Avaes Mohammad

Posts Tagged ‘Bombay’

India: IMAGES OF BOMBAY

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Picture 013

Picture 014

Picture 021

Picture 015

Picture 026

living on the edge

suits you sir!

suits you sir!

Picture 010

Picture 022

the city the sea comes to see

the city the sea comes to see

Picture 020

asia's largest launderette...and not a 20p piece in sight!

asia's largest launderette...and not a 20p piece in sight!

between things

between things

Raju the Prince

Raju the Prince

Haji Ali's Tomb

Haji Ali's Tomb

the path over water to Haji Ali

the path over water to Haji Ali

Prem Chopra, Raju the Prince and Babu Moosa

Prem Chopra, Raju the Prince and Babu Moosa

Picture 011

Gate of India

Gate of India

Too Indian to be let into a British Hotel, so he built his own...The Taj Hotel

Too Indian to be let into a British Hotel, so he built his own...The Taj Hotel

Picture 033

street partying

street partying

sweet street serenade

sweet street serenade

Picture 030

The Queens Necklace

The Queens Necklace

Advertisements

India: SALAAM BOMBAY 3 (250509)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Salaam Bombay 3 

 

My first afternoon in Bombay.  After a wash and a change of clothes I’m ready for the city.  My first stop…Haji Ali.  A floating mausoleum of a Sufi Saint, built off the Bombay coast upon the Indian Ocean itself.  An elevated, crumbling path leads the way, which when the tide comes in is swallowed whole by the water, leaving only the mausoleum visible: an enchanted, floating palace.  As is the tradition with Sufi sites, it’s a sacred place for people of all castes and creed.  In 1990, when I was 12 years old, I made a wish here when I visited with my mother.  The wish came true.  I thought one of the first things I’d do on my first trip back is pop in.  Say hello, say thanks.  Maybe make another wish. 

 

I walk for two hours down the majestic city coast of Bombay, street kids competing to out-strut me as they walk past.  When I finally make it the place is heaving…like carnival.  The crowd pushes, dodges and swerves around itself in an effort to maintain forward progress on this narrow stretch.  The ocean glides itself all around us and we feel as though we’re gliding all over it.  The edges of this stretch hosts a whole industry maintained purely by the Saint’s mausloeum.  For visitors to adorn the tomb with, vendors sell flowers and elaborately decorated sheets of cloth with verses of the Qur’an sewn into them (Chadars). There’s also music, food, drinks and even a guy who’ll engrave your name onto a grain of rice.  I think it helps identify which grain goes where on the dinner table.  Where there are no vendors, there are beggars.  Of all age, affliction and gender they sit as manikins of meekness: filthy and with clothes torn in all the right places so as to show off amputated limbs and shocking skin conditions with full appropriateness.  It’s all part of the industry, feeding off the visitors desire to look good in front of the saint and God, they make good business. 

 

The tomb itself is mad crazy with a rush of people pushing, crashing and crushing against one another around the raised grave: desperate to approach and kiss one of the Chadars adorning it.  People arrive seeking blessings for newborn children, pleading for their deepest wishes and desires to be met, generally praying for a better life.  Directly outside the tomb, Qawwali singers sing songs of divine praises and after a private moment inside, I sit listening with five delicious samosas: my first Indian meal for 10 rupees only.   

 

As I walk back along the path on water there are less people…I see the beggars better.  One man sits topless and motionless displaying a shocking skin condition as though he were an exhibition piece (Turner Prize worthy?).  Five men, all rocking, lie on their sides, forming a well-structured circle: one singing praises to God, the rest providing a chorus, two of whom are frantically waving their handless arms in the air: a well choreographed piece all in all.  Just a little further on, one man simply sits alone, by the side of this path on the sea, gently waving his own handless arms.  My hand reaches into my pocket as I feel compelled to give a couple of coins, not entirely sure whether it’s charity or whether I’ve just paid for a freak show… Salaam Bombay.                     

