Starting out with a hot towel to wash our hands, we were given a nice Alitalia cosmetics bag (!) and a pair of Alitalia socks (?!). Then, I kicked up the footrest on my mofucking adjustable leather seat and drank orange juice and champagne before plugging in plush headphones and digging the sun illuminate cloud formations while sipping red wine, having a dope lunch, and looking at that fine Italian stewardess. Damn, dog!
I'm not even sure where to start... I suppose the beginning would be the place, right? Walking off the plane in Bombay, I was immediately struck with such an excitement that I felt far from tired; instead, I had this bizarre euphoria where I saw dreams and memories materializing in front of me, and the line between real and surreal was being swirled around my finger. I could touch, smell, see, and hear, but it triggered as many memories of India as it appeared as sensory information: it was a present that existed as a vehicle to strengthen itself, to strengthen my perspective on exactly what was happening around me so I could forget where I was from and exist where I am.
So many people, but as comfortable as a walk on the NYC subways, Times Square transfer. The shuttle from Port Authority, swarms of insects in tunnels, funneling through hives to destinations. But outside here, everyone was stationary except for hands waving signs, and eyes eagerly bouncing back and forth. A kind man named Mahalingam was wating just outside in the tropical midnight, amidst a sea of drivers and friends, all waiting. My flight arrived an hour late, so he had been there for a while. He shook my hand when I approached him, smiling so genuinely I could feel it, then presented me with a flowered necklace just like the ones I had worn the last time. So fragrant and light, with soft petaled balls of color I could play with and hold to my face.
I went to the car and dropped off my bag- there was a gift basket waiting for me from Shve and Mahesh with food, a small picture of a deity, and a letter detailing the next couple of days. Mahalingam brought me a Coke and allowed me to use his cell phone to phone Shvetha, who was wide awake at 1:?? AM. Then, I waited with him for Boris to arrive: a French business associate of Mr. Jaishankar's. I stood in that same sea of people, men holding hands and walking around, dogs randomly sitting around, Hindi lettering looking like abstract and holy graffiti. I smelled my flowers, but also everything floating in that thick, dark air: spices, diesel, dust, clouds of mita-pan flavors all mixing with the flowers around my neck. People stared, but not with disdain or malice or even indifference; I just stuck out, really.
We took the car to the hotel, and I met Boris, whom I immediately liked. He's 32 (actually, his birthday was yesterday!) and has a high voice with a thick French accent that cracks every once and so often. The hotel had a gate and looked like a palace, complete with chandeliers, marble, fountains, glass elevators climbing upwards to glimmering lights in a far-away ceiling, like upside-down jeweled pyramids of stars. It was 3 AM at this point, and I was nearing delirium but was too excited to lose it. I went to my room, marveled and became almost giddy, then somehow managed to fall asleep.
I awoke too early and made the horrible mistake of taking my Malaria pill without food. After my shower, I headed to the cafe where a large buffet was waiting. Almost immediately, I was overcome with nausea- nausea I tried to swallow down. I felt feverish, and this is where I became scared. I was alone for all intents and purposes, and I had no idea what was wrong. I sat and looked at a newspaper, trying my hardest to pretend I was OK, chewing a dry, powdery cake I couldn't swallow, and chasing it with thick lassi. I wasn't going to make it. A couple bites of an omelette, sips of lassi- I felt I was going to lose it right there: I had to get to my room. I told the waiter it wasn't the food- it was the pills. I realized it only after it was verbalized. I left quickly, petrified by the idea I wasn't going to reach my room in time and that I'd puke in the carpeted elevator. And everyone was just so welcoming around me, swiveling heads around and smiling- "good afternoon, sir," "hello, sir," genuinely glad to be there- and all I could think about was the "Ving" key card to room 1815, the place I'd narrowly make it to before throwing up the milky white mixture of my breakfast.
I called Mahalingam and he came to the room while I slept, looking out the window at the sea whose color was only now beginning to separate itself from a foggy gray sky. A couple of hours later, I was fine; but, as I lay in bed- sick- I was honestly scared. I thought of going home. I thought of my mother rubbing my back and softly saying, "shh, you're going to be fine. It's OK- shh."
We got in the car and went to the first item on our itinerary: a lunch at a family friend's house where all the women were being decorated with henna while sitting on couches and pillowy mats on the floor. Shvetha's was the most elaborate- covering her toes and feet, hands up to her forearms- beautiful and intricate patterns that looked almost like fractals, but organic and breathing orange and brown on her skin. Beyond the main room where the mehendi ceremony was taking place was an outdoor terrace where servants had set up the buffet of "Indian-Chinese food." Guests were everywhere: family and friends, Indian and Western. Names unfortunately went in one ear and out the other, but I remembered every face. I had a henna tattoo designed on my left palm, which I was then unable to use or move for about a half an hour. A white woman named Nancy helped me with the food, and I sat next to Shvetha who- while seated on the couch between two women (one painting henna while the other fed her)- looked as beautiful as ever.
Talking about how I met her over and over again, "I've been friends with her for four years now" was the strangest sounding thing. Four years ago when we lay together holding hands as Steven sketched her face, the waves licking the side of the boat, complete darkness beyond the florescent lights. And here she was, a day before her wedding.
I have to say- at risk of sounding strange, stupid, or both- I almost didn't like the fact there were other Americans there! Why is that? I remember on Semester at Sea feeling the same way: being someplace cool, absorbing the experience, and then having some silly white people walk in and just ruin everything. It wasn't the case here, but I definitely noticed a general disdain for Mahesh's friends from New York. Nothing specific- everyone was nice- I just didn't want to be around them. Instead, I spoke to some of the elders, and then found myself with Boris and another older colleague of Mr. Jaishankar's, Matthieu.
We went back to the hotel, and this began the period where I was able to practice my French! We headed out together, crammed into an auto-rickshaw, and headed towards Juju beach. Diesel fumes and pollution permeated the open vehicle, as did amazing sights along the way as we snaked through dense and ominous traffic, snapping photos and generally riding in what was truly a sensual experience.
The beach itself had an incredibly low tide, with hundreds leaving imprints in the soft, wet sand. Little boys with monkeys and small drums; people selling peanuts, seashells and fruit; ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds... And it seemed like the place had a different rainbow! A different spectrum of color with so many more reds, oranges, and earth tones, and- so vibrant! The pink of cotton candy the man spun on cones. And, down the beach, the theosophical seminary with the monument that read "There is no religion higher than truth."
