, old style, thatch roof and dirt floor. Finally I could have a break, maybe even a cup of milk coffee, Nescafe! My Indian friends had their paranthas for breakfast, stuffed chapatis, while I nibbled at the edges of mine as I hate chillis. Just when I was starting to relax, the cook who was making the chapatis in front of me suddenly dropped his fistful of dough, snatched up a slingshot, looked up into the ceiling and shot a monkey sitting directly above us. 

It screeched, fell, but managed to hang on by one arm and swung about. I spat out my chapati, anxious about the shrieking monkey that looked as if it was about to drop onto my head and into my plate. But all was well as it scampered away into the rafters and we continued our breakfast, me not as relaxed as I hoped I'd be.

We made it to Nainital Lake,  an old British Raj hill-station for the English elite to retire to when the summers got too hot down in the plains. My friends went into the temple to make pujah to Goddess Naini, an aspect of Durga who is the female half of Siva. I waited outside in a cafe and had a blessed vanilla milkshake, wondering why they were taking so long, all that pleading for divine intervention sure dragged on.

At last they exited, yellow paste dripping from their third eye and satisfied smiles on their faces. We spun down the hill to the retreat of the famous Hindu saint, Neem Karoli Baba, now long dead. It had once been a quiet jungle abode with few visitors, then around 1969 Richard Alpert visited and got converted into Baba Ramdas, broadcasting his newly-found enlightenment to the world in a famous book titled "Be Here Now", an obligatory read for all us hippie seekers of "The Light."

Neem Karoli Baba

(Richard Alpert was the leading proselytiser for LSD,  along with Timothy Leary, as a radical means of changing the selfish, warmongering West into a utopia of peace and love. Secretly he was gay and known to live at American homosexual beats, sucking a lot of cocks, but now he was a Baba, possibly beyond all that foolish maya. Hey, we all gotta try to rise above the muck somehow.)

Leary and Alpert as young professors

He promoted Neem Karoli Baba as the hottest thing since they put holes in crumpets, years later even Steve Jobbs and Mark Zuckerburg drifted into the ghost's Samadhi pavillion to hopefully suck up a bit of left-over charisma.

Now this retreat has become a bustling, commercial town, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, fashion shacks, honking traffic shoving taxis right up one's nether regions, what a circus. Hordes of desperate looking people crowd in to get a blessing for there's a legend that says anyone that makes a wish in front of a marble statue of Baba Neem Karoli will recieve success in their endeavours. I watched Indians of all shapes, ages, classes and castes stand fervently praying, intense hope radiating from their panda eyes. I myself felt nothing and was quite bemused by the commercialism of the site, everyone giving money in the hope of getting more in return.

When Richard Alpert showed up in a huge, expensive 4-wheel drive the Baba asked him to give him the car, which he duly did, and thus was in like sinful Flyn. I imagine if I arrived in my 1970s ragged Ali Baba clothes and bare feet I'd be shown the door, told to exit through the toilets, the story of my life.

Baba Ram Dass

As we drove fast back down the mountain road, away from Neem Karoli Baba's ashram, I thought of my early travels in India in the early 1970s and all the Big Babas I sat in front of. In some ways Timothy Leary and his "Politics of Ecstasy" catapaulted me onto this Jungle Book path as I wanted to complete my journey in the parallel universe of LSD and I hoped India would do it for me.

After my ordeal with Anne Hamilton-Byrne's "Family" at her cult's clinic, Newhaven, I needed to overcome the "bummers" that I suffered there. She had conned me into four sessions of strong, pure LSD supposedly to "cure" me of my homosexuality and then snatch any babies I might produce, but the trips were screaming nightmares that turned me off her set-up.

(As young professors Leary and Richard Alpert had set up a college of experimental LSD tripping for students at Harvard which they called Newhaven. It caused a scandal and the two them were kicked out of the University.)

After a booster shot for my final trip with "The Family" I finally broke free of the demons and danced with the angels. Still I wanted more "experience", Jimi Hendrix told me so.

Every decade seems to experience a wave of cosmic soul-searching, bordering on religious hysteria, psychological breast-beating and intense dissatisfaction with contemporay civilised lifestyles,(warmongering, over-consumption and exploitation of the environment.) The irony is that in the quest to overcome the narcissism at the heart of modern life and the individual's contempt for it he/she seemed to indulge in even more narcissism when seeking "self-enlightenment."

1965 to 1975 was a particularly intense period of "Self-awakening." It was hip, cool, de rigueur to grow one's hair long, wear meditation beads and find a guru, even sojourn to India and get lost to find oneself. By 1968 I was traumatised, confused and anxious upon realising, at 18, my queer sexuality was permanent and my future looked bleak. At 21 I  figured I either had to find the strength to overcome my given nature, through the discipline of yoga and asceticism, or find the strength to accept my queerness and live it in the face of maddening social opprobrium. Perhaps a life in India would set me on one of these paths. I lived, studied, danced and tripped there from 1972 to 1976.

