When Mood Music
2006-04-02 10:40:00

Back at the cyber café, using a fairly modern LuckyGoldstar* PC which has been endorsed by Sourav Ganguly, Sunil Gavaskar, Krish Sakant and Ravi Shastri. I wonder if I can get Kevin Pieterson and Andrew Flintoff to autograph my Pismo? For no real reason apart from having been able to wash with hot water and get my pile of manky clothes washed, I’m in a fairly silly mood and I hope this will carry on today.
*It’s running windows 98 – they cybercafe owner tells me that it’s easier to network 98 clients than XP or 2K clients. (He uses XP on his server.) I’m a bit surprised by this choice for clients and would appreciate comments from the BOFHs out there.

I’m going to stay at the Rajanthandri tonight and get a train south tomorrow, assuming I can book a ticket on-line today. Apparently India Rail offers a very up-to-date online booking facility. I’ll let you know how I get on with it later but for now, on with the blog-catch-up…

Tuesday 29th
Walk to Wilson Point to watch the sunrise – yes, I was awake and moving before 6pm! After the sunrise, I bought a cup of ginger-enhanced khala chai from a vendor who had a wee stall on a handcart. (How did he get the water up here?) Of course, this stimulated my abdominal systems and I had to crawl into the undergrowth. Thank goodness I don’t go anywhere without necessary supplies…

I went back to Haji Kwajabhai’s shop to continue my Marathi martyrdom and met a chap called Virindra who’s a local licenced taxi-driver/guide. We arranged for him to take me on one of the official tours of the more distant viewpoints, starting at 11am on Wednesday. He also spontaneously offered me a 50 rupee discount on the official price of 350 rupees.

I ate lunch at a fairly upmarket place called Tinklers – the tastebud and watched England’s attempt to beat India’s score in the first one-day international of this series. England were chasing 226, IIRC, and had plenty of overs to do so. However, after both Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pieterson were both out for just over 40 runs apiece (KP’s innings included two beautiful 6s, IIRC), and Geraint Jones failed to score, the match was interestingly poised when the inevitable powercut finished my viewing. (Much later, a friend in the UK sent me the final score: England’s tail enders just can’t bat, while Harbajan Singh, after having been India’s top run-scorer, had taken 5 wickets for a piffling amount of runs.)

While England were crumbling in the afternoon heat, I slept off my lunch and caught up on the miserable amount I’d slept last night. Every night in that hotel, there was a lot of shouting, banging and crashing until about 1am: it restarted around 6am, so I averaged around 5 hours’ sleep a night in Mahabaleshwar.

I then searched for a restaurant that took either of my plastics because I was down to 50 rupees and the only bank I knew of was closed. No-where wanted to know but fortunately I met a magician* who showed me to an ATM (which isn’t mentioned by my guidebook). I ate a Maharashran-style thali, accompanied by a strawberry juice somewhere, phoned a friend in the UK, found out I’ve become vaguely famous here for allowing someone to overcharge me and crashed out.
*I forgot to add that last night, I’d encountered a magician from Pune. We talked quite a lot – he’s been all over Europe and had a show in a theatre here. He gave me a private show on the pavement, making all sorts of things (including my signet ring) disappear and reappear. We all know it’s just sleight-of-hand (he insisted this himself) but it was truly brilliant.

Wednesday 29th
After another patchy sleep, I finally surfaced at 10.45 and charged to where I’d arranged to meet Virendra, arriving just after 11. He wasn’t there and so I waited, while getting more Marathi ‘lessons’, for about half an hour. I’m still in two minds about this – I was a couple of minutes late and so broke our agreement and feel I owe him something. However, I’d have expected him to wait at least 5 minutes before giving up on me, I called his cellphone several times without success and I didn’t get any service from him at all, so I certainly don’t feel I owe him anything like 300 rupees – maybe a glass of chai, over which we could chat and remake the arrangement. (I didn’t get the chance because I never saw him again.)

I couldn’t face any more Marathi martyrdom and so decided to walk to a viewpoint called Arthur’s Seat, about 12km from Mahabaleshwar. (Constantly being bothered by taxi and autorickshaw drivers had turned me against them.) I’d got maybe half a mile down the road and realized that I was getting quite warm when two blokes in a wee three-wheeler van overtook me and then stopped to ask me where I was going. They insisted on taking me halfway, to Old Mahabaleshwar, to where they were delivering a load of laundry at a posh hotel. So we pootled off, me wondering whether the van would turn turtle under our combined weight or whether the engine would simply refuse to get all thee of us up the slopes on this road.

They dropped me off at Old Mahabaleshwar, which seemed worth a look. However, fist I downed a very welcome Mirinda (Indian fizzy drink) and bisleri (bottle of water) and a café, while watching a bloke wash his scooter and then his socks just next to me.

There are two temples at Old Mahabaleshwar, one of which is built over the spring which gives rise to (or at least is used to celebrate) 5 rivers. (Mahabaleshwar and surrounding hamlets appear to be on a peak from which various spurs and ridges fall away. I’ll scan my map when I update my photo-website so you can see what I’m on about.) The water has been channeled to come out of a carved bull’s mouth, into a sacred bathing pool, then to flow through five neat channels, each in a niche with a statue/altar to an appropriate god, on its way to the rivers.

