I may have found my ideal location in India

When Mood Music
2006-08-01 14:31:00 bitchy

It’s in Mumbai and it’s an air-conditioned cybercafe with fast PCs running XP, flat screens, reasonable keyboards and accessible USB ports and CD-RW drives. They even have a scanner, which will be very useful for me just now.

Downstairs, they have a clean sit-down toilet with a handbasin and soap. It doesn’t have one of those nasty taps at mid-shin level which is for filling a bucket to manually flush away the goodies and which always leaks, soaking my trouser leg. (This has happened 3 times today to me at toilets in Mumbai station.)

Thank goodness for LJ. I can vent my spleen and sphyncter into it and no-one need get hurt. The alternative might be a Bruce ready to inflict physical violence. So what’s been happening?

Most of Saturday 29th was spent on trying to sort out my Sumatra visit. I had thought that my Sumatran friend’s family live near Medan. They don’t – they live a couple of days by bus south, in Padang and Pekanbaru. So I tried to find direct flights from Singapore to Pekanbaru (this is maybe 100 miles!), where the relatives who speak english live. No joy:

  • Merpati’s website was down. (My guidebook did say ‘it’s Merparti and I’ll fly if I want to’.)
  • Singapore airlines would have to cancel my current bookings and give me new ones to Singapore – overall this would cost me an extra 200 pounds and still not get me to Pekanbaru.
  • Garuda’s website only mentiones flights from Singapore to Padang via Jakarta. Their call-centre wasn’t answering.
  • Silkair doesn’t touch Pekanbaru.
  • Other Indonesian airlines either have websites in bahasa indonesia or don’t have websites at all.

So I’m going to get to SIngapore and then bugger around getting a flight to Pekanbaru, then phone my friend so she can tell her rellies when I’ll arrive. The fall-back is to get a boat to an Indonesian island and then another boat up the Batang Hari river to Pekanbaru. This has some appeal but getting me and my grot to a freindly place appeals more.

After blogging and getting as much of my adminstrivia as possible done, I called John, Suriya’s friend who has a cellphone. His english, combined with the vagaries of cellphones, meant that I could only make out something about Suriya having been in hospital (or maybe still being there) and that I should visit tomorrow. I pondered this over a couple of masala dosas at the Kamat hotel and decided ‘sod it. Even if Suriya isn’t about, her daughters and neighbours will tell me what’s been going on and if I need to go elsewhere to visit her. So I’m going now!’

The bus to Colva was fun – usual overcrowding ameliorated by rock and roll in Konkani. I asked if the music was on CD and was told that it was from a casette. I then asked the conductor if he’d sell me the cassette. So now I have some konkani rock and roll/party music and am quite pleased.

There was a light at Suriya’s house and she came out to greet me as I approached. It turns out she’d been in hospital the previous night but was now home, feeling OK. Suriya gave me some sweeties that Gautami, her grand-daughter, had insisted were kept for me from Gautami’s birthday. I had sent a card but it hadn’t arrived so I’m very choked with emotion that Gautami wanted to give me something. Suriya, Priya and I chatted for an hour or so and arranged to meet up with Bobby (her oldest daughter) and Bobby’s family the next day, after her church service.

I took an auto back to Margao. Margao autos have passenger doors which prevented most of the soaking I’d have got if I’d been riding a Keralan auto. I think I was in bed and asleep by 10pm.

BTW, there’s a call for an L&L out in Madhya Pradesh. A new syllabus has been implemented in the school year that began 4 months ago. However no-one has yet brought out any suitable text books. Over to you, guys – or should I return to India and do it myself?

Sunday 30th
I first woke up about 2 am with Mughals’ revenge churning my stomach and cricket blaring out of the TV. Tossing, turning and other, less savoury, activities kept me occupied for a couple of hours. I fell asleep eventually, being roused just before the alarm I’d set yelled at me. Although I’d arranged to meet Suriya at 11.30, it took me until then to get into a state where I felt like moving from my room.

At Suriya’s house, nothing was moving, not even the foot-long grass now providing ideal cover for the wild pigs that like to meander in and munch her mangoes. I asked at her neighbour/landladies house – Suriya and Priya had gone to the room she’s arranged for Bobby and family to stay in while Ravi’s looking for a better job. (He’s a trained horticulturalist but currently working as a waiter in a local hotel. He works from 7am to 11am, then from 6pm to midnight or later. He has two days off each month. GRRRR!)

I didn’t quite succeed in creeping up on Dhanush, Bobby and Ravi’s 4-year-old son. He saw me at the last moment so I grabbed him and carried him to the house. He’s still as delightfully hyperactive and mad as I remembered. (I realise that this is a strain on Bobby and the others but I’m sure he’ll settle down soon enough.) I was even more pleased that this room had a flushable sit-down toilet.

