The yoga is a cross between the more demanding Ashtanga and the slower moving Vinyasa. This is my wife’s idea; my chakras have always been in order, except for a post-operative vasectomy, when they were still centred, but very much enlarged. I know this for a fact as when I had to show them to our female family doctor, whom we both know well, and I felt a little self-conscious, she exclaimed, ‘Oh my God!’Even with no medical training I know this is not a good thing. Apparently, according to my wife in my confusion, ‘I’m talking chakras.’ So I happily agree to become supplier, in a supportive manner.
Initially the children come along, one of them farted, they both laugh uncontrollably and the Yoga teacher only suggested it might be better for everyone concerned, if the kids didn’t attend any more sessions. So now we are down to a class of two, we explain that we have professional jobs back in England when he enquires, and he mistakes this for us being intelligent in some way. So instead of describing the moves in English, he has decided on the ancient Sanskrit. We don’t want to do a degree in Yoga, especially in a confusing language, that according to the Indian census, in a country with over a billion people, less than 15,000 have as it their first; it has pretty much died out, but he believes in the poetry/religion/mystic of the authentic semantics will add to our overall experience – we play along like buckram naive human guinea pigs.
I’m useless, fit-ish, but just not supple. I can’t touch my toes – never been able, and it doesn’t seem to have hindered me much. We’re having a bet who’ll be the first to fart, my wife is convinced I’m by far the most flatulent, but she is basing her assumptions on out of date data from the before the last century, when my diet consisted of a lot of ready meals and canned produce. I explain my digestive system is organic and has evolved tremendously this century, it is akin to a high performance Formula 1 car – it needs a team of about twelve people continually working on it. The only thing the wife is not happy about is the odd mosquito in the room, she reacts badly, and God knows what it will do to her chakras. The teacher cannot see what the problem is with mosquitoes, but he makes half-hearted platitudes about insect control.
The next day we are raring to go. ‘Ok, position zazakadhama.’we both look blankly at him, ‘The rabbit,’ he replies wearily in English. ‘straight into, carunghona kukkura.’Both the wife and I look at each other, with the possible chance of plagiarism, ‘crouching dog.’We crouch like obedient dogs, ‘adho mukha svanasana.’The wife looks at me while the teacher is distracted by a mosquito that has got through the wire dressed as nun. ‘Two dogs fucking, both with three legs, I think.’The multi-syllable names go on; Trikonasana (alcoholic pentagon), Ardha matsyendrasana (aggravated hernia), Eka pada rajakapotasana (racing pigeon at a discotheque), Russellta Crowetah attabravahata Bakasana (Russell Crowe tormenting a dwarf), and it went on, us confused, him getting more exasperated that we did not have doctorates in Sanskrit; thinking we would eventually pick the names up, we never did! He thought we were taking the piss, but not only was it a difficult language; he spoke it rather fast. We finish ten minutes early as there is a mosquito with my wife’s name on it, and the high-pitched whizzing tone is in the modern‘insect-vector’ language. The main topic of conversation on the way back to our accommodation was how incredibly useless we were at the language. On the very last the day the wife farts audibly, we both try hard not to giggle, I do well, until the wife starts to burst with laughter like a naughty schoolgirl, and she pricks my bubble. It sums the course up nicely for our Yoga teacher–a sort of Sanskrit full stop, or maybe a scratch-and-sniff ellipsis…
The very final part of the course is a full body Ayurveda massage–this was the part of the course I was very much looking forward to*. Sounds brilliant doesn’t it? We are in same small wooden barn-like building, in cordoned off bamboo rooms. The wife has a beautiful women administering oils and muscle relaxation. My massage is to be administered from above by a chubby bloke, who looks as though he’s had one too many chapattis, swinging on a steadying rope and using his feet, he gives off an air of confidence from up above, like he’s going to give me a friendly kicking. He starts with my back, which I know is doing me some good, then I’m asked to turn over. I’m naked and somewhat vulnerable but I let him get on with his trade, slightly more relaxed as he has finished my back then worked up my legs from the feet. He does the top of my left quad, but before he starts on the right with a deft touch of his toes he flicks my penis from one side, where it was quite happily resting, and generally where it