Water in India – Enough to Make a Crow Blush

This is the story of a lady, a fellow traveller, my wife,  Mary and I, came across on our own travels across Rajasthan. She was making her way from Gujarat and on to who knows where. We have never encountered her since, but her story is etched forever on our memories and worth the sharing.

Having arrived in Gujarat at some obscure destination she found herself hustled and bustled by beggars, as is the norm in India, as well as hordes of children clamouring for ‘bom-boms’.  Shaking them off eventually, she went in search of a hotel and found herself approached by an Indian gentleman who, having salaamed greetings, invited her to accompany him to stay at his house – let’s call him Mr. Singh for convenience. “My family and I would be greatly honoured.” He stood there with a genuine and honest smile on his face. Why not, she thought. Funds were running low and it would be a welcome opportunity to experience the local cuisine, hospitality, and true Indian culture up close. “I will be happy to accept your gracious offer,’ she told him. A rickshaw was summoned and, to her relief,  her heavy  luggage heaved  up on the seat between them. And so, they  lurched off into the throng of traffic. On arrival at his residence, Mr. Singh, beaming with pride, introduced her to his wife and several children. He rubbed his hands together in happiness and satisfaction, his white teeth flashing in the sunlight. “Perhaps you would like to wash before dinner?” Since she had travelled a long way through baking  heat and cloying  dust, the suggestion was welcomed with delight.  She followed him down a corridor into a small concrete room with small windows set high in the wall. At the far end of the room stood a barrel of water, surrounded by several coconut shell cups. “Help yourself,” he invited pointing to the barrel. Scarcely able to wait, she locked the door behind him, fumbled her bottle of shampoo out of her luggage and lowered herself gingerly into the barrel. The water was cool, blissfully so, after the intense heat outside.  She lathered her hair, dunked her head under the water, scrubbed and rubbed until she began to feel human again. She was almost finished when a knock sounded on the door. “The food is almost ready, will you be long?” Reluctantly, she began to climb out of the barrel. “No. No. Just a few more minutes.” She looked about for a towel, but finding none dabbed herself dry with her discarded t-shirt.  But  really, she thought, the opportunity to wash a few of her things was too good to miss, and so she set about rinsing out her smalls and a couple of spare t-shirts.

When she emerged, Mr Singh and his family stood smiling. “You enjoyed your wash, yes?”

She beamed her response. “Absolutely. The water was  so refreshing, and I hope you don’t mind, but I took the opportunity to wash some of my dirty clothes in the barrel too.”

Mr Singh and his family paled beneath their collective tans. Their eyes  widened in shock and horror.  His voice trembling, he informed her that the barrel of water was the family’s water supply for one whole month. One was not supposed to climb in, but simply to use the coconut shells as a ladle.

Had there been a convenient corner handy, our travelling acquaintance maintained, she would happily have crawled in there and died on the spot.

The moral of this story – all good deeds will be duly punished – as Mr Singh found to his cost!

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My Travels in the East. Part 1. Sri Lanka – How We Bonked in the Queen’s Bed!

My Travels in the East. Part 1. Sri Lanka – How We Bonked in the Queen’s Bed!.

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My Travels in the East. Part 1. Sri Lanka – How We Bonked in the Queen’s Bed!

This blog is part of a long story I will relate regarding parts of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.  I hope you enjoy armchair travel as much as I did the real thing!

There we were just arrived at the beautiful Polonnaruwa Resthouse with views across  the lake.  Mahoots were bathing their elephants in the cool waters; crocodiles were swimming warily around. The crocs never went near the villagers – they knew if they took one of them they would be hunted and killed.  There was a mutual respect on both sides, something that developed over many generations. Whole families with children were laughing and splashing about; the men with lungies on lathered from head to toe, scrubbing their hair vigorously. Then, they dipped under the water and surfaced laughingly with bleached white teeth.

The manager knocked on our door. ‘Is Sir and Madam happy with room?’ – pidgin English, the speech of the locals.

‘Very, thank you!’ I must explain we were visiting Sri Lanka right at the height of the Civil War between the Tamils and the indigenous people, the Singalese, so we stayed at hotels, some with 100 rooms and we were the only guests. You can imagine the care we got from the staff!  We did come across other travellers, but rarely.  We met one chap, gay and happy.  I still remember his words as he beamed into the room.  ‘Darlings! Daffodils in the desert!’ Followed by a great kiss, me particularly. Anyway, the manager still stood in the doorway rubbing his hands.  ‘Would Sir and Madam like to stay in a very special room overlooking the lake?’  Then he gestured, ‘come see’.  Our curiousity aroused we followed. He took from his pocket a large key with a red silk ribbon threaded through.  The key clunked into the lock and he opened the door.  We stepped into a sumptuous room tastefully furnished, but simple.  There, right in front of us, were two single beds, above which were draped tasselled silk moquito nets.  The bathroom was avocado and sparklingly clean.  ‘We only come in here to clean,’ he explained.

‘May I ask why it’s so special?’

He nodded his head from side to side. ‘The Queen and Prince Phillip stayed here’.

‘We would love to stay here, but may I ask how much?’

He nodded his head once more. ‘Would Sir be happy with £3.00?’

‘Sir and Madam would be very happy.’

That night we sat on the balcony drinking the obligatory bottle of red wine, gazing across the lake at the crimson sunset as the sun disappeared below the horizon – and being stung by mosquitoes. They were so large they had army boots on. Retiring early, we decided to bonk in both beds, because we didn’t know which bed the Queen had slept in.

The next morning we salaamm’d our thanks.  After a Imagecontinental breakfast, we scratched our way to the next adventure.

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Like millions of others I always dreamed of being a writer. But, you know what it’s like, life got in the way and, before I could realise my dream,  I had a living to make and a wife and family to support. Still, throughout my many incarnations as a ‘working man’, I kept my aspirations alive in the form of poetry and stories, capturing  all the major  incidents in my life in verse or prose.  One day, I promised myself, one day I would have the luxury of being able to concentrate on my writing and nothing else.

That day came when I turned 60. The kids,  fed, watered, educated and thoroughly loved, were grown up and scattered to the four winds. I hung up my decorator’s paintbrush for the last time and Mary, my beloved wife and I, took the thread of our own lives out of storage, dusted it off, and embarked on a whole new phase of life, which pretty much took us around the world.  Out came the suitcases and sun tan lotion but, just as important, out came the pen and paper and our travels in India inspired me with the storyline for Distant Horizons, my first novel.  The writing bug had well and truly bitten. Next came a memoire of my life growing up in the East End of LondonAngels and Dirty Faces,  hot on the heels of which came Indiana Bones, a travelogue of the six years we spent living in ‘real’ India, the filthy, exciting, exotic, unforgettable side the travel brochures never show you.

And now, I’m almost finished my fourth book, Dark Horizons, the follow-up to Distant Horizons and loving every second. So, who says you’re over the hill at 60? Not me. As far as I’m concerned life just keeps on getting better and better. And you can have that in writing!Image

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