|Geoff and Jules - Chapter 4|
We spent several days more in Darjeeling, resting, writing letters and enjoying excellent meals at the Orient Restaurant, a well-provided Chinese establishment where we could fill our stomachs for about ten cents. Our procedure was to cook our regular breakfast of porridge and rice in the dharamsala, eat a few slices of bread and peanut butter for lunch, and in the evening repair to the Orient Restaurant and eat like kings on a pauper's purse. And there were other attractions for those with little money. We could go to the movies and sit on benches at the very front for five cents; we could write letters or read in the public library in front of a blazing fire; and there were always a few odd characters to yarn with in the restaurant over cups of tea.
They were agreeable days, but the urge to move on is very strong, and there is a powerful curiosity to see what lies next along the road. Accordingly, we gathered our belongings and moved out one morning, heading for Benares, that city of sanctity and scholars which sprawls out along the banks of the Ganges on the plains below. We made our way down to Siliguri, arriving just in time to catch an afternoon train - the Lucknow Express. Geoff was understandably apprehensive about becoming involved with anything connected with Lucknow after his experience with the rum, but he put his trust in providence and we set off to buy our third-class tickets.
It was a daunting sight to see the incredible, jabbering crowd clinging to the dozen or so carriages. We pushed determinedly toward the ticket office, but our progress was arrested by the impressive figure of a big, red-turbaned police-inspector in khaki drill. Bending down to Geoff, whom he must have seen as an Englishman down on his luck, he bellowed into his ear through all the hubbub, "Have you got a reservation?"
Geoff shook his head and mumbled a reply, whereupon this benevolent spirit took him by the arm and propelled him to a small compartment, marked "Attendants", at the rear of a first-class carriage. The occupants were none too pleased to see us but accepted the situation readily enough when the policeman waved his baton threateningly. We were jammed in tight with the "Attendants" but enjoyed the supreme luxury of seats without tickets as the train pulled off across the flat Indian plains. Geoff was wedged right in the corner next to me and was a little disconcerted to find a ragged religious mendicant, daubed with the mark of Siva, sitting on the floor between his feet gazing intently up at him and chanting mournfully.
And so we rattled on over the featureless countryside, past dusty villages, waterholes with boys playing on half-submerged water-buffaloes, and half-naked figures merged with the brown earth, figures that straightened up to watch impassively as the crowded carriages clattered on across the flat fields.
We wrote as best we could in the rocking carriage, or read, or stared, dozing, out of the window. We talked about travel and other parts of the world. I used to enjoy Geoff's tales of travelling in America. He told me how he and a friend, Ian, after the race in Boston, had travelled to Toronto in an old wreck of a car. "That Austin was so clapped out, we only just made it to Toronto. There was oil blowing out the air filter. We pulled up at a service station, and a guy offered us twenty-five bucks for it as a wreck. He was the attendant. Well, we thought about it for a moment or two then decided to go and unload our gear and come back and take the dough. On the way back we picked up a hitchhiker. 'We're taking this car to the wrecker's,' I told him. 'We're getting twenty-five bucks for it.' 'I'll give you twenty-five bucks,' says this hitchhiker. 'Make it thirty and it's yours,' says I. 'I don't think I've got thirty .. oh .. yes I have .. here it is!' I caught sight of his money and pulled up. I was all for making the deal on the spot, but Ian thought we should demonstrate the old wreck to the bloke. So I tried to start it up again. No go. Boy, was it sick. The bloke said he thought it was flooded, and he was probably right. Ian showed him where the oil was pouring out and tried to talk him out of it. But the poor bloke was sold. We shook him by the hand, and I took a picture of him in it as he drove off. Great clouds of smoke billowed from every crack and crevice, and he disappeared from sight long before he reached the top of the road. 'Sometimes I hate myself,' I said to Ian, and we sat down at the side of the road and laughed and laughed. We nearly had hysterics. I don't reckon many people who give a hitchhiker a lift end up by selling their car to him."
Geoff talked as he usually did, with a full range of gestures and expressions, and our companions in the compartment, very few of whom spoke English, listened and watched with unabashed interest. Even the chanting pilgrim on the floor was silent. When Geoff reached the end of the story and he and I started to laugh, they smiled at one another and shook their heads in the Indian way, as though something pleasant had occurred.
