A Bavarian in Bishnipur
29.01.2013 - 09.02.2013
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People have bladders, some more slack than others. UK cinema owners simply do not recognise this. 30 + years ago you were awarded a piss break half way through the move, although not the case now, even though they sell blockbuster sized and priced coke before the film starts. Fortunately this is not the case in India. No need to sit cross legged during the important plot exposition. "And the murderer is...". No can't hang on any longer. Need to go.
In the UK you get more trailers than a caravan park and countless commercials before the film starts. In India this lasts a mere 10 minutes and the intermission is a sufficient 5 minutes. Over my many trips to India I have exhausted most of the museum experiences, anything from the toy museum to the History of Head Shaking From Side to Side museum. I don't often like seeing a movie on holiday as I usual feel that it doesn't relate to the travel experience. This time I however saw 2 Indian flavoured moves. Firstly I saw life of PI, about the best boy stranded on life boat with Bengal Tiger movie that you will ever see. I also saw the less impressive though still entertaining Midnight Children. This had children born on India's independence as a story backbone. The "who made this chutney" scene was far fetched I must say. I did note that a flash of breasts in one scene was obscured by a censor imposed opaque blob on the screen. No doubt when Basic Instinct was shown a huge shower screen was pulled across the cinema.
To add to the movie experience I picked up some DVD's. There is a guy openly selling the latest Hollywood releases on his market stall. All for 65p. These perfect pirates even come with a guarantee. He will even show you a movie clip on his portable player. I must admit being conned though. I had selected Lincoln, hoping it would be a gentle tale of the Fenland folk and that wonderful East of England Cathedral city. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was about some American President who got shot or something and ended slavery.
Finally I got to the Saturday club, a place full of colonial splendour. You can imagine in days gone by Major Foreskin Snotrag Jones discussing the colony with Admiral Flatulent Twatty. "Bloody savages the lot of them". But these "savages' have done good for themselves with a lot of hard work and innovation. My cousin and his friends are all successful business men. All seem to work 12 hours a day in high profile roles. Some are involved in buying and selling, finance, whilst one guy owns an engineering firm. "So what do you do for a living" they ask me? I am always tempted to make something up. "I used to be the global Marketing Director for a leading FTSE Suppository business but the bottom fell out of the market"
"Why are you not visiting us in Lucknow/Pune? Do you not like us?" asked a relative. Most of the family are fortunately in Kolkata, although some are 1 day plus away on a train. Travel on trains is a way to really see the real India. It can also be a very dusty and draining experiences. I made my excuses. "I would love to come but I have a touch of Leprosy". As a break from Kolkata instead I opted for a couple of days away in Bishnipur. This small, semi rural town is famous for its impressive 18th century terrocotta temples. I took a taxi across the congested arteries of Kolkata, estimating that the 45 minute journey knocked a day off my life. After arriving at chaotic is Howrah station, I took a mere 4 hour trip (anything under 7 is a short journey in India). I was then thrust apparently into old world India. The narrow, dusty streets of Bishnupur are lined with ramshackle corrugated iron shops, dilapidated houses (some made of mud), oh and the odd cow. There is hardly a car in sight. Mainly it is just cycle rickshaws, bicycles and the occasional motorbike. And very rarely a western tourist.
The Kolkata travel agent had booked me a room. I can imagine in a brochure it would have read "delightfully rustic" . I would have said "delightfully rancid". Student dorms accommodation dominated the ground floor of the establishment. The students, who had clearly not seen many foreign tourists treated me as some kind of celebrity. They also wanted to practice their English. They can now say "that curry was a real ring stinger". The first floor is the hotel, to which I was the only guest. I did have to share my prison cell of a room with a family of Geckos. They are cute, fly munching creatures though. No problem with them. They are not repulsive or aggressive like cockroaches, spiders or car sales people. Aggression on my first night seemed to stem from a fight I heard outside between a stray dog and a monkey. No worse than Edgeley precinct though.
Even an ape would have found the bed hard though, the tatty mattress gossamer thin. So what the air was clean. My pollution cough had instantly abated after arriving. This was the simple charm of old India that I first experienced 16 years ago. I recall settling down for sleep, perversely happy that I was staying somewhere with such character. The lights and the fan worked, although the latter at only one speed, airplane propeller fast. The first night I woke up to use the loo, hitting the light switch. There was then a huge spark as all the power shorted on my floor. THIS IS INDIA.
As if to compensate for electrical failure, my host, the hotel manager was the star. His name roughly translated means clean friend (endless euphemisms with that name). As the only guest I was treated like a king. Excellent food was served in my room. He even took me on the back of his motorbike for a tour of the temples.
I always seem to be an eccentric magnet on my travels. For the duration of the 4 hour train journey back to Kolkata I was chatting to one such individual. The colourful Sari, Bindi and fluent Bengali betrayed her German routes. I must admit I was trying to feign a coma whilst she gave me a multi faith dissertation on worship and spirituality. Unfortunately for her my Zen receptor was empty. I did contemplate feigning a coma or even jumping from the train. What was more interesting for me was her background, which I had to prize out of her. Just the usual story of young male Hindu dance instructor, headhunted by a Munich dance school to teach in Germany. Dance instructor falls for pupil, lures her back to India (kolkata and latterly Chennai). They marry. Couple split up after having one child. Husband goes back to Germany to teach. Wife goes native in Chennai for 25 years.
So I survived the journey. Back to Kolkata for a couple of days. Next time I will be staying at the families ground for flat, which is theirs again after finally being able to evict the squatting tenants, who with a little help from the corrupt former communist West Bengal Government m have been able to elude rental payments for a staggering 40 years. But that's India. Corruption knows no political, class, caste or status boundaries. It is something in the DNA.
I was sad to say my goodbyes although excited that the adventure was to continued. My Aunti Gori accompanied me to the Airport with a package to take on the flight bound for Bangkok.
To be continued................