Sunday, November 28, 2004

Billy Breaks the Indian Music Scene...

The air is filled with exotic wailing as the Bhati family kick off their traditional Rajastani music concert. On the left there is Praveen Bhati, the youngest son, his fingers a blur as he masterfully teases a hundred different tones from his Tabla Drums. In the centre there is Mama Bhati, sitting cross legged before what appears to be an indian version of the accordian, and wailing mournfully into the precariously balanced microphone. At her left shoulder sits another cross legged young man, pale skinned and long haired. In his lap he holds a guitar, which he looks at from time to time as if wondering what it is for. Who is this guitar guru? Could it be Billy, the undercover hippy? Actually no, it's Joel, his younger brother. Billy is sitting in the audeince laughing and taking photos... :)

It all started when Kelash Bhati, the family sitar player, tried to convince me to come to his concert. After discovering he wanted 100 rupees for the show I told him no thanks, but we started chatting anyway, and eventually he discovered that i played Guitar. We arranged to meet up and have Jam, and 2 days later me and my brother Joel met the bhati family in a small garden behind the Sunset Cafe. They told me to play one of my songs, and Praveen tried to accompany me on Tablas. To be honest it was pretty appalling. The tablas just weren't designed to play slow 4/4 beats to folk songs! We got some better results from just playing random chords over his beats, and after 20 mins of jamming we were renamed the "Rajastani Western Fusion Band", and arranged to meet at 7:30 for the gig.

By 8pm ppl had started arriving and there was quite a nice little crowd developing. Eventually, after about 15 mins of crakle and feedback, the musicians got up onto the stage, including my brother, and seated themselves cross legged before the microphones. The one of the brothers called to me, "First my mother she play one song for the God...". "Ok" i reply. Joel saw what was happening and tried to get up, but he was too late. "No, no! You stay there, no problem!" the family all chant in unison. And then the concert begins.

After Joel's rather awkward couple of songs, Mama leaves the stage and Joel performs some solo guitar accompanied by Tablas which goes down very well. Then I join them and we bash a load of "fusion" songs, some of them mine, some of them improvised. After each song the mother comes up and grabs my hand in hers and thanks me as if I have just saved her baby from a lion. Things are going pretty well! Then the sound man decides he's probably not needed and goes to sleep under the table. Somehow we continue on regardless until I am sure my hip is about to dislocate from too much sitting cross legged and we finally call it a day. Our first indian gig is a roaring success... it's only a matter of time before we hit the bigtime... :)

The camel fair has come to a close, but many of the fairground attractions are still around. Yesterday i went to see the "Wall of death", which I have always wanted to see since seeing it on tv as a kid. It's basically a larger wooden cylinder, about 50 feet high and about 35 feet diameter. You climb a ladder and stand around the top rim of the cylinder, while inside at the bottom wait two small cars and two motorbikes. The the show begins. At first just one Fonzy looking indian guy wearing flip-flops comes in and revs up his motorbike. seconds later he is driving it at high speed around the INSIDE of the cyinder. So yes, he is basically driving horizontally along the wall and using centrufugal force to keep him from falling. As if this wasn't enough, he then takes his hands off the handlebars and starts smoking a beedie whilst riding side saddle, 40 feet from the ground on a fast moving, gravity defiying motorbike. But it gets better. By the end of the show there are two motorbikes and one car all driving simoultaneously around the inside of the cylinder. The car driver is hanging out of the door whilst driving and the two motorbike drivers are sitting back with their feet on the handlebars smoking beedies. Somehow, nobody dies! Brilliant! :)

Nanu, the owner of our guesthouse, has a habit of smoking brown sugar before breakfast. When this happens you can be assured of some very strange and confusing conversations. Yesterday he was spotted rummaging around in the shower, lifting things and looking puzzled. "What have you lost?" asked Kieran. "Huh? Yeeesssss, lost. I have lost it. Lost my leg. Cant find it....". Today when I got up he was still searching around the yard, sifting through the ashes of the fire and everything. "What are you looking for?", I ask him. "Yesss, I lose it". "What?". "I lost my smoking good feeling thing...". Ahhh, well that would explain the frantic searching, although if you ask me his wife elka probably found it and dumped it down the toilet!!!

more tales from the edge soon... :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Greetings foreign beings!