Night had fallen, and we travelled on through the darkness. Most of our companions were squatting on the seats, wrapped in shawls and dozing, so we unrolled our sleeping bags and, climbing up into the luggage racks, quickly fell asleep, lulled by the swaying carriage.
We awoke to find the train stopped, our companions of the night gone, and the Ganges awaiting us to be crossed by ferry. By the time we had gathered our belongings we were among the last down to the ferry, and we discovered to our horror as we approached that the rail tickets were being collected at the gangplank. Ducking back a little way to collect our wits, we watched the ferry pull away from the bank without us.
The sun had still not risen, and a thick mist lay over the river, muffling the sound of the ferry. We went back to the station and brewed some porridge in the waiting-room, hoping it would return sooner or later. We were not there long before a second train pulled up, belching steam, just as another ferry materialised at the river bank. This train, surprisingly, was crowded with Tibetans, hundreds of them milling about ... children, old people, men and women with huge bundles, all streamed down the river bank to the ferry. Better prepared now, we joined the rush and merged with the shouting, jostling throng as they swarmed happily aboard the ferry, brushing the ticket-collectors aside in their scramble.
The ferry pulled out from the bank just as the sun came up. A great fiery ball, it shimmered and gleamed on the brown water as the vessel throbbed slowly through the drifting mist. The Tibetans had quietened and were busy eating. Mothers pulled aside brown robes to give babies the breast, and others produced simple food form the folds of their bulky garments. We watched an occasional grey fish leap from the river with a dull splash.
According to the guide books, Benares was ransacked in 1194 A.D. by Shah-a-buddin of Ghor, who left the city in ruin and desolation. It shows no sign of having been repaired since, and the impression remains of an unbelievable maze of alleyways, tumbledown buildings, ruins and markets; hundreds of crowded twisting lanes and small, chaotic temples, wet from the splashing of Holy Ganges water and the ceremonies of thronging devotees; makeshift ragged shelters interspersed with street-stalls and piles of rubble; and everywhere the people who make this ancient Hindu city pulse with life. Pilgrims jostling and chanting, daubed with the marks of their sects; the beggars and the maimed clamouring mournfully for baksheesh; people urinating and defecating with quiet detachment in every street; children and babies playing unconcernedly in the squalid thoroughfares where sacred cows wander unmolested; and all about them the daily hubbub of the people who make this fantastic city their home.
Some recollections are vivid. The Vishwanatha Temple, quiet and peaceful, and the beautiful monastic voice of a holy man sitting cross-legged on the floor playing a small portative organ with one hand, and chanting with it note-for-note; Geoff suddenly deciding to purify himself and leap into the Ganges at one of the Bathing Ghats. He stripped to his underpants and plunged in amongst the faithful, to the profound surprise of several devout gentlemen performing their leisurely rites. We had watched them taking water from the river in little brass bowls, ceremoniously pouring it back, then plunging in and turning around three times. Geoff merely contented himself with plunging in and turning about three times. Whilst doing this, he inadvertently took a mouthful of the dirty water, which he spat out at once. This conduct was not appreciated by his neighbour, who accosted him angrily and demanded several annas to forget the whole affair, demonstrating that it is possible to mix a little business with religious devotion. Another crowded, noisy temple, sacred to Siva, the shrine beautifully garlanded with marigolds, where a priest was seated giving flowers to those who approached, painting their foreheads with the red mark of devotion to the Lord of the Universe. We came up, and he gave us each a rose, daubing our foreheads with the red pigment. And an old pilgrim waiting for death on a stone step overlooking the Ganges at one of the public Ghats. He lay half-sprawled in the sun, quite naked, and thousands of flies swarmed over his brown skin, clustering at his every orifice. To bathe in the Ganges is to wash away one's sins, however great they may be, but to die within the compass of the holy city, by the sacred river, is to be transported straight to heaven.