 

The following Monday morning I run around all the banks I can find for some over the counter assistance.  None can help…none can give me money on either my bank card (the signature had faded) or my credit card (the signature didn’t match my passport).  One fella tells me there’s a Barclays in the Worli area of Bombay.  A one hour bus ride later and after frantic running around trying to find it, I finally spot the blue eagle. 

 

‘Sorry…we don’t have access to UK accounts…you’ll have to call your bank in England’

 

 

[Pause]

 

 

‘Can I at least use your phone…I’m not sure I have enough for the phonecall.’

 

‘Come with me.’

 

 

I’m brought sweet tea and cool water but after speaking to someone who confirmed my account had indeed been frozen, I was put on hold.  I remained on hold.  For fourty-five minutes.  It was Bank Holiday Monday in England.  Eventually I was asked to put down the phone.

 

 

‘Come back tomorrow though and I’ll help you out.’

 

 

At least I’d sorted free phonecalls to the bank.  So my 4 hundred and something rupees were all mine…to eat, drink and travel with.  I had a gorgeous and filling Indian Thali for 28 rupees only!  I bought a packet of cheap Indian beerees instead of cigarettes for eight rupees.  Tea for three rupees only.  I could live like a king!  My greatest expense was regular water for twelve rupees a bottle and one coca cola a day to ensure I didn’t feel like a complete tramp: twenty rupees.  I had everything I needed.

 

I bump into Raju the guide where I met him the first time.  He’s pleased to hear the cops helped out, said he was praying I’d be okay and took me for tea.  My half smoked beeree lies on the table for me later.  It rolls off…I’m about to pick it up.

 

 

[Following In Hindi]

 

‘Let it go manhey!look!…if you need anything…don’t be shy, just ask me!….money, food, charas, drink…if you wanna smoke a cigarette instead of these fuckin berees…if you wanna eat Non-Veg I’ll take you Bare Miya’s, the best Non-Veg place in Bombay…you just let me know…just make sure you don’t squash the heart my friend…you have to do what the heart says always …always do what the heart says!… here…have a cigarette.’

 

 

[Pause]

 

 

‘Thanks yaar…[I put my arm on his shoulder]

 

‘Mate, when I came to this city there were people who kept me upright.  I know what it’s like…I’ve seen those days and it’s not easy and I only came from the village…you’ve crossed waters to get here…no-one is anyone’s in this city…[Beat]  maybe if I have to go abroad one day, someone’ll help me out.’

 

 

As we walk, two men in their fifties sat on parked motorbikes call us over.  They’re friends of Raju and he tells my story.

 

 

‘The hotels here don’t want anything to do with Pakistan anymore.  The Taj has a fuckin sign at reception…’No Pakistanis!’.  It’s sister-fuckin right though…I’ll tell yer straight…if my nephews even came here from Karachi I’d tell ‘em fuck off…Mother’s Cunts!…they ain’t staying with me…fuck that!…Pakistanis…they’re the biggest fuckers on earth…I know coz I know them!

 

 

This is Musa.  A skinny, sweet looking guy.  ‘Man of the world!’  Nice smile, generally gentle, friendly and very funny.  He’s a Muslim with family in Pakistan.  Maybe that’s why he feels he has to make a show of condemnation.  Maybe he means it.

 

 

‘Oi brother in law! (i.e…I’m having your sister) Not all fingers on one hand are the same are they?…so not all Pakistani’s are like that lot either…some of ‘em are good….these were only a handful of  lads.’

 

 

This is Prem…’With love, people call me Prem Chopra’ (a famous Indian Film Villain of the 70s/80s)…a short, dark, funny fella with dark glasses…always smiling and always succeeds in making me laugh…He’s Hindu so maybe he feels like he has to make a show of understanding.  Maybe he means it. 

 

 

What the fuck you goin’ to Pakistan for anyway?’

 

‘Same reason I came to India.  I’m a writer.’

 

‘Oh…’

 

‘…He’s gonna write…’

 

‘…stories…’

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

‘You’re not going to meet with any terrorists are you?’

 

 

Paranoid that everyone in Colaba is listening for my response, and not unduly, I bow my head, put my palms together in front of Prem and shake my head from side to side.  We laugh.