You may remember a while back I posted a story that I was submitting to a newspaper competition. It was about a chance meeting with a homeless indian man who was fanatical about Alfred Hitchcock and told me a fantastic story about his life, losing his family in the Gujurat earthquake etc etc. Well, the other night I was st around the fire with some other travellers, and I proceeded to tell this story. Before I had got through the first two lines, one of the listeners, and american guy named Bear, interjected. "Yeah, his father was a judge!". "And his family was killed in the earthquake!" piped in another american called Alec. What was going on?! How could these guys possibly know of my incredibly unique and fascinating encounter? It turned out that I was not the only one who had had this unique experience. They too had discussed the special effects in star wars. They too had heard of his need for a hip replacement. In fact, they had both had the same exct conversation, word for word, that I had had here over a year ago. The only difference was that they had both had it only a few days ago!! Apparantly this man, now known as "Star Wars Guy", sits in exactly the same spot every day telling this exact story to anyone who will listen. Right down to the ending where he tells you he is currently trying to save up enough money to get the spare part needed to get his hip-replacement done... After further scrutiny of the story, we started to wonder if maybe the entire spiel is a fabrication designed to inspire sympathy... after all, he's had over a year to get together the 300 rupees he said he needed to buy the hip-replacement part! Our final conclusion was that, truthfull or not, the story and the teller are both so fascinating that it really doesn't matter. After all, he has never outright asked anyone for any money, which is pretty incredible in India, and his story has entertained many a lone tourist. I think today i'm going to go and find him and see if I can re-enact my original meeting word for word... :)

I have to go now as I'm taking part in a homemade game called the "Crazy people of Pushkar Photo Challenge". We've made alist of all the nutters in pushkar, and the first one to get a digital photo of all of them wins a beedie! so far I have orange man on a tray, short man with umbrella, and giant sunglasses mini-shrine man. Next on the list is the somewhat elusive "t-shirt man", who walks up and down the road holding his t-shirt away from his stomach with both hands (if he wants to smoke a beedie he holds both corners in one hand temporarily...).


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Billy Breaks Bollywood

namaste! Wow what a week! There's just far too many stories to tell you, but I guess I'll just try to tell one or two...

I'm sitting in the garden of an Indian summer mansion in the baking heat wearing an all white Indian pajama suit and a white headscarf. My hands are together in prayer and I have an inane grin on my face. I am grinning because I am watching my 6 year old nephew being forced to eat something that looks like a cross between peanut butter and lard. His neck is being snapped from side to side as another of his uncles, a large bearded man with a giant turban, wraps his head with an orange piece of cloth. Also sitting with me are 3 beautiful Indian ladies wearing expensive looking saris. They too are staring adoringly at the small boy as he goes through this strange ritual. Is is a dream? Has Billy finally "gone native"? No, it is in fact the filming of a commercial for "East End" Ghee. Let me back-track a little....

So, me and Sarah managed to buy our tickets from mumbai to Ajmer, the closest station to Pushkar. Unfortunately all the 2nd class sleeper tickets were sold out, so we had to buy air con class tickets, which cost 4 times as much.. Anyway, we headed home to chill. Back at the hotel, the reception guy seemed very pleased to see us. "Ahhhh, my friends, you are back! I have good news for you! My friend he wants you to be in Bollywood film!". I knew that sooner or later someone would spot my potential as a big screen bollywood star, I'm just surprised it didn't happen sooner. "What's the part?" I ask. "Wait, I call my friend, he come!". So, 20 mins later we are chatting with a young dapper looking Indian guy wearing hip western clothes. He tells us that actually it's a commercial for an as yet unknown product, and that they need a western couple as extras. We'll be picked up at 8am, and then taken to our train by 7pm. And on top of that we'll be paid the whopping fee of 500 rupees! Now I'll be honest here, I wasn't exactly that keen. I mean, I've done filming before, and to be fair it's more about boredom than glamour, but Sarah was really keen so I figured ahh, why not, even if it sucks it'll be good blog material!