I can’t show you any photos because photography was forbidden within the temple and I searched all the stalls around the temple for postcards or pictorial guidebooks. All I could find were written guidebooks (in Marathi!) so I’m really sorry I can’t share with you how this temple looked. It wasn’t grand, yet it was obviously important and in constant use by a thin trickle of visitors. In fact, the lack of grandeur made it more impressive to me. It seemed to be saying ‘here is water, here is god: react how you will’ without saying ‘I am god, I am going to overpower you.’

I recall buying some rather foul peanuts (still in their shells) from a stall and watching a couple of boys play cricket along the alley between the stalls. However, it was soon time to move on and so I started trudging up the road again. I encountered two little girls who were selling bunches of flowers wrapped in newspaper, ready to offer at a temple, for 2 rupees a bunch. Again, I felt unable to refuse and so bought a posy from each of them, then tied these to my rucsac. While I was doing this, some other children arrived, asking me to do ‘jaadoo’ (magic). This confused me for a while but I soon understood they wanted me to take photographs of them (I think they’d realized I have a digital camera and so they’d be able to see themselves on its screen.). I have a few shots of them spontaneously dancing and cavorting in front of me. I intend to send them hard copies sometime and so have the address of one of the older lads.

Again, after walking less than a mile, I was offered a lift on a scooter by a photographer going to Arthur’s Seat. He knew this road very well and so it was quite a smooth ride, punctuated by stops to restart the engine after freewheeling (to save petrol) down slopes wherever possible.

The views from Arthur’s Seat are breathtaking and I really hope my photos do them justice. I also met the photographer: he takes Polaroid photos of punters who are on a platform overhanging one of the many drops from this point. Since he had refused to take anything for the lift and I fancied having a ‘professional’ photo, I got him to take one. It’s hopefully on its way to my parents in the UK but I’m a bit concerned that this parcel is overdue.

I bought two makkai (cinder-grilled corn-on-the-cob which is then rubbed with lime and masalas [spices]) – absolutely delicious and ate them while dodging flies and watching other stall holdes play ‘throw-tag’, then walked back to Old Mahabaleshwar.

Back at Old Mahabaleshwar, the kids I’d met earlier were playing cricket with other friends. They asked me for more jaadoo and again I have some shots which amuse and give rise to other emotions I can’t name. It’s always lovely to watch children playing without falseness or guile and with amazing exhuberance. I noticed that one of the small children wasn’t getting into the shots and so hoisted him onto my shoulders and got an older lad to take the photos. Of course, quite a few others wanted a turn at this. Also, some of them, learning I was from England, wanted me to pose with their cricket bat, and finally a shot of me holding a very young child. I don’t have any qualms about any of this – it was pure enjoyment for all of us, as far as I could see and two local adults were looking on. (I’d also asked one of them if I was causing problems: he laughingly said ‘no’.) Also, one of the kids gave me a sprig of small black berries (reminiscent in flavour and colour of individual blackberry pips) and showed me that he ate them, so I munched away quite happily – again, purely delicious! By now, dusk was approaching so I got a seat in a shared jeep/taxi back to Mahabaleshwar.

I ate an indifferent methi dahl with jeera rice at a dhaba (restaurant) near my hotel, then played a couple of frames of pool at an amusement center on the main street. While waiting for a table, I chatted with some trainee homeopathic doctors from Mumbai. One was a curious about western marriage/relationship ‘culture.’* On learning my status, he asked how many sexual partners I’d had. I replied honestly (but incorrectly because I was quite surprised by this question) and his friends joked that he was offering to be my next – this had all of us giggling. I jokingly declined and they went away.

I played a couple of frames with a man who turned out to be the owner of the pool-hall. He beat me but I was quite proud of some of my shots – I haven’t touched a pool-cue for over a year. I also learnt that women don’t smoke here (unless they’re super-rich and ‘westernised’, though many men do) and that the owner’s woman cashier (who appeared to be around 25) was divorced due to some domestic problems. (This information was volunteered by a local lad who runs a stall here. We’d also been chatting while I was waiting for a table, during which we touched on the conversation I’d had with the homeopaths.)
*Many people here have asked whether I’m married and whether I have any children. My usual replies that I’m separated from my wife and so am glad we didn’t have any children [because otherwise they’d have been hurt by our break-up] is usually understood and accepted but the questioners’ reactions imply that such events just don’t happen here.

After the hall closed (at 10.30!), I returned to my hotel but played a bit of football in the street with some local lads who asked me to join them. They were all apparently under 13 and one (Shubham) is the son of the man who runs the phonebooth I’d used quite often. I’ve also played a version of hopscotch with these lads (Rohit, Pratik, Pamesh, Dhananjay, Kaitan, Shubham, Yashodam, Ashitish and Daud) a couple of times. You throw a stone into a scoring area chalked onto the path, then hop to it, then through the numbered sections to your stone, then hop-kick it out of that area. If you succeed, you get the number of points in that area and then get another go. However, if you don’t get your stone into a numbered area (or if it lands on any of the chalked lines) or if you put your foot down, take more than one hop between numbered areas, land on any chalked lines or fail to hop-kick your stone completely out of the scoring area, your turn ends.

