UNIVERSAL DHARMA
Peckforton

So Many Roads ~ THE LAND OF MY DREAMS

"One may not reach the dawn except by the path of the night."
Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese Mystic & Writer, 1883 -1931
Slowly, and usually not without pain and hardship, do we arrive at wis-dom, but when we do, it is without regrets.

For this, I persuaded George to go with me, determined to make it to India this time. We decided to go by train as far as Istanbul, and consequently filled an old doctor’s-bag ~ which we’d got from somewhere and which I’d painted in bright colors and em-blazoned on one side with the words, SWAG BAG ~ with bread, butter, cheese, peanut-butter, jam and so on, enough to last us on the 3-day journey without needing to buy anything else; we took a train to London (I didn’t dare take him hitch-hiking in case he might not like it and give up) and there we bought our tickets to Istanbul, £20 each, including the ferry-fare across the Chan-nel. We had an uneventful journey, in a comfortable and warm compartment to ourselves for most of the way, so were able to stretch out and sleep whenever we wanted.

Arriving in Istanbul, I was in my element again, but although I showed George around and tried to turn him on, he displayed no interest or enthusiasm for the wonders there, and I soon came to realize that it wasn’t going to work, and after a few days, I had the painful task of asking him to go back, leaving me to go on without him. He didn’t object, but he must have been hurt, and I’m sorry until now that I felt I had to do that to him ~ mea culpa!

This brings me to my relationship with my younger brother, which I’ve never written of before. He was born on the 2nd of June 1948, almost 2 years after me, and as often happens, I re-sented his intrusion and became jealous of the attention he had to have, which had hitherto been mine alone; I was too young to understand this, and even as we grew older, I continued to feel so. Would an explanation that there was no need for me to feel jealous, and that our parents loved me none the less just be-cause they loved him have had any effect upon me at a later age? I can’t say for sure, but maybe it would. I don’t recall any-one explaining this to me, however, so my jealousy remained, and was even fueled by his greater popularity than mine in school and in our other social circles. This problem really should have been addressed, but wasn’t.

Even though I felt towards him as I did, and treated him unkindly (I still have the scar on my left leg where he bit me during one of our not-infrequent fights ~ a fight I probably initiated and which, as the bigger and stronger, otherwise won), I think he still looked up to me and would have been my friend had I let him. But I didn’t, fearing his ascendancy. So I lost, and deprived myself of a lot. We did occasionally do things together even so, even if for not very long and in a sustained way. It was he who discovered how to get inside Peckforton Castle ~ a mock-Norman fortress that had been built on a whim by a local baron 150 years earlier with a fortune that might have come from ‘shaking the pagoda-tree’ in India. Whatever, in our early teens, this castle, well-preserved and locked up because no-one lived there, fascinated us; it was about two miles from our home, and we would go around and around it, gazing up at its battlements and turrets, wondering how we might get in. Finally, one day, noticing a tree growing near the walls with a limb overhanging them, at a point about 25 feet from the ground, being the bravest, he decided to climb up, and I followed, and oh, how exciting it was to stand at last on the castle walls! We hadn’t gone very far, however, when we were prevented from getting down to the courtyard by a locked door, behind which were the stairs, no doubt, but we couldn’t let this stop us, having come this far; and indeed, it didn’t, because in a corner of a large room opening off the para-pet, there was something like a wide chimney-flue ~ it wasn’t a chimney-flue, but I don’t know what its purpose was ~ from the room beneath, and continuing on to the room above, and George unhesitatingly led the way again; with his back against one side and his feet braced against the other, he ‘walked’ his way down; he really was intrepid! I then followed, finding it not as hard as I’d first thought it would be. We found ourselves in the stables, and were really in, and free to explore what seemed to be our very own castle! What fun it was! We went all over, into the Great Hall, with its carved furniture and wall-hangings, up into the keep, from where we gazed out in all directions and even see ships on the River Mersey at Liverpool far away, and the mountains of North Wales; we descended into the cellars, which we imagined as dungeons, with prisoners chained and languishing therein; our imaginations were given free rein, and of course, we felt ghosts everywhere, just as you would expect in a castle! Whether there really were any lingering around, I can’t say, but it wasn’t a place where I’d liked to have been after dark. The Robin Hood movie, starring Richard Gere, was shot here, as it was an ideal location. In the centre of the courtyard ~ and it really was a big place ~ grew a large, spreading oak-tree.