Bobby had cooked brinjal curry, rice and rassam. I changed into my smart shirt and dhoti so I could make like a south indian gentleman (did I say I’m missing south India by any chance?) and ate one portion with Suriya and the children. When Ravi returned from work, I was encoiuraged to eat some more with him and bobby. My tongue said yes and I just over-ruled my stomach. The one difference between this meal and a typical tamil meal was that Suriya likes white rice, not ‘red’ rice. (It’s rusty brown when uncooked and cooks to white with flecks of red. The grains are much larger than other rices I’ve eaten.)

I went with Suriya to set up an email account for Priya. This was when I discovered that at least one of my CDs of photos is, er, problematic and the backup of this CD is, er, non-functional. I’m slightly sad that I couldn’t show Suriya some photos then (I’ll print as many as I can and post them to her) and annoyed that I may have lost some photos altogether.

Oh yes! My triumph – I got Margaret Mary (Raju’s wife) to smile! She doesn’t speak english at all and seems not to have much to say to even in Tamil.

Some playing with the kids and rain-dodging later, Ravi went to work and the rest of us made our way to where Rajesh’s family live: I’d been invited for a farewell-to-Goa meal by Rajesh. (This Rajesh is a friend of Suriya’s from Karnataka who came with us to Raju’s wedding back in early May.) I had thought India couldn’t shock me any more but I was wrong. Get this: Rajesh’s family have moved here to Goa because they can live better than they did in Karnataka. ‘Better’ for them means Rajesh’s father the family’s accommodation is a brick and roofing sheet lean-to on the side of Rajesh’s father’s employer’s house. This lean-to is maybe 3 metres wide by 8 metres long and houses all of these people.

"" Mariam, Tayappa Chandrasekar, Rajesh
Chandrasekar, Somia, Tayamma, Malaman

What the hell can Karnatka be like? You may quibble about the size of the family but all the same…! I don’t understand: in their place I’d be consumed with anger at living in shit like this while visitors conspicuously spray cash around on beer and other substances. I don’t think I could have a friendly greeting for a tourist, especially a foreign tourist, if I wasn’t forced to glue on on by working in a tourist industry. Yet I was invited in and given a lovely dinner because of a tenous connection to one of the family who wasn’t even there. What’s going on? Why aren’t (more) people in open revolt? To make my position clear, please understand that I don’t believe in violent revolution. It hurts people and rarely, if ever, achieves its objectives. (‘Each revolution sews the seeds of its own downfall.’) But I can sure understand why many others do believe in it.

Dinner was cooked on an open, twig fire in an awning of roofing sheets at the front of the lean-to. Mariam used a tube to direct her breath onto the flames – much more efficient and less condusive to smoke inhalation than normal blowing. Dinner was tapioca chips (fried in front of me on a hotplate), chapattis, a bean curry and two types of chatni (both based on peanuts rather than coconut.) All delicious, apart from the red-chilli chatney which was even hotter than Jaya’s red-chilli pickle and defeated me. All lovely apart from Rajesh not being there – he’d had to go to work before we could get there.

I said goodbye to Bobby, Dhanush and Goutami and walked with Suriya and Priya to their house. After a brief chat and another visit to her facilities, it was time for me to go. I walked along the path, waving and nearly crying. I don’t like to think that it could easily be three years before we meet again.

The night was again interspersed with mughal’s revenge. What did I ever do to him? I’m so glad I hadn’t gone for a cheap hotel!

Monday 31st
Waking up with continuing stomach issues persuaded me to take the last two pepto-bismols a cybercafe owner in Pune had given me. They seemed to help and I was moving by 11am. My first call was to the hotel’s cybercafe where Mrs Khan had offered to make me a bag for posting stuff home. She said that it would be ready shortly so I filled up the time by buying a couple of notebooks and some stuff from a nearby pharmacy.

The pharmacy has a good system. You tell an assistant what you want and it’s pile up in front of you, then entered into a computer. The assistant then prints a two-part invoice which you hand over to a cashier in a locked box well away from the goodies. The cashier takes your payment, stamps the invoices and hands them back to you. You then go to another counter where your goodies are checked agaisnt the computer and the invoice, then bagged up by a third worker. You finally recieve a nice package with one copy of the invoice attached to the outside.

Back at the hotel, Mrs Khan’s contacts had made a lovely drawstring bag and we packed the stuff into it, then I set off to the post-office to get posting prices. Resistered airmail seemed the best value but I wanted to get another cover and to add in a few more things so didn’t post it there and then. MISTAKE!!! See later for why.

I had a fun time trying to sort out the photo CD non-back-up issue and then finally left the hotel for the station. There, I met with Suriya for the final time – she wanted to reclaim an umbrella she had lent me and to give me a contact in Kolkata and food for the journey. Again, I’m overwhelmed.