Back on the streets, we walked along between everywhere and nowhere: a supermarket, a small indoor mall with sari shops, and up sidewalks under construction alongside schoolchildren in ties and skirts. Then, back to the auto-rickshaw and hotel- a hot bath and a rest- because later were the parties. We donned our kurta pajamas and, at first, trying them on was frightening because the pants' waist is enormous! Mahalingam eased my mind when he showed me his were the same, though. We piled in the car: three westerners in full kurta pajamas heading to a pre-wedding soiree on a terrace, under a deep, dark yellow moon that illuminated the skyline. Our driver couldn't find it, and pulled over seven or eight times to ask directions; each time he did so, he shut off the engine and was barely able to get it started again, even once having to push the car! Finally, now inside, we took an elevator up and heard the music coming from beyond a heavily flowered hallway with a Ganesha in the center.
There was a live band, servants passing out- no, not passing out... forcing you to take- hors d'oeuvres, and bartenders serving drinks. Shvetha's little cousin talked my ear off! That would just be the beginning... Shve was all dressed up and walking around, talking to all of her old relatives. She invited me to the Sangeet (another party at the hotel for her friends) and I was definitely ready to split after getting drilled by her little cousin.
Pooja, Boris, Matthieu, a dorky other cousin and I all got in the car and headed to the party. It was retro music, bhangra, Hindi pop and film music, and Shvetha's Indian model friends were all getting down! I sat next to this guy, talking about what he does in Bombay, but really I sat there to be across from a stunning girl whose name I'd learn was Gayatri. I introduced myself to the guy on her left- a dork I figured was her boyfriend. Nope! Then, I met her. Her smile... I wanted to crawl inside it. It was hard to hear her, so I moved closer in to her right.
She studied in NYC at FIT! Crazy, I thought. Throughout the night, I had my eyes on her- dancing, chatting with others. She seemed different- real sweet. I finally grabbed her hand as she sat at a table and got her dancing. When she was on her way out, I was trying to ask her a question close in her ear, and we kissed each other on each cheek. We had planned to exchange information the next day at the wedding reception. Although it's not hard to believe, I honestly looked forward to it throughout the whole next day.
The wedding was beautiful, period. It was so colorful and full of symbolism, joy, music, and smiles, and had a perfect fourth from a sine wave generator unifying the drums, horn, and ambient sounds. Prayer in the form of flowers were hung around Shve and Mahesh's necks- garlands, actually. The ceremony moved from room to room with colorful crowds dressed in kurta pajamas and saris, flashing photos like the paparazzi. The professional photographers there had case such a bright light on them it made it appear like a movie.
Once back in the main room, the bride and groom sat on a decorative stage with the priest kneeling at their side, and looked quite nervous- or at least determinedly transfixed at the floor- the entire time he spoke. It was as if she was so deep in contemplation about exactly what it was she was doing, and I was nervous for her. But, I was simultaneously just so caught up in everything, framing each moment, prayer, and movement within my lens- and the lens of my camera.
We threw flowers at them, they burned offerings to society in a fire: puffed rice and liquid. There was the idea of one becoming two, becoming a family, then the universe. We are all brothers, and I felt that within that room.
Swimming felt wonderful after a south Indian lunch and emailing my family. I just watched birds fly in and out of the small waterfall, flapping their wings and hopping around peacefully. I did laps and yoga poses, and sunned myself on the poolside then lay in the whirlpool against the jets.
I went to Boris' room for rich chocolate cake; it had been his 32nd birthday. Matthieu and I sang "bon anniversaire a toi" and it was such a nice moment, although the cake was so rich! They are such nice guys and so absolutely funny!
That night was the wedding reception. I had seen them decorating the pool area earlier, but wasn't ready for what would become an absolutely beautiful scene for the party. It was a touch corny with "M"s and "S"s sculpted from ice, but a line of trees formed a pathway to the buffet and bar area from the hotel. I sat and had a Bacardi and 7Up, and chatted with a guy who lives in Dubai and works for a video game distributor...
*Note: after the ellipses there, the generator failed in the restaurant I'm sitting at in Goa right now, and I lost my train of thought. My feet are in the sand, and I'm writing by candlelight.*
So, back to the wedding reception. The next thing I know, I'm gathered among a ton of people on the grass beneath palm trees, straight chillin'! I can see the fireworks reflected in the windows of the hotel. It's so beautiful that it stops conversations around me. Then, there were speeches:
One speaker opened, "a wise man once told me a best man's speech should only be as long as the groom takes to have sex. So, thank you, and enjoy the party." Pretty funny, I thought.
*Note: the lights are back on and the music is that fucking song from the SAS video, "Return to Innocence." Blech! It's so gay! Though, I think because it was used in that video, it was given some strange credibility all of a sudden and sounds warm to me now! I kind of wish I was on a trip as long- or longer- than SAS.*
I noticed Gayatri through the crowds but we didn't get eye contact. I wasn't yet ready. I went to my room to use the bathroom after mingling a bit with some fine fucking Indian models named Naithra and Carol (who ironically were in the Cosmo mag in my room here in Goa, along with Shve and the wife of that annoying Italian fuck). It's like having Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, and whomever else at your wedding reception, no? Coming back, Gayatri couldn't have positioned herself in more of a perfect spot: sitting alone with her mother in plain view, away from the crowds. We noticed each other and I walked right over to talk with her; she was even more beautiful than I remembered. And then- of course- who comes to sit down next to me? Shvetha's little cousin! Augh! Now, I give the guy credit, OK? Real outgoing, smart, whatever, but no common sense! Here I am with a beautiful girl, and he thinks he can just sit down and bug me? Nope.
I was starving. I hadn't eaten a thing, so I told her I'd find her before she left. Of course it was one conversation after the next and, by the time I returned, she and her mother had gone! No problem, though; I got her number from Shvetha the next day.
I booked a flight to Goa at around 2 AM, and was just drinking with Boris, Matthieu, and Manav. Good sleep, good breakfast that next morning, then flew to Goa and arrived by car to the Renaissance, which was a tourist nightmare- Jesus! Overpriced as fuck, catering to westerners who think they're having an authentic experience. I hate that shit. Fuck tourists and fuck these tourist resorts! Yoga in the morning, Ayurvedic massage, western muzak in the fucking lobby.
