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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Farting to Peace or Mykel's India Blog Entry 9

India Blog 9

Farting to peace & quiet

It was the fart to end all farts. A massive monster of a fart. Not a rifle shot… but a spinning rumbling bubbling… burbling… growling…  slightly oozy monster fart… a never ending fart… rolling like thunder… each wave of sound and pressure building building to a crescendo… a symphonic far… giant… awe inspiring… deafening… audible for blocks… a collective Was that what I think it was? from the scores of people within earshot. It’s only a prelude of things to come. 

Ahh, now I feel better. 

I’ve got the rest of today and three more left in India. It’s been an adventurous trip… I’ll need a month to recover fully. I wonder if I lost weight? I don’t feel thinner, but I’ve contributed so much to the Indian waste disposal system… those pounds have to go somewhere.

With half of my truckload of Immodium gone, I think I’ve developed a resistant strain. Thanks to Anant’s mom and her prescriptions it doesn’t hurt like it did before. (At its worst, I couldn’t go an hour without screaming pain.) But the sanitation system suffers… as does DAX my poor host whose toilet was already broken even before I got there. Water doesn’t fill the tank, so Dax runs a hose from the cold-water shower to fill the back of the tank. Quite often, I fear.

Then there’s the cough. I’ve long since used up my supply of Fisherman’s Friend. I’ve discovered an Indian brand: Koflet-- that works almost as well and is even MORE foul-tasting. But it works. 

Today I went to what was to be my last Hindu temple. It’s a relatively new temple-- built this millennium… immense…  really beautiful from the outside… within pissing distance of a Metro station. So what could be wrong?

Yeah right… 

When you enter there’s a sign that says BAG CHECK. Ok, that’s convenient. I can leave my daypack there and see the place easier. Nope… The bag check is not for YOU to check your bag. It’s for THEM to check your bag… explosives, time bombs, guns, knives… you get the idea. 

Inside, a crowd waits at the entrance. Just in front of the entrance is a COAT CHECk. I expect, they want to check your COAT for explosives, knives, etc. But I don’t make it that far. In front of the coat check is a sign listing things you cannot bring into the temple: among them: bags, cameras, cellphones, video cameras… Everything you need to document the visit is NOT allowed. 

That sign, along with the massive crowd gathering in front of the entrance (probably for more security goodies) turns me around. I head for the exit… fast. Back to Cafe Coffee Day, where I sit now... typing this… but am unable to use the “free” wifi because it requires an Indian phone number to log it. I don’t have an Indian phone number.

PLAN B: I’ll go to the botanical gardens. I hate zoos, and botanical gardens are just zoos for plants, but somehow I like them. We’ll see….

Yes! The only real peace and quiet I’ve seen in India… at times I feel like I’m the only one in the park… apart from a couple playful puppies. I just sit and read… a park ranger comes over… stands right in front of me…  Openly looking at me… silent as the night before Christmas… staring at me with deadly eyes… I smile and wave. He gives a military turn and walk away. 

Back to peaceful quiet. The only problem is the air… Ah the air in Delhi.  The air.

Oh yeah, back in the metro…. ready t go someplace NOT Cafe Coffee Day for dinner… I’m pleased to find that they still use feet and inches. 

I thought they were metric!

--more to come

--You can read my non-travel opinion pages at:

Thursday, November 08, 2018

DAX or Mykel's India Trip Entry 8

Mykel's India Blog Entry 8

I write this while lying on a hard thin mattress on the floor of an apartment in a south Delhi apartment. It’s the night of Diweli-- a Hindu holiday celebrated like the mutant offspring of a Christmas/July 4th mating. 

Locals stay home for the day. They give each other presents. Houses, stores and streets are strung with colored lights… there are some lasers. Click on the link below to see some of the decorations… but you cannot HEAR the fireworks.

Fireworks.. crackers, sparklers, those twirly things that give off sparks, the whole kit and caboodle… a lot more big ones… my fading brain forgets the name of them… ashcans maybe... Huge explosives… like gunfire.

I remember my father once telling me… on Independence Day…. “Hear that Mickey?” he says (That was years before I became Mykel). “That’s what it’s like to be at war. It never stops though. And there are no kids laughing.”

In parts of India-- as in parts of America-- fireworks are illegal. Some places restrict them to non-rockets… Exploding is okay… flying is not. The laws don’t matter.

A conservative pal reported that some capitalist think tank said India’s low standard of living was due to “government over-regulation.” And there are rules and bureaucracy up the wazoo. But the reality is, though there’s are thousands of petty regulations… most are routinely ignored. 

Alcohol sale is prohibited during Diweli. My host is sleeping on the couch right now… boozed out. I myself am on shaky ground. Last week, my hotel didn’t have a liquor lenience… they went out... brown bagged it and served me from the kitchen. 

