December 4th, 2010
BikeShuffle: Depeche Mode – Never Let Me Down
Hubli – 06:52
I’ve been gently reminded that I went to bed a bit pissed last night by the university-style beer hangover that is alive and well behind my eyes. This despite drinking a litre of water during the night.
Although the mind desires to get up, wash, eat something and start driving, the body is weak. I feel defeated by even the horrible taste in my mouth.
Outside they’re blasting an air raid siren and I’m trying to decide if this is because it’s now 7 o’clock in the morning, or because I have had the strange misfortune to have left my family in Goa on the eve of armageddon….
Last night over dinner, in what was quite a raucous ‘family’ restaurant and bar, I had one of those hilarious conversations – made even more so because we were both a little bit pissed – where neither person could understand a word the other was saying and yet were undeterred from trying. He was a moustachioed office worker, enjoying dinner and a few whiskies before making the 60 kilometre trek to his home. At his insistence, we did the full phone ritual – first he proudly gave me his number in English, then he had me call him so that my number was on his phone, then he made me spell my ‘good name’ so that would make no mistake about it. I’m sure he keyed in ‘tourist’ to help his memory in the same way that I put ‘Hubli’ to aid mine.
Still can’t believe I am driving to Hampi. Having taken a day to get here, that means I’m going to be away for a minimum of five. Five days!
Have been looking at the map and that old familiar feeling of ‘I wonder what it would be like to drive there….’ It has been getting even more insistent. By the time I get to Hampi I will be more than halfway to the other coast. That itself is a romantic concept, although my memories of the east coast are of a fairly desolate place.
I have to confess also that the romance of travelling through India in 2010 is slightly diminished from what we felt in 1994. The country has changed massively. Back then, people had a vague notion of the west from watching shows like Dallas all clustered around the village TV. Now lots of people in India are quite publically living lives like the folk in Dallas, just updated. The most expensive house in the world – a 27-storey tower for God’s sake – has just been completed in Mumbai. It cost a billion to build and tens of thousands a month just to power up. In this brave new age of Indian wealth, who the hell needs JR?
This country has arrived and it appears to be far more ready for the twenty-first century, than poor, depressed, snow- bound Britain.
Gadag – 10:40
I’m on a lonely stretch of highway 63 heading east after Gadag, not quite halfway to Hospet. Despite the windblown emptiness of this place, I have to concede that nowhere in India is truly lonely. There’s a guy tilling a patch of ground about a hundred meters from where I’m sitting and he was instantly fascinated by the biker tourist and his shiny silver laptop. This despite the fact that I’ve tried to hide myself behind a bush, just off the road. Typically, for India at least, there was someone occupying the narrow window of space that has a direct perspective on me and my hiding spot. Our tilling friend has wasted little time in sending up a call of surprise, abandoning his two oxen and beckoning his friends. Now he’s heading on over.
Beside me the road continues to cough up an incredible variety of operators: cars, trucks vans, carts, three-wheelers, two-wheelers, bullock carts, bicycles, barefoot holy men, and of course, the real masters of the highway, itinerant cows. All, including the mighty Tata, must yield to even the smallest cow. There’s something vaguely admirable about that system. Now, if only they could do something about the mountains of shit.
Ok. Our tilling friend is now standing over my shoulder watching me. Let’s give PhotoBooth another whirl:
That hasn’t put him off in the slightest. He’s now calling other people over and has sat down beside me. I think that proves the point about loneliness fairly succinctly. Doesn’t speak a word of anything but Kannada. Not even Hindi, but it hasn’t stopped him from sitting beside me and looking on with naked fascination while keeping up a running commentary.
What is it in this culture that prevents the formation of any rigorous notions of privacy or personal space? It’s probably also a class thing. Like 95% of the people in this country, this guy is almost certainly living in a single room with at least five other people, and the only other thing he’s got to do with his time is till a patch of red dust with a pair of oxen (and even they look bored). If the roles were reversed, I guess I would probably take a little time out if some alien being rolled into your dusty little patch. And I probably wouldn’t let manners keep me from a front row seat either.
In the meantime, Dude’s mates have arrived. Time for another picture.
Five minutes on, they’re discussing me with through a laughing bristle of bad teeth. One of them has spotted the gum in my bag and has tried to help himself. ‘Tablets. Tablets.’ The others take up the chant, and I duly hand them one each. I am given a slightly reproachful look in return. This is clearly too stingy a gift from a man of my means.
Might be time to shuffle down the road for another few klicks before things get sinister. Will fix my wonky handlebars later.
Just called home to hear the latest Dumpie meltdown first hand. Instantly felt guilty for whiling away my time in a fairly offhand fashion, buzzing down the road, ostensibly in search of truth, but, more often than not, with an empty head and a lopsided grin (although, having just encountered Billy Idol on shuffle, that sneering don of mid-eighties mediocrity, hasten to add that it’s not a smile of the whiplash variety).
