"We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars"
Prologue: PRESENT IN THE BEAUTIFUL NOW (A distortion in the space/time continuum, just before the story starts, but also the start!)
"Just drive man"
I say, as I lean over to Garuda from the back seat of the white Ambassador taxi, reaching past his ear, brushing the edge of his Sergio Leone spaghetti western bad guy moustache. My breath, hot and rancid on the back of his neck. He doesn't flinch. My arm and outstretched finger pointing to the horizon. A horizon which is glistening silver. It's shimmering seductively, sweet, wet, sirens and mermaids beckoning to their cruel mirage. I shake my head, and blink my eyes, this requires focus. It's hot and dry, no mermaids, damn the subconscious. I stare with intent at the bitumen road, the black sticky river, oily and undulating like a great serpent. Thrusting my green splattered, leaf and twig encrusted arm vaguely into the distance. Droplets of sweat running down my armpits further saturating the remnants of my clothing and the faded vinyl seat of the Ambassador taxi. So close to Garuda now I can smell the masala in his sweat and the beeswax in his hair. I feel like I am insane but genius at the same time. I whisper hoarsely into his ear, white spittle spraying out,
"Just drive man, like the wind... That way, go man, go!"
Its dead quiet on the Strand, no traffic, on this busy Calcutta street. Usually it's heaving with four lanes of ancient buses, trucks, rickshaws and the occasional cow, but now nothing. Nothing but a solitary, dirty, white colored Ambassador taxi. The archetypical Indian passenger vehicle. Engine running, back door open, our driver Garuda at the helm waiting. It appears to almost be hovering. Was this pre ordained, fate, damn I don't even know if I believe in fate, but here he is, waiting. The universe certainly works in mysterious ways.
Spilling out of a side gate of Victoria Monument Gardens and onto the road, we feel exposed from our foliage cover. We marauded the grounds like manic, laughing, rabid hyenas, covered in leaves and twigs. We have been rolling around like monkeys in the organic debris. It is sticking to our grimy film of sweat and body odor. Then as we stagger onto the road, the debris trails behind us. Like wisps of smoke, it falls away from our bodies as the oppressive sun dries the adhesive bond of the perspiration. If we are being tracked we would be sitting ducks. This is possible; people in strange uniforms are starting to watch us. We feel like escapees from some zoo for mentally deranged beasts, some sort of primordial primates. A loose association of closely related species, we are a family of sorts. We are the Fabulous Four; Dangerous Dave, Ian or the Munted Plastic Bottle Yoga Master, Redman and I, the Green One, the unofficial leader. We are definitely not stable. At least not for the next eight hours or so. Whenever my impaired judgment or leadership skills are questioned by the group I would announce,
"Trust me. I'm Australian"
Despite the fact that Australia was colonized by criminals, this seems to quell any fears or questions of authority and but them at ease. For some foolhardy reason they trusted me with lives as well as they minds.
We silently, simultaneously converge upon the taxi. On the road there is a card, face down, I have to see, I always check cards dealt by god in the gutter. I pick it up; flip it over in my fingers, the Ace of Spades, my card. The same as the card tattooed on my left wrist. As put it in my pocket, I know this is the beginning, or what exactly I'm not certain. We all clamber into the car. Doors slam and a moment later the Ambassador lunges forward into the blazing heat of the day. Into the madness of this metropolis. Into the moment. Into the festival of colors. My senses are over saturated.
I open my eyes. I think to myself
"I am free"
Hot dusty air rushes in through the back window as the Ambassador picks up speed. The warm breeze, gritty, pungent, is thick with contrasting aromas of diesel fumes, incense, masala, raw sewage and rotting vegetables. A bouquet to the initiated. It's an acquired taste, it smells comforting, it smells alive. It smells real. To the uninitiated or newly arrived from the sanitized west it is an overwhelming stench that is unforgiving as it raped your nostrils with brutality. My heightened senses aware of every minuscule detail, nothing escaping my finely tuned tools of perception, however distorted they may be. I am totally aware of the moment I am in, total realization and understanding, totally alive, as I say to myself,
"I am free. Free to be whoever or whatever I wish. Free from the labels of husband (ex), son, employee, lover, artist or any other category society tries to enforce upon me. Free from all responsibility of any kind, from family and from myself."
Some people take a gap year before they commit to university and the career. Me? Six years into the twenty first century, I am on my second gap decade. As my sister says, it's my ten year weekend, but hell, I decided to take the rest of week off too.