 

 

‘So get your parents to send you some money man…through that Western Union there.  You got parents ain’t you?’

 

‘Yeah I got parents…but I’ve got my own money in the bank…I don’t wanna ask them if I’ve got my own money…if I can’t get it in a few days I might.’

 

‘Tension’s not to be taken!  This shit happens…you need anything…you let us know yeah…fuck tension though…don’t take that fucker!  Money, charas, drink, food…we’ll sort it for you…just say!  Pay us back later or don’t, makes no difference to us…we’ve seen it all man…every fucker in the world comes through Bombay…and when they do every fucker comes through Colaba…they got to…we stamp the passports nowadays Mothers Cunts!’

 

 

They all laugh like there’s an angle to the joke I’m missing.

 

 

‘There was this one white fella.  German I think.  Been robbed…took everything the bastards…didn’t have enough to eat even…I said come with me…took him Majestic…got him a thali…12 rupees back then…’Eat Thali!’ I said.  I gave him a whole tola of charas (1oz), cigarettes, papers, a few thousand rupees.  Got him a nice room too.  When that fucker’s money came in, you wouldn’t believe it…he gave me a thousand dollars sister fucker!  Thousand dollars!  Now…whenever he comes Bombay he looks us up…isn’t it Musa?’

 

 

Musa smiles and rocks his head agreeably from side to side.  They laugh.     

 

 

‘Then there was this other sister fucker…German I think…been robbed…I did the same yeah…sorted him proper…gave him a whole tola of charas, thousands of rupees…good room…looked after him…but this fucker legs it…he just did one…don’t even know where or how…never seen him again!…isn’t it Musa?’ 

 

 

Musa smiles and rocks his head agreeably from side to side.  They laugh.     

 

 

‘Makes no difference to us.  So…if you need anything, let us know yeah’

 

‘Thanks.  I will.  But I’ve got three, four hundred in my pocket still. I wanna make that last.  When it runs out and I need some, I’ll ask then.’

 

‘Yeah…Yeah…it’s important!  Look…for this day or two, eat thali’s, eat vada pau’s, instead of Marlboros for 100 rupees, buy beerees for eight.  Take buses…look…a person…a human…is that which can cope with any situation…who knows how to handle themselves with little money and also knows how to handle themselves with lots of money.  That’s a person!’

 

 

I got through to the fraud department the following afternoon and had access to my money within ten minutes of speaking to them.  Within the first half an hour of having my money back, I’d got a taxi back to Colaba, bought a glass of fresh pomegranate juice and a box of 20 Marlboro Lights.  Within half an hour I’d spent the equivalent of what I’d spent in the last two and a half days:  300 Rupees!  I sat laughing to myself, drinking juice and smoking a cigarette…Salaam Bombay, Salaam!                     

India: SALAAM BOMBAY 2 (250509)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Salaam Bombay 2  

 

The cash machine in the Indian airport doesn’t want to be my friend either.  So I walk away and change my fourteen dollars into rupees.  Even the money exchanger looks disappointed at the amount I have.  Our hands cross and I’m left with just over five hundred rupees. 

 

I’ve been to Bombay once before: with my family in 1990.  We stayed on Mohammad Ali Rd, I remember as it’s named after my father’s favourite poet and my favourite boxer.  Okay…Mohammad Ali Rd.  With three bags and a drum I walk out of the airport towards the bus stop.  The airport is the same as any other airport.  Beautifully clean, polished and trolley-friendly flooring that provide a deceptive introduction to the city.   Beautifully moustached and dominating Armed Guards that don’t.  I make my way to the bus stop and after jumping on and then being thrown off a few buses, I finally figure out which bus I’m to get and board successfully. 

 

 

[Following in Hindhi]

 

Avaes:             I wanna go Mohammad Ali Rd 

 

Conductor:      10 rupees.

 

Passenger:      Give him twenty rupees day pass…you can go round all Bombay, all day with that!