At once sickened and exhilarated, we felt our brains withering under this tumult and needed to escape for a time. So we travelled the few miles out to the haven of Sarmath - the Deer Park of the Buddha - and discovered our old companions from the Ganges ferry. The place was crowded with Tibetans, and they came from the hills of Nepal and the remote corners of India to be here with their beloved Dalai Lama, himself a refugee from their Chinese-occupied homeland. It was the year of the two thousand five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Buddha; and the Deer Park where he preached his first sermon, was the place where, for the first time, the Wheel of Law was set in motion. The Dalai Lama had come for a few days to take part in the celebrations.
He was inside the Vihara, the great temple, praying, so we retired to sit in an open-air teahouse that had been set up in a leafy grove of banyan trees opposite. It was pleasant in the shade with the people milling happily about. They must have felt the heat of the plains terribly, but their sense of identity prevented their changing their heavy coarse-woven clothing for something lighter. We drank several cups of tea with them and enjoyed the usual childlike jokes about their beards.
Geoff told me that wherever he went he was ribbed about his beard and that people often came up to him while he was training and made cracks, either about running or his beard. "While I was in the States I went to New York to run in the Yonkers Marathon. Soon after I arrived I got togged up and set off running along Broadway. Before I went there, they told me New Yorkers were not at all impressed by size or distance. And right there on the sidewalk a bloke calls out 'How far ya runnin'?' 'Fifteen miles.' 'That all?' I just ran on and had a bit of a chuckle to myself. Then on the way back there I was, running along, not thinking about anything in particular, and I was treated to a real sharp piece of New York wit. A guy calls out, 'Battista back?' as I run past, and it was a couple of blocks before I figured out what he meant. It was the best comment I ever got on beards, and running."
I must have looked a bit blank, for Geoff laughed and said, "Don't you get it? Battista. You know, the guy that was dictator in Cuba before Castro booted him out." I gave a weak smile, and he went on, "I didn't do all that well in the race, but I had a great time in New York. The runners there really set a man up. We had some fine bull sessions ... It was a funny place to go shopping, though. I remember when Mum wrote to me and wanted me to get her a rhinestone brooch. Well, she drew a little diagram of how she wanted it, so I had a look in some of the big stores. Went into Macy's, where they reckoned nobody could undersell them, and they had some pretty good stuff too, but not what I wanted. I had a look in a place called Saks, but they were no use at all, so I set off on a jaunt along Fifth Avenue, looking in all the likely shops. Guess I covered a mile before I thought of Tiffanys. Tiffanys is an ultra-expensive jewellery shop, Jules." He waved his cup at me to make sure I understood. "Anyway, in I went. 'Rhinestone!' said the counter clerk, indignant. 'We don't carry THAT, sir! We do have some SEMI-precious stones.' I looked at a red one. 'Have you got that in green and yellow?' He produced a green brooch set in gold. 'This is turquoise, sir.' I peered at it and enquired how much. 'Three hundred dollars, sir.' 'Hmmm ... Pity it's not green and yellow. Wrong colour.' I ducked out of there smartly and found just the right thing later at another place for eight dollars twenty-five."
There was still no sign of the Dalai Lama, so we went off to look at the huge Stupas marking the holy sites; where the Buddha had preached his first sermon, or where he was rejoined by his disciples after he had attained illumination. We watched groups of Tibetans, for whom this place must have been especially holy, making circuits of these curious stone structures, spinning their prayer-wheels and mumbling prayers to themselves. We joined them, and Geoff observed, "I've bathed in the Ganges, Jules, so the Hindus reckon I'm cleansed of sin. We've done a few laps round here, so I guess the Buddhists would say we're purified. Now all we need to do is to get along to Mecca and do a few circuits, then creep off to Rome and go to confession and I reckon nothing could stop us if we get knocked off and front up to heaven. 'Come in, boys!' they'll say. 'We don't get too many blokes here shining like you two. Take a seat up the front!'" He beamed at the thought and did an exuberant little skip in the air, to the delight of several Tibetan girls just behind us, who giggled behind their hands.
We returned to the Vihara to find that the Dalai Lama had left a few minutes before. But we were not disappointed. The Deer Park had worked its magic on us. The air was clear, the sun was warm, it was a happy place, and much refreshed we returned to Benares to catch the night train to Aurangabad, far across the other side of India, near Bombay.