My hand is cramping. I have to continue this later. I just finished Garlic and Butter Shark at Captain's Cabin on the beach.
Yesterday, I took off for North Goa: Baga Beach. It was a real long car ride, about one and a half hours. We listened to Goan music on cassette most of the way, and I looked out of the windows at everything from passing billboards to cows walking peacefully around. People in shacks sitting and staring out at everything, people working. I arrived in my room. A man named Ricardo and the little girl Suchi told me about (Cripa) led me up. It's a quaint room with two twin beds pushed together to make a double, a couple of windows, and a bathroom with a shower (with no door, curtain, or anything separating it from the toilet). There's no toilet paper, either- just a bucket and, luckily for me, two water spouts around ass-level.
I went to Traveland and booked my airline ticket to Chennai, then I made the mistake of believing this short little salesman when she said she just wanted to talk to me- dumb American, right? After a fairly short conversation, she started showing me all this fucking garbage and told me business was slow. Yeah- I said I came to talk, not buy a piece-of-shit sarong, thank you!
The beach was nuts and crowded. "Shacks" (bars and restaurants) lined the beach as far as you could see, as did people swimming or traversing the sands, or lying underneath umbrellas providing shade. I saw people parasailing and of course I had to try!
The boat started driving off and I ran for a second before clenching in my legs and taking off, letting out a giddy, rollercoaster-esque "eek" sound; my smile was enormous. They took me so high above the water that it was half-scary. I've found that a huge thing in traveling alone- and just living your life- is trust. You have to have trust in others but, more importantly, in yourself. I got a large, strong Kingfisher and headed down the beautiful beach as the sun fell lower and lower in the sky. I met a man named Phil who showed me a collection of ruggedly cut agate, amethyst, crystal, and carved elephants and turtles. I went for a huge piece of beautiful crystal, and he threw in two inter-connecting amethyst agates.
I walked in the tide up the entire shoreline. The stars were so bright in the sky, and I was singing and freestyling, seeing beachfront lights and hearing songs fade in and out of each other the further I went. I stopped at Cafe Oceanique, now pretty drunk after [woah! deja-vu!] getting a few more beers: King's and Kingfishers. I met Justin and Rajeeb (they just reminded me of their names as I sit here again on the next night), and talked for a while before heading up the road and finding a cool email spot. It was in the front room of a woman's house and- through a cracked door- I saw her children lying on mats. It was thirty rupees for a half-an-hour, which is less than a dollar. And to think, at the Taj, I had spent fucking 500 for an hour! Foreigners are so easily taken advantage of.
So, after buying some Ayurvedic soap and two packets of Pantene shampoo, I returned for what was unfortunately a cold shower in my hotel room. I felt so in control of everything: I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. It was all up to me- I could've gone anywhere! I could've met anyone, had any experience. My life is in my control. That may seem like a stupid comment, but one hardly realizes how much it is true sometimes. Remember those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books and how much you used to love them? Dungeons and Dragons, rolling fancy dice, meeting people, buying things, acquiring weapons and potions and fighting monsters? All of that adventure, all of those choices, they are ours to make! Each of these days, we have so many paragraphs and pages to turn to, but who knows if we are really [choosing] our own adventure? The book may already be written, but perhaps the ink isn't dry. And God gives you the pen and maybe helps your hands to move as you write; or, you just remember the way He wrote it for you, and that's deja vu: you remember that passage, that sentence, that word, the loop of that letter, the feel of the pen as it touches the page- that's the beauty of it. Remembering. Remembering the present, the future. Sometimes, it's as easy to remember as the past...
So, there I was, and I chose not to end my night quite yet. I would find this Tito's nightclub, right? Well, no... I walked around and became close, saw a sign, but I walked into Mambo's instead. It was OK- pretty silly, actually- and there were few good looking girls. I met a crew from London and talked music, drank more beer, and got shitty. Finally, I headed towards Tito's. Apparently, there had been some kind of show and it had ended, so it was dead! There was a driver who said, "oh, so you want to party?" And yes, I did. I had 250 rupees left in my pocket, and he said it was that much one way. Hell no! Like Cedrick the Entertainer said, "nigga, please!" I could've done the fucking Karate Kid kick to his face myself... I'm getting ahead of myself. I didn't know then what would happen, and I do now.
We agreed I pay him 250 there and back. We drive there for a while. He is asking where I'm from, and then if I'll take him to America and find him a job. Yeah, no fucking problem, buddy! Moron. He's babbling to me, and I just say "sure, whatever" to placate the fool. We arrived, and I saw two people leaning on a bike. I mistakenly took this as a good sign. There was music coming from the place, called "West End." Well, there was fucking no one and I mean no one there. I don't mean there were only twenty people or something, I mean NOBODY! And this DJ just kept on playing CDs. I told the driver to take me back.
I shouldn't have given him shit, really. I told him he wasted my time, and that I was disappointed. Then, he got on this whole bullshit trip about how Americans don't care and Indians will do such and such for you, whatever. And I'm just drunk, tired, and pissed that this fucker wasted my time. We get to my place, argue for a moment, then I give him 150 and jet. Fuck him.
I told him I knew how to drive a Kinetic, of course! Ha. It must've been a bit obvious I didn't when I nearly crashed getting out of there! It was a bit scary at first- I didn't feel too safe on the thing. Soon enough, though, I was driving with someone else I had picked up: a jeweler from Jaipur. He then drove me to Vagator and tried talking to me the whole way. I couldn't hear or understand anything he was saying, but there was something about Bombay, Chicago, a girlfriend, and selling his shit. I just kinda said "uh huh" and "what," as if he could somehow clarify what he was saying the second time around, and then I pretended to understand after that. It's not like "If You Can Huh You Can Hear It"- fuck that. I know what Mos [Def] is saying, but not when you're on the back of a scooter and the person is making no sense.
When we reached Vagator, we walked our separate ways and I got a mango juice box to drink while I looked out at the ocean. Now, don't be afraid- you made it out fine... But, as you tried to do a 180 degree turn from a stationary position- carefully looking both ways- you fucked up and slammed the Kinetic through a small rock barrier on the roadside and crashed head-on into the soft, red dirt wall in front of you! Luckily, another person on a Kinetic stopped to help you push it back on the road. So embarrassing!