 

Avaes:             Er..yeah…twenty rupees day pass please

 

Passenger:      [with a huge smile]  See…I just saved you money!

 

 

Mohammad Ali Rd is filthy but glistening.  Harsh but friendly.  Cut-throat but life affirming.  Very damn quickly I discover this is true for most of Bombay. 

 

 

[following in Hindhi]

 

‘Salaam.  Uhm…I’m from England!  I’ve been travelling across East Africa for a couple of months now and I arrived in Bombay this morning.  You see I have an English bank account but it’s been frozen. Now there’s no problem. I have money!  The ATM even showed my balance.  I reckon they just think it’s got stolen so all I have to do is call them.  Today’s Sunday though right, so I can’t today, but tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will and when they free my account I’ll have money again.  I can pay you then I promise.  Tomorrow or the day after.   But I can’t pay up front.  I can’t pay today.  500 rupees is all I have in my pocket and I’ll need it for food and the phonecall tomorrow.

 

…No!

 

…500 rupees. Pay up front only!

 

…Pay half up front!

 

…I’m sorry…we can’t help…No-one will.

 

 

One fella just purses his lips together, looks down as though reading an imaginary book and flicks his hand at me like he’s shooing a mosquito.  I tried all the guest houses in Mohammad Ali Rd, but Bombay demands you pay up front.  I even managed to get myself in and then out of a minor scuffle and so thought it best to leave this area full of merciless Indian Film Villains.  As I try to figure out my next move I walk past a guy with one eye sat by the side of the road who gave me directions to a guest house earlier. 

 

 

[Following in Hindi]

 

Did you find the guest house?

 

Yeah.  None of them’ll take me

 

Why?

 

 

I explain.

 

 

Oh.  But you have the money?

 

Yeah.  I do.  I reckon I’ll get it by tomorrow even but no-one here wants to know.  [Beat]  Maybe I’ll just have to stay out tonight.

 

Hey!…Look!!  Sleeping on Bombay streets is no easy thing.  The city’s teeming with street kids.  They’ll rob you of all your stuff and there’ll be nothing you can do about it!  Listen to me and get yourself inside somewhere!     

 

 

[pause]

 

 

Where you from?

 

England.

 

England!  You have a British Passport?

 

Yeah.  I was born there.

 

So you have a green card then?  You can work there?

 

Er…yeah.

 

Can I see?  Your passport?

 

 

He looks at me like a child wanting sweets and although I know it’s the stupidest thing to do, I still find myself taking my passport out of my pocket to present to a one-eyed stranger on the edge of a rat infested Bombay street.  He stretches his hand out.  I stretch my passport out.  Holding firmly.

 

 

I won’t run away with it.

 

 

And I choose to trust him.  Because trust is currency between strangers.  So I let my grip go and his eyes light up as he delicately caresses through the pages in my passport.  He returns it.

 

 

Look!  You need to stop carrying that around with you, d’you hear?!  Someone’ll run away with it and get 10, 000 rupees for it on the street. 

 

 

He gives me directions for Colaba, the area where most tourists stay.  Maybe the hotel owners there’ll be more understanding.

 

 

Take the 124 or the 125 from that bus stop opposite.  And if you need anything, I’m here.  My name’s Kader.  I’m here everyday, I look after this parking lot.

 

 

I arrive at Colaba and the sun has started to blare.  With all my luggage and not having eaten yet, I’m tired and desperate to find a place to put my stuff down in.  I search for a private agent I’ve been told can give me some money, provided I show him my bankcard.  Sounds dodge I know.  As I’m looking and asking for him, a hawker walks over to me. 

 

 

You okay?  Want hotel?…I’ll take!

 

 

I ask about this agent after explaining my situation.  He’s never heard of it, thinks it sounds dodge too but helps me find it nonetheless.  We don’t find it.  Luckily I think.  So he takes me to the local cheap hotels. 

 

This hawker:  He’s called Raju.  He’s 32, though he looks 25, married and with two kids.  The eldest is 15.  He’s skinnier than me even and lives in the slums nearby making his living as a guide for tourists.  Raju, is the informal version of the name Raja.  Raja means prince. 