Flash to more generalities: 

I don’t think I’ve had as many young men run their hands up and down my legs since my days in the backroom of The Stud in the 70s. Every shrine, every museum, every movie theater has an airport style baggage x-ray, a metal detector and a guard who feels you up.

There are women guards too, but you don’t get your choice. 

Security, security, security…. check into a hotel, they ask for your passport number, your home state, your cellphone number, where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Then they make a copy of your passport.

All this information is studiously written down, double checked, and kept forever. Yet a terrorist could run a tuk tuk full of fertilizer explosives into the parliament building on Diwali eve, and people would think it was just part of the celebration. No one ever looks at the books. Few police are on the street… and they are so crippled by diesel exhaust fumes, that they couldn’t catch an errant puppy. 

Flash to now:

I am feeling a bit forted/palaced/templed/mosqued out. It’s my last week in India, and I have the feeling I’ll be spending most of it making up for lost sleep. I like museums… and they’re in-doors. A necessity in this most polluted (in the world?) city I’ve ever been in. Maybe I’ll go to the Gandhi museums (musea?) One for Mahatma, one for Indira… both assassinated… did you know that?

I arrived in Delhi (which I consistently misspell as Dehli) via a 5 hour bus trip from Jaipur. In Jaipur, I developed a bad cough, which turned into bronchitis by the time I arrived here. 

I’d planned to splurge on my first few nights (stayed in a hotel!) but I was too sick… feverish… chills… fuzzy brain… to do anything other than cough…  I felt sorry for the people in the next hotel room.

I was back texting THE DOCTOR (aka Anant’s mom). She recommended some stuff. I went to a pharmacy and got one of her recommendations and something else the druggist promised me “is just as good.” 

The cough remains, but I don’t feel sick any more. There are daily smog reports… always in the red zone. The local paper shared a list of air-cleaning houseplants  a must for every resident. It’s like smoking ten packs of cigarettes a day… worse.

Speaking of which, my host has a cough worse than mine. A near-death sounding hack. And he may be the heaviest smoker I’ve ever seen. Except when he fell asleep from our beer-prohibited beer party (yes! I did beer… and pizza (but NOT Dominoes) in Delhi). He had something smokeable in his mouth from the time we said hello until the time he kicked me off the floor last night… and gave me the bed. Then again, until he passed out for a second time. 

Then, this morning, the first thing in his mouth (no, not that… he’s not my type)… is another self-rolled something or other. As far a I can tell, he’s the most hardcore chain smoker I’ve ever seen. But, it makes sense, if you’re living in Delhi. Why not CHOOSE what makes you spit green in the morning.. instead of being a helpless victim?

DAX is his nickname, and he’s a sound engineer. We trade CDs… even though we have completely different musical tastes. 

He introduces me to this African Reggae guy who can sing in 4 languages… (Africans are amazing for a lot of reasons… one of them is language ability). One of those languages is HEBREW!! 

Holy shalom batman. 

Check out JERUSALEM… I need India to find this stuff. By the way, ANI in Hindi means AND. In Hebrew it’s I, as if you didn’t know that:

DAX is also a fan of The Beats. He’s a painter... and a writer. I hooked him up on facebook with my Moroccan pal El Habib… the first guy to translate beat poetry into Arabic They should “meet” each other. They need to talk in a quiet place together. 


Dehli is the only city in India with an extensive Metro (subway) system. It’s crowded, but not as crowded as the express trains in Mumbai. I’ve taken it several times. The patrons are like New Yorkers, forcing themselves into the cars before other people have a chance to leave.  In a double dose of sadness-- TWICE in a Mumbai subway-- young men have stood up to give me their seats. Oy vey.

By now, I think I have more Indian friends than Tonto. That New Years Card list keeps growing. 

Mata, Mykel 

And don’t forget my regular blog…

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Black Privilege or Mykel's India Trip Entry 7

Black Privilege

The cliché about privilege is that you don’t know you have it because it’s just part of you daily life. The only way you can learn about it is when you see someone who DOESN’T have it. That cliché is half right. There is, however, another way of finding out about privilege… when you discover that YOU don’t have it.

It’s like driving on the highway. A classic example of white privilege is the number of times the local black guy is stopped “randomly,” versus the number of stops for non-white guys. (My Japanese friends get stopped all the time.)

I write this lying on the top bunk of a double decker bus. Parked to load up on its second crew of people. Vendors walk in and out selling water and chiplike snacks. I have both in my bag and don’t need any. One guy just dropped a bottle of water in my little compartment, then came back a few minutes later asking for money… like those guys on New York streets who hand you a CD, then follow you down the street demanding money for it. I gave him back his bottle.

The constant barrage of aggressive vendors and beggars is what I hate most about India. If someone asks me for money.. fair enough. I give when I have it… when I don’t, I say sorry. The vendor/beggar moves on to the next person. That’s how it should be… and how it is... unless you’re white in India.

