Firstly, an apology to the people who weren’t amused by a meant-to-be-funny text message. Being, well, me inspires me to write such things. Being tired causes me to stuff up using the send-to-many feature and send them to people I hadn’t intended. I think you know who you are.
where’s the coarse sandpaper?
So I’m back in Margao, and despite a good hotel and clean sheets, I’m feeling pretty flat. I’m sure it’s mostly due to physical tiredness but there’s a contribution from going away from the Nedumkandam scene. It feels like the beginning of the end, even though I still have yet to go to Indonesia for three weeks, then return via Calcutta and Mumbai to the UK.
Also, despite missing all of you back home and a feeling that I’ve been doing this for long enough now* and want my own, familiar spaces and to not live out of a massively heavy rucsac, I’ve enjoyed myself a lot. I don’t want to go away from village India: the nice people (especially friends in Nedumkandam), the excellent food from wayside stalls, the intense insect noise, the linguistic challenges, freedom to do things that you can’t do in the UK, the mad weather and crazy traffic on impossible roads, all of it. I do want to come back, see more of India and visit again the friends I’ve made here.
*the alternative would have been to set up here full-time. But that’s not really what I want, nor is it possible without properly learning at least one Indian language and finding a job or other way of making money.
And yet there are duties and pleasures (often aspects of the same activity) calling me back. I think the people concerned know who they are too and I can foresee a busy few months as I try to see people all over the UK, put my travel pix onto the web and even seek gainful employment! OK, enough of this – how did I get here?
Wednesday 26th continued
After finishing DS’s essay and most of the other bits I intended to do before leaving Nedumkandam, I finally got to photograph while walking along the North stretch of the main drag. I met up with Ajeesh, Anish and another Malasadass perpetrator, Vinod, at Mini’s. A final black tea and a goodbye to Mini, Raji and Remia. I wonder how much the girls will have grown when we next meet? Vinod had brought me some jackfruit chips and banana chips he’d made for me. I can’t believe this – I’ve met him twice and he’d done a hugely nice thing for me.
Email had brought some good news concerning one of Ajeesh’s projects. I showed it to him and asked if the reply I’d drafted was OK. He liked it, so we quickly visited the architect/DTP cybercafe for me to send it on. It was also time to say goodbye to Mr Ozhathil and his sons and colleagues. One of them, Shaji, was away – his brother had just been killed in a road accident. Mr Ozhathil showed me that day’s copy of Malayam manorama newspaper. There was a report on yesterday’s event. I can’t read a word of it except that I recognise my name in there: I’ve been in a foreign newspaper, for doing something good and I’m very pleased about that.
After that, Ajeesh drove Anish and I to meet Sindhu. We had a quick cup of tea and play with her children. Her older son likes drawing caricatures and there were all sorts of hi-jinks involving a bamboo cane. Then we went on to visit Ambali, Ajeesh’s middle sister and her husband and daughter (Rajiv and Pavitra). They live about 1 km from a metalled road, along a track that is more reminiscent of a dried-up stream-bed. It sorely tested suspension on both the car and me. Ambali, Rajiv and Pavitra live in a two-room house in 2 acres of cardamom-producing land the family bought for them last year. The house is about 15 km from Nedumkandam, so I guess it’s a rare occasion when all of Gopalakrishna and Radhalakshmi’s children and grandchildren are together.
We then went on to say goodbye to Ajitha and Santosh and their children (Sandra [with whom I’m well smitten] and Kanan). Sandra and Kanan were fast asleep – by now it was 10pm. Again, I’ll carry images of them with me in my heart for a long time The way to their house is across a river: there’s a bridge made of three parallel and loosely connected bamboos. It’s great for testing and increasing your sobriety!
Back at Ajeesh’s house, I learned that Jaya and Gopalakrishna had cooked more goodies for me to take away. I don’t know how to express the lump in my throat. I’m very sad that I’ll miss Jaya’s wedding by only 4 days. I so hope she and Rajesh will be safe and happy.
My alarm went off at 3 am – as planned! I dragged clothes on and lurched my belongings onto my back, then goggled as Ajeesh went out into the cold, rainy weather to have a cold shower. Normally they seem not to affect him (well, they appear to clean him but you know what I mean) but after this one he was shivering. I said final goodbyes to Jaya, Gopalakrishna and Radhalakshmi and walked in the gentle drizzle down to the car. We drove to town and stopped at a printer to check on progress in printing Jaya’s wedding invitations. While we were there, two auto drivers came into the printers office and spoke with Ajeesh. He softly asked me ‘shall we go’ but when I got to the car, it turned out he had meant ‘let’s go NOW!’ Another auto had backed into his car door, dented it, then sped off so the driver could avoid Ajeesh’s wrath.