One of the hazards of travel in India is the almost constant harassment by well-intentioned people who come up to you and say, "Excuse me, Sahib, from which country are you coming?" You give an appropriate answer. "Oh! And to which country are you going?" You say where you're going. Another polite "Oh!" And that is the end of the conversation. The questioner either goes off shaking his head with satisfaction or stands there staring blankly. Before long he will be replaced by another who asks identical questions, and a gaping crowd gathers. And so it goes. These folk materialise everywhere; only very occasionally are you able to carry on a satisfactory conversation. Mostly they are merely satisfying a harmless curiosity, but it can become extremely trying. On this twenty-six hour journey to Aurangabad we were shaken awake several times by relentless questioners. "Excuse me, Sahib, from which country are you coming?"
It was early in the morning when we got down at Aurangabad station, and we enjoyed the sensuous luxury of a shower in the first-class waiting-room before emerging cleansed and invigorated into the bright sunshine of the dusty street. We had come to see the colossal cave temples and sculptures at Ellora and Ajanta, not far away, and it was not long before a small hand-painted sign bearing the word "Dharamsala" caught Geoff's eye. Quickly we crossed over and were soon installed in one of a number of small cubicles which opened out onto a large courtyard where several broad, leafy trees gave shade. We stowed our gear and found we could hire bicycles cheaply nearby. The caves of Ellora were only twenty-seven miles away, so it seemed a splendid way to approach them. Off we set and in a few minutes were spinning along, exhilarated at the rush of wind on our faces. Down the hills we sped, our spirits soaring. To be free from the towns, the press of the people, the heat, the flies and the squalor; to be alone with the warmth of the sun and the birds dancing in the wide sky; this was joy enough and we cherished it.
We paused to look at the great citadel of Daulatabad, a medieval fortress rearing up from the plain, its base hewn from the natural rock into an almost impregnable wall. It had once, long ago, been the capital of India.
Then on again, up a steep grade, along an escarpment and through an old muslim town, to zoom down over the last few miles and stop where the great caves of Ellora lay partly hidden in the side of a low hill. These staggering excavations in the black volcanic rock of the hillside were carried out from the third century after Christ, and the ancient craftsmen created huge temples, Buddhists at first, then later when Buddhism died out in India, Hindu and Jain. All were chiselled out of the living rock. A little dazed by their immensity and the enormous religious fervour which could sustain the excavation of two hundred thousand tons of stone from a single temple, we wandered from cave to cave.
"Come and look at this, Jules!" cried Geoff from behind an ornately chiselled facade. It was the Kailasa Temple, a stone representation of the abode of Lord Siva on Mount Kailas in the far-off Himalayan snows. "look at this bloke!" he cried, bubbling with enthusiasm and pointing at a sculpture in high relief. "It's old Ravana, see. He's crept up under the mountain when Siva wasn't looking 'cos he was giving his lady a bit of a fondle, and all of a sudden he lifts the whole set-up on his head and starts shaking the bejesus out of it. I suppose he wanted to put on a bit of a turn for Siva's lady, Parvati. But she's scared rigid. Anyway, Siva wakes up to what's going on pretty smartly and quick as a flash just puts his foot down. Poor old Ravana's buggered, trapped under the mountain, everybody's happy again, and old Siva gets on with the business of fondling his lady." He was delighted with his discovery, a renowned sculpture from the Ramayana story, and went off hunting about for others.
The day gave us such pleasure that we decided to forego our usual lunch of bread and peanut butter and treat ourselves instead to a meal at the nearby tourist restaurant. A waiter brought us a great menu - two pages closely typewritten with a fine range of appetising meals. Salivating with anticipation, we selected succulent dishes and gave our orders to the hovering waiter, only to be met with a doleful expression and to be told that those dishes were off. Disappointed, we chose others but found that they too were off. Choosing again, with a sense of desperation now, we were again rebuffed. "What on earth can a man eat, then?" pleaded Geoff.
"I am sorry, Sahib, there is only tea. You should not ask for more. Please don't get angry; I am only a poor waiter, you see."
"Oh. Well why did you bring us the menu?"
"Well, it is like this, Sahib, all the food is finishing at midday. But you can take tea." The poor fellow had not been able to bring himself to tell us when we arrived that there was no food, preferring to incur a little wrath than be the bearer of unwelcome news. Such is, of course, a commonplace in India, and reflects both an innate gentleness and a humiliating self-abasement in an hierarchical system of society.