After that, though, you got more and more comfortable to the point where the bike became an appendage. You toured through Anjuna, had Kingfish and chips for lunch in Chapora, stopped at different cathedrals, and made it up to Mupasa to walk around a bit. Back on the road, you tried calling Shve from an STD that didn't work. Finally arrived at Anjuna beach after navigating narrow, winding roads through shacks that were so full of sand you had to push. Swimming, Ayurvedic massage and an ear-cleaning (!), people selling you necklaces, music.
Then, back on the road where you picked up another hitchhiker! You're trusting, aren't you? And this time, you rode fast comfortably, swerving through "entre chien et loup" traffic. Lights turned on in windows, on Kinetics and motorcycles, and businesses as you made your way back to Baga for what turned out to be a delicious BBQ on the beach at Cafe Oceanique. To the soundtrack of trance music, you ate pomfruit, king prawns, and chicken tandoori, drinking your signature Kingfisher strong, writing and chatting with the waiters, Justin and Rajeeb. Feet in the sand, cute dogs walking around.
After a (cold) shower, it was off to Fiesta to meet everyone whom you had left two days earlier. Ah! I remember why I left! Oh well, just not my type, you know? It was one Red Bull and rum after the next, then rum and Sprite, Latin music at Mambo's where so many of the people had returned once again. You finally headed out on your own with two English guys, one named Ash. I can't remember how I met them anymore, but it turned into a very strange experience and conversation: a drunken slap in the face by both reality and my very own hand.
We talked about America, and about Americans. All these bottled up feelings about the country started coming from my mouth, pouring out anti-American drunken banter and apologies- I said I felt guilty about being an American! I told everyone to tell me what they thought and to be totally honest, that I'd probably agree. No one had anything nice to say except about me, whom they saw as different and as a huge anomaly. I got drunker and drunker, now sitting on the patio of an emptying bar with a revolving cast of characters from the UK, Ireland, and a fuck from Palestine who started talking shit about America's involvement with Israel. I said, "well, I'm American and Jewish," to which he said, "I know- I can always tell a Jew."
I felt worse and worse about things being said. Here I am feeling guilty for being an American, and having concurrent guilt for having such a sentiment in the first place! You can only be the subject of a joke for so long until it ceases to be funny. Needless to say, I awoke with a hangover to the sound of Otilia pounding on my door saying I had to leave soon! Not having a clock- especially not having an alarm- can be a bit of a problem when you're traveling! I was OK, though. I showered and packed in plenty of time, ate across the street at a Kashmiri restaurant, and headed off to Goa's airport with a Danish woman named Lotte.
In Bangalore, I realized I had hours to kill before my plane would leave for Chennai, so I headed for the streets. Of course, before I even made it out, auto and cab drivers accosted me; this time, however, the results were wonderful! They took me to a place called Kemp Fort, and it was this 60,000 square foot mall with an amazing temple just outside a Shiva temple. As soon as I came to the door, I was greeted by everyone outside, and a pretty girl named Anita took me around. She first brought me to the temple, carrying my backpack over her shoulder; the temple was breathtaking! The sun was just beginning to set, and by the time we had walked through and looked at the gift shops, it was a beautiful twilight.
I went off to Pondicherry the next day by bus. Little did I know how absolutely imperative it was to pee before getting on it! Time passed, and I was just looking out of the "windows" (erm, no glass- just openings, actually) at all the passing colors, people, and shifting landscapes, smelling everything as my hair blew wildly in the wind. I started having the urge to pee, but tried not to think about it. Just stare at everything, I thought. Just gaze out of the window and remain amazed at how wonderful everything is around you. We got onto highway-type roads where it was green outside, crossing over bridges and around bends. Don't think about it! Think of the wedding, Goa where you came from just yesterday, anything but the now-almost-pulsing sensation in your crotch, the feel of your urethra opening up and being filled with pee ready to come out like a liquid cylinder widening and elongating before bursting open its container: your dick!
It was becoming unbearable. I considered peeing into my empty water bottle- the culprit! That would teach it a lesson, right? I uncapped it, determined whether or not I could do it by reluctantly trying to shove it up the leg of my swim trunks, moving aside the mesh. I could- technically- do it. I had a seat to myself, but just across the aisle, someone would've seen. I'm not sure I cared so much, but that was a problem. Another problem was I could've failed and shot urine down my leg and onto the bus floor where it would've slid like floodwater over the passengers' bare feet. It would've been the white guy who did it! I would've been tossed off the bus in the middle of fucking nowhere. I thought of nonchalantly peeing off the steps and holding onto the railing, but that would've sent the pee immediately to the left- either onto the faces of the incredulous passengers, or again onto my leg. Besides, what if I fell? I'd rather pee myself than die.
I told the guy next to me: I have to pee- bad! He said maybe they'd stop the bus. On a passing sign, it read 107 km to Pondicherry; there was no way in hell I would make it. I walked to the back of the bus where the conductor sat, feeling like a little boy.
"I have to pee," I said to the stern-faced man.
"Pee." Then, I pretended to hold my dick and swayed back and forth. "Real bad," I finished.
Ten minutes passed, and a town came and went. The bus stopped, but hardly even long enough for the few exiting passengers to completely walk off. The bus moved on. NO! My neighbor said I could've gotten off there. Yeah, that would've done me a shitload of good: the bus would've left me and I would've been fucked! I looked back at the conductor, who then walked up to the driver and said something or other, and all I understood the driver to say was a harsh and loud resounding no! Not good. I was in pain. This was the worst I ever had to pee.
My neighbor went and tried reasoning with the driver. No. Another neighbor- one with only one functioning leg- got on his crutch and hobbled up there for me. No. I imagined the pee infecting my system then flooding my body with poisonous yellow. I didn't care anymore. I felt like going up to the driver and peeing all over him, but I didn't have the chance. The conductor went up once more and yelled this time, pointing his finger at me. The driver- as if by an act of God- nodded and, after passing over a bridge, did exactly what my body had wanted him to do for at least the last half an hour: pulled over.