A single distorted speaker blears out a tinny but exotic mix of radio static, sitars and someone singing mantras. It could be between two radio stations, beat mixed by the gods of random fortuity. It worked, it was funky. The crackling of the over driven speaker blended with the white noise within my brain. It adds to the ambiance. Damn that Lithuanian and the chai shop yesterday, was he a prophet or the devils advocate? Or perhaps he was just a messenger. Either way he was definitely, in part to blame for our current condition of chemical imbalance. He did warn me it was a strong dose.
The music seems to crescendo and drop away in unison with the Ambassador, as it accelerates and weaves between the traffic that has suddenly filled the street. It slows in tempo as Garuda brakes hard behind an entourage of motor bikes and cars circa 1950. Then stopping at the traffic lights in time with the music, we are suspended in an infinite moment. The lights flick to green, just as the music builds up in intensity and we lurch away from the front line of traffic. Garuda is at one with the purpose of our mission. A mission from God maybe, if there is a god, or gods. Whatever it is, he knows the intensity of our purpose, even though not a word other than the direction to travel has been uttered. Sometimes words are not needed. We are communicating on a whole heap of higher levels. He is definitely with the program.
The hot air laps across my face, ragged and dry and in need of moisturizer. It's licking around the edges of my sunglasses, my shield against the harshness of reality, and flapping my long, matted locks of sweat damp, dank, unkempt hair behind me. I'm smiling, totally aware of every atom in my body, in the Ambassador, in the decaying streetscape outside. All of it is shimmering, tingling and vibrating. We are not matter, we are not solid, but just a close association of like minded particles that hang together. How arrogant of us to think this is exclusively me or you. It is everything and it is nothing all at once. The secrets of life, the universe and everything are all apparent to me now. Not in a megalomaniacal way as if I am a god, no just a beautiful, humble understanding. An understanding that will fade with the setting sun, it has to be this way.
Outside the world is flashing past, accelerating into a mosaic of lucid colors, merging and morphing. The crumbling, neglected architecture of the remnants of the British Raj, encrusted in the black soot. The black soot you scrape out of your nostrils every few hours, with its sweet, metallic taste on your tongue. A taste you experience each time you inhale. This soot blankets over everything, the fall out of progress. But through this grey black tinge, vibrant color is interspersed, every color under the rainbow, pure, joyous living color, tantalizing. Every street corner dances in a spasmodic array of rainbows. My perceptual field bleeds around the edges, the colors start to run, the periphery of my senses start to melt. I smile harder. Smile lines extend and grow to my ears, cracking the salty film of dried tears at the edges of my eyes. Tears of hysteria, of laughter, of pure joy. My sideburns and the hair next to my ears are also encrusted, like a salty Brill cream, many tears of insanity and of happiness.
I turn my gaze across to the front seat of the Ambassador. I as I focus I see Dangerous Dave looking back at me with a big toothy smile, offering me a cigarette. He knows I don't smoke but it's the thought that counts, and what a beautiful thought it is. He is a delightful hue of green, his hair tinged bright pink, speckled with gold, his eyes sparkling bright blue with dilated pupils. Dave lights a cigarette and offers it to Garuda which he silently accepts, inhaling deeply. Holding the cigarette tightly between his thumb and index finger, he accelerates through a red light whilst fingering his hand across the top of the sun cracked and faded steering wheel. His gaze is held intently forward. The intersection we fly across is splattered on the left with silver, and on the right with purple. On the left side the people are all silver from head to toe, and on the right side everyone is purple, totally submerged in bright color except for the white of their eyes and the white of the teeth exposed by their big smiles. Everyone is jumping up and down. Everyone is laughing and waving to us. I meekly give the royal wave as the Ambassador hurls past. This is definitely reality and it's definitely a little strange.
I look across to Red Man, who is laughing too, like a village idiot and Ian the Munted Plastic Bottle Yoga Master, or Munty as we affectionately christened him. His five o clock shadow is a darker hue of green to the rest of him, accentuating his foolish grin. They both are sitting next to me in the back seat of the Ambassador. Everything is shimmering, like a slightly over exposed aperture of a camera lens. The Ambassador is gliding. I can't even feel the road anymore. Through the car window behind Ian, on the road, is a motorbike. On the back is a yellow man, driving is a blue man, they are going fast. They are keeping up with the Ambassador. They are both looking at us and not at the road, smiling, nodding their heads from side to side. They have accepted us. We are now part of the fabric, woven into the experience unspoken they say,
"Mother India welcomes you"
We are flying now, nobody is speaking. We don't have to, everything is apparent to us, everything has been said and anything now would be a clich We are the green men of Calcutta. On the sun drenched dash of the Ambassador is a little plastic effigy of Shiva and Ganesh, complete with offerings of white and orange flowers and a mandarin speared with incense sticks. It has little LED lights, flashing on and off highlighting the beauty and complete kitchness of everything. We have a mission, it's to go in a direction, any direction, this direction. Why? Why not? Because it's there. There really is no why, only is. The Universe just is.