Thursday 30th
Woken by kid hall- porter – am I checking out? No, so I pay for tonight and then catch the state tour-bus to Pratapgadh, a hillfort built by Chatapatri Shivaji in the 17th century BCE. Here he killed Shah Jahan, a muslim king from Delhi (I think) who was trying to take over the Marathi area at a peace-conference they’d agreed to hold in this hall. It’s an amazing structure at the top of a very high hill, with brilliant look-out posts, escape tunnels and other features which may well have made it impregnable.

(The tour-bus also stopped at a handcraft and fruit-selling center – the strawberries in this area are a large part of its ‘industry’ and are delicious.)

The local folk are raising money for a school at Pratapgadh. there (15 families live in the fort, working as tourist guides and/or running refreshment stalls or maintaining the place) My diary entry simply says that I cooked in the sun and reminds me that I don’t have many photos from Pratapgadh because my camera’s batteries ran out of charge and I hadn’t brought any spares.

My diary then has several pages of notes, scribbles that won’t mean anything to you and then continues….

Thursday 30th part 2
[needs to be re-written]

Friday 31st
[needs to be re-written]

I recall watching India win the second ODI at Faridabad that afternoon. Young Raina and Dhoni were very impressive and it’s a shame that India didn’t have a slightly bigger target to win so that Raina could have scored a century.

Saturday 1st April
There’s nothing in my diary for this day. I recall being woken at 7.30 by the hotel receptionist to ask if I had any problems. (I did – being woken up un-necessarily to be reminded of the check-out time!) I went back to Kashmiri Arts Palace to say ‘au revoir’ to Wahid and Mr Shah then to Haji Kwajabhai’s shop to say goodbye to him. He and some other men were dealing with some photocopies so he asked me to wait for 5 minutes (which turned into an hour) while they finished their business. It appeared to be some local council business so I was quite interested to hear about it but they couldn’t really explain. While I was waiting, I heard some loud Indian/techno music which apparently was part of the start of celebrations for a wedding. I was invited to come in and dance but embarrassment/shyness (and a desire to move on) made me politely refuse.

Having said goodbye to Haji Kwajabhai, I just made the 10.30 bus to Satara. It descended through the usual mind-boggling gradients and overhangs to this town, which appears to be quite big. I sat in the bus-station, recollecting my thoughts from wherever they’d been shaken to on the journey and then walked across the road to a diner-style hotel for breakfast (idly sambar and a bottle of thum’s up [the local ‘coke’]). I also asked around for a cybercafe and a hotel and was directed towards the hotel Rajathadri where I’m now staying.

On the way, I stopped at a street stall and spent 3 hours talking with the man running it. We talked about language origins, local and national politics, the differences between Europe and India and the differences he’s seen in Goa since India took over. (While the portugese ruled there [they still owned it until the 1980s, long after the rest of the country was independent], you’d be arrested for spitting or any other such offense and so the place was neat and well-kept. Now anything goes!) He had a lot of time for British rule, saying that it had kept the country mostly on the straight and narrow but that now politics (in fact the whole state apparatus, including the police) is so corrupt that there’s probably no cure. Several times I was reminded of western corruption and food waste and the conversation rubbed me emotionally quite a lot.

I wondered why an obviously educated (we could even talk chemistry, albeit he knew no organic chemistry and I’ve forgotten almost all I knew of inorganic chemistry [I never really saw the fascination in it anyway]) and cultured man was running a street stall – he had so much more potential – and he told me that he was retired from a fairly senior position in a bank but saw sitting at home all day as morally wrong and physically harmful. Anyway, this work was in lieu of the state pension UK folk are used to. He worked there during the day while his older son was at his main job. Then his son would come to work here while he went home to eat and unwind.

Since my hotel was on his way home and he was going there by autorickshaw, he offered to take me but wouldn’t take any contribution towards the cost of this journey. I have to say that yet again, I’ve been wonderfully treated by most folk I’ve met here. So long as I speak slowly enough, I get along fine and people have spontaneously volunteered help many times.

At the Rajathadri, I asked for direction to a cybercafe and whether I could get some clothes washed (they’re being done by hand just now!) and then came here to blog. I ate masala and sadha dosa at a restaurant the owner recommended (it cost under 60 rupees for another delicious meal, returned for more blogging and then crawled back to the Rajathadri to sleep..

Sunday 2nd
Did I say that my room has a balcony overlooking Chatrapatri Chowk (roundabout)? Er, no – well it does and this is a mixed blessing: great views of the town but traffic noise all night long. Once I’ve posted this, I’ll check on my internet banking and then look into traveling on. Next blog will be from Goa or Ernakullam in Kerala, where I expect it to be even hotter…


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