always tends to rest, to the other incongruous side. I don’t know if anyone has ever flicked your penis from its happy resting place to somewhere else unexpectedly?, but it is slightly unnerving, especially when you know it might well trundle back like a devoted homing slug, to where it most happily dwells–will he flick it back? – this is the question at the front of my brain. My chakras are wacked out of line, it is a clumsy end to a first meeting. I’m guessing he’s working on the assumption that I won’t be returning ever again, and he does not have a complaints department – how do you start that letter? However positive it starts there is an elephant in the room that needs addressing: ‘Then quite surprisingly he flicked my penis from its contented side to its anxious side!’When I was regaling this anecdote to a male friend, he asked me if I had become aroused. He was asking in all seriousness. After having my penis knocked out of kilter, I was glad to get out, before any other ‘extras’ were offered. My wife is euphoric, she’s had a ‘penis-less’ wail of a time, converted to the health benefits of yogic pursuits, I’m moved, but in a very different way. She is in a drug-like euphoric post massage state, I regale her with my tale of penis-displacement, she has her eyes shut facing the sun, she speaks, “Don’t be a baby.” So if you want a moral to this tale; don’t get the yoga teacher to talk in Sanskrit, Ardhamagadhi or Pali, and during the massage phase make it clear you would like your penis to remain unfooted!
Varkala is a lovely place to spend time, leaving penises aside for a moment. The main beach is enclosed by forty-foot cliffs which gives the bay a cosy feel. Don’t be fooled by the inviting waters, they will rip you away easily, but there are vigilante lifeguards, which allowed me to read occasionally when the children weren’t demanding my attention. I remember that beach well because I had swapped a book in a guesthouse in Udapur, simply because I liked the title and the front cover: ‘The Boy with no Shoes,’ by William Horwood. It is based on his own quite harrowing and dysfunctional childhood, I remember it for two reasons, firstly it was gripping, and secondly because I thought this is as good as life can get, travelling, family, healthy, and reading a book simply because I liked the look of it. I’d not read any reviews or had it recommend, I’d never ever heard of it – I just liked the look of it. In our busy lives’when time is precious, if we are going to read a novel, semi-autobiography in this case, we are going to be pretty certain we’ll enjoy it, here I was reading a book I simply liked the look of – like I’ve already said, life was great to wonderful.
We stay at a guesthouse called The Red House on the edge of the main coastal habitation. There are individual small circular bungalows dotted around the verdant gardens, the kids have their own, there are hammocks strung in many of the tress. I like the owner Shah, he is a friendly ex-college English lecturer; he warns us of the dangers of the waters. The girl befriends a larval creature, a glow worm, she names it Glowy! She leaves it in the middle of the lawn, and it is still there the next night drawing attention to itself, sending out its tiny beacon. She is obsessed with it, like she was with the tortoise up in Udaipur. She wants both when she gets home. One will almost certainly outlive the other. A few nights later Glowy has multiplied to the form The Glowettes – she is mesmerised by this and is desperate to find Glowy the First, but the identity parade proves inconclusive.
It is still the end of the wet season and the first three days it either rains or is overcast. By the forth the weather is glorious by day. The boy is becoming more and more independent, then after playing cards one night he decides he is going to nip to a bar to watch Zoolander. The last time he was casually nipping out was back stage at Glastonbury, when he was only eight, and just nipping round the front to watch Stereophonics on the main stage. On that occasion the wife went to keep an eye on him, this time he is twelve and a half, nearly a man in some cultures! We let him go, so he feels independent, then as soon as he’s gone the hundred metres along the coastal path: “You go, keep an eye on him. A few people have fallen off the cliffs recently.” “They were pissed and on mushrooms.”I have no choice, as soon as I get there he is sat at the front and he says hello to me like he is a pensioner (Victorian-granddad) down the local. An almighty thunderstorm breaks out, and the power is cut, we stand watching the spectacular storm. I wonder if this amount of travel, independence and freedom, will make him want to spread his wings when he is older, I suspect it will. The film starts once more, and ‘I guess you can dere-lick my balls cap-E-tan’ enters his long-term memory.