One after the other they latch on to you… refusing to leave. If you’re walking they follow you. If you’re sitting they just don’t leave. I’ve had to resort to growling, barking, howling like a dog… taking out the camera and shooting multiple pictures… with flash… in the middle of the day. They’re like mosquitoes. Pity, empathy, quickly vanish when you find yourself followed and pestered every time you step out of the door… just because of the color of your skin. It almost makes me understand how horrible life must be for beautiful women who have to face this pestering every day-- almost anywhere in the world. Pass the burqua... please!

Attractions, especially old forts, palaces and museums in India all have a two tiered admissions price. The price for Indians is between 10% and 20% of the price for “foreigners” (sometimes they say “tourists”). At first I resented this, then I saw the reasoning that says locals are enjoying the sights that belong to them. Anyone who has the money to travel to India has the money to pay more to see the sights. Those sites belong to India, and it’s not bad if they’re supported by others.

Some places (like the Taj Mahal), offer benefits to the higher price payers. A separate/quicker admissions line… better seating at events like waggah… etc. (More about that later, I hope.)

Flash to the rooftop lounge in the hostel in Amritsar… where the mostly young hostelers gather. Tom (I don’t know his name yet) is sitting at the table. They’re chewing the cud about their adventures in India…. I’ve walked in in the middle of the conversation.

As words pass, hostel conversations always circles back to Where you from? I answer New York, never The US… and not even America.

I’m anxious to talk to Tom. He’s interesting, because he reminds me of Esty… a great friend I made (and stayed with) in my trip to The Gambia. I’ve never met an African traveling in India, and want to find out his story… and surprise him with a bit of walof.

“My name’s Mykel,” I say, extending my hand.

Where you from?” asks Tom with an accent more like George Harrison’s than Fela Kuti’s.

“I’m from New York,” I tell him. “And you?”

“I’m from Liverpool,” he says.

“Famous for The Beatles,” I tell him.

“Football,” he answers.

This guy gets all the breaks,” says a twenty-something Indian guy at the table with us. “Tell ‘em your stories, Tom.”

Tom smiles a fake-sheepish aw-shucks kind of smile, “Yeah, people think I’m South Indian. Folks are darker there. I always get the Indian admission prices. Then, when I get inside, I shift to the foreign lines. At first they stop me… ask what I’m doing there… I wave my British passport. They shuffle me over to the foreigners’ line. Best of both worlds.”

I laugh.

At the time I don’t think to ask him if he gets beggar bugged or vendored out by guys offering to be tour guides or by tuk tuk drivers following you around asking if you need a ride… when you’re obviously walking. But I bet he doesn’t get half the bugging I do. He probably can say “no thank you” and people leave him alone.

Black privilege, I say.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Top Bunk or Mykel's India Trip Entry 6

India Blog

October 19, 2018

I write this on my Chinese laptop lying on the top bunk of a triple level sleeper car traveling from Pune India to someplace whose name I forget. It’s noon, and I haven’t eaten today, though I have just taken my malaria medicine which includes the taped-on instruction: TAKE WITH FOOD. The car is filed with the noise of screaming people… girls… mainly ages 3 to 16… screaming, crying, chattering, nagging. It’s lucky that guns are illegal here.

I had been amazed at the deference shown to women in India. You’re not supposed to touch them… when you say hello or good bye you can hug them gently, but you can’t touch cheek to cheek. In commuter trains-- like in Japan-- women (with their children) have their own cars… sometimes their own trains. Frankly, I resented it.

Now, it suddenly occurs to me that there is an added benefit to women having their own place: QUIET ELSEWHERE!

As I write these words we pull into a station. the upper berth is the only one where it’s impossible to sit straight up. Even my 5’3” self cannot sit without twisting my neck into pain. Three guys-- early twenties-- have twisted themselves into the birth opposite me. Another sits in the top berth on the opposite side of the car. All with bent necks. A chiropractor’s dream car!

The guys are shouting at each other… in Marathi, I think… breaking into laughter… guy laughter… guffaws, belly laughs… a few giggles. More shouting… not in anger, but in eagerness to get their point across… tell a funnier story… Then the guffaws! Are they talking about me?

It’s awful! Worse than the girls… Ok, I get it. God is intervening. Showing me she’s pissed off…. teaching me a lesson in the equality of assholitude. What the fuck? I’m 70 years old and God is still teaching me lessons? Gimme a break!

Where last we left me… after an opening of the birth of a massive steaming pile of offal… the mother of all offals… we flashed back to my stay in Mumbai with Anant and his family (Aunt & Uncle) where
I’m staying for a few days.

Uncle is about 80 years old… in great shape… shorter than I am and more dexterous on the street. Aunt is like a Jewish mother… non-stop food with a dose of guilt if you don’t accept seconds… thirds… It’s a vegetarian household, and… as anyone with vegetarian friends know… vegetables mean cooking with… er... eating with gas. Add to that the non-stop spice… in everything… and you get a bellyfull of problems.