The jorney was OK – I even got a lecture on the uses of venturi tubes in pneumatic-powered aeroplane gyrocompasses. I was on a ‘sleeper’ car. I think I’ve described these before in detail but just in case, they are divided into little alcoves. On the side of each alcove are three padded bunks, perpendicular to the direction of travel. The middle one folds down to be the back of the seat. (The seat base doubles as the lower bunk.) Across the aisle at the foot of each set of bunks are two seats whose backs fold down to form another lower bunk. Above them, at the level of the top bunks in the alcoves is a final bunk. The occupants are kept cool by three noisy but servicable fans in the alcove ceiling.

The difference between sleeper carriages and ACIII carriages is that ACIII carriages have fixed doors and glass windows to keep the heat out and the aircon in. ACII carriages only have two layers of bunk and so much more headroom.

‘Chair car’ carriages have one level of padded seat and second-class carriages have one level of wooden slatted seat. Unreserved have one level of wooden slatted seat and luggage racks, all heavily occupied as previously described. So now you know. I recommend sleeper if you want comfort and unreserved if you want fun!

Anyway, I slept for most of the journey, blessing the person who’d chosen to make one of my carriage’s toilets a sit-down one.

Tuesday 1st August
I arrived here around 6am and immediately had to run to the toilets in the waiting room. Aarrgghh! They’re filthy and my trouser leg got soaked. The cisterns are all bust and the seats removed. You either have to hover or squat on little footrest built into the seats.

I dumped my major bag into the luggage deposit and went to the post-office (blessedly near the station). A wonderful packer from UP made an extra cover for my parcel but left the top open. He warned me that speedpost might be a better choice – it would cost about half as much again (compared to registered airmail) to post but I would get no hassle in the process. I wish I’d followed his advice. Here’s what happened!

  1. The post office opened at 9am. Mr packer had been working since 8am.
  2. The parcels office opened at 10am. This meant I could go into the parcels office (which had been locked, with a wax seal on the lock until 9.55) and sit, watching the workers straggle in and start yelling at each other.
  3. I was given a photocopied form to fill in in triplicate. When I’d completed half of the first copy I was given some carbon paper.
  4. I was then told to sit in various places until 11am when the customs people turned up. They had to check the parcel before it was closed.
  5. They had just started dealing with me when a bloke came into that office to mop the floor. Everything stopped again for 20 minutes while he used a mop (which badly needed to be shoved up the office-manager’s arse and then replaced) to dampen the floor and move the grot about.
  6. The customs people then insist on opening every sub-parcel within the packed parcel, thus destroying the arrangement of cloth sub-parcels protecting the fragile ones and buggering all the labels I’d made saying who was to receive each sub-parcel.
  7. I told them that this has never happened before* and they kept saying ‘no problem’, utterly deaf to my response that
    while they might have no problems with me or my parcel, I have a lot of problems with their tardiness, inefficiency and the fact that I’m always before been able to hand over a sealed parcel to the post office and just get it sent.*
  8. The parcel was sewn together again, nowhere near as neatly as it had been, once I’d re-sealed and re-labeled all the sub-parcels.
  9. Other workers then sealed the parcel with hot wax. I don’t like to think what that did to the contents.
  10. At the payment counter, I handed over the parcel, the forms, the requisite cash and got a receipt. This whole bloody charade has took 2 hours from finding Mr packer and should have taken 10 minutes! My guts were in uproar and I had to run again to the station toilet.

* Whether using registered airmail or speedpost (which could have been dealt with at the main counters at 9am but would have cost over Rs1000 more) from India before now (at Pune, Maharashtra, Margao, Ottapalam and other places), I’ve never been through this charade. Can’t they buy a fucking X-ray machine and a sniffer dog?

At the station toilet, I put my rupee on the counter next to the bloke who I thought was the attndant and waited for a cubicle. It turned out the bloke wasn’t the attendant but simply another punter who was ahead of me in the queue for the cubicle. The real attendant returned, scooped up my rupee and then tried to make me pay again. I told him he’d just picked up my payment and that I wasn’t paying twice for a filthy toilet and certainly not paying Rs2 when the sign on door said Rs1 per visit. The cubicle had a squat toilet and another tap at shin-level that quirted onto my trouser-leg.

When I came out, the attendant again tried to ask for money. I was in no mood for this and walked past him, ignoring him.

I’m now in a nice cybercafe, venting my spleen and occasionally my guts. I think I’m getting better but I’m going to take immodium tomorrow if it doesn’t clear up. BTW, the cybercafe is Jenisys Computers and is at Jiji House, Ground Floor, 17 Raveline Street, FOrt, Mumbai-4000 001 (tel/fax 2207 5213, email jenisys @ hathway.com)

I think that’s all for now. Gonna log out and ask if I can just sit here until I need to go to the station. See you later space-cats!


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