I ran off and stood in front of the nearest tree as the busload of people watched me engage in one of the most satisfying pee-sessions ever in the history of mankind. It went on for what felt like five minutes: a steady, unrelenting stream that would've made anyone proud. I looked over my shoulder at the onlookers and smiled. "I wasn't kidding," I said. Afterwards, I ran on the bus and sighed. Safe!
A man rode a bike-mobile and took me to Casablanca, the clothing store Manav told me to visit to get directions. I sat and waited for him, reading through a fashion magazine. Again, I saw models from Shvetha's wedding- so funny! We met, then I headed into the French quarter and along the rocky shoreline. I had prawns for lunch at Rendez-Vous, then went to the Aurobindo Ashram and watched hundreds of bugs swarming over the samadhi (flower arrangement) around which people knelt as they touched and kissed the petaled padding and prayed. It was very peaceful. Then, it was onto the handmade paper factory, which was super-cool! I got a tour around from this guy who showed me each stage of the process: taking cotton shreds, adding liquid and stirring the resulting pulp, and pressing it into sheets, then drying, cutting, and adding anything from pieces of sugar cane, rice, flowers to it. Finally, painting the sheets marble-style with oil paint within basins full of water, and binding the beautiful paper into books.
An auto took me around Auroville, a huge, man-made forest where people lived and worked on farms. There were a lot of westerners abound on Kinetics and bicycles. Apparently, it's the only man-made forest in the world!
I got on the bus for a terribly long ride where I became tired and pretty irritated. The pollution seemed worse that night for some reason, and the fumes of the bus were awful. We stopped in what I realized was Mahabalipurim for too long while people stretched out their legs; I tried calling Shravan to tell him I wouldn't arrive anywhere near the anticipated time of 8:30- it was already 8:10. The call didn't go through. I did get through to Abe (Sunil), though.
After stops in Chennai, the bus driver asked where I was going. He seemed angry. "I'm going to the bus station," I said. He kept pointing out, and people were getting off of the bus- a lot of people. "Bus station," he repeated, pointing vigorously outside. "Go!" He was still pointing even as I started walking off, and something didn't seem right. It wasn't it! Maybe it was just around the corner and out of sight. No! What the fuck did I know, and why in the hell did he tell me to get out? A swarm of auto drivers surrounded me, and I was furious.
"Where's the bus station?" I demanded. This was the first time I had gotten mad.
"Bus station," one said, pointing to the ground.
"No, the big one! The main one!"
They talked amongst themselves, and agreed it was thirty kilometers behind me. No fucking way! Then, someone else arrived.
"Where are you trying to go?" he asked, and I immediately felt a little better because he spoke English far better than the others around him.
"The bus station- the new bus station."
"This is the bus station."
"No!" I stammered. "The brand new bus station!" I was pissed!
He then pointed in the opposite direction from the others- the direction which the bus I should've been on was headed. Great! To make a long story short, he took me there for 100 rupees (or was it 70? I can't remember now). I waited around, then phoned Shravan who came to retrieve me twenty minutes later. People stared at me like I was an alien: what was I doing there, especially alone? After a Chinese dinner with some of the hottest hot & sour soup ever with Shravan and his friend Divea, we headed home. I wanted to shower! I felt disgusting. I had a layer of darkness on me I couldn't discern: was it a tan, or was it dirt?
Time for bed, but first: put on the bug repellent. Bad plan... I woke up with what I thought was a shitload of small, red bites on my hands, shoulders, toes, ankles, and- worst of all- forehead. Here I was thinking I was attacked; that's what I told everyone the whole day, too.
After breakfast, I watched a super-bootlegged DVD copy of "The Guru." It was as bad as I thought it would be, but was also a wonderful love story. Well, not really, but I just love “love stories.” We picked up Manav- suit and all- at a hotel before heading to a cool-ass place called Movenpick's. It's a Swiss cafe and ice cream shop, and I guess they have a hotel franchise as well. The seats there were legless- but not backless- so you could sit on them cross-legged and recline comfortably. We met two girls there, one of whom caught my eye immediately: Shirley. Petite, dark skin, and a beautiful face with a perfectly imperfect smile: the one tooth slightly over another, and generally a little crooked altogether. Anruti was the other, and she was planning on going to Mumbai soon to participate in the Miss India pageant. I couldn't personally see her winning, but of course I wouldn't say so!
We ate what was called "The Big One": six fat scoops of our choice of flavors & fresh fruit. Needless to say, it was the fucking bomb. I kept looking across at Shirley's smile, wanting to steal her away from there. It's too shaky to write. I'll come back to this later!
So, a good thing, no? (A lot less shaky on the stationary ground). I'm sitting in Bangalore at an Indian Airlines ticketing office, about to book a flight to Mumbai tomorrow morning. We went to an eyeglasses place to get Sunil his present: a voucher for frames. Now, this guy's name is just embarrassing: Abraham Sunil Lincoln. How are you going to have a name like that? You know how much shit that guy must go through? People probably think he's kidding. I did, until I saw his driver's license clear as day: Abraham Lincoln for Christ's sake!
We got to Anjali's and her house was beautiful! The party took place on an outdoor terrace that couldn't have been a more perfect spot. We set up a mixer, 2 DVD players we used to play CDs, and 2 fat speakers. We had a bar with bartenders serving cocktails, margaritas, beer, and we lit candles to provide the dim mood lighting. We got there early because we were playing the role of the hosts. A guy who was dressed ultra-American was- you guessed it- studying in the states at USC. This guy brought his CDs and, Jesus! I wanted to vomit. Every crappy-ass gangster crap album or song he had and played, and that fucking Mystikal track, "Move Bitch! Get Out The Way!" played something like 10 times that night! Luckily, there were other songs and also different kinds of music, but mainly crappy trance and whatever else.
I was really impressed, though: before most anyone arrived, that dorky guy's brother came to bring headphones to the party, and we got to talking about gear, music, whatever. Then, the subject turned to battle djaying. I told him I saw the DMC championships, and he had heard of DJ Craze. Well, so then I say he's done work with the label I record for and, not only had he heard of Chocolate Industries, he had heard of me! It's so fascinating to me, you know? Halfway around the world, my music is getting to people. Seeing it on radio in Europe, Japan, the U.S., it makes me very proud.