[NOTE: Here is the tension… the dialectic… of eating in India. The food is great! Even the vegetarian stuff. It’s eaten mostly with your right hand… the left hand reserved for dealing with the remains of the food AFTER it’s been digested. I have never had a bad-tasting meal in India.

BUT, my stomach, large and small intestines, and colon disagree. They rebel. They fight tooth and nail… spleen and liver… against any enjoyment of the of the spice-laden invaders. It’s the main tragedy of this trip… but there are others.]

Now, to continue with our tragic comedy… After breakfast, Anant’s uncle accompanies me to the bus station to catch bus number 85… aka ८५. He suggested it as an alternative to the city… more views of the cityscape. Today I have two goals: see the aquarium, change some money. [The Lonely Planet Guide says it’s easy. There are money changing stalls everywhere. The Lonely Planet Guide is wrong.]

Because of the oppressive Mumbai heat, the bus waiting areas (outside) are covered with a tin awning. Because of the angle of the sun, that tin only covers the last two rows of the area. Think airports, those lines that snake around ropes and poles on the way to security x-ray. We get on line at the stop for bus numbers बयालीस, चौ, रानवे and of course, ८५.

We stand in the shade of the tin roof, behind a long line of people waiting for bus ८५ or चौरानवे
or निन्यानवे As the buses come and go we slowly move up in line, until finally we're first and second. First position is directly under the sun... outside in the heat. Second position is slightly covered, but not shaded. Uncle takes first position.

And we wait. 10 minutes pass and it gets hotter. 20 minutes. 30 minutes.

"I think maybe we just missed a bus," says Uncle.

I nod.

40 minutes.

"Maybe I should ask at the front and check the schedule," he says, walking out into the sun and heading toward the front office.

I expect this will act like lighting a cigarette... encouraging the bus to come when I don't know how to pay for it, or where to sit, or how to get on. Uncle will be gone... at bus enquiry, and I will miss the bus. One trick in God's many bags of them is to remain unpredictable. If I can tell what her actions will be, I can prepare for them. So predictibly, the unpredictable happens and Uncle returns before the bus comes. He's sweating from the walk in the hot sun.

"Ten minutes," he says.

"Don't you want to come out of the hot sun?" I ask him.

"No, you stay there... the bus will be here soon..." he answers.

And it is.

"Remember," he says, "the women sit in the first six or seven rows on the right. The first six or seven rows on the left are reserved for the aged. You can sit there if you like."

I thank him, get on the bus and head into town.

Very slowly... Mumbai traffic is Bangkok traffic, New York traffic, Dakar traffic all rolled into 1... with curry sause added. It runs on horns... constant blasts from motorcycles, tuk tuks (called "auto rickshaws" or just "autos"). It runs on people running... the way to get across the highway... or any street is to play dodgem with the busses, motorcycles, and "autos."

It's a scramble with the result... so I'm told... that India has the highest pedestrian (or is it ALL street accidents) fatality rate in the world. The bus takes half an hour... to go a block. It isn't near the aquarium for 2 1/2 hours.

Google maps says the aquarium is 850 meters away. Google maps is usually right... but sometimes... In this case, I follow it. The sun beats hotter. Someone on the bus says it's 40o. Translated into Fahrenheit , that's fuckin' hot!

I've been using the same handkerchief to blow my nose, wipe my hands after a hand-eaten meal, cough my GERD into, and wipe my face in the excessive heat. It's pretty rank.... but it's all I've got.

Walk this way… walk that way… turn in 20 meters… how far is that? The hankie grows stinkier.


October 31,

So much has happened since that last story, that I don’t know where to begin… except here. On the top bunk of a double decker train, on the way from a border town (spitting distance to Pakistan) to Jaipur. The train was about 2 ½ hours late… poor Anant and his brother who accompanied me to the station got more than they bargained for…

So the 8:00 train to Jaipur leaves at 10:30. Right ahead of me are my cellmates… a couple maybe a few years younger than me with 4 suitcases, each a few sizes larger than my torso. They take up the whole compartment. In a few hours, they get everything situated… we have a where you from chat.

The man, “Where are you from?”

Me, “New York.”

The man, “Oh, the US! We’re going to Seattle.”

Me, “When?”

The man, “Seattle. Seattle. It’s in America.”

Me, “When are you going?”

The man, “My son works there… a very good job.”

Me, “I see.”

The man, “You know Seattle?”

Me, “Yes, but it’s very far from New York.”

The man, “Seattle, yes. It’s in America.”

I smile. The woman smiles and waves up at me.

Lights out… then the snoring begins. Earplugs… They don’t work. But somehow I manage to drift off to a dream-filled sleep, dreaming, for some reason, about lawns.

Not for long.

6AM The phone rings, not my phone, but the woman’s. (For some reason, cellphones here do not seem to have VIBRATE mode, but all ring on the loudest volume with a 30 second ringtone, supposed to bring up images of Bollywood.