Well, after what seemed like hours, we decided to leave; after all, there were people in the lodge not far away, and game-keepers occasionally patrolling the surrounding woods, and we did not want to get caught (once, years later, when I’d led a bunch of friends from Crewe inside, someone came ~ I didn’t know who he was, but he had a shot-gun, and must have known we were there, as he came searching around as if looking for in-truders, but I cautioned the others to stay low and quiet down in the cellars until he gave up and left; we were lucky). George led the way back by which we had come, but in the upper room, he noticed some switches on the wall, and ever the curious one, pulled one down, setting off an alarm-bell! Flipping the switch upwards didn’t stop it, and so we had to get out as soon as pos-sible. He was ahead of me as we ran along the walls, and climb-ing along the tree-limb, was soon down on the ground, while I was still on the walls, reluctant to follow him; it was quite dan-gerous to climb along the limb, but I did something even more dangerous, and quite stupid: Telling him to catch me, I jumped. Fortunately, he didn’t try, or he’d have been squashed, but the ground was quite soft with the leaf-mould and detritus of centu-ries, and so I sustained no injuries other than spraining both my ankles quite badly.


Peckforton Castle and the wall from which I jumped.

Somehow, I managed to hobble home and act as if nothing had happened; we didn’t tell our parents what we’d been up to, oth-erwise we’d have been banned from going again. And as far as I know, nothing ever came of the alarm we’d set off. (Strangely enough, although my sprained ankles recovered in due course, that crazy jump left a mark that showed up in x-rays as a hairline crack 40 years later, but it wasn’t a mark I regretted).

So, although we lived our separate lives, now and then we’d do things together, but when I left home and went to live with either Sheila or Glen, I saw him only occasionally, and in these years we both changed a lot. I had not been the most brilliant student in school, but he was even less so, and while I was always an avid reader, he showed no interest in books.

I’ve mentioned that our dad had quite a collection of books and would often read at night, and sometimes in the daytime, in the privacy of his loft, when he was not busy with his car or his tools, making something or other (being self-employed, he would finish his work by noon and then come home for lunch, to continue later). His favorite authors ~ who consequently became mine ~ were Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and via their tales, I accom-panied Captain Nemo 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, went to the Centre of the Earth, to The Mysterious Island, and so on; H.G. Wells took me back to the past and far into the future on his Time Machine, where I saw how humanity had diverged into two quite different strains ~ the gentle, herbivorous and defense-less Eloi, and the aggressive, cannibalistic Morlocks. With Wells, too, I went through the War of the Worlds, when Martians in-vaded Earth and practically took over, until they were defeated not by us but by Earth’s germs and bacteria against which they had no immunity or defense. What fantastic tales they were ~ and still are!

Then, I used to buy a publication known as Classics Illustrated ~ well-known stories, classics ~ in comic-book form; they cost a shilling each back then, and there were hundreds of them; I amassed quite a collection, and thereby became somewhat ac-quainted with the literature of many lands.

How George went on in Tattenhall school, which he started soon after I did ~ I started late, the system of going from primary-school to secondary was a recent development ~ I really don’t know, as we were in different classes, of course. He didn’t dis-like school as I did, however, and was probably more resigned to it and integrated than me. What I do remember was that, after I’d left there and gone on to college, during one holiday, he’d gone to stay at Glen’s for a while ~ he would have been 14 or 15 at the time ~ and met a girl named Susan who lived nearby; she was a bit younger than him, and just as precocious or even mo-reso than he, and pretty soon, they were having sex together and somehow got caught. Well, he was reprimanded, and that was it as far as he was concerned, but poor Susan was sent off to a reform-school for wayward girls ~ such was the attitude of the authorities towards juvenile sex 40 years ago ~ where she had to stay, with occasional visits home, for 2 years!