I hung out with a bunch of people at the party, and met some great kids. Shirley and I talked for a while, and she loves great music! It was crazy, once again, to meet someone so far away who is into the same kind of stuff: New Order, The Cure, Joy Division, all types of shit I can't even remember. She's such a sweetie. I met a model whose name I can't remember, a guy named Arun, Imbab (something like that, anyway) and Sharmista. I'll get to her later. I was just drinking Bacardi and 7Up like a madman, did a shot of tequila with the model whose name I forgot, had a margarita with rum, and munched on snacky foods like prawns and kabobs.
I left, crashed at Shravan's and spent the whole day chilling. I talked to Shirley for a couple of hours, and tried calling Sharmista a few times but kept getting a busy signal. Oh well- not meant to be. I took a night train to Bangalore after dinner at the Ispahani Center. It was interesting: chaos, except I was comfortable in it. I no longer feel like I am traveling. I feel like I'm just living- I'm living my life, and it's just somewhere else. No culture shock, no "oh my God, I'm in India!"s, none of it. Just: here I am, me, somewhere else, doing my thing, exploring- and explore I did.
I got off the train after pseudo-sleep, and got an auto driver to take me to Hotel Ramanshree for check-in. I fell asleep and had bizarre, violent dreams. First, I was with some girl who was pretty fine, but when she removed her shirt, she was seriously wounded! One breast had a major gash over the nipple, and there were holes in her body with strange scabs. She was messed up, straddling me. Next thing I know, Ryan Phillippe and some other dude want to murder me. Don't ask- a weird, weird dream.
Bangalore is a really beautiful city. It's actually clean! Clean air, green trees. I slept from 5 to 10 or so in my hotel room before heading to the travel desk. Hampi would've taken too long to get to, there was a tour somewhere else (temples and whatever) that would've taken four hours each way to reach and was too expensive anyway, so I decided to return to Mumbai the next afternoon [which is today- I am sitting in the airport right now].
I got an auto driver who was like a gift! I've forgotten his name (what else is new, right?) but he spent the next three hours with me, taking me from place to place and waiting outside for me until I was done. First, I got my plane tickets to Bombay at the Indian Airlines office. Then, he took me to a cool shop which had better quality stuff than I had seen before. It was also more expensive, but you get what you pay for, no? I wasn't planning on buying anything, but when I saw the stuff, I splurged. I got a dope turquoise ring set in an 80% silver, 20% gold band, a silk sarong for Shana, and a "black star" pendant for Alex.
He wanted to take me to another store, so whatever, I walked in then walked out. The guy was like, "please, don't you want to make a good luck purchase?" Please! Good luck for you, maybe, but I don't want your drek. Then, he took me to a great Chinese restaurant called the Rice Bowl. I had hot and sour soup again, and Kung Pao chicken- yum! Then, he took me to the botanical gardens which were so nice! The sun was beautiful as were the flowers, trees, and bird calls. There were monkeys eating ice cream cones, and I was getting followed around by this guy named Jils. I had asked a couple sitting on a bench for the time, and he was going the other way. As I passed, I noticed him turn around and start walking behind me. Okay, whatever. Then, he told me it was 2 PM, which it wasn't. He just walked along beside me. It was harmless, and the park was too beautiful and sunny to get upset about it.
Finally, I didn't care at all, and we just had small talk. He pointed out some things to me, and spoke shitty, minimal English. So, we're nearing the gate, and he says "leaving, 100 rupees," sticking out his hand. "What? Are you crazy?" I laughed. He asked a couple more times, and I said no. How stupid did he think I was? I asked him, "give me one reason I should pay you. Can you think of one?"
I returned to the hotel, changed into the red kurta pajamas, and went to the cathedral for Shve and Mahesh's blessing with an auto driver who didn't know where the place was! Finding it, I paid and got situated in the church. To be honest- and probably not very nice- it was a super-gay service! There was this live band that played Christian rock music, and we had to sing along about Jesus and whomever. There was an organist... The reception was gay, too- gay elevator music while people went and congratulated them. All in all, it was just gay!
It was really beautiful there. You could see the bright skyline, there was pretty good music, plenty of seating and a "look-out" bar along the edge. I ordered a big Kingfisher and a tandoori mix platter that had fish, chicken, lamb, etc. When I was requesting music, this Indian cat walked up to say "turn it up!" to the DJ and request more shitty hip-hop. I noticed he had an American-sounding accent, and he asked where I was from. We got to talking and, although he seemed like a tool, he was nice. His name was Tunga. After asking what I did, he suggested I meet his friend from NYC who was in the music industry there.
I finished eating, then went and sat with them. The guy from NY- Rishi- was nice. He had worked in the industry, studied medicine, then moved to Bangalore to start a music magazine. It seemed interesting, but he kept trying to put a business slant on our whole conversation, like I should bring these artists he knows to Chicago, and I should promote his magazine, and he knows where music is going and it's going to be world music fusion. That's all possible, but I'm cool, thanks. We started talking about politics (he's Republican) and about things going on in the world. In general, a nice night. I wrote a bit, then went to an internet cafe where I checked email and looked at porn with the guys there; it was quite amusing. Then, the driver took me to this weird spot. It was some sort of illegal bar where girls danced- fully clothed in saris and what not. I took one look inside, decided it was silly, and had him take me home. In retrospect, I should've stayed just to have the experience, but at that point I was tired and didn't feel like sitting around and drinking anymore to watch some clothed girls dance around.
After a rushed complimentary breakfast, my favorite auto driver took me to the airport for my last domestic flight within India for this trip: Bangalore to Bombay. I took Indian Airlines this time around. All the stewardesses were old- twice the age of those on Jet Airways- so that was no fun. But, the food was a step-up from what it normally is, I guess, because there was some sort of cooking festival happening on the airline with some chef. The presentation, unfortunately, was the same; therefore, I think the effect of having a fancy meal was rendered moot by the plastic compartments and tin-foil coverings. In general, plastic is not a cool thing to use when serving food. It's a mild improvement from styrofoam, but really not so far off.