The woman answer and shouts into the phone. This lasts about 10 minutes. Then she passes the phone to the man who shouts into it for another quarter hour. Then, they start a non-stop conversation… with each other... fastest chatter in the world… like it’s a TV game show where the one who can say the most in a fixed time wins a chance at a new washing machine.

I moan. Fart loudly. Nothing helps. They go on non-stop… I pound the wall, the volume of their conversation lowers... for bout 10 seconds. I fart loudly again. Get up to piss, not looking at them at all… realize we’re in the station and not allowed to piss until the train starts moving again… I return and climb up to my bunk. They continue to chatter. I stare at the woman. The guy is directly beneath me so I can’t see him.

Arms folded... the evilest eye I can give to the woman in the lower bunk. She sees me… Lowers her voice… a bit… her phone rings.

Flash to 9:30am

They have left now. But it’s already morning… no longer late night. The whole train car is awake.

--more later if I have time… maybe I can sleep for 10 minutes--

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Start of a Huge... one of those days or Mykel's India Entry Number 5

Oct 16, 2018

Breathe… Breathe… Push… Breathe… Push.. Yes! Yes! Yeesssss!It’s the mother of all shits… a vast pile… bigger than a basketball, though less round… not a shit brickhouse… no turds to speak of… just a huge pile… consistency of a Big Whopper. This is what giving birth is like. An expulsion that instantly turns unimaginable pain to unimaginable pleasure.

Keep that image in mind… I’ll get back to it. But first let’s see how I got there… some background.

I forget if it’s Mama-Dada or Dada-Mama…. Actually, it’s probably both. Anant’s Aunt and Uncle along with his Aunt’s sister. I could never get this kinship relationship right. There are firsts and seconds.. and once removed and twice removed. And in-laws and out-laws… Me? No clue after Mom, Dad, Brother, and Sister.

I’ve left my first homestay, with Anant’s long-term friend, Jocel, and his wife and child. (Jocel’s wife and child not Anant’s.) With the exception of the general wonderfulness of the couple-- putting up with me for 10 days, making me breakfast, dinner and usually lunch every day-- it was a familiar stay. They live in a big apartment… I had my own room… no AC but the fan was really enough. They lived at the end of the local trainline, so if I traveled local I could get a seat.

The whole family lived in New Jersey for some time, so they were prepared for me. They worried if I liked spicy food, and how much milk to put in the coffee. They ate meat, fish, goat… maybe even beef… I’m not sure. They did not give me a key (would you?), but usually there was someone home, so it wasn’t a problem. Mom used to be a teacher. Dad works in an IT company. The kid is rambunctious… could be Levittown.

Except for the ever-present oppressive heat (98o today), life in Mumbai wasn’t much different than New York or Tokyo or some combination of the two. It was just exotic enough to keep the camera shutter fluttering, but not Whoa… look at that… like minute in Mongolia is… (I bet there’s nowhere as Whoa… look at that! as Mongolia.)

Life with Dada-Mama and Mama-Dada is different from life with Jocel. First, they keep Hindu kosher. That means no meat, no eggs, no alcohol. Dairy products are okay. (Milk doesn’t stop life. The others do.) The three of them have moved into one room for my sake. I still have my own room (this time with mosquito netting!… though my first night there I forgot to tuck it in)… with a fan, but the apartment layout is different.

There is no hallway between the rooms. The living room opens into “my” room which opens into the other bedroom, where my three flatmates crowd together to give me a private place to sleep. In the morning-- that is about 8:30AM (slightly past my bed-time in New York), is tea and some biscuits… we’d call them cookies. Then half an hour later, Mama-Dada (or Dada-Mama, whichever is the female) and her sister have cooked breakfast. I have never seen the women eat, but Dada-Mama (or Mama-Dada, whichever is the male) and I always eat together in front of the TV that’s usually showing an India soap opera… or comedy, where the words coming from the actors mouths never quite match the lip movements. I’m guessing the original was in Hindi and the local version in dubbed into Marathi for the Mumbai audience.

While the show is on, both Mama-Dada and Dada-Mama are on their cellphones-- either watching OTHER shows, videos or talking with the family in Texas. All the meals are great, even if they’re vegetarian. I clean my plate… some kind of rice with spice… everything has spice in it. My guess this started for health reasons… maybe to induce sweating… the so-called natural cooling system of the body. (I could never figure this out. Maybe it works in DRY places, but sweat in a country like India… where it’s as wet as a sloppy simile… It just doesn’t work.)

Mama-Dada (or Dada-Mama) comes by with seconds. I make the universal thumb and forefinger sign for just a little. I get a scoop. I’m getting really full, now.. and the spices are beginning to work their magic on my digestive system. I can just about squeeze that last spoonful in.

Mama-Dada (or Dada-Mama) is back as soon as I put that last spoonful in my mouth. (They got spoons as well as toilet paper for me.) She holds a bowl with more spicy rice.