Cycling back to Aurangabad, the muscles of our legs stretched and tingling from the unaccustomed exercise, we easily evaded an irascible old muslim warrior attempting to extort a few annas from us as a toll-charge for his particular piece of road. The sun was going down as we arrived back at the dharamsala, a great, swollen, blood-red ball settling heavily on the dusty horizon. We cooked a marvellous meal of tomatoes and onions, potatoes and eggs cooked up with rice and dhal and flavoured with part of the contents of a packet of soup.
Up betimes, to catch the early bus to Ajanta, sixty-four miles away, we travelled in the company of a hearty bunch of young commercial artists from Bombay, on their way to make copies of the famous cave paintings. A more impressive site than Ellora, the Ajanta caves had been fashioned in the same manner but are more dramatically set in a curved rock face above a deep ravine. We approached this through an increasingly narrow, wooded gorge, and the road ended at a spectacular entrance to the ravine, with a waterfall tumbling away to one side. Entirely Buddhist, these caves were commenced about 200 B.C., and the site was to become a religious, artistic and commercial centre famous for several hundred years. Some of the caves are exquisite chapels, architectural masterpieces carved from the solid rock. The frescoes, however, are the wonder of the place, their extraordinary colours still vivid after thirteen hundred years. We were both much taken with the subtle grace and elegance of the Great Bodhisattva, a figure that seemed to embody all that tenderness and compassion which is the very essence of Buddhism. Perhaps the most compelling is the extraordinary delicacy and gentleness with which the figures hold a blue lotus flower.
This must have struck a deep chord of response in Geoff, for a year of two later, when he lived in the attic of our flat in London, he was overcome with a consuming passion to recreate this figure on the white plaster ceiling of his sloping roof. Coming down only for food, he worked on his painting for days, and all that could be heard from his loft were muffled thumps and curses as he stumbled over his bed and other articles of furniture, then long silences as the painting continued. Forswearing visits to the pub and the training runs he enjoyed so much, he even forbade his lady of the moment to visit him as he worked. Finally he pronounced the work complete, and we all climbed up the rickety ladder to view his masterwork.
It was not at all bad. He had always been keen to join us when we visited a nearby coffee cellar where a nude model was provided for "artists" to sketch at the price of a cup of coffee, but I had assumed that this was the limit of his talent and expected an unrecognisable hotchpotch of colour. But it was a very fair representation. The only drawback, to my eye, was that instead of the arching brows and lotus-petal eyes of the Great Bodhisattva, the figure was adorned with the head of John F. Kennedy. "Yeah," said Geoff ruefully when I pointed this out to him. "The more I tried to make him the Bodhisattva the more he turned out to be Kennedy, somehow. Anyway, how do you know Kennedy's not his reincarnation?" That seemed unanswerable, so we celebrated the event at length in the pub across the road.
We returned to Aurangabad late in the afternoon and strolled about the town, bargaining with the shopkeepers as we replenished our supplies. It was a great town for Pan, a kind of after-dinner carminative based on the betel-leaf, and the hawking, spitting and streams of flying betel-juice unsettled our delicate western sensibilities, conditioned as we were to cleanliness and godliness an a delicately deodorised world. But it was the constant sight of people defecating and urinating in the streets which finally proved too much for us and we retreated muttering to the dharamsala for sleep.
Looking for the most interesting route we could take to Delhi, we called on the resources of the local Indian Tourist Department, a government organisation we found to be unusually efficient and informative. The young official quickly made out a fine and varied itinerary which would lead us north to the capital. Providing tea all round he discoursed with us for some time about our homelands, in the course of which he remarked, rather unkindly I felt, that "Oh yes, of course in New Zealand you also have the White Austraila Policy."
We needed to change some of our fast-dwindling money into rupees so made our way to the only bank in town, a grimy building with a signboard reading "Bank of Hyderabad". It proved to be a murky sort of clip-joint, charging an extortionate fee on foreign exchange, and to Geoff's intense chagrin resolutely refused to have anything to do with his Letter of Credit, the only form of currency he had left. Cursing all bloated moneychangers we strode off angrily. "Well, if they won't change my money," Geoff muttered resentfully, "they've got no bloody chance of getting me to pay the train fare out of here!" This was an exercise in logic which appealed to me, but I tried to placate him.
