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From BK to Bombay

Sleepless. I gave an orange clad holy man a loosey and he smiled without words. Shiva would be pleased.

Story by Teo J. Babini - teo@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by Icarus Blake Video byTeo J. Babini and Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Where the hell ya Goan?

It’s hot as hell and even the barefoot bus driver’s wearin’ long pants and long sleeves. Passing palm trees with vultures circling overhead waiting for something to drop. Listening to some samba in the headphones with the windows open while we overtake Vespas uphill. Colorful houses and big bridges. Old boats along the coast. Rice patties and women working in fields. The town’s full of tubby topless tourists flip floppin’ around in board shorts, their white skin sun stained the same color red as the Kingfisher posters painted all over the place.

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s a five star Portuguese fort left over from the colonial days and you’d better hurry up your check-in ‘cause nobody wants to miss their head massage (The security smiles with me in a cloud of smoke). Picture perfect postcard paradise is overly air-conditioned bungalow rooms on a hill with terraces and reading hammocks. The pool is surrounded by crows who’ve kicked out all the gulls, foreign visitors, wealthy Indian children (Who are as loud and obnoxious as poor Pugliese children) and their mothers who look to them like princes, fitness freaks who swim in shades, and “Mickey Mouse”, who wears a hair band, shaves his chest, and drinks champagne from the bottle.

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s a brown water beach with water sport madness and Ibiza style electronic dance dives populated by classless Russian meatheads (greased and Speedoed) and their pasty and G-string adorned Soviet sweethearts who attract the eyes of passersby. The locals fuel the sand with suds and shade, men drunk, swimming in their underpants, while the ladies comb the beach in Saris cleaning, selling jewelry, and offering nail care and/or massage. The few that swim do so in said saris to avoid the impoverished appearance given off by the UV rays. You must wear shoes in the gym, and a large Punjabi Sikh talks Premiere League with a “Party Naked” shirt on while the local hoodlums take cellphones pictures near the ruins.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Happy Hindi New Year! The local fish is a sinus clearing knockout with a side of fresh nan among a buffet that seems to represent tastes the world over, a welcome upgrade from the big breakfasts (Although the oysters are poorly shucked and the wine something out of a Greek tragedy). “Gangnam Style” garners much more dance floor action than the hired cover artist with bad thighs, worse style, and a voice that could blind orphans. Enough rounds of free sparkling wine and all the room keys cease to function. So just enjoy the circus acts and pray that you don’t accidentally vomit in the “green room”. It is good luck to conduct the first business transaction of the New Year in rupees, even if after gypsy-esque bargaining. The entire staff hugs and shakes hands and, if you’ve made friends during your stay, they’ll shake your hand too, warmly, maybe even fix your lighter for ya.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Varanasty Style:

It’s all Bollywood movies on the local Air India flight, they start dancing during descent. The hotel driver’s nervous ‘cause we can’t find Cathy, closing windows on arms and haggling with the parking attendants over some previously paid overage. The rural roads are dusty with people hanging out on the side. Tree uprooted by runaway bus. Parked auto-rickshaws with drivers sleeping through the strike. The city is a mad traffic jam complete with bicycles, rickshaws, scooters, cars, pedestrians, and “Freedom Cows”. The hotel man maps out his hustle, but for now: “Take a little rest”. Deep fried cottage cheese “made to order” is apparently better than street meat, chef’s special. Kites fill the sky.

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s all giant stone steps from river to temple (ghats). Graffiti shares walls with painted ads: “Bodhi Bio Restaurant” and “Vishnu Tea Emporium”. Bodies burn before an audience of onlookers, the old cold cadavers carefully changed into a fresh pair of rags. The cycle is ended. Chai with the local con men who spit pan through rotten teeth in reddish brown waterfalls (Bitter or sweet, always wrapped in a leaf). A stray dog runs funny with broken legs. A dead infant, already pure, tied to a stone and sunk. Children carrying baby goats, while the French administer futile health care. Men squat and piss in the gutters. By night, the boat men ferry folks to the Hindu festival. Buy a candle from a sassy little doll and let it float away. Hashish? Opium? It’s all fun. The mosquitoes flock, slow and dumb from the winter chill. All Japanese tourists wear crocks and harem pants. In the morning, they will wash in the cancer causing waters of the Ganga, holy river, and leave linens out to dry on the stairs, but I won’t see it ‘cause it starts in your head, then your stomach, then you vomit so hard your throat bleeds and you can’t shake the chills, nor the aches. Sleepless. I gave an orange clad holy man a loosey and he smiled without words. Shiva would be pleased.

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s a giant Buddha blocking out the sun. Prayer flags. Please remove your shoes. Tibetan monks among the ruins, fondling prayer beads while meditating in circles. The original tree that sprouted the first sutra surrounded by strangely dressed Nepalese women. Deformed beggars at the entrance. The driver plays the poor man’s hacky sack with a street vendor. Next up, it’s all handloom silk and Muslims in the Mogul Town. “Look the quality”, magic pashmina. The ass-trologer said a lotta things, none of any particular merit, just another pan-handler, hustling the past, present, and future. Flute? Drum? Once again, it’s all fun.

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s fog soup so thick you can’t see the opposite side of the intersection. The rickshaw driver stops for chai. Underdressed and rubbing the blue off jeans to stay warm. Almost sandwiched between a truck and a bus. The last thing you saw in this life was headlights appearing directly in front of you. You shoulda grabbed the rail, but figured it would be better to die with warm hands. A skin and bones stray starves to death with regal expression. Frozen breath.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Bombay’s Finest:

It’s a real long ride to “town” from the slum-surrounded airport, shortened slightly by the Sea Link. Outdoor roadside barber shop. Vortex of bamboo scaffolding. Bombay beach bums in the sun. Seventies fiat taxi beats the “cool cab” any day. There is no such thing as free WiFi, even if it says so. Campari sodas at The Dome. Kebab Korner meat from the North. Coffee from the South (Chicory) in little local cafeteria. Electric Krishna shirt. Traditional drag queens walking through traffic to avoid the Colaba Crowdway.

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s all covered in chaos with a captivating sense of inner calm. Darjeeling tea at the post-terror Taj (Complete with military blockade). King Crab is king of Trishna, with long waits and no nonsense waiters. If you want to cross the street, RUN! Bangalow 8, a hidden gem next to Thai Body Spa. A pigeon perched on Gandhi’s bronze head. A giant field full of cricket players, guarded over by “Little Ben”. Sitting with strangers at the Leopold Café, surrounded by henna tattooed tourists, blondes with backpacks drinking beer from giant tubes. Last meal: Hakka Hunan Chindo chicken with a couple big bottles of Bombay water (Carlsberg).

Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s sunset lovers along the Mumbai Malecon. The shoed, sandaled, and soleless; modern caste system. A family of four fitting into one scooter with no helmets. Land of lines. Sri Lankan customs scuffle. Half-ass security looking only for lighters to confiscate. Make the gate with minutes to spare. Gods’ speed.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Final Thought:

Some little Varanasi knuckleheads got their kite tangled in the wires along the ghats. As I approached, an extremely tall foreign form, they all looked up to me and pointed to their kidnapped kite. I jumped and got it down for them. They smiled at me and let out little celebratory yips of cheering delight, then ran off. This is India.

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

Photo © Icarus Blake

2 Responses to “From BK to Bombay”

  1. Gaya Holmes says:

    I love this article, I was in Varanasi and I could not describe the experience any better. This is a nice piece about India.