“Some more?” she asks.

I shake my head. “I’m full!” I tell her. “I can’t eat a bit more.”

“What’s the matter? You didn’t like it?” she asks.

“I didn’t know you were Jewish,” I don’t answer.

From there… it’s to the bus station. Dada-Mama (or Mama-Dada) suggests I go by bus so I can see more… I’ve never taken a bus in Mumbai.

So, it’s off to the bus station. I know I need to take bus 85… The buses don’t use Arabic numerals. (I guess it’s that Arabic thing.) Dada-Mama accompanies me to the station, and we wait in the heat for bus number ८५.

The shit hits the fan in the next entry.

---more soon---

Friday, October 12, 2018

Indians! Mykel Goes to India Entry 4


Mykel's Travel Blog 

India: Entry 4

Oct 12, 2018

I love Indians… and yeah, I’m talking red dot… not feather. I don’t know any feather Indians… The Navajo I’ve met have all been pretty nice… but I don’t know enough of them to say I LOVE them. But the India Indians???

Holy Guru batman! They are terrific.

As a visitor… well, let me tell you their motto… I’ve heard it several dozen times…


In America, guests begin to smell like fish after three days. Like fish, they should be canned.

In India… they’re annoyed with you if you wash the dishes! “Why did you do that? You didn’t have to do that.”

My best houseguests are the ones who wash the dishes! It’s almost a test of guest value Ten extra points for washing the dishes. (That means you Gavin… my last guest who washed the dishes.)

Washing the dishes is for hosts. God never washes the dishes.

So what happened? I guess I’ll take it in sort of reverse order. This was last night:

You might have guessed that they’re old (not as old as me) punk-rockers. Members and hanger-oners from the great-named Mumbai punk band: TRIPWIRE. Amey, the guitarist, I met on facebook, introduced by the great Luk Haas.

Now we were meeting in person for the first time-- along with friends, promoters and the bass player. We hang out all evening. First they take me to this ROLL place… not bakery rolls, but real Indian crepe rolls. I forgot to take a picture of the really fat guy who owns the small chain. It’s something like a Kushner Roll… but not exactly that name.

“Say it’s an Indian Burito, Mykel,” says Sagar, the bassplayer.

Mmmm sure is good-- spicy with just enough sweet in it to make it a WOW. It sure hits my lingual G-spot. But that’s only the beginning. From there it’s on to THE PAGODA… sort of.

On the way, I casually mention that my boots need fixing. The sole is separating from the rest of the boot. For some reason (the heat?), since I got to India everything seems to be falling apart. A handkerchief I brought with me shreds on its own. My camera front pulls away from the camera back. My shirt loses a button. My body is suddenly filled with itchy blemishes. And more.

“Yo! Yo! Yo!” I say. “You guys know where I can get my boot fixed?”

“Mochi! Mochi!” They tell me.

“I wasn’t asking about Japanese food,” I start tell them… then grip the sides of the car door as Amey pulls a U-ey and drives down a side street, then screeches to a halt.

“Give me your boot,” he says. I unlace it and hand it over. He takes it and bounds out of the car. In a quarter hour he’s back… sole firmly glued in place.

“Ok,’ I tell him. “That’s great. I’ll take care of the Japanese food.”

He frowns.

“You said you were going for mochi,” I say. “You know those chewy rice cakes.”


“Mochi, in Maratha means cobler.” he spits out through the laughs. “I just took your boots to a mochi.”

Bang! Back into the car and off to the pagoda.

That’s another thing about India… it has so much stuff to look at… And we do… can’t go inside but do get to see it lit up… and walk around late at night. The night had a perfect crescent moon with one star… like the flag of a (non-Jewish) Middle Eastern country.

I try to take a picture of it, but the camera refuses to see what I see. So you’ll have to imagine it in stark black and bright white.

After the pagoda, it’s on to a bar. (Who me?) We sit at a table on the side, and order beer. My stomach is beginning to rumble... I am in India after all. 

I excuse myself to go take care of it. I follow the signs that say TOILET! Then end in a little room wtih two urinals. No toilet that I can see. I try to make good with just a gas release... and then I return to the table. 

That's when I notice it. There are only men in the bar. Tables full of men. Old men, young men, groups of men, men sitting alone... just men. 

"Is this a gay bar?" I ask Amey.

"No," he says, "why do you ask?"

"There are no women here," I say. 

He looks around and laughs. 

This is a lower class workers bar. Heavy jobs... construction... cleaning... you know. Women don't do that kind of work.

I shrug.

"But don't men shit?" I don't ask... And I do get through the rest of the evening.

R.A., the promoter, has a whiskey. On Saga’s suggestion, I order a LONDON PILSNER-- STRONG.

“I wanted an INDIAN beer,” I say.

“That IS an Indian beer,” says he.

I shudda known. INDIAN PALE ALE is the most popular style of American beer. So why not have LONDON PILSNER as a good Indian beer?