George went straight from school to work, at the age of 15 ~ no college for him ~ and our lives took quite different tracks. Any-way, to return to Istanbul, where I asked him to go home and leave me free of the responsibility of having him with me: actu-ally, although it wasn’t a nice thing to do, I had not much choice, as he wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip further east. Really, I should not have brought him with me in the first place, but should have left him at home to continue the life-style he was familiar with ~ going to pubs with his friends ~ a lifestyle which, although I’d worked in a bar, I didn’t enjoy or feel part of, having seen it from the other side of the fence, as it were, and considered it a great waste of money.

During our stay in Istanbul, our dorm-room was shared by a Turk (we were unwise, and should have known better), and one day, while we were out, this guy took the opportunity to ransack our bags, and we got back to find him and my camera gone; it was probably a trick he’d employed before. My impression of the Turks did not improve over time; there was more to come.

Before we parted, George met some Danes and arranged to go to Denmark with them before returning to England, but they took advantage of his gullibility and cheated him of his money.

And I’d met a French guy named Xavier Tonneau who was heading to Afghanistan in order to buy hash and smuggle it back to France; his plans were already made, and I had no objection to them, so we agreed to travel together. That must have been in November ’68, and it was already cold, so we took a train as far as Erzerum in eastern Turkey, about 100 miles from the bor-der with Iran, for which we got visas before leaving Istanbul. We were joined by an English guy who, for some reason, I called Ori. We got a compartment almost to ourselves except for an elderly Turk by the name of Ishmail, who spoke no English at all, but who was friendly-enough anyway; he was going home somewhere in the east, but not as far as us. The journey was very long, and the train moved slowly; it took two days and nights, I think. Now, Xavier had bought some alabaster eggs in Istanbul, and loved them for their smoothness and shape; he of-ten held and caressed them. Because of this, I ~ who always had a knack of coming up with nick-names for people ~ called him ‘Oeuf’ (the French for ‘egg’). Well, one morning on our seemingly-interminable train-ride, Oeuf, who’d been sleeping with his boots off, discovered egg-yolk on his socks, and we couldn’t imagine where it had come from ~ quite a coincidence, Oeuf, and no-one else with egg on his socks! ~ until later, the mystery was solved when Ishmael produced an egg from somewhere and proceeded to suck it! We laughed so much!

He got off in quite literally the middle of nowhere, as there was no station or any other building in sight, and as he was walking off and the train pulled slowly away, we waved our farewells to him and sang a song we’d made up with his name in it; he grinned broadly as we left him behind on the steppes.

There was snow on the ground when we arrived in Erzerum, and it was very cold. We found a hotel and settled in for the night, having bought tickets for a bus to Tabriz ~ the first big city over the border in Iran ~ for the next day. Now, it is true that we smoked dope in our room, and then Oeuf went to the toilet and came back only after a long time, with blood streaming from a cut on his head. “What happened?” Ori and I both said, jumping up. He told us he’d slipped on the toilet-floor, banged his head, and must have lost consciousness. As he was bleeding quite badly, I bandaged him up as best I could, and we had to get him to a doctor, but it was already late at night. Down in the lobby, people became excited and accused us of having been smoking dope (we denied it, as it was a serious offence, and we could have been jailed) They refused to help us, so we went outside to try to find a doctor, but this was futile. Oeuf was quite groggy by this time from the effects of the hash and the severe knock on his head, and blood had seeped through his bandage. But, far from finding a doctor, we were attacked on the street by some ruffians, