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Double O Diwali

The dulcet tones of Roger Moore can be heard bouncing across the rooftops of Udaipur as endless showings of Octupussy remind tourists of the town’s star role. Touted as one of the most romantic cities in India, the view across the vast lake at sunset is an aphrodisiac for many couples. Our first engagement with this visual wonder was disrupted somewhat, as Hazell relayed a momentous news headline from home. Princess Beatrice of the Royal Family had reportedly been for a night out at the Goldsmith’s Student Union; her presence had been unwelcome and the students had thrown shit at her. The union had been shut down for health and safety reasons. As I watched Rajasthani waiters serve cocktails on the rooftops, I asked myself who can honestly determine a ’developed’ society from an ’undeveloped’ counterpart? As a member of the supposedly esteemed ’Goldmsith’s Alumni’, I was glad to be in India.

Later that day we conversed with a local in the less tourist saturated end of town. He invited us for a hot Indian sugar water that masquerades as ‘tea’, and we discussed the merits of our respective cultures. I made a conscious decision to omit the recent developments within the monarchy and instead focussed upon his story. It transpired that he had spent many years in France in a marriage that eventually dissolved; he felt his desire for a simple life as a Muslim Sufi and artist was unfitting in a European environment. Drawn back to India by its chaotic freeform, many encouraged him to cash in on the tourist trade and set up an art shop near the lake. His reply to this was ’why do I need to make as much money as possible? I’m quite happy with what I have and if it is meant to happen, people will come and buy my art.’ At this point we expected an informal invite into his shop; ’just looking, just looking’ of course, but it never came and we went our separate ways. This refreshing approach was certainly not representative of the majority of Udaipur, and the town did little to retain our attention further. Diwali was approaching and we therefore decided to move on to the quieter town of Bundi in search of authentic Indian celebrations.

The overnight bus was a divider of opinion. I got a few hours broken sleep, but Hazell faired less favourably. I expect this was due in part to the breakneck speed with which the driver flung the large vehicle over the uneven dirt track. The crux of the problem however, lay in the fact our evening’s accommodation was a glass panelled cubicle, sold surreptitiously as a twin bed. It became clear that goldfish truly live a troubled life within their tanks, especially when the male fish keeps rolling over and twatting his head on the outer glass panel of his miniature kingdom. With bleary eyes we arrived at our guest house nestled in a dusty back alley of Bundi. Our weary heads were required to remain active for a little longer however; 5am is not a particularly amicable time for arrival and our hosts were still sleeping.

Eventually we were granted entry and, not for the first time on this trip, were warmly welcomed by ’Mama’, though as we duly discovered, this particular matriarch could boast of one particular achievement that differentiated her from the rest: she had made it to the esteemed pages of London’s ‘Metro’ newspaper. It was a lovely family home and we felt very welcome there, which made it all the more distressing when Mama apparently tried to poison the entire household, a culinary misdemeanour which I have vowed not to bring to the attention of the editor of the aforementioned publication. We had joined our Austrian travel partners for dinner in the lounge and Mama provided us all with a home cooked Thali. Tasty though it was, the following day we were all bed ridden. Andreas was feeling the effects most severely, vomiting and entirely unable to take even liquids. His sisters were so worried they almost took him to hospital but then remembered they were in India, so he was probably better off staying put. Hazell and I slept it off, the only interruption to recovery arriving via a young group of kids jamming twigs through our street side window and shouting ‘you are weird’.

This colourful start to our stay became all the more warped upon the arrival of Diwali. No sooner had the females of the house recovered from the illness she had inflicted, Mama enforced upon each of them a garish sari and equally comical makeup. All parties were then paraded around the streets to much amusement of both myself and the locals; bangers and fireworks filled the air but nothing could outshine the horrifically garish attire of my girlfriend. In all honesty, you couldn’t make this stuff up; a ginger Welsh girl from Splott celebrating Diwali in a brightly striped Sari. I can honestly say I have never seen a human being look so uncomfortable; grinning through gritted teeth Hazell cursed me as I revelled in the hilarity of the moment. The evening ended spectacularly with a thoroughly distressing group dance in front of Indian music videos. It was certainly an ‘alternative Diwali’, and I had enjoyed myself even if Hazell had been forced to quash any dreams she had of being a Sari model.

If a Welsh Splottian in a Sari wasn’t enough to bring the walls of normality crashing down, a visit to the annual magic festival at a local village was sure to send things the way of the pear. Packed to the brim in true Indian style, the streets of this small dwelling had become a theatre of the bizarre. Bicycles where hanging from trees, while seemingly unplumbed never-ending waterfalls provided an unsettling water feature. It was difficult to breathe in the crush of sweaty bodies, but respite was achieved as a cross dressing man with a plant pot on his head charged through the crowd wailing. He was followed by a man in a bra driving recklessly on a motorbike while blindfolded. One particular performer was astutely aware of his audience and had decided to dress in a western strap top, plaster himself in whitening makeup and talc, and build a replica digital camera out of a lamp. At this point it became clear that the definition of ‘magic’ was being stretched somewhat. It couldn’t be denied that the tourists were as much a part of the freak show as the main acts, and after the festival we took a bow and moved backstage to the mundane safety of the next bus ride.

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  1. September 27, 2011 at 5:52 am

    This surely makes great sense

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