Ajeesh sped us in the direction of Udumbanchola, throwing the car around curves and driving with what felt like utter abandon – he wanted to catch this git at least. At Udumbanchola he asked people waiting at a bus stand if they’d seen an auto pass by. They hadn’t, so he thought it must have turned off the road before then. Somehow he tracked down the auto’s owners. If they don’t sort out their recalcitrant driver then they’ll have to face a very pissed-off Ajeesh. I’m sure he’d have settled for an apology and a token few rupees, at least to start with: this door has already been bashed by a jeep and I think the jeep’s driver has given him enough to pay for the repair. The new knock hardly increases the repair task, in my ignorant opinion. However, because the bugger buggered off, Ajeesh is very upset. I think this is the second time someone has deliberately damaged his car and then refused to make compensation.
We then drove on via Rajakkad to meet Rajesh and hand over some of the invitations. Apparently as ‘elder brother’ this had become my task. Two of Rajesh’s aunts got into the car: since we were going past Adimaly and they needed to go there too…
I think I slept for a lot of the rest of the journey. I don’t remember the aunts getting out. At Ernakulam I found that my train’s times had been altered: it would leave at 10.45, not 12.45. This meant I had 15 minutes to visit an ATM, get a ticket and get on the train – not even enough time to have a last chaya with Ajeesh. In fact it was after 10.45 by the time I got back from the ATM: thank goodness for late-running trains. I cried as my train pulled out of the station. I know I’ll be back but…
Of course, only unreserved, third-class tickets were available. This portended over 12 hours of hard wooden seats, heat and overcrowding. Actually, most of the journey wasn’t too bad, apart from whenever the train arrived at a station, lots of vendors getting onto the coach and hawking their coffee, etc, very loudly.
Also, as the train stopped at Trissur, I realised I needed a pen. I ran to a platform shop and bought one. As I was receiving my change, I heard the trains mournful siren and saw it starting to move so I jumped on via the nearest door. This was in an ACII (air-conditioned, 2 tier sleeper) coach but I thought I’d be able to walk along the train , back to steerage class. Wrong – they keep the scum locked away from the fragrant coaches! So I stood in the ACII doorway vestibule so that I could honestly say that I hadn’t used any of the ACII seats and got paranoid about my luggage. I had no problems resuming my proper station at the next station, much to my relief, and all I’d lost was some sweat and a chaya.
Even better: just as we left Kasargod I got a whole luggage-rack to myself! With my rucksack as a pillow and my jacket, jumper, bag of dirty clothes and lunghi as cushioning, it’s quite acceptable. (Getting in and out is a bit of a challenge.) Most other luggage-racks and seats were doubly-occupied and some people had laid newspaper or blankets on the carriage floor and were schnorkelling away. I passed the time buried in a newspaper, making up silly rhymes and trying to avoid the usual questions.
One bloke introduced a new question: what caste am I? I replied ‘none’ and asked him his caste. He said he’s muslim but that in his opinion there are only two castes: male and female. I giggled when I heard this: I’ll explain why some other time.
The train arrived at Margao at about 3am. All the ‘retiring rooms’ (station accommodation) were full and I didn’t fancy trying to get into town and obtain a hotel room – most hotel doors would have been locked hours ago. So, in common with about 100 others, I dossed on the concrete apron under the station’s exit awning. I’m very impressed with India travellers: so many have light baggage, including a blanket and maybe a sheet or lunghi. They’ll spread out the blanket, use their bags as pillows, wrap themselves in the sheet and sleep apparently undisturbed. I was very taken by the sight of the old bloke next to me – cocooned in his bright orange lunghi, he epitomised something for which I don’t have the words.
I got a few hours sleep and by 9am this morning was booked into the GTDC Margao Residency. It’s a posh-ish hotel at semi-budget rates and gave me the cleanest sheets yet, a much-enjoyed sit-down toilet and a proper, hot shower. I hadn’t realised how much I missed these until now. They felt utterly luxurious. I’ve done a lot of running around to get no-where very much today. I’ll bore you with that another time because I need to go back to the hotel and sleep.