I’ve been writing blogs about the trial and investigation but already having seen the benefit once of self censorship of others on this trip (see Iranian posts), I’ll follow their lead and post them when this is all over. In the meantime some banal observations:
I hit the road thinking I’ve fixed a fuel leak that has dribbled oil over the hotel car park and at my first stop realise the leak is bigger than ever. I find the split hose and replace it. Feels good to be back on the road and back on top of the problems the bus throws at me with unerring regularity. Covered in black wax where the vegetable oil has disolved the rubber tubing I join the Sunday truck drivers at a pool by a cafe, strip down to my pants and wash in the cutting heat of the sun along side them.
The road conditions improves steadily until I am on the Express Way. It’s a like a motorway but another perfect example of Glorious Maharajah Class (see previous post). I manage to avoid hitting anything for over 1000km and arrive in Mumbai, and make straight for Juhu beach. I have all sorts of images how this beach will be and the feel of the water on my body. Of course, it’s a city beach in an over populated town. The water feels like hepatitis.
The next day I stroll to the top of the beach, spying a quaint fishing shanty town. Fishing villages are only quaint from a distance. The world over, when you get close they are smelly and dirty. The villagers take a shit in the tidal flat of the beach, digging a hole in the sand while they curl them out, to reach water to clean themselves. It’s a great technique, and I stare in studiously at the 10 or so bare arses taking a morning constitutional to make sure I haven’t missed any nuance of the methodology.
Mumbai is a peninsular town. In that sense it’s like Dahkla (Western Sahara/Morocco) and Nouhdaibou (Mauritania) on the west coast of Africa. You have to have a reason to go to a peninsular town, they’re not a place you stumble across on your way to somewhere else. Dahkla has two river valleys to cross as you drive out to the peninsular road which are stunning, and made even more beautiful by the fact that the nearest town is so far away, that by the time you get to them it’s always around sunset, so the moonscape shapes of the rocks glow orange in the refracted setting sun light.
Nouhadibou used to be a compulsory stop on the journey through West Africa, as that was where passport control was on this bottle neck section of the route, a good 50km off road in the wrong direction down a cul-de-sac peninsular. I got to know it well in the days when it was a lost outpost with indecipherable attitudes, and loved it for no other reason than I understood it, and could function there when so many other Europeans couldn’t. After the first few journeys I got a sense of how it worked, and felt like a king each time I arrived there. Momo and Ali, friends there, would help me sell my smuggled whiskey to the Korean trawler men, and fix up any problems with whatever crappy car I had. Then we’d head to Manguette’s restaurant in the Senegalese fisherman’s village for Djebu Djen (Senegalese fish and rice). The smell of decomposing fish guts in the gaps between the corrugated shacks wasn’t enough to keep us away from the best lunch in all of West Africa. One year Manguette had died, another year the fisherman’s shanty town has been cleared, and now there’s a new passport control checkpoint at the border and a tarmac road to Nouakchott which means there is no reason to go to Nouahdibou anymore, other than to reminisce with Momo and Ali about the bad old days.
I’m learning how things work in India, and starting to feel like I know how to function here, but it’s been a baptism of fire and I’m a long way from being on top of the system, or even wanting to be. There is definitely two Indias, symbolically represented in my mind by Delhi, home of the state, and Mumbai, home of enterprise. I hate big cities, but I really like the energy of Mumbai. People here get on and do it. Whereas in the north, cumbersome self inflicted bureaucracy paralyses people into inaction. We try to get a SIM card for my Mum in Johdpur, but no one wants to do it because they aren’t quite sure what documents they should photocopy, and are scared that something is wrong and it comes back to haunt them. It’s easier for them to just say no. This is a great example for THE reason India is holding itself back economically, politically, socially and in so many other ways. The procedure is given more importance than life’s needs which gave birth to the procedure in the first place. Everyday I’m thwarted by the intransigence of people scared to do something which is out of their ordinary.
I don’t know why it should be. Maybe it’s the fear of the accusation of corruption or incompetence? Maybe a lack of trust put in subordinates? Or perhaps it’s the thought that the state can take it all away from you in a minute? Maybe it’s just bad managers within organisations? Whatever it is, it’s easy to criticise as an outsider, but harder to offer solutions. A friend on facebook reminds me it’s a bureaucracy that manages a population of 1billion people and in that context it works pretty well. It’s a fair point but that’s Delhi thinking. Mumbai thinking would look for a solution.