England managed to give away the first test cricket match. As if I didn’t already get enough piss taken out of me by Indians on account of the symbol of fertility in my left nostril.
We’re in Bombay. We laugh in the face of terror. We flew here from Calcutta, having enjoyed several days of conviviality and many bottles of Kingfisher with the guys we met on the train from Varanasi. I’m good at temporary friendships, but it’s still a little sad to wave goodbye to people whose company we’ve enjoyed in an unexpectedly charming city.
After landing in Bombay, we paid close attention to the customary announcement of both time and temperature. The time was 6pm, the after-dark temperature a sweltering 30 degrees. My immediate impression is of a city in rapid development. A pseudo-intellectual might say it is a city self-consciously shedding India’s less appealing characteristics while capitalising on its strengths, purloining European notions of civility and bonhomie when and where it suits. In other words, people seem to obey traffic signals!
This is the financial capital of the Indian sub-continent, the streets of commerce vibrant and relatively clean. It’s the home of the Indian film industry, which makes more money and movies than Hollywood. There are dozens and dozens of plush restaurants, bars, nightclubs and sky-scrapers, and yet – get this – more than HALF of Bombay’s population live in slums. It’s a familiar sight in London to see a tree-lined street with beautiful Edwardian houses backing onto a downtrodden council estate, but it is nothing compared to the stark contrast you see as you come in to land at Bombay airport; high-rise buildings jostling for position with thousands and thousands of tin boxes, mud huts and mountains of plastic bottles. Seeing the humans who inhabit the slums washing themselves and their clothes in murky puddles makes me wonder if there is really such a thing as poverty in western Europe.
Confession – we went to a McDonalds. I had a McVeggie Meal which cost 111 rupees. After chalking up twenty veg curries in a row I’m not even particularly ashamed of myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about food. I decided to be a vegetarian for as long as possible, probably until we get to Singapore. I should be vegetarian anyway; arguments of both health and morality are compelling. I think it is wrong to kill a sentient being for no reason other than to eat it unless there is no alternative. The trouble is, I love bacon more than I hate being wrong. In fact, I love most pork products more than I hate being wrong. We’ve been away for less than a month, and yet I daydream about bacon, salami, roast pork, gammon streaks, pork pies, sausages – you name it. Me and Nas also made lists of our top five cuisines in order of preference. Here’s mine:
1. Italian. Creamy avocados, juicy tomatoes, milky mozzarella, pizza, pancetta, wild mushroom, salami, anchovies, Parmesan, olives and their oil, ravioli, veal escallops, ice cream, pannetone, espresso, cappuccino, chianti – I love it all.
2. Japanese. Glistening salmon nigiris and fried tuna katsu rolls with plenty of ginger, wasabi, green tea and miso soup makes me feel healthy, calm and thoroughly nourished.
3. French/Belgian. Pates of innumerable variety in texture. Crunchy warm fresh bread. Moules et frites. Croissants. Pain au (transcendental) chocolate. Bordeaux and Burgundy wines of infinite complexity. And in the case of the Belgians, abbey beers. Mmm mmm.
4. Chinese. A dubious choice, but I’m thinking more about a delicately prepared feast of Dim Sum with jasmine tea than chow mein and chop suey, although those certainly hit the spot when they’re called upon to do so.
5. British. Yeah, you heard! Cheddar cheese, worcester sauce, soft bread, roast beef, yorkshire puddings, bananas and custard, cornish pasties, ale, scotch, tea milk one sugar, pie and mash and, yes, fish and fucking chips.
Hmmm, what else? I slept badly last night and we’ve been on the move all day so we didn’t fancy exploring the bars of Bombay just yet. As such, I have nothing better to do this evening than watch the cricket highlights (hmmm) and tap away on the eee. What other self-absorbed nonsense can I think to share? I just shaved for the first time since we left. I’d never before gone more than about a week without shaving, and was curious about letting my beard grow. It didn’t look terrible and was surprisingly blond, but my beloved wouldn’t let me kiss her and Bombay is WAY too hot to wear anything insulating that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. I wanted to get it shaved off at a Barber’s shop with a cut-throat razor, but the heat of Bombay forced me to take immediate and private action on arrival at our hotel.
I logged onto a uk news website the other day and wished I hadn’t bothered. The Jean Charles De Menezes inquiry turning into a risible farce was an illustrative reminder that Britain is a corrupt and shameful autocracy. One of the reasons I wanted to travel around Asia for a few months was so that I could see England in a fonder light. Something tells me I’m pissing into the wind with that one.