Initially my heart sank when I saw that I was to spend the next 9 hours in between two men who were both larger than me … three blokes cramped in a row, all over 6’ tall, all over 14 stone has the potential to get problematic in economy class but it turned out to quite refreshing. Mark to my left, late 50’s, greying, over 6’3”, studied physics and worked as a product design engineer. The sort of guy who has an opinion on most things, quite well read and had formed some logical conclusions on life. In a discussion about what I’m doing and why he paraphrased the Hindu concept on the stages of life for men: 1 – the dependent child; 2 – the warrior; 3 – the family man; 4 – finally, yourself. This rings true. We agreed that, having never become a family man, I’ve been stuck in stage 2 for the last 20 years!
Rob to my right, mid 30’s, fair, big guy, looks like he works out or keeps fit but the wine and food pack on some extra bulk too. Has been living and working in the Cotwolds after going to the sort of small minor league independent boarding school from which I have just escaped. His experience of that as a teenager echoed mine as a teacher; a clear privation of a bigger picture with inward looking management and procedures which breed esoteric self-satisfied people who lack perspective. To debubblify was the verb invented some years ago to describe trying to get out of the bubble. Rob works in the quirky “Grand Designs” area of construction, he’d got into some traditional building methods, houses with straw bale walls, lime render, cottage design. The photos looked great. He had started his own production business making lime render but run into serious difficulty with red-tape - planning permissions and designation of use for certain plots of land had caused him to try to circumvent some bureaucracy but the council closed him down and, rather than supporting someone who was trying to do something environmentally positive using traditional concepts they allowed a concrete nursing home to go up. Rob gave up the fight, lost a lot of money and decided to go to Goa for some R&R before going to find something new to do. We felt a little like kindred spirits having both been completely fucked over by some narrow minded nonsense, although we both conceded that we hadn’t exactly helped ourselves by being a bit too maverick in our approach!
India is almost exactly the same as when I was last here 7 years ago. An intense bustle of frantic desire to get somewhere on the roads – the traffic is ridiculously busy, there are no rules and everyone leans on their horn as if sounding it gives the owner a horn-given right to push through the traffic. Problem is, of course, that everyone has a horn, everyone rests their elbow on the button, so everyone expects the same right to the same bit of tarmac, the result is a very loud level playing field. Not even the fire brigade can push through the important tuk-tuk drivers and no quarter is given to the super-rich in the pearlescent Range-Rover, especially by the taxi driver who has more scrapes on his front wings than a Chinese chopping board!
I’m only staying in Mumbai as long as it takes to get the bike released from the air-freight cargo terminal and through Indian customs. Talking of customs, I am mindful that it is customary in India to have at least 3 copies of the same document which needs to be signed, checked, and stamped by at least 3 different officials in different offices before you can get to the next bit of bureaucracy so this could be a long event! I’ve checked into an over-priced grotty hotel which no tuk-tuk driver ever seems to have heard of, or find without a lot of unnecessary driving in circles to run up the metre. The Hotel Transit has a door-man in a smart uniform to make it look posh, but the plaster is peeling, the furniture is sagging, the corridors need cleaning and the shower is a combination of an electric shock hazard that really makes your hair stand on end and a dribbling geriatric snake – if such a thing were to exist.
I forewent breakfast in their garish restaurant, replete with Christmas decorations and bought a banana from a street vendor for 5p – probably paid over the odds but I’ll overlook it.