"Look, I'll pay for your ticket. You can pay me back when we get to Delhi."
"No, blast them, if the rotten bastards don't think my money's good enough, then I'm not going to use it! I'll con my way." There was no arguing with him; his mind was made up. He would jump the night train to Agra, and that was all there was to be said about it.
We returned to the railway station, and I purchased a solitary third-class ticket while Geoff brewed up a vegetable stew in the first-class waiting-room. Since he was preparing the meal, I took the opportunity to have another shower and was halfway through this operation when he appeared in the shower-room, worried and agitated. "There's a portly little bloke out there wants to write my ticket number in his book."
He had managed to hold off this official by writing "Dentist" on the space provided for the number, then disappeared quickly into the bathroom. I dried myself and went out but there was no inspector to be seen, so I signalled Geoff that all was well and we emerged furtively on to the platform to lose ourselves in the close-packed crowd. We were standing by a little food-stall having a cup of tea and a bun, when out of the crowd appeared a fat little man wearing a pair of silk pyjamas and a black railway cap. He waved a large book at Geoff. "Ah, sir! I think you have written wrongly in my book. Here you must write your ticket number, not your name. Acha!" and he shook his head reprovingly.
"Ah! Thankyou very much," I said heartily, taking the book from him and making great play with my ticket, ostentatiously writing down the number while Geoff slid silently into the close-packed crowd.
I found him later in the gloom at the other end of the station crouched like a gnome in the midst of a throng of squatting tribesmen, the hood of his anorak over his head and his body hunched and motionless in the shelter of his bulky rucksack. When the train finally arrived, we climbed into the most crowded third-class carriage and squeezed our way to the middle. Looking out the window as the train pulled away, we caught a glimpse of the poor inspector wandering up and down the platform worriedly clutching his book and peering into the dark corners.
The train had no sooner got clear of the station when I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice said, "Excuse me, sir, from which country are you coming?"
And so we made our way to Agra over the next couple of days, stopping at Sanchi to see the beautiful Buddhist Stupa, and at Jaipur the pink city - where the pink proved to be merely a faded red wash on the sandstone walls. All the while Geoff, with determined cunning, avoided all ticket-collectors and railway inspectors and emerged unscathed with me from Agra Station to go in search of a dharamsala we had heard was nearby. Alas, it proved to be a Parsee rest house, where the greeting was less than effusive; so we proceeded to a Hindu dharamsala near the great Red Fort, but it was overflowing with people. Our shortage of money was proving a serious embarrassment by now, so there seemed nothing for it but to camp in the railway waiting-room, a happy choice as it turned out, since we were not disturbed during the two days we stayed in the city.
The Great Fort of the Moghuls, with its massive red sandstone walls, powerfully evokes the great splendour of the muslim emperors. In the old palace section it is easy to imagine sultry harem beauties stepping daintily across the polished marble floor of the scented bathing chamber and gazing out through the marble lattice screens at the Taj Mahal - that monument to love - mistily beautiful across a curve in the Jumna river.
We were leaving the Taj one day, filler with ethereal memories of grace and elegance, when suddenly a tubby little man darted out from the red sandstone courtyard. Quite naked, he beamed happily at us, performed a slow and graceful dance, then trotted off along the road skipping merrily and eying the ladies he passed with mischievous delight.