So we agree and at 8am the next day we are met by bobby the Bombay stud. Bobby is wearing a wifebeater vest underneath a flowing black chiffon dress/Indian garment, and looks like a bit of a lady's man. We head off for the local train. Once on the train we manage to get seats, but Sarah decides, against our advice, she wants to stand by the doors to watch the view pass. Bad move. Mumbai local trains are like American stomachs at an all you can eat buffet. Empty at the start, full by the middle, and yet always making room for more. After half an hour, Sarah was so crammed in by Indian men that she couldn't get back to us even if she tried. To add to her predicament, every time the train stopped at a station, about 50 people would try to get off at exactly the same time as 50 people tried to get on, making each stop a mini hillsborough disaster, with Sarah in the middle of it. Add to this the fact that lots of these Indian men had the tendency to accidentally cop a feel in the confusion and you've got one uncomfortable English girl. Eventually she did manage to get back, and promised to listen to our advice in future!

Meanwhile Bobby had been telling me about his 16 girlfriends. "Sixteen?! But how do you manage to see them all? There's only 7 days in a week!". "2 days each girl them move on" he explains. Cunning. Eventually we arrive in some remote part of the city and jump in a rickshaw. The journey to the film set is pretty crazy as we drive through some of the most alien environments I've seen so far. At one point we see a crazy man in the road doing a perfect imitation of John Cleese doing an imitation of a crazy man. Fascinating!

We arrive late at the film set, which is a big old "bungalow" (mansion with two stories, a pool, etc) and head to the "changing room". There are lots of people milling around the place. They are mainly separated into two categories. Beautiful people and ugly people. The beautiful people are the actors, producers, director etc. The ugly people have lots of different jobs, but in true Indian tradition each person has only one job and sticks to it. For example, the is a guy who's job it is to bring you water. However, if you want water, you cant ask him for it, you have to ask the guy who's in charge of taking care of the actors. There's also a guy who's job is to hold an umbrella over our heads while the shooting is stopped. However, he doesn't seem to know when the camera is rolling or not, so he just stands at the side opening a closing the umbrella and trying to look busy. Another guy is in charge of filling up some empty chapatti flour bags with cotton woo; to use as props. One might think this would be a fairly easy job, but this man has other ideas. After about 3 hours he has still only filled up 3 bags (they are the size of a bag of doritos) and is still looking very unsatisfied with the result. He keeps trying to make them stand up, as if they are filled with flour, but of course they fall straight over. He then shakes them a bit, to help the cotton wool settle to the bottom and tries again. He was still doing this when I left him....

So, we are called and made to sit on a rug on the lawn with other extras who are playing the family and friends of a small boy whop is obviously going through some kind of rite of passage ritual that uses ghee. The poor kid spends the entire day sitting in the baking sun having his head yanked about and brown sludge shoved in his mouth. I hope he was getting paid more than me! After about 53 seconds the novelty wears off and I start to get bored. And hot. Very hot. Sarah gives me a look that says "Sorry! You were right, this is going to be a nightmare and it's only 11am!". I ma informed by the producer that actually this commercial is not being filmed for Indian TV. Oh no. In fact it's being filmed for ENGLISH TV!!! Yes that's right, if you are a big fan of that Asian cable channels, as I know you all are, then you will be seeing me on your screens very soon indeed!
Nothing very interesting happened for the rest of the day. I just sat around waiting for nothing and eventually we left to catch our train at 6pm. The train journey was pretty pleasant. The AC class we were in was good and bad really. It was very clean and more comfy etc, but it was like being in a bubble. You couldn't hear the sound of the train going over the tracks, you couldn't smell the sudden contrasts in aroma (poo... toffee.... flowers... poo...) or feel the wind on your face. We were sharing our compartment with a nice Indian Lady with two children. The younger was only 9 months old, and had a habit of trying to chew through my rucksack. We also met a nice old man in the compartment next to us. "Did you sleep well?" I asked him in the morning. "Oh no" he replied, "All night I am rushing for urination!". Poor thing.

We arrive in Ajmer and set off to look for the bus stop. At one point we have to cross the main road, but as we reach the centre dividing wall, Sarah trips over her flip-flop and flies headlong into the traffic on the other side. Somehow, despite the momentum provided by her giant backpack, she manages to pull herself back just in time to avoid being decapitated by a giant rickshaw. The first thing she says is "Owww! My knees!"....
At the bus stop we meet a nice young guy names John who runs a guesthouse in Pushkar with his older brother. We agree to look at his guesthouse, but when the bus comes it is too full. "No problem, we ride on roof", says John. Cool. On the roof we have to keep our wits about us as some of the branches we pass under require us to actually lie completely flat to avoid being whipped off the roof and deposited in a heap on the road. Finally, we arrive in pushkar!!