 

Raju takes me to a hotel explaining my situation. 

 

 

[in Hindhi]  ‘He’s in trouble man…sort him out…he’ll pay you later for sure innit…do him a favour man.’

 

 

The lad at the counter says the manager’s asleep and he’s afraid to wake him in case he gets a beating.  We move on.  Raju’s helping me with my bags now.  He runs off ahead through a crowded narrow bazaar, with a bag that has my laptop, camera and documents in.  But I trust him.  As I turn around the corner he’s waiting for me, ushering me up a steep, dark stairway. 

 

 

 

[Following in Hindhi]

 

‘Help him out man.  He’s in trouble…he’ll pay you…when he gets the money he’ll pay you for sure but he has nowhere to stay for now…look he’s been running around all Bombay all morning man!…do him a favour.’

 

[The lad at reception stretches himself, thereby appearing as cool as possible]:

‘Go on then…what the fuck?…even if he eats a couple of thousand, what the fuck?!  I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket… the guy can stay.’

 

 

Fuck it!…Who’s seen what tomorrow looks like?…If I help you today, maybe someone’ll help me tomorrow…Life’s a bitch enough…No tension!:  This!  This is the spirit, the huge, throbbing, pulsating heart of India that I know.  That I love…Salaam Bombay!   

 

He shows me around a room.  It has my own bathroom, a working TV, AC and a fan. 

 

 

[Following in Hindhi]

 

Will it walk? 

 

It’ll run.

 

 

I drop my bags in and a security guard follows me.  He wants to check my bags. 

 

 

‘I’m sorry…we have to do this now.  Since you know…what happened.’

 

 

He’s talking about the 4 day siege last year in Bombay, where allegedly Pakistani terrorists had been implicated. 

 

 

Yeah course you do.  No problem man.  Look.

 

 

I help him through my stuff.

 

 

Thanks.

 

 

I walk back up to reception to sit with the lad at reception (also called Raju) and Raju the guide.  An Indian film is playing in a corner and traffic screams its eternal presence three floors below us.  As we’re sat, chatting, Raju the receptionist goes through my passport to record details in his book.  Suddenly, his face changes.  It’s all screwed up like a little boy just been slapped.  I hear a Duh! Duh! Duh! from somewhere: maybe the film on TV, maybe the film in my head.  He calls Raju the guide over and whispers stuff…I hear:  Take him and Pakistan

 

 

Is there a problem?

 

Just take him.

 

But what’s the problem?

 

I can’t do it…not now…just take him back…somewhere else…I want nothing to do with this.  Nothing!  I want fuck all to do with it.

 

What’s the problem man?!

 

 

Raju the receptionist takes my passport and flashes one of the visas at me…

 

 

Pakistan!

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

And?  And what? 

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

Look its not as though I’ve been…check…there’re no entry or exit stamps…I’m gonna go to Pakistan after India!  It’s not like I’ve just come from there.

 

I want nothing to do with Pakistan or Pakistani’s…not after what happened.  Now it’s best if you just take your stuff and find someplace else.

 

 

I shrug my shoulders and take my passport back.  I have no desire to waste time upon bullshit prejudice.  ‘But then…where the fuck you gonna go fool?!’, a foul-mouthed voice in my head shouts out.  ‘Nobody else even wants to give you a room and that’s before they’ve seen your Pakistani Visa!’

 

 

I ain’t gonna do anything am I?…. 

 

Look man…he’s not even been to Pakistan…He’s British isn’ he? 

 

But his next trip’s Pakistan!  It’s got nothing to do with you doing anything…every night a copper comes here to check the passports and the books…if he sees anything to do with Pakistan he’ll rape my arse!  Fuck that!  It’s better you just go…I want fuck all to do with it!

 

Look…You’ve trusted me this far…so what’s wrong now? And what the fuck’s wrong with going to Pakistan anyway?  Indians go too.

 

 

[Pause]

 

 

Where do you think I can go from here anyway?