By the Ganges River

I sat in front of most of India's Big Babas of the 1970s: Rajneesh (Osho), Prabhupad (Hare Krishnas), Satya Sai Baba, Guru Maharaji, Maste Ram Baba, Tatwallah Baba, Yogeshwaranand, Chidananda, Satchitananda, but few of them gave me a spark of "knowledge" or "nirvana." Yet there were two who blew my mind.

I was 22 in 1972 and lucked out in the first two weeks of my arrival by being taken to meet a wild old man living by the Yamuna River in a hut built on stilts. He was called Devraha Baba, the ageless one, reputed to be 700 years old, and he gave me 7 oranges, a blessing that set me up for my whole life. Indira Ghandi visited him and asked him what the future held for her. He replied, "You better watch your arse madame, great danger is near."

Devraha Baba

The other and most impressive saint was a woman, India's most famous, Anandamayi Ma, (Mother of Cosmic Bliss.) She had been discovered sitting in nirvana as a child, her relatives thought she was out of her mind as she was always happy and so entranced she never put her mind to the chores she was given. She was married off at the age of 12 but when her husband attempted sex with her all he saw was a vision of Death so he abstained and she remained a virgin her entire life, he becoming one of her most devoted disciples.

I was fortunate to be taken to her ashram in Haridwar in early 1975 when she was 78. I sat in front of her for half an hour and, no kidding, went into an ecstatic trance merely from her smiling presence, her eyes rolled back in her head.

Before I knew it I was hustled out the door and into a courtyard where some Indian drummers were going full throttle banging huge drums in a mesmerising beat. I couldn't help myself, I was thrown into a joyous dance, the dance of life, more manic and erotic than Nijinksky. As I came out of my trance I looked up and saw Anandamayi Ma watching me from a window with her handmaidens, and she was smiling beatifically upon me. In later years I discovered she had a particular enthusiasm for dance as a key connection between people and an awesome, sacred universe. She died in 1982.

(Read about my adventures in India in the early 1970s in the first book "Vagabond Freak", of my trilogy, "The 7 Lives of the Punk Poofy Cat" available on Amazon.)

Anandamayi Ma

I pondered these mysteries and strange meetings in the 1970s as our car hurtled away from the mountains and back to Rishikesh. Suddenly my driver stopped and got out of the car, wandering down a dirt track to mill about a makeshift tent with other men, all of them distracted by something in the thatch and plastic structure. I ambled down and asked him what was going on.

He then related a strange story that only India could come up with. Some 20 years previously a mad woman had been found living naked in the jungle, apparently never eating, the wild animals steering clear of her. The natives imagined she was divinely mad and called her "The Seer of Chirripurr, (Meeting Place of the Birds), and as an auger could predict the future from within her insane ravings. They then ensconced her in this dilapidated hut with a blanket around her to cover her nakedness and spread the word that a fortune-teller was in residence.

They swore she never ate or slept and a fire burning outside her tent was never attended to or extinguished, it burned eternally.

Her greatest talent was to produce from her babbling a number, given to every supplicant who knelt before her, a number they believed could win them a lottery.

The Mad Woman's Tent

I peered through a hole in the grass-thatch wall into a grungy room full of expectant men. One was on his knees grovelling before her and she babbled and raved while putting her hand on his head. He gave her a two-hundred rupee note, ($4) which, uncomprehending, she dropped to the dirt floor and it magically disappeared. Getting some kind of prompt from an unseen attendant behind her she mumbled a number and the supplicant thanked her effusively then crawled backwards to be replaced by another hopeful fellow.

I talked to a young man who was wandering about outside the tent and he told me he'd recieved a number 6 months previously but none of his lottery tickets had won anything. This he said was because he didn't believe enough in her powers, now he did believe and had come again to apply for another number.

As we left in the car, my driver waxed ecstatic over the saintliness of the woman and lamented that he didn't get a number from her, (he was forever gambling on his smart phone.) I went into hysterics of laughter, realising they were all mad, not only the woman with the matted hair.

I myself shared that madness for I have bothered to live in India much of my life and love it so. I live in wonderment at India's crazy capriciousness, the human condition writ large, the human heart breaking and re-igniting constantly, all of us struggling as if within a magic spell.

We made it safely back to Rishikesh, our feet back on the ground, me with both my legs intact. How sweet it was to hug Pankaj's son, my soulson, something tangible and real, where life must go on, irrevocably.

(In case you're wondering, I'm not religious or "spiritual", I'm a rationalist and an atheist. But I'm interested in mythology, comparative religions, the semiotics of cultural narratives: deconstructing the myths to get to the underlying existential meanings, the psychological underpinnings and history of any specific culture, in this case Hinduism and ancient India.

I contemplate the human condition in all its perverse, glorious, sad, absurd aspects, and translate my impressions into my art and writing.

I'm a wanderer, an observer, a participant in the joyous festivities of whoever I meet, dancing, singing, laughing, story-telling. Sometimes cynical, always with an eye to the "dark comedy", the "divine madness", human folly.

I agree the universe, life and consciousness are sacred and awesome. I try to have compassion for all the foibles, mistakes, downfalls and sorrows humanity experiences, and I try to forgive myself for being a narcissistic f#ckwit.)

Smiling in the face of adversity and nessesity.