We wander into Varkala town, there a sign outside the train station:
Southern Railway Company
Male Sterilization – simple method
Special incentives declared
There are no exclamation marks! Where do you start? Why the Southern Railway Company? Why is it only a month? Simple method? – is it two bricks and a blindfold? That’s about as simple as it gets! Special incentives declared – not on the advert there aren’t! Maybe you get to the shed/clinic/railway siding and the incentive is: have it done now before you have any kids and you’ll be millions of rupees better off and do whatever you want, whenever you want. There is no contact address/number etc. I take a photo to send off to Viz, but never get around to it when I get home. It reminds me of a story a friend’s dad (Steve–not his real name, is real name is Bill), tells of when he taught in an art college, and the mad caretaker, that he did not get on very well with left. Steve has been talked through and reassured about the procedure by the doctor and is waiting to have is scrotum shaved, by whom he assumes will be a skilled nurse, when who should stride in with a razor blade but the old care-taker that he has exchanged some sharp words in the past.
“Hi Steve, how you doing,’ the ex-janitor cheerfully chirps. Steve takes one look at the small weapon held aloft and replies, “Fuck this!” Gets up, leaves, gets divorced, and has three more kids to add to the two he already has! – If only the ‘special incentives’ had been more clearly declared.
We go shopping for gifts for the friends we will eventually stay with in New Zealand. The wife takes a shine to a T-shirt, the Nepalese shopkeeper does not speak very good English and the wife’s ampleness around the bust makes it hard for her to wriggle into, but she manages it. She wants it but it is far too tight, unless she is thinking of entering a middle-age wet T-shirt competition, which is highly unlikely. It is evidently far too snug, but we watch her come to her own conclusion. The shop assistant helps her out, “You are too fat!”It is a clumsy expression, but the boy and I find it amusing.
One afternoon we are having lunch in the Dolphin View restaurant overlooking the sea. I jokingly complain to the waiter that there are no dolphins, he takes a seafaring look at the ocean for a few seconds and points to pod of forty dolphins that have just broken the surface. Dolphins are like elephants, they are difficult to tire of*. The girl is amazed by this, and even more so as they move closer to the shoreline. She has ordered tomato soup with ‘coupons’ in; we all find this malapropism funny. But the winner always goes to one of the wife’s sisters, who has called the trams in Manchester, ‘tramps’ – twice. “I got the tramp back from town!”or a text from her will often say, “On the tramp now.”
Most evenings I have fish a main, we are next to the sea, the fish must be fresh, surely? On the penultimate day I have a fish molee, the famous Keralan fish curry. I wake in the night with a banging headache, which unbelievably gets even worse, until my body has no option but to empty my stomach contents. The next day I feel reasonable. I go back to the restaurant in question to inform them the fish curry is off, so they can dispose of it, to avoid the same fate befalling anyone else. I’m not looking for any compo, just being public spirited, they do not seem too concerned – I’m not dead! – they offer me another fish curry! I obviously decline, having performed my public duty.
The weather settled after the first few days and is now glorious enough to go to the beach every day. We were debating whether to get the train back up to Mumbai and fly out two weeks early while watching a deluge on the first day here. We have seen enough of India now. We are all glad we have spent a week and a half here; it has been our favourite hassle-free Indian location. It is difficult to know exactly what the children will make from their year away. I notice as I write this blog the girl is has left her laptop unattended on the kitchen table and is looking at McLeodganj and Varkala, planning a future trip without the embarrassment of her parents. I don’t need to ask her if these are her favourite places in India, it is obvious, they have stayed with her…
I’m going on holiday to Greece to make a very small contribution to their debt crisis, and support them by eating and drinking far too much, it seems a fair exchange! I also have a deadline for a book, so I will not be putting another blog out until Saturday August 29th. Have a great summer/winter. Many thanks for supporting the blog in increasing numbers, which have far exceeded my expectations. BIG LOVE, Ian xx
Next time: Violence is a tool used by the weak, not the strong!
*Never end a sentence with a preposition, the ghost of Winston Churchill will haunt you and he’ll bring his blacks dogs along!
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