Rocketing down the road I look ahead, through the bug smeared windscreen, to the pot holed road in front of us. I see two overloaded Tata trucks approaching. One is overtaking the other. Both lanes of the road are now occupied, ominously the path is blocked. There is nowhere for us to go. The Hindi music kicks up a notch, tempo increasing through the scratchy speaker. I laugh heartily,
"This is living."
Garuda grinds the Ambassador back a gear and accelerates, hurtling us forward even faster, towards the oncoming, impenetrable wall of truck. His fingers wrap tightly around the steering wheel with one hand, while the other squeezes the butt of his cigarette. There is still one more drag left which he fully intends smoking. Unflinching, his stare remains steeled forward.
The whole exquisite moment, in all its infinite detail, stops for eternity in the glorious now. Atoms of everything splendidly vibrating. Yes, we are all here, in the beautiful now. We are free and we are green, except for Redman. No, he is red, same same but different. Or as they say here,
"Sabh kuch milega" (Hindi expression for, ‘Everything is possible', or ‘bring everything together', as they also say here in India, ‘as you like')
Chapter 1: THE GREEN MEN OF CALCUTTA
I awaken uneasily from a dreamless sleep. It's hot, oppressively hot, too hot to move, almost too hot to breathe. It's the same every day, but something has changed to draw me out of my restless slumber. It is still dark outside, pre-dawn, except for the ghoulish blue hue of the waning full moon. I stare up through my mosquito net, pock holed with hash burns, the price of smoking in bed. Looking up at the shadowy ceiling I see the silhouette of the overhead fan spinning. Its mechanical whirl is slowing in tempo. Another power failure, they occur daily here. It's part of the rhythm of India.
Sweat quickly glistens over my naked body, beading and trickling like small rivulets and soaking into the thin, lumpy, hemp mattress. God knows how much sweat has seeped into this rancid mattress, countless restless sweaty bodies of travellers over the years. The first light of dawn fingers its way across the now only slightly undulating ceiling, the remnants of the acid, charis (high grade Indian hashish) and beer I consumed yesterday. It all seemed like a good idea at the time, not now though. My skin is crawling and itching. It's either due to the bed bugs feasting on me or because of the cocktail of poisons in my blood. The ambient temperature slowly continues to rise. Despite the chemically induced dream like state of yesterday, at the peak of the LSD trip in Garuda's Ambassador Taxi, I had I self realization, an epiphany, that I was free.
Today I am still a thirty six year old, recently divorced, still slightly depressed guy on the rebound, and who is unable to pick up a shag. Despite countless attempts of trying to appear as a, sagely wise, ruggedly good looking, adventurous, scuba diving, flexible, yoga practicing, damn good catch of a man. I am a bronze Aussie that could wrestle crocodiles for Christ sake (not really but was meant to and to the appeal) and still couldn't get laid. But, despite all this, I feel I am over the hump so to speak and things are finally going to get better. I am starting to no longer feel desperately lonely but more happily alone, even now lying here in my YMCA bed in downtown Calcutta, India. Today my life doesn't feel like as much as a fucking ordeal as it has done up until now.
A new sweat starts to form, on top of the old one, this is a cold sweat. A sharp stabbing pain strikes me hard in my stomach. I feel the need to fart, badly, but it is only brave men and fools that fart in India. You never know when you are going to follow through. Groaning and clutching my stomach, I sit up on the edge of my cast iron bed. The ancient springs creak as I hunch over my knees. A flurry of excited mosquitoes manifest around my ankles. Too weak to move I watch them gorge themselves on me. I don't care. I think to myself,
"Fuck them and the twenty two diseases they carry"
I figure I have enough toxins in me to ward off the black plague. Sweat droplets run down my forehead, through my eyebrows and down the bridge of my nose. Cross eyed I watch transfixed, as it forms an engorged droplet on the tip of my proboscis, finally relinquishing to gravity and falling away to the dirty concrete floor. I am staring as it evaporates away, drying, leaving a residue trace of my body salts on the floor, just as the next drop falls. Looking over to Dangerous Dave, snoring in his partially collapsed bed I feel jealous of his ability to sleep, apparently so comfortably. It feels like someone is turning the knife sharp pain in my stomach. I sense my lower intestine painfully spasm. I feel dizzy as I wait for oxygenated blood to reach my brain. I see black splotches in my vision. An uneasy feeling quickly envelopes me, as a wave of nausea rises inside. I know I only have moments before everything turns very ugly and very messy. I lurch forward off the bed, grabbing my lungi (long Indian sarong) off the floor in a futile attempt of modesty. I stagger out my room, down the spiral stairs to the basement toilet. I am trailed by a cloud of my mosquitoes, no doubt stoned to the gills from my polluted blood. They like it and want more, damn junkie, disease ridden mozzies.