In spite of the elegance and purity of the Taj Mahal, Agra is no more free of citizens who defecate and urinate in its streets than any other Indian city, and Geoff was becoming more and more affronted with this phenomenon. "It's time to start a Sahib-Strikes-Back campaign, Jules," he muttered as we passed one fellow who had dropped his dhoti and unconcernedly squatting at the side of the road. A little later he spied another, similarly engaged a little further on, near our railway residence. True to his word, he ran up behind him and, with a great shout, kicked a shower of dust from the roadway straight into the unfortunate man's unprotected backside. "Sahibs strike back!" he cried triumphantly and ran on. Although unprepared for this action I nevertheless had sufficient presence of mind to run quickly after him, even though I was not as fast as the situation required. I had not gone more than a few yards when the outraged squatter leaped to his feet, dhoti trailing, and ran after us, shouting at the top of his voice and calling upon the whole street to witness this appalling indignity. There was no lack of sympathy for his cause, and rocks began to fly at us from the angry crowd that joined him in pursuit. It was here that Geoff's athletic ability was convincingly demonstrated, and as a large stone thumped me on the shoulder I reflected upon the advantages of some skill in distance running. Gasping and blowing, I cursed and swore at him with real emotion as we rounded the last corner and took refuge in our railway waiting-room. "You bloody idiot!" I stormed, rubbing the large bruise on my shoulder. "Next time you're going to do something stupid like that you can at least let me know. You could have got us bloody well killed."
He grinned unperturbed. "Jeez, Jules, think what a roaring bloody success the Sahib-Strikes-Back campaign is going to be. Imagine if everybody started doing the same thing. I mean, they can't all like it. We'll have it stamped out in no time. After all, look what happened when Mao Tse Tung gave everybody in China a flyswat. Wham! No more flies."
"It'll be 'Wham!' no more us if you try too much of that sort of caper," I replied morosely.
He was quite unrepentant and next turned his zeal for reform on a chiselling food merchant. There was a dingy restaurant just near the station where we decided to spend five annas each on a two-egg omelette. We were hungry and waited expectantly, relishing the thought of a sizeable meal. Before long the proprietor appeared and presented us each with a miserable-looking, wizened object, possibly made from a pigeon's egg. "How much is this?" asked Geoff.
"Five annas, Sahib."
"Five annas! Five annas for that!" He was indignant. "Don't be ridiculous. It's too much for a thing like that. I'm not paying that much!" and he stalked out. I followed without argument, for it really was an unappetising morsel, and as we walked away I heard one man remark solemnly to his companion, "They are poor men!" Much impressed, they stared at us with interest ... a poor sahib is a memorable sight.
Further on, we found another eating-house where for four annas we each enjoyed an enormous omelette, well prepared and satisfying. "You are the most honest food-wallah in India," Geoff complimented the owner as we came to leave.
"No, no, Sahib! Everybody in India is honest!" came the optimistic reply.
Idly regarding the vast crowds on the station and contemplating the journey to Delhi, Geoff somehow found himself caught up and whisked into a crowded compartment from where I heard him calling faintly. Following, I found there was no room to do anything but crouch on the floor; and so we proceeded to the Capital through the long sleepless night, accompanied by the rousing snores of a stout lady who slept blissfully on the seat above us. We arrived early in the morning, and after some complex dodging and manoeuvring, Geoff emerged with me into Old Delhi, triumphant that he had again escaped the attentions of the vigilant ticket collectors.
A month or two later - in Athens - we encountered a young American with a rueful tale of riding the Indian railways without paying. He had travelled all over the country using various ruses and dodges. On his final journey he was speeding along comfortably in a second-class carriage on his way to Bombay, where he was to board a ship for East Africa the following day. A pleasant, mild-mannered Indian chanced to sit with him as they neared their destination, and they fell into conversation. In the course of this the American boasted of how he had ridden free all over the countryside and began to ridicule the Indian Railways for their laxity. His companion was much interested and asked him exactly where he had been in India. Whereupojn he recounted all his journeys with relish, gratified at the other's attention. The Indian, meanwhile, was doodling idly with pencil and paper as he spoke. When he had finished, the Indian looked at him with an apologetic smile. "I am pleased you have enjoyed your stay in my country so much." He produced a little card. "I am an inspector with the Indian Government Railways and I have calculated from what you say that your account will be one hundred and sixty-eight rupees."
The American knew that the game was up. "But look," he said, "I've only got a hundred and twenty rupees left. That's all the money I've got, apart from a few dollars that I need for the boat."
"Ah," said the inspector solemnly, making new calculations, "I have made a mistake. The correct amount is, of course, one hundred and twenty rupees." And he made out a receipt for the amount. "Thank you very much. I am so pleased you have enjoyed my country. Perhaps you will visit us at some other time." He smiled sympathetically and shook the American's hand as he left.