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Delhi Airport to Oberoi Maidens Hotel, Old Delhi 29 October 1998

At least I think it was 1998… funny how the old memory works, or not. If I was asked to write about this now, I would say that I remember the people at the airport, they were sort of stacked up behind a high wire fence – faces and hands pressed on the wire. Is that true? Well I remember it. But is it true? I don’t know – there was a metal wire fence, I was on one side, Indian people on the other. Then I remember the hotel room being enormous. The curtains were thick and kept the light and heat out. I was scared to leave the room, but not as scared as my companion who was more so. The room was in a 1970s green. It reminded my of my Nan and Grandad’s decor in Camberley, Surrey. Flying to India, to be reminded of your grandparents home in Everest Road. There’s a synchronicity in that that I can live with. Anyway, this is the start of the travel diary from that first trip to India.

Passing through the exit of the Indira Gandhi International airport carries a the sensation of being unavoidably decanted from a bottle. There is no turning back. Despite the sole poster advertising ‘Indiaaaah’ at the High Commission where I had collected my visa in London, there was no feeling of sliding into an instantly relaxed state. Not that I had expected this in any case, which was just as well.

The task in hand was to get a taxi. First you buy a ticket for a taxi from a kiosk inside the airport. The ticket is blue. Next you find the kiosk outside the airport with the yellow signage that says ‘Pre Paid Taxis’. The man in the outside kiosk takes your ticket and writes a number on it. Then he instructs us to find the taxi with the same number as that on the ticket from the rank of Ambassador cars parked just beyond a melee of people. As I looked for the right taxi, people pressed forwards, looking at the ticket and pointing directions. The numbers on the taxis themselves were not exactly obvious. I was thrust helpfully towards a man in a grey shirt and simultaneously noticed the number matching my ticket written in felt tip on what may once have been the fare meter, somehow attached to the bonnet of the car.

The taxi number was 594.

To be continued…

‘Everything Changes’

but you… was on a loop in my head at the launderette this evening. I don’t really like that song; I never really liked Take That either.

The thing is, or was, or is – I’m not sure – that the ‘you’, that doesn’t seem to change at all, is the launderette. I don’t go to them much, in fact, the last time was the 28th October 2009, so I’m in a good position to notice any drastic (or even minor changes). There aren’t any as far as I can see. As I sat on the thin wooden shelf for bums with the massive tumble driers heating my back, it was as if I was still 14, or 21, or 25, or any other age up to the age I am today. The launderette is the nearest I can get to time travel into the future too – everything changes but you.

The machines look the same as before and they roll round in the same direction as they ever did. I couldn’t say whethere it’s clock or anti though as I don’t pay that much attention – although I should. The smell is timeless and the decor, whatever launderette you find yourself in and wherever that may be, is always that whey-like worn formica yellow, or a wrong blue. There’s no word for the blue, barring wrong. And the word launderette, it’s a womanly word isn’t it? Invented for when washing was women’s work presumably. What would the testosterone-laden version of the word be, I wonder. Two rocks and a river probably. In India, they take your service wash at the launderette down to the ghats, the steps on the river bank. And they suds it and bash it and rinse it, and the children leap in and out of the filthy water, buzzing around the bright saris of the women that wash for a wage. I never saw how they dried it all.

Bunking off school in my teens might involve having a spin in one of those tumble driers, back in the day. A metal cocoon for teenage angst. A few revolutions and a bang on the bonce a great way to put those teenage angsts into perspective. I put my head right in to the drier today, on a mission to rescue clothes at the back of the hot cylindrical void and I wondered if I would still fit into the drum; if I could take a whirl in the drum for old times sake. The thought didn’t last long.

Ref: yesterday’s post

This was the strains of tune, that I was singing along to at the racecourse. I had never seen the video until I looked it up for this post. They look to me like they (Mumford and Sons) are in India, maybe Kerala.

Time was I would hop on a plane to India with a song in my heart. Next week I am meant to get on a plane to Turkey with only Valium in my stomach. How things change.

Click through required, good video rewards the effort…

Lal Ghat Guesthouse, Udaipur, India

I stayed at this gaff midway round my trip round Rajasthan in the late 1990s. It was the only point in the trip when I resisted the Indian drivers incessant hotel prescriptions, for which he received a commission that you could hardly begrudge him. I wanted to stay near the lake. Mahinder, the driver, recommended a hotel in another district. This is what I wrote about the Battle of Lal Ghat.

“Finally, after nine hours on the road, we reach Udaipur. Mahinder goes without consultation, as per usual, to his preferred hotel partner. It is situated up a hill, far away from the town and the lake. For the first time in six days I put my foot down and refuse to check-in. It is not so much that the rooms are shabby, which they are, it is just that I cannot bear the thought of being stuck up here away from the town, again.

Despite Mahinders disappointed expression and his warning about the area I want to go to: dirty and smelly; I hold firm. On the journey down to the town, Mahinder stops again at yet another hotel. This one is on the lake, but not in the town. The hotel is posh, but modern. I am now committed to original character and I refuse to even look at a room – very brave.