Only a few footsteps till I reach the sanctity of the confines of the bathroom. The vile taste of gastric juices washes over my tonsils. I bite down hard as the wave of porridge consistent vomit presses against the back of my teeth, and seeps out my nostrils. I cross the threshold of the bathroom, the gag reflex can no longer be repressed. I hurl, spraying yellow, clag like, vomit into the sink; couldn't make the toilet in time. The small sink quickly fills and overflows, dribbling the foul custard onto the grimy, cracked tiled floor. The sink is blocked up, too many chunks. Clutching the edges of the basin, thumbs submerged in the stinking soup, I breathe a moan. I sigh with a relief, its cathartic. My head throbs, but I feel better, slightly. I dare a glance upwards to the mirror. Usually not a good idea whilst tripping: looking in a mirror. You never know who you will see staring back at you, even if I have almost returned to some semblance of normality. As normal as one can ever hope to be after indulging in psychedelics. I have a suspicion that you never actually come down from tripping, you just learn to cope with it.
I had been a veteran psychenaught (astronaught of the inner universe) through the wilderness years of my drugged fucked 20's (As well as a smorgasbord of nearly all the drugs available on the black-market). It kind of came with the territory of the punk rock scene in the early 90's. Playing two bit gigs in the grimiest pubs around Melbourne with only six pack beer riders. Then again in later years, in the thespian scene of struggling bit part actors. At one point, one could say my lowest ebb, or the bottom of my proverbial barrel, I was forced by a court order to visit a drug councillor. Upon filling out the necessary paper work, I actually had to ask for a second piece of paper for the question, 'what drugs have you taken', horrified, my councillor hadn't heard of some of the more rare obscure chemicals I had experimented in.
Now that I was looking down the barrel of my middle age years, four years off forty and its entire crisis's, the jungle of the subconscious and Huxley's Doors of Perception is a place I frequent much less regularly. Only on special occasions one could say. Seen the sights, been there done that. I look into the fractured image reflected back at me from the shards of glass that was once a mirror. Eyes still dilated and bloodshot, which is to be expected, but my long tangled hair and skin is green, deep forest green. More than just the colour of my hung over complexion, but the aftermath of one of India's least religious and most popular Hindu holidays. Holi, or the Festival of Colours, which in part, involves everybody being covered in coloured dyes. I was apparently green from head to toe, the dye having even soaked through my thin cotton clothing and covering my heavily tattooed body.
Holi is celebrated all over India and is basically an excuse to run amok, cut loose from the usual strict social norms. It unites rich and poor, man and woman, and all the castes. It seems to involve a lot of drinking, smoking, the government issued marijuana laced bhang and generally having fun. Fun being the operative word, and very much a subjective concept just for the young Hindi teenage boys that can get a bit too boisterous. They often grope unsuspecting women, taking advantage of the loosened etiquette.
The legend commemorated by the festival of Holi involves some sadistic evil bastard king who was pissed at his prince son Prahlad because he wouldn't stop worshipping the god Vishnu, the god of Protection (one of the many re-incarnations of Krishna, who is one of the big cheeses of Indian mythology). So in order to discipline his son the king demands his son is burnt alive, throwing in the king's sister, Aunty Holika in for good measure. Before the bonfire was lit Prahlad prayed to Vishnu for protection, whilst Aunty Holika scoffed at the idea, believing she was immune to fire. So the barbie was fired up and Prahlad survived without a scratch or even a blister, whilst Aunty was burnt to a cinder, but before she died she begged Prahlad for forgiveness and so he decreed Holika would be remembered every year as the festival of Holi.