Yeah! Another good choice.
Aside: I need to explain Indo-Chinese… For Americans Indo China is the peninsula where Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia hang their hats. For Indians, Indo-China is a food style. Chinese food with an Indian twist! [Note: Every country in the world has its own version of Chinese food. Why should India be any different?]

So we have the spicy chicken and the spicy shrimp… and another LONDON PILSNER PLEASE? And another……

11:30… In New York, I’d be just starting, but I’m worried about waking up my Indian family. So, soused and ready to go home… (more about my HOME in Mumbai later)… Amey drives me back.

That brings me to Jocel, Karin… and Lael… my family here in Mumbai.

This is a trio who have put up with me for 11 days and counting. (I THINK I’m leaving tomorrow, but I have learned that PEOPLE PLAN… GOD LAUGHS here in India even more than other places).

Jocel works… leaves at 10AM returns at 8:30… Karen takes care of their cute but rambunctious (just like me!) offspring Lael… is a job and a half in itself. Plus, they both take care of me. I don’t mean they give me a bed… and a room to myself… They do that. But they also feed me-- breakfast in the morning… dinner at night... entertain me with Bollywood on the large screen TV… ask me about my day… suggest places to go… make sure I’m okay… (I’m okay)… do I want this or that? All while taking care of an ever-moving 4 year old!

PLUS! 10 days of this so far. I even try to take them out to dinner to say thank you…. my credit card is declined… THEY PAY!


Ok, as God, if I have the choice, you guys get straight to heaven… that’s for sure!

Then there’s Narantha:

No, she doesn’t have half a Salvador Dali mustache… that’s a lock of hair hanging low. I don’t have photoshop in this computer, so I can’t remove it.

Another couch-surfing discovery. Namratha (and I hope I spelled her name right… those Indian names are killers!) was hostessing when I first inquired through couch-surfing in New York. She can’t hostess me. But, she says, she’ll have me for dinner.

“I don’t taste that good,” I warn her.

We meet near where she works: Akruti Trade Center. The auto-rickshaw driver (auto-rickshaws are like Thai tuk-tuks… If you don’t know what that is… ask Google… She knows.) leaves me off at the Akriti STAR Center, which is right across from the Akruti Enterprise Center. I go in and show the concierge the address on my phone.

He shakes his head and gestures moving his hands every which way.

“So I have to leave the building and go somewhere else?” I ask.

He nods his head. I leave and cross the very busy street in front of the building. (Crossing the street in Mumbai is an adventure that deserves it’s own entry. The closest experience I’ve had to it is crossing the street in Dakar. Think, dodge ‘em!)

Across the street, I enter Akruti Enterprise Center and show the concierge the email message. He makes exactly the same hand gestures as the previous concierge. I point to the other side of the street. He tilts his head in that ambiguous way which I think means yes. I sigh deeply and cross the street back to the other side. Then I text Namratha.

I look around for a landmark.

“I’m in front of the Chinese restaurant,” I tell her.

“There?” she says, “I know where you are. I’ll be right there.”

And she is… and it’s all uphill from there. Great dinner. Great conversation. More introductions… Dinner again in two days with her and the Brahmins of Juhu… no meat… no booze… but great company.
Wow! Do I love Indians!


If you’re interested in my non-travel, more political, social, satirical, scatological, punker writing. You can read more at:

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Trains Mykel Goes to India Entry 3

Monday October 8

A week in India. I've decided to keep these reports small, singly focused, despite the time I have, things happen so fast, internet access is spotty, and life takes twisty turns.

I want to write about THE TRAINS. But before I do it I have to explain my first impression that Mumbai is in the same group as New York and Tokyo. Hot and sweaty in the summer.
Filled with people. A strange combination of helpful, careless, self-centered, beauty, and ugliness.

I’m staying in Borivali, a northern suburb of the city… about an hour and a half by train from the old town… where the tourists go… no tourists in Borivali.

As in Tokyo, most of the streets don’t have names… the buildings do. So, for example, I in the Bolivali section of Mumbai, in the AD Colony and in the Titanium Building. [Names changed slightly to protect my friends.] The autocab drivers that get you from place to place (think Tuk Tuk)… station to Titanium Google maps… they just plug in the name and find it with the press of DIRECTIONS button. This is India… tech capital of the world, right? Yeah right.

Maybe they’ll know AD Colony… but that’s a big area. Titanium? Isn’t that some Marvel super-hero?

But lets talk about the trains. Like in other countries, there are express and local trains. Some of the local trains START in Borivali. The express trains start who-know-where… Beijing? All trains have first and second class cars. The difference being the price and air conditioning. I have not (yet?) taken a first-class ride. Express and local trains are the same price.

You’ve probably seen pictures of the white-gloved guards in Tokyo whose job it is to stuff the people people into the cars… tight enough for the doors to close.

“We don’t need guards with white gloves,” says Karin, my hostess. “We stuff ourselves.”