So that's where I am now. Good old Pushkar. It's the "Camel fair" at the moment, which is pretty damn cool. It's kind of like a cross between Glastonbury, Indiana Jones, the fairground, and Mad max. Today I want to the big stadium to watch "Women's Musical Chairs Competition". It was a close competition I can tell you, and there was quite a crowd!! There was a large army contingent, as well as an entire primary school in attendance. I had my money on nice black haired little thoroughbred, but she let me down in the closing stages, getting outrun by an old lady in a sari.

right, that's more than enough for one day. I'm staying at a great little place out of town called Nanu's Garden Paradise. Come visit me! :)

Monday, November 15, 2004


man, i don't know where to start. I've only been here since yesterday morning, but it feels like a week. This is possibly to do with the fact that I went to sleep and got up twice during the day yesterday due to severe jetlag! The flight was pretty good except for one huge catastrophe: I lost the squishy bit off of on of my sony headphones!! Now this may not seem like a catastrophe to most of you, but you have to understand that these headphones are my way of blocking out the world when necessary, like on hellish bus journey, and without them I am completely exposed to the harsh realities of Indian travel! However, i have a plan invlving an earplug, a swiss army knife, and a tube of superglue, which may yet resolve this catastrophic situation...

So anyway, I arrived in bombay in one piece, as did my guitar (thank god!), and we both made our way to the luggge claim, where I met some nice girls who wanted to share a taxi. After driving for 45 mins past some of the worst slums in the world, we finally arrived in coloba, and set about finding a hotel. By now it was 7am, and i hadn't slept since leaving england at 2pm the previous day. It would have been so nice to just sleep for 8 hours, but this would have been disastrous, as I would have woken up in the evening and been jetlagged for days, so after a quick nap, me and sarah (who i'm sharing a room with) headed out to meet the other guys from the cab ride, and set of into bombay. blah blah blah... sorry guys, I hate telling stories as a sequence of events like this... it's so boring and forced and qute frankly, it's just not flowing, so I'll just write radom things as and when they pop into my head. :)

Last night was the last night of Divali, which is an indian festival kinda like bonfire night crossed with xmas. We had heard that marine drive was the place to be so we jumped in a cab and headed there. We arrived to find an enormous long promenade packed with families setting off fireworks. The first thing I noticed was the shocking disregard for health and safety! In england, dad sets up the fireworks in a bucket full of sand, and then the kids stand back at a safe distance while he lights them. Here, dad hands his 8 year old kids a handful of fireworks and a burning wad of newspaper and tells them to go and light them by the main road while he sits on the wall of the promenade and watches at a safe distance! Even more reckless were the yound teens who would try to outdo each other with acts of stupidity. My favourites were: holding fountains in your hand, trying to light a group of fireworks after the first few are already going off and recieveing a face full of hot sparks, letting bangers go off in your hand whilst hlding them next to your ear, and my favourite of all, lighting random mentalist fireworks (ones that explode about 50 times and leap around the place shooting fire in all directions) whilst standing 3 inches away from them.

What was most fascinating of all about this display of apparant bravery/stupidity was how blase everyone seemed about it. A kid would light a firework, stick his face in it, very nearly lose and eye, and then laugh hysterically and do it again. Absolutely no one jumped when an explosion happened right beside them except us, the wimpy foreigners! In the midst of all this madness we made friends with some yound indian guys. One guy came ad started talking to me. He told me he was in the Indian Navy and was on shore leave. I asked his name. "Niel Ikshalamalam Pandit" he said (probably). "Ah, ok, I'm Billy Rowan Salisbury" I replied. "You can call me Billy for short if you like. What's your short name?". I was, of course, assuming he would say Niel. "Een Kee Pandit", he replied, ruining my hope for an easy to remember name. I decided the only way to remember this was to find an english sounding equivalent with an image to go with it, and finally settled on the Inky Bandit, fastest fountain pen in the west. :)

After the police had been by a few times in their jeep telling everyone over a large megaphone that the the 10pm firework curfew had just been declared, we headed of with the young Indian guys to have a drink. They said they knew a great little place to have a beer, which turned out to be the very Indian "Paulos Italian Pizzeria".

right, times up. lots more to tell but no time. heading to pushkar tomorrow night to the camel fair...

seeya! :)