Perhaps owing to the meditative buzz of the motorcycle, I seem to have concluded on this latest leg that self criticism is actually one of my greatest indulgences. After all, what is it but a continued recognition and obsession with self? Doubting your self, your abilities or your motives actually fulfils the rather subtle trick of keeping yourself front and centre for much of the time. The ego, while assaulted, is also massaged, in a kind of psycho-shiatsu combination that, over all, must feel quite pleasant. Otherwise, we’d stop doing it.
Once i catch myself at it, I usually fall into the next trap of thinking about thinking. At every juncture I seem to want to remind myself, “Hey, by the way pal, have you noticed that you’re on to that thinking lark again?” The ego, once aroused, loves nothing more than self-referential loop, and will always asserting itself when it feels its not getting a enough of a look in. Even if it needs to use a bit of loathing to get the point across. Then finally comes resentment — “Why do i always interrupt myself?” It’s a bit like having an unco-operative clown of an uncle, forever standing in front of your camera when you’re trying to take a picture, when all you really want is to be left alone with the scenery. If only I could break this loop, i just know the world would reveal itself as an even more beautiful place. I always thought that meditation would hold the answers. But I have been inconsistent, and a little discouraged by the mass of just this kind of thinking that arises when you’re trying to quiet things down. And of course, hangovers like this morning’s don’t lend themselves to an awful lot of clear headedness. Feels like this one is going to take more than a New Year’s resolution….
Hampi – Shanti Guest House – 17:41
After much palaver, and a ten kilometer column of creaking, dust-spewing Tata’s queueing up to cross the Tungabhadra Dam, I finally arrived at Hampi, only to discover that my lack of passport could pose a serious problem (we haven’t even got to the missing bike papers yet). Have now gone to register with the police, and thankfully, they were more enthralled by my Mac than the lack of passport which it signified. They looked on mystified as I copied details from a photograph of my passport which i happened to have kicking around in email, then they asked me how much I wanted to sell a) my laptop and b) the bike. The guy most interested was the head, and seemingly only member of Hampi’s Crime Division.
On hearing that I had registered with the police, my very proper proprietor allowed me to check in, but insisted that I write ‘passport lost in Goa/ police informed’ on the form, which could, if the police are energetic, mean the saga has got a few more chapters in it. Actually, looking at the words ‘police’ and ‘energetic’ in the same sentence have just made me feel a lot better about my chances.
Just now, I caught sight of myself in the tiny mirror of my tiny room: I’ve been walking around talking to half the people in Hampi with enough grime on my face to make me look like a panto player. Bless the guy in the shop. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked for soap.
So here I am ensconced in the smallest and cheapest room I saw in at least five hotels, but which, for some reason, appealed to me the most. Perhaps it was the tiny tin desk. Am completing the nostalgic effect by listening to the Payola$, something i last did even further back than my last arrival at Hampi by Enfield.
And, with that difficult sentence behind me, I’m retiring to scrub up.
Tucked up in a bed that’s at least several sizes too small under a meagre bit of mosquito netting and listening to the Payola$ (again) while slogging through the Count of Monte Cristo on Kindle for Mac. Like the addict I am, i’ve got Eyes of a Stranger on repeat. Ok, so it is very much a Police rip off, with the reggae beat, chorus guitar, synth pads and shouty vocals. But it works. In my biked-out and squished up state, it’s proving to be quite a delicious concoction, especially as they indulge in some heavy, dub-style delay – something the Police didn’t do so much of (Andy was a clean freak).
The sound is such a signature of my misspent youth, and it’s been such a long time since I heard it. Cue nostalgia, with the smell of a damp boarding room hallway leading the charge. It’s all flooding back. The 80’s. That feeling of being young and on the margins. Watching with big eyes as the older kids got to have all the fun.
What else from this era? Flock of Seagulls, maybe Howard Jones, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Split Enz, all framed with a slight uneasiness that I will attribute to The Omen movies. Then there were all the other CanCon groups who were darlings of Canadian radio but who never seemed to make it any further. Arise Loverboy, Spoons, Gowan, Frozen Ghost, the Pursuit of Happiness….what forlorn suburban intersection do you now inhabit? Given the general gnarliness of Anvil, it’s clear that the suburbs of Canada continue to produced something unique, delicate and special. What a shame that they are doomed to such a forsaken corner of the musical landscape.
I would pay good money to see the kind of rockumentary that dug up everyone from the old guard, poured a few beers into them, then teased out on camera details of their tragic lives while documenting the full extent of their hair loss. And I know at least ten other people who would do the same. It really feels like i ‘m on to something here….