The express trains are as full of people as any Odakyu rush-hour train… the only difference… the doors don’t close. So the train comes into the station with half a dozen upper body halves… hanging out… getting air conditioning from real air.

It’s my first trip downtown. Karin takes me to the station. Translates my needs to the railroad clerk. Churchgate Terminal, round trip for one, second class, which platform?

I hand her the money… around a dollar for the round-trip. I get a dot-matrix printed ticket, completely unreadable, except for the all-caps white on brown logo wishing me HAPPY JOURNEY. The picture is for a ticket to a different location, but they all look the same.


We’re off to track 9. Karin walks me to the track, confirms it’s the right place with the shoeshine boy, then asks, “Are you okay Mykel? Can you take it from here?”

“Of course,” I tell her. “I’m a New Yorker.”

She leaves and I wait. Not long… the train approaches. It’s packed… Japan packed, but with open doors… people hanging out… gasping for the polluted air of the station…. barely hanging on to the door frame… maybe there are no actual doors at all… just open spots for people to get on and off.

No one gets off.

There is absolutely no space… no one to push me in. No way I can add myself to the crowd… I let the train go.

Next train’s in a few minutes. The doors open… Yes! There’s some space… maybe even a seat… then I notice it. There are only women in this car…. beautiful women in saris, old women with faces as gnarled as their walking sticks… mothers with little kids (yes, some of them boys… but no older than 8 or 9 years old…. I can’t pass.) I’m in the women’s car. Just like in Japan, I suppose, the tightness of the quarters leads to some unwelcome tightness in the crotch of some random guy’s pants. Some extra lumps for the long ride… the girls would rather not. So that have their own car… this is it.

I get out of the car. All the others are as crowded as a poetic metaphorical sentence with way too many different words to be poetic or metaphorical in it. I wait for the next train… about 10 minutes… no I don’t.

Clutching my ticket, I decide to try to try something different. Take the local… It’ll take longer, but it’ll start from here. It should be empty when it starts, right? I ask half a dozen people, most of whom shrug and keep walking. Finally, I find the track… track 2 with one of those huge train stoppers on one end meaning exactly THE END OF THE LINE.

Yes! The train pulls in and I rush in with the others, snag a seat by the window. Right under a fan…. I take off my Bay Stars hat to enjoy the coolish air on the top of my head. The train fills almost to seating capacity… and then starts. The seat I’m sitting on is made for three people, as are most of the seats-- except the benches along the wall. I sit next to a chubby guy. Next to him is an attractive young woman… very sporty looking. Across from me is a white-shirted guy who put his briefcase in the overhead rack. Next to him is a tall skinny college-looking guy. Next to him is a slightly shlubby looking old man… with middle age spread long since spread.

Next stop the car fills more. Another businessman walks up to the seat across from me and-- with his ass-- bumps the slub on his arm. He pushes the others on the bench to slide down so he can get 6 inches of space to rest a single buttock on. The trip continues and I see this repeated… every stop… sometimes between stops. On one of the benches... the end guy… butted over to make a tiny bit of half-sitting space… Except my bench. No one butts the woman at the end of bench. No matter how crowded it gets, the woman has an invisible buffer around her than no one breaks. Separate cars… no ass bumping.. the women have it made here. Even when it gets crowded.

And it does get crowded… hanging out the door crowded…

You can’t imagine:

An hour and a half later, I’m in Churchgate.

No one checks the tickets… either on the way in or the way out.

On the way back I, find that I can’t really tell which trains are local and which are express. The station is filled with cryptic messages… at least the English versions are cryptic.

Okay, here comes the train… what luck! It must be a local. The car is pretty empty… One guy in the corner… with a cane… I sit on an empty bench, near the window. There is some shouting. Some tap tap tapping. Half a dozen blind guys walk in… single file… hands on a shoulder in front of them. Yeah, it’s the blind leading the blind… and they do it perfectly. Right to the back bench… where they sit in a single row and converse loudly in a language I don’t understand.

In totters an old man… looking much like a classic guru… long beard, white robes, and a heavy limp. A couple with a child sits on the bench in front of me. The man has no eyes… I don’t mean he’s blind… I mean he has no eyes. Two empty sockets… his wife and child lead him to the seat in front of me. I smile coochy coo style at the kid. Then notice that mom is missing a hand.

Note: those who know me well know that handicapped people do not freak me out. Actually, I enjoy their company and feel them to be some of the bravest people I know. My father lost an arm in the Second World War. He worked for an agency that found jobs for handicapped people… I used to visit him at the office near the Chrysler building. I grew up with handicapped people. Even now, one of the most important people in my life is blind. And yeah?

What freaks me out here is ME!! This is clearly the handicap car and here I am taking up space in it! I can’t move, because the other cars will be packed by now. I just have to sit here and feel guilty. I’m wondering if I should leave with a limp. Nobody says a word and I get off at my stop.