At the airport, I got in touch with Gayatri who was in the middle of a photo shoot, and Rishi, who told me to stay at Kemp's Corner Hotel. As luck would have it, they were completely booked! Fucking great, I thought. Here I am with all of my shit and not the faintest idea of where to stay. Well, two doors down was my savior: Hotel Shalimar. I walked in and explained my situation- and budget. I was not about to spend a ton of cash, you know? I got a great room for only 1500 a night! I was so excited. He took off 500 for me which was even a better deal, and that included breakfast, AC, cable, and a nice bed and bathroom. The room was small, but an absolutely perfect size for one person, and had the TV at the foot of the bed.
I got situated and wrote a long email to my family- the 2nd one on this trip. Writing stories down helped me to remember, just like this is helping me to remember. The AC was up so much in their "business center" that my fingers were stiffening up! I took a cab to Minerva Theater and, for sixty rupees, purchased balcony seats to "Paradesi-Re." I walked around the area near the theater, and saw how exciting Bombay is! It's quite hustle and bustle, and so colorful and noisy- lo-fi, almost. The buildings look almost abandoned but occupied by squatters, or, like re-animated ghost towns, inhabited by dirty rainbows. And the sounds! Horns of all different pitches creating a constant melodic hum, bicycle bells and voices: all in stereo, all loud. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes are all turned past 10: Spinal Tap 11 on the Marshall stack of your nervous system. I wanted to swim through it all. It made me so numb. I was this passive observer amidst the movement, almost invisible. Except, I was far from invisible: I was neon against pitch-black. Eyes followed me everywhere, hellos, smiles... Sometimes, I wished I was invisible; everyone ogles a foreigner. So, I was just getting washed to the shore of this sea of eyes over and over again, waves constant and getting bigger and bigger: mob waves, school children waves, street kid waves, men on the street waves, fruit and pan and flower vendor waves. I felt I'd crash- lose my breath as I got swept out in the tide- but then I'd come back to the present because a cab would ominously shoot by with an all-too-late warning from its horn, drowning like me in the ocean of street.
Then, I'd shift my attention upwards to people in the windows partially hiding behind drying clothes, vanishing momentarily from view as the Hindi-marked double-decker buses drove past with a low honk, then higher honks in reaction, like a soundtrack to a cartoon. All smiles, but so dangerous. I thought of- damn, I can't remember her name now- Lorraine Andrews? No. Loretta? I may be thinking of [Coretta] Scott King. Elinor? Damnit! My eyes are burning with fatigue as I write this. Maybe it was Loretta. Regardless, the SAS librarian who was killed by a vehicle in Chennai. She was just like me: lost in senses, but maybe not paying close attention in the wrong place at the wrong time, standing in an unlucky shadow. Loretta Andrews? Shit, I mean, I can even see her face, especially in the picture where she sat next to me in Vietnam, days before it happened. I was eating dragonfruit and smiling, and she was just looking in a direction off in space. Maybe she was talking to someone. I hope so... I hope her last days were wonderful.
I made it back to the theater, then got some snacks across the street. The movie, well, it sucked! The main actor was really unattractive, and had the worst pair of eyebrows I'd ever seen: he had enough hair for three! And, the sad thing was they were sculpted. I almost thought, why bother? It's like trimming a few leaves off a forest. And meanwhile, these girls fell in love with his sorry ass, and one of them was totally fine! It could've been some sort of pity case because of his brows. Like a huge-ass monobrow with a reverse mohawk; a bad charcoal drawing smudge-job. He was also not too good of a singer, bordering precariously on plain bad. And the story? Yuck. Shit story, and totally unbelievable- not to mention corny.
Exiting the theater, loud drums punctuated movement outside- wild rhythms, fast-paced and full of energy. I walked down the stairs into the chaos, drawing closer and closer to them. Then, suddenly, it stopped. Was it over? Cabs whizzed by, and I weaved through the tapestry of people sleeping, walking, standing, just being. It started again. Louder. I was closer. Through an entry way, I saw a small commotion, and the drums were coming from inside. It was a wedding celebration, kind of like a sangeet someone later told me. The walls around the dancers were full of observers: one one side, four or five stories of boarding school students- all boys- looking out from their balconies. On another two sides, people watching from glowing, colorful rooms of apartment buildings, at least two or three to a room except for one woman who stood alone. And then the temple, inside of which I could see flowers and gods positioned. The music was frantic, and women sat or stood in saris. If they weren't dancing, friends tried pulling them into the circle.
I approached a group of boys from the school who explained what was going on and, seconds later, two of them joined me out on the street, asking where I was going. Only 15 feet away on the corner, there was a huge mob scene with 30 or more people, and I remembered what France had told me about those: stay away! Cops eventually came and broke it up, and I returned to my hotel just in time for: “Back to the Future”! I hadn't seen it in so long but, to be honest, I was pretty tired. It was 10 PM, and I didn't feel like going to a club or anything. It was just perfect relaxing on my bed, watching Marty help his parents fall in love. I got room service (mediocre grilled BBQ chicken) and fell asleep shortly after the movie.
What am I going to do today, I thought as I lay in bed the next morning. After breakfast, I decided: anything. I just started walking, and kept thinking about those buses and where they were going. Where would I end up if I happened to hop on one of them? I did... Three rupees out of my pocket and now the buildings and things outside were passing me by. Almost too soon, it was the end of the line. I had seen the beach and palm trees from my window, so I set out in search for that. I had no idea where I was going; I just wanted to find something.
I quickly realized there wasn't a logical way to get to the shore. There were all these manned gates of what seemed like condos. When I walked through some of them, I thought nothing of it because people stared at me even when I wasn't doing something wrong, so now that I was wrong, it didn't matter. No one understood what I was saying. I told them I wanted to go to the beach. People would point in the same general direction, but what they were saying didn't quite click. I just kept trying until, finally, one of my right turns led me not to nice condos, but to a slum. Now we're getting somewhere!
I walked up the narrow street amidst naked children, filth and insect swarms, blue tarps, people cooking and sitting in dirt, incense smoke mingling with shit. And that scared/excited energy underneath my stoic "I know where I'm going" exterior made me crack a smile. A crowd to my left, some children, some teens, smiling. Here come the hellos.