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

Look…The only way I can let you stay is if you get a letter of no objection from the Cops.  I don’t want my arse raped…Simple!  If you get that we can talk…But if there’s no letter, find some place else!

 

 

Raju the guide offers to walk me to the police station, so I pack my bags again and put them back on my shoulders.  As we walk to the station, only five minutes away, I recognise the streets suddenly.  I look to the left of me…I recognise that building, that red tiled dome…those small towers…that architecture…I’m in the shadow of the Taj Hotel!  That’s exactly where the gunmen were based last year, where they wreaked their bloody four day havoc from.  I walk on and that’s Leopold Café…another scene of murder and wreckage during the siege.  No wonder.  This is the centre of where it all actually happened!  Where the allegedly Pakistani gunmen were based and distributed death from.  No wonder they’re uptight. 

 

Raju won’t come into the station but wishes me luck.  From the films I’ve seen I walk in expecting to find torture scenes, coppers with their feet up drinking tea and power hungry mini-dictators.  But disappointingly there are no torture scenes and the copper I speak to is actually rather helpful.  Although cops sitting around drinking tea are to be expected globally I think.  I’m speaking to the big boss man…I don’t know his rank but he’s the only one with no uniform and walks like he own the place.  He was on TV during the siege too, I recognise him…he spoke no English then and he speaks no English now.  After explaining my situation and what happened at the hotel, I say the hotel staff are scared of the cops and what they might do if they let me stay.  He smiles from under a bushy moustache but says he can’t issue a letter of no objection as he knows nothing about me.  I badger him a bit more… ‘My only option might be the street for a night!’…

 

 

‘Oi!  Come here!!’

 

 

He beckons a cop away from his tea and orders him to personally escort me to the hotel and then assure the hotel staff into letting me stay.  No sooner has he given the order than he walks away abruptly, utterly confident in the power of his command. Suddenly I’ve gone from being a broke backpacking bum to having a personal Police Escort to handle mine very own affairs.  Rather!  The hotel staff make a point of saying they’re letting me stay purely on the Police’s instruction and then order tea for me and the Cop.  This, ladies and gentlemen, the tale of my first cup of sweet, sweet, Indian tea…Salaam Bombay.

India: BADA’I ZANZIBAR…SALAAM BOMBAY! (250509)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Bada’i Zanzibar…Salaam Bombay!

 

Yesterday, Sunday morning, May 24th 2009, 4.45 am, we’re awakened by the pilot. 

 

 

‘…With a temperature of 17C, the weather in Mumbai is hazy…’

 

 

Out of the window it’s still night.  Butterflies crash like a crescendo against my stomach walls as lights are cued into the frame.  The plane descends slowly and Bombay: City of Dreams, spreads herself open to me: Bright yellow and white streetlights sparkle against the black like an Indian Film Heroines’ Sequenced Sari.  Enraptured, a little boy, my celluloid dreams manifest to greet me.  The plane, descending lower and lower, follows a dusty amber hue.  The dust clears.  From an aerial view, all the glory of a Bombay slum is revealed and begins to give chase relentlessly all the way to the runway edge…Salaam Bombay!       

 

The plane lands and I wait outside it for Sreenath whom I met at the airport in Zanzibar.  If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have made it this far…

 

…One day earlier…Saturday 23rd May 2009, approximately 11.30 am, Zanzibar.  I’m due to fly in just over 4 hours so it’s as good a time as any to run to a bank and get cash for India.  Sorry.  This transaction has not been honoured!  I go to another bank…No money.  Still another bank….still no money.  I desperately halt a taxi to rush me out of the winding, confining alleys of Stone Town and to the Central Barclays branch…No blasted money!!  Charging inside, I plead with the Bank Staff…I’m a UK Barclays customer for God’s sake! 

 

 

‘Sorry sir…we’re affiliated with Barclays in name only really…unfortunately you’ll have to call your bank in the UK.’