So Mahinder gives in and drives to the area in the town that I have insisted on: near the Jagdish Temple, the City Palace and on Lake Picholas shores. The dire warnings persist: this bit of the lake is man-made with fetid water that attract very many mosquitoes, many people get a fever (malaria), the streets are narrow and crowded, no vehicle can pass along them etc. etc. I say that, in that case, I will walk. Mahinder says it is up to me, he just knows whats what. He continues that the Rough Guide or whatever book I have consulted in the matter will lead me astray, listing only hotels that are now closed, or under disreputable management. And so on.

Sometimes you have to be very thick-skinned to put up with the Indian way of doing things. I walk down an alley to the Guesthouse. I feel a bit bad because I have cost the driver his commission but he can have a bigger tip at the end of the trip to compensate.”

This is what I dug my heels in so hard for.

4 Billion: it’s not enough

That’s 4 Billion IP addresses for the whole world: the IP being a set of 4 two or three digit numbers that your computer or internet-connected device uses to route all the information to it’s door. Without them the whole shebang wouldn’t work; like a homing pigeon with no loft.

Anyway the current system doesn’t include enough possible numerical variations to go beyond the original 4 billion arrived at so, a bit like they had to change the London telephone codes from 01 to 071 and 081 as more and more impertinent people wanted a phone line, they are going to have to start changing the format of new IP addresses from four sets of number variations to six sets. Otherwise they will run out next month…

Oh how my poor nerves are wracked by the very thought of it.

I wonder who came up with 4 billion in the first place? Did they even consider China: population 1,341,750,000 or *India:1,198,003,000. What the hell those two numbers are in words, I’ve no idea. Anyway, whichever eejit settled on 4 billion (4,000,000,000,000) it was a bad day at the office for them, and they should be sent to stand in the corner to think about it.

That's about 5 per person I reckon

*India’s population predicted to exceed that of China’s by the year 2030.

Pushkar Camel Fair

Pushkar is a sacred city in Rajasthan (one of five in India) founded, allegedly, when Brahma dropped a lotus flower in the desert, which then turned into Lake Pushkar. As it is a holy place for Hindus, you aren’t allowed to drink alchohol or eat meat or eggs, but if that sounds exceptionally dull you can always liven things up by ordering a bhang lassi from the under the counter menu in many establishments…

The first time I went to India, and indeed the second, I eschewed all kinds of lassi: a salty or sweet yoghurt drink. Despite being tempted by the hallucinatory properties of the bhang version, Pushkar was an edgy sort of place where tempers flared in the crowded streets and having your wits about you seemed the most advisable course of action to me.

I had ostensibly gone to Pushkar for the camel fair, but being a disorganised person in India gets you absolutely nowhere, or at least nowhere near your intended destination at the appointed hour. Thus it was that I tipped up in Pushkar about a week after the camel fair had finished. On reflection, that probably wasn’t a bad thing, missing as I did such things as the Moustache Competition, the Water Pot race (for women), the Musical Chair race and First, Second and Third Milkings.

In a bhang lassi haze it might have worked I suppose…

A camel chilling in Pushkar

One Pen?

For some reason I said this to one of my students this afternoon. The group on Wednesdays could not possibly devalue their street cred by actually lugging their own biro about with them. Fair enough, I understand entirely. When I was about their age – somewhere between 16-19 – I would not have been caught carrying anything that would not fit in a pocket. All money, make-up, whatever, had to fit in there and that was that. All this pre-dates mobiles of course.

Anyway, where they have no pen, I am required to dish them out weekly, one pen each. They always leave them behind too, for the same reason they never have one in the first place; so the only thing they are costing the tax-payer is a bit of ink, my time and the building overheads. The hope is, with the qualification they get, they will eventually end up tax-payers themselves and can subsidise the next generation of non-pen carrying students.

I have digressed. What I was going to say was that saying “One pen” reminded me of something. Then I remembered it is what the street kids often say to you in India when they are mobbing you for stuff. I told the students this and they thought it was funny. I suppose it is really. They can beg or borrow a biro any time they like; they are of little consequence. In India, like everything, they have value.

I ran out of the one pens I took quick enough when I went to India for the first time. It was in November 1998, a fact I would have not remembered if I had not recently found a travel diary I wrote. I do remember that I ended up doling out sweets too, in the absence of one pens. Once, in the desert state of Rajasthan, a kid pinched me hard on the arm for my trouble. I have always wondered why, but I can’t say I blame him.

A Tonic

I’ve been half-arsedly writing a post for you lot since this morning, but it’s just not come together.

Luckily I have conserved just enough energy to go and make a gin & tonic with Fever-Tree Indian Tonic water which is (aside from an organic one I used to get in Bow somewhere) *legendary. The Schweppes Indian Tonic water will do in extremis, but it is cloying compared to the light and fresh Fever-Tree variety.

The big no-nos in my Gin & Tonic are slimline anything and lime. I once got a lecture off some barman about why I had to have the lime. There was apparently some irrefutable evidence based on laboratory research he was trying to share with me. I did not have the lime; I broke his heart with a slice of lemon. If a lady can’t get her drink fixed the way she wants it, then we should all just give up and go home. I think the barman in question knows that now.

*the ultimate G&Ts were the ones breaking all the rules in India: flat tonic, no ice and overproof gin…