That's one version; the other includes Lord Shiva, god of destruction, (another major heavy weight in the Hindu god scene) and Madana, the goddess of love. Madana decided to see if she could tempt Shiva by appearing before him as a beautiful nymph. Shiva, whom was trying to mediate (he did a lot of this) was mightily pissed off at the distraction, so he blasted her with a ball of fire from his third eye, reducing her to ashes, obviously he wasn't feeling amorous. This, and the onset of spring with all its beautiful colours and vibrant life, is the basis of for festival. So to celebrate the beauty of spring and the ghoulish Spanish Inquisionesque stake burning, Indians would cover each other with bright coloured dyes and build bonfires in the street to clear away evil spirits and bad vibes. Then everybody all gets a little ribald in language and behaviour.
Even with this knowledge at hand I still felt a little uncomfortable yesterday seeing a crazy man with yellow teeth running around with no pants on. Family jewels flapping in the breeze, dancing manically around a makeshift bonfire in the middle of the road, shouting;
"Bura na mano Holi hai"
This apparently meant;
"Please don't be offended, it's Holi!"
It had been a long day; sun stroked after staggering around the beautiful yet ostentatious grounds of Victoria Monument, a large marble palace, fronted by a grumpy looking bronze pigeon shit encrusted Queen Victoria, from the height of the British Raj. We were there under the Banyan trees making lurid gestures to her majesty, totally off chops asking,
"What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
Our motley crew consisted of, Ian, nicknamed, Plastic Bottle Munted Yoga Master, or Munty for short. On any other day he would usually be considered a fairly respectable Englishman from Bath, balding, slightly over weight, thirty five years old and vaguely well to do in some IT related career. However under the influence of the LSD he had consumed, he had developed a unique balancing act that involved a plastic water bottle and standing in an awkward one footed position. This is how he earned his new moniker. Then there was Dangerous Dave, another Englishman, painter and decorator, cricket fanatic, slim build, in his late 20's early 30's. Dangerous Dave was only ever a danger to himself, especially in our frequent, all night poker sessions, always getting cleaned out, only to buy back in again, losing consistently again. Great for me, funded my last month or so in India, with change. We would ask every night as he lost if he had a gambling problem, to which he would smile like a naughty school boy and reply with a definitive,
"Yes, I have a gambling problem."
We still took his money though. A small fortune for a local but only loose change to an Englishman; well that's what Dave kept saying, I think it made him feel better. But Dave was a likable character, bright blue eyes and always sporting a big toothy grin and crop of short bushy light brown hair. He is the sort of guy mothers like. Lastly there was Redman, whose name we could never remember, a Czech Republic tour guide operator, tall, late 20's, too thin, with a blonde ponytail. He spoke poor English in an accent that kind of sounded a bit like count Dracula; he was a man of few words.
Yes it had been a long day, tripping hard since the morning, staggering around Calcutta, Ian, with his T-shirt tied as a bandana around his head, exposing his paunch, crawling on all fours and hiding behind what little foliage he could find. He thought the green dye smeared all over his body camouflaged him. Dave wearing his shoes on his hands because he said the fitted him better that way, also green with pink rubbing in his hair, constantly grinning like a mental patient overdosed on Prozac. And Redman doused in red, mouth agape with a gormless expression on his face, limping with only one thong. The other unexplainably lost somewhere. Then the taxi ride through the backstreets, making Garuda drive for half an hour in one direction, then to turn around and drive back. It was an amazing cross section of a city of nearly fourteen million people. An endless sprawl of dilapidated streets, each looking the same as the last, beautiful in its state of decomposition and amazing and overwhelming in its enormity.
After falling out of the taxi back where we started, we decided to try and buy a Sprite. No mean feat in that condition, especially considering the stall owner kept morphing into the 330 million different Hindu gods in front of our very eyes. We couldn't understand what he was saying or how to complete the translation, so we just kept throwing money at him then eventually ran away, terrified in hysterics. Then giggling like virgin school girls on prom night, we walked through Victoria Park where hundreds of Hindis were playing cricket. A different game every thirty meters or so. At first they encouraged us to play with them. They were honored to have such revered nations represented in their presence, an Australian,
Yes Ricky Ponting, Australian captain very, very good, vorld champion number one. Very much excellent, you must play with us"
Not to mention a couple of Englishmen. We were considered gods of cricket, the locals awestruck, but after Dave bowled three wides, I dropped an easy catch and Ian was unable to stop weeping hysterically like a little girl, we were shunned from all the games in the park. They all looked at us with distain like we were the village idiots. I think we were. So self consciously we smirked at our selves we meekly made our way across the grounds inadvertently walking thru several games and disrupting play. We were constantly apologizing profusely for the general public disturbance and Ian's inability to stop crying. Dehydrated, walking into the setting sun, I needed a leveler on the situation. We had to get back to Sudder Street. The narrow, short backstreet where all the cheap guesthouses were situated: a haven for backpackers. We had to get back to our home, the Salvation Army YMCA. I think we were all in dire need of a little salvation at that point. It was dark by the time we reached Sudder Street and the whole road had been closed off with bonfires ablaze. By the time we reached the naked, crazy, dancing man, whom was accompanied by a giant yellow goat, I was tired of the surreal. I had two things on my mind: Rizzla, giant cigarette rolling papers and a cup of hot chai tea to take the edge off.