 

 

Except I don’t have enough cash for the phonecall.  The paradox is lost on those in uniform and I’ve gotta leave soon anyway.  I haven’t even packed!  With the cash I have on me, I pay the taxi.  The rest isn’t enough to pay my hotel bill anyway so I agree with the manager to pay half for now with a promise to pay the rest when this has all cleared up.  Everyone at the hotel wishes me a warm goodbye and Abu, the hotel carpenter helps me out with my bags.  We embrace and hope to see each other again.  Bada’i. 

 

The Tanzanian shillings I have left, I convert to dollars.  Fourteen.  I’m about to enter a country, a new city where I know no-one with just fourteen dollars.  A little voice of mischief in my head laughs, ‘let’s see what happens’

 

After check-in at the airport I impress myself by talking an official into letting me onboard with a drum I bought.  As I and my world take a moment to celebrate this small victory (Avaes: 1, Authority: 0) the earth suddenly halts.

 

 

Take it then.  But check in the big bag.  And then go pay your airport tax before immigration.

 

 

Airport tax!  What in funk’s name is that?! 

 

 

In Zanzibar you pay it in cash at the airport sir…Thirty dollars!           

 

      

[Once the earth resumes rotation]

 

 

Look mate…I’m not being funny yeah, but I can’t pay it…simple!  The machines aren’t giving me any money today…I’ve tried them all…and you lot only accept cash.  I’ve got fourteen dollars and that’s all, and I’m gonna need that for India anyway.  So look, I’m sorry yeah?…but I just can’t pay!

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

They won’t let you on the plane without paying sir.

 

Look brother!  What exactly d’you expect me to pay with?  No-one told me I gotta pay thirty dollar to leave… all I got is what you see…fourteen dollars…take my shirt and my shoes if you want but I ain’t got thirty. 

 

 

He thinks long…I think I’m winning again…My minds eye sees the scoreboard about to flip over…(Avaes: 2, Authority: Isn’t playing!)

 

 

Well sir…You’ll just have to borrow it…there are people here going to Bombay…borrow it from someone.

 

You what?  How’m I gonna ask someone for money who I don’t even know?…I’ll tell you what…It’s your idea!…So you lend me the money!  Go on!!  You lend it us then and I’ll pay you back!’

 

 

Eventually I walk away.  To think, as arguing isn’t helping.  I met someone in Zanzibar who might be able to help.  Upon calling, she says she can give the money but has no car.  Wait! she says.  I’ll see what I can do and call you back.

 

 

The flight leaves in about an hour.  The guy at the counter comes over to me. 

 

 

Any luck?

 

I’ve called someone.  Dunno.

 

Look sir.  That fella over there.  He’s going to Bombay. Ask him!

 

But I don’t know him man!

 

[frustrated] Okay!  You do it your way then!!

 

 

I stand looking at the man texting into his phone.  My height, short haired Indian fella.  Not much older than me.  He seems dismissive, aloof.  He seems gentle, friendly.

 

 

Excuse me.  Hi.  Are you travelling to Bombay?

 

Yes.

 

Sorry to have disturbed you but I’ve been instructed by that gentleman over there to ask if you can help at all.  I’m also travelling to Bombay today but can’t pay the airport tax.  I don’t have enough and no machine in Zanzibar will give me money today.  Now I know I have the money there…

 

…You sure?

 

Yes.  I’m sure.  The bank must have frozen my account coz they think it’s got stolen.  English banks do that sometimes when it’s used abroad a lot…so I need to ask someone to lend me the money…

 

[while texting]  I’ll pay.

 

Sorry?

 

[looks up]  I’ll pay.

 

…Thanks… Thank you very much.  I’ll of course pay you back when we get to Bombay.

 

Fine.

 

 

And that was how I got to Bombay.  ‘Filmi’ even before I arrived.  So when we landed I was waiting for Sreenath outside the plane and we walked through immigration together, where he told me about his wife and son that he hasn’t seen for three years.  He gave me his contact details before catching his connecting flight to Hyderabad.  Another debt I’ve collected.  Another act of kindness from a stranger.    

 

I walk towards the exit, ready to lose myself in the folds of that Sequenced Sari I saw from above, as much as fourteen whole dollars would allow.