"I'm trying to get to the beach," I laughed. One of them smiled and pointed behind him, and behind him was someone's home. Um, OK... I walked up the steps, and then through a back-alley maze of hallways between rooms, separating households. Roosters, cats, and small women emerged from behind cloth doors. At the same time I felt I was violating the space, I felt safe: that invisible but neon feeling I had on the streets the day before. Swimming. Soon enough, I saw waves crashing, but not on sand: on rocks and, further on in the distance, trash. Rainbow piles encircled by flies. I walked on. Navigating the rocks was difficult, but not impossible. It was mainly lots of smaller broken shards, and some larger boulders jutting out into the wavebreak. I saw a small child playing, and a man fishing, calmly holding the line out into the dark, murky water - then, a man squatting above a yellow-brown pool, naked from the waist down. Smells suddenly got a lot worse before becoming nothing short of disgusting, and I realized what this so-called "beach" actually was: a public (too-public, actually) restroom! Then, I was stepping over piles of shit which hardly looked human and holding my breath. I had to get back to the main road!
And then I had reached the dump. It was a mountain of old trash covered in small flies. Beyond the heap, two small boys were emerging from what would be my exit. They were saying something to me I couldn't understand. I was overwhelmed by garbage of every color. I got back towards a road, and found a huge public bath. It was surrounded on all sides by steps where people prayed around small fires and pictures of gods. I was in a place called Banganga. I met someone as I stood at a bus stop who told me to see the hanging gardens after I told them I had no idea where it was that I was going. I bussed over there, and started walking around on paths winding around bushes pruned to look like animals, and plants. I heard a bunch of people laughing behind me.
"Which country," one of them asked.
"France," I said.
"How do you like India?"
"Ici, c'est tres bien. Tu parles francais?"
They had these phony "I think you're funny" smiles- 2 girls, and 2 guys.
"What's your name?"
"Francois," I said. Fuck off.
"Hello there, handsome" said another voice as I walked on. It was different, though; it seemed sincere at that moment. His name was Ashok, and we walked around the gardens together, then went to the park. We boarded the bus and went to a museum where he found it necessary to point out everything to me and even fucking read- with poor pronunciation- the placards adjacent to the pieces. I half-listened to him, and to the audio guide in my headphones.
Lunch at a cafe was necessary. I was starving and also totally ready to get the hell out of that museum- did he think he was my guide? Yes, he did... Lunch was good. We talked about different things, but a main topic was women. How I always get bored and want what I don't have. I told him a little about Alex, and showed him the picture I kept in my wallet. Anyway, the strange thing was that I really missed her at that moment. It's not that I hadn't missed her prior to it, but it was then that I really realized it. Being halfway around the world does things to you: it helps you forget your life, but you- everything you are- comes randomly in spurts of memory that appear almost as hallucinations. I don't know if it was because I was tired so much, or drunk, or spaced out, but I'd get these elaborate hallucinations of my family and friends, of my room, my existence at home. It was so separate from what I was experiencing now. Eleven and a half hours, but lifetimes away, like remembering a past life, an old name, who everyone was to you. And I was sitting there and feeling home, but in an abstract sense since I knew when I'd return, it would change. It always does. So, I felt home the way it was before I left.
We went to Sehangir Art Gallery, bought tickets to another Hindi movie called “Makree,” then got some chai at a cafe. The movie was really cute. It was about a young girl with a twin sister, and a demon who turns the girl and everyone else who enters her house- into an animal. Choonie and Moonie were their names, and Moonie was turned into a chicken.
I took a cab with Ashok back to the hotel after stopping in an internet cafe, and it was then that I realized what was happening. This is what he did! He didn't have a fucking government job. Oh, maybe he did. He didn't have an Australian girlfriend, but maybe he did. At that point, I no longer trusted him and wanted him to get out of my cab. The nerve! Cause, when he got into the cab, I asked "you're coming?" and he said he was a good guide. Aha! He said he did this all over India. Then, his pathetic attempt to read the museum placards and improvise stupid little comments made sense!
I paid for the cab and stepped out, telling him he had deceived me. He said, "a little for me?" and stuck out his hand. In actuality, he had been a great guide. I gave him 140 (3 bucks- a little less), and that was more than enough compared to the zero I wanted to give him.
I showered, called Rishi (who didn't come to Bombay after all) and Gayatri (who was still on her shoot), then called Shve. I was debating on whether or not to go out. After talking to her and thinking this is my last full night in Mumbai, I jetted. I ate at a great place called the Chinese Room, then went to try out a club I had been told to go to: Fire and Ice. The cab let me out and it seemed wrong. There was a bridge above, and a long alley-like street. Well, just walk down the street, right? I eventually found it and paid 600 rupees- 200 for admission, and 400 for drink tickets. Well, when I walked in, it was empty. Lame hip-hop with an empty dance floor. I got a Bacardi and 7Up- my drink of choice here when I wasn't drinking beer, and headed to the balcony where couples were making out all around me. I did dance briefly, but the music was corny and totally turned me off. Drunk, back at the hotel, I flipped through channels for fashion TV which, besides a crap movie about a vampire frat, was the only good thing on.
My last day in India was relaxed. I went to Chowpatty beach after breakfast and was surrounded by one mob after the next as I sunbathed and talked to a Brazilian/Japanese girl who was alone in Mumbai. I told her about Goa and wrote down all the info that had been given to me; things had come full-circle. After feeling sufficiently cooked, I had lunch at Cream Circle with a dessert of delicious four-flavored kulfi (ice-cream made from bull's milk). I then found a theater where I watched "The Guru" in Hindi. I wondered how much of it had been censored, or how the wording had been changed. I went to a cyber cafe, cabbed back to the hotel to clean up and pack, had a farewell dinner once again at the Chinese Room, then cabbed it to the airport.
It was sad, you know? Just as home had appeared in vivid memories to me throughout the trip, I realized India was becoming a memory as well- all these different moments and people. I looked around and said "see you next time" to everything around me, feeling melancholy. I didn't want to return quite yet. But now, after sleeping through nearly the entire flight from Mumbai to Milan where I luckily had the center 3-seat row all to myself, I am looking forward to it. I'm tired, a bit tipsy off of champagne and white wine, flying home. There's 5,572 KM to the destination and the in-flight movies will begin shortly.
Time to destination: 7 hours, 17 minutes; estimated arrival time: 1:04 PM. OK, so that's 12:34 AM for me- a time on the clock which holds a strange and unspoken significance for me. I can't wait to put everything together- the photos, the scrapbook. When I share these experiences - though they will be behind me- they will truly be a part of me: a part I thank God for every day.