Naked man had taken a shine to Ian and was doing a little dance around him, circling him, each circumference getting a little closer to him. He was grunting and apparently in a state of semi arousal, stamping his feet and wiggling his fingers. Ian wasn't laughing anymore and had gone rather quiet. Dave procured some rolling papers and I, Dave and Redman left Ian and the naked man. Who by then was rocking from side to side only a foot or so in front of Ian, like a giant praying mantis, apparently hypnotizing the mesmerized and shocked Ian. An old lady had approached them and was trying to sell Ian a bunch of roses. Obviously she thought they were courting lovers.
We ducked into a side alley and sat relieved resting our aching bodies on the wooden crate bench of the chaiwalla's stall. The chaiwalla is a cornerstone of Indian culture. You wanted anything, drugs, transport, information, directions, anything at all; you just ask the nearest chaiwalla. Chai was the sweet milk tea served by the Walla or tea maker on nearly every street corner in every city or village in India. Walla is used to describe anybody in their profession, chaiwalla, taxiwalla hotelwalla, etc. Chai is nothing short of an institution in India. As Dave and Redman aptly rolled joints, I ordered tea from the chaiwalla. He couldn't have been more than eight years old, but already looked world weary and wise, smiling none the less. I ordered four teas, figuring Ian would soon escape the embrace of the no trouser dancing man.
I sucked deeply on a freshly rolled joint. The rich aroma of charis and Gold Flake tobacco filled the air. A tobacco that is apparently grown in Chernobyl, if you believe the traveller's grapevine. Exhaling and sipping on my sweet chai tea, I consider the madness of the day. I see the naked man run past the street, arms outstretched chasing the yellow goat; apparently he had tired of Ian's lack of reciprocated affection. Maybe he figured he had more of a chance of getting lucky with the goat. A pale and quiet Ian joined the entourage of us and other multi coloured tired festival goers. He silently accepted the glass of hot chai and a joint. Sitting there, finally on the other side of the wave, the acid had begun its decline into a subdued finale. It was the first chance of the day to contemplate, take stock of the day's events. I smiled.
I remembered three months earlier, when I first flew from Sydney to Mumbai the day before Christmas. I wanted to spend Christmas in Bollywood, why? Because it was the hell out of Australia, it had been a rough year and I felt like I needed to transport myself out of my current life. Freshly divorced, I figured the whole clich go-and-find-myself-in-India seemed as good an option as any. It was better than going crazy in the same city as my now ex wife Stella, the night club diva; a high maintenance kind of girl. It had been all fireworks and fighting, but eventually it was much more fighting than fireworks. It was also the other reason India was a good choice, Stella had cleaned me out in the divorce settlement and India was cheap. So I sold my worldly possessions on EBay. Procuring as much cash as I could I did the sketchy bail (colloquial Australian expression; to leave somewhere in a hurry and for uncertain reasons).The flight to Mumbai was full, peak season, and after we took off from Sydney Airport I struck up a conversation with a pretty Hindi woman next to me, she was obviously Brahman, the highest of the caste system. She was returning home for Christmas after working in Australia. I told her I was going to India to study yoga in the holy town of Rishikesh, bathe in the holy Ganges River, try and get a break in a Bollywood film and party New Year's Eve in Goa. She smiled and replied,
"Mother India is bottomless, you can go as deep as you like and there will always be more."
Those words resonated to me then, sitting there on that bench in the back alley of a Calcutta street. Sipping chai, smoking charis, watching the world go by, I wondered how much deeper I could go. A homeless teenage street kid, filthy, in soiled, tattered clothes and no shoes silently approached everyone at the chai stand. Stooping low he methodically touched everyone's' feet and then promptly left without uttering a single word.