Saturday, February 20, 2010


Riding a bike is a solitary occupation. I have time to think. Subjects of thought return again and again, become familiar companions and refuse to be abandoned until written down. So here is a thought on police of whom I ask directions in what ever country I travel. I come of a generation (and perhaps a class) that considers the police as one of the four solid foundation blocks of the community. The vicar or priest cared for our souls; the doctor cared for our health; the family lawyer shared with the bank manage a care for our finances; the policeman was our protector and the protector of our property and laws were passed for our benefit. Why then do my children's generations view the police as the enemy? And if the police are the enemy of youth, what youth joins the police? This last is a serious and disturbing question. And that is enough on the subject – though I will return to it. But now is the hour to daub my face and ankles with mosquito repellent and stroll down Murud's shore street, bid its citizens (other than the veiled) Good evening, sip a fresh lime and soda and decide in which restaurant to dine. Prawns? Probably...

Friday, February 19, 2010


Heading south tomorrow, I must take a ferry from Janjira across an inlet. Janjira is separated from Murud by a creek and a steep treeless hill that rises directly from the shore. Janjira nestles in a cleft in the hill. Cross the bridge and ride up the hill and you look down on a nest of coconut palms sheltering tiled cottages and a mosque. Fishing boats lie off shore and the great walls of Janjira fort rise dark from the waters. Pirates from the Horn of Africa built the fort in the 11th century and it was never subdued. Were the builders Somali? Certainly Muslem, and Janjira remains a Muslem village. Veiled women in black peak at me from doorways...


Murud is a pleasant town for a stroll, small, compact, tranquil. Inhabitants are polite, streets narrow, buildings mostly low and old. Mango trees and coconut palms offer shade. The small covered market overflows with fruit and vegetables. Women carry baskets of sand to a building site. Fisherman mend nets. I sit at a waterfront cafe, order a fresh lime and soda (no sugar, no salt). For the past hour some forty men have been talking together on stone benches in the park next door. Most are elderly. I watch now as they walk down the beach. They hitch their pants a few inches and paddle a few feet out from the shore. Four young Bombayites at the next table tell me that the men are scattering a friend's ashes. For a friend they should have paddled further and made sure the tide was on the ebb. Or perhaps they planned having their friend's ashes stick to their ankles...


The German family have departed. They were good people, well read and thoughtful, against the Iraq war, doubtful of involvement in Afghanistan, critical of Britain's subserviance to the United States. The mother photographed the bullock race. The father downloaded the pictures to my computer. Why did he download a picture of his daughter? Surely not a subconcious hope that she might find a husband through my Blog...

Thursday, February 18, 2010


bullock cart race

And these, to give you the full picture.



Dawn in the garden at the Seashore Resort. A cool breeze off the sea stirs the palm fronds overhead. Crows pick through the night's rubbish discarded on the beach. Bath water heats on an open fire. The Resort's henah haired jack of all trades brings coffee and chai. The tide is out and the German family and I watch bulloock carts race each other along the glistening sand. Drivers whip the beasts and yell – all but a young lad bringing up the rear. Of his two bullocks, one is big and grey and staid. The second is small and young and tries to trot whilst the elder plods. The driver leans right forward and whacks the young bullock. For trotting or for not trotting fast enough? The driver ignores the old bullock. The older bullock igores the driver.


I carry three guide books for comparison. Two recommend the same restaurant, Patil Khanaval. The restaurant is listed as on the sea front. Murud must have expanded since the researchers visited. Now it is down an alley. The cook is dug out of bed. He runs through the menu whilst picking his nose: fish biriyani, mutton biriyani, prawns biriyani. He may be a great chef but the nose is a negative. Better a Muslim restaurant with tables in a large garden the shore side of the shore road. Fish soup and grilled prawns, delicious. And so to my bed of layered rocks...


dusk from the garden

Murud is more of a large village than a town. Fishing and tourism are the main pursuits. The off-shore fortress of Janjira is the main attraction - apart from fresh seafood. I am staying at the Seashore Resort, listed in Footprint as having three rooms, a pretty garden, and run by a friendly family – accurate, though one room is closed while they extend the main house. I didn't find the place through the guide book. The doorman at a posh hotel across the street recommended it. A German family occupy the second room. Mother is a retired teacher. Father, a mathematician, is about to be retired with a golden handshake by a software company; younger people are available at half the salary. In her mid twenties, the daughter is cogitating on a career in what might loosely be described as the Social Services (or good deeds). They are traveling by hire car with a driver. They laugh a lot, love each other and read books. Good neighbours...


My knowledge of heroin is academic, though extensive. Thus I know that taking a hit develops a hunger for more. Prawns are similar which explains why I am on the road early and racing south from Daman for the small seaside town of Murud. The highway is good. I cruise at 90 kph and cut inland to avoid Mumbai – why risk bronchitis?
I pull in beside a sextet of cops for directions on which road to take.
An officer asks my age.
“Seventy-six, seventy-seven next week,” and I show him my passport.
The cops yak and laugh amongst themselves. Are they going to hit me with a fine for something? No, they are giving me a birthday present: permission to ride up the Pune (or Poona) Expressway (illegal for bikes). A secondary road to the right leads to Pale and so to the coast and a room with three beds in Murud at 450 rupees. Pile all three mattresses on one bed and you have three layers of rock. Walk down the garden and you are on the beach. Beach is rocks ground small.


Riding a bike in India is tiring. This is not a complaint. I am having a great time. However a day in the saddle leaves me with insufficient energy to mount an Internet connection hunt. Back in the UK we have an image of India as the burning tip of high tek Internet development. Not on any connection that I've used. Slow as a slug and often fails when uploading pictures. However I have reached Cochin safely and am waiting for Professor Doctor Betty de Swann to sashay off the plane on the 21st. So I have two days to get up to date with the BLOG - Oh, and there is the next piece for BA and a film Presentation for Veronica. I think that's all. Or do I owe MCN? Though to have any sort of work at my age and in the present economic climate is a miracle for which I am immensely grateful...
That's enough.
Get back to your room, Old Fool, and start writing.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Daman is on the coast 250 Ks south of Baroda/Vadodaras. The territory was annexed by the Portuguese in 1531 and ceded to the Portuguese by the Sultan of Gujarat in 1539. Prime Minister Nehru ordered the invasion of all Portuguese territories in India on 19th of December, 1961. Thus ended 430 years of Portuguese rule. So much for history...
Modern Daman is in two halves divided by the Daman Ganga river. Nani Daman is a moderately chaotic mix of high rise and bazaar, hotels, restaurants and wine shops, all geared to sell cheap booze to Indian males on holiday from dry States.
Cross the bridge to Moti Daman and the Portuguese fort and enter a quieter more tranquil world. Indian forts are built to guard Maharajas and their palaces. Daman fort sheltered bureaucrats, traders and their families. No palaces here. Trees shade peaceful streets of modest buildings. Even the cathedral is little bigger than a parish church. I sit a while on a bench in the plane white nave. The Eucharist light flickers on the alter. A small elderly woman and her pre-teens granddaughter kneel and light votive candles. A plump grey-haired priest smiles welcome as he passes. I am at peace. This is my culture. I practice dying. Then back to Nani Daman and Nana's restaurant for a splendid fish soup followed by spicy prawns.
Where am I sleeping? First I tried the Hotel Marina where polished wood floors and high ceilings of an old-style Portuguese home promised romance. An arrogant young manager showed me three rooms that smelt stale and damp. The TVs were secured in wooden cages. (when did you last steal a hotel TV?) and he demanded a 1500 Rupee deposit for a 600 Rupee room. No, thanks. Better a clean room with a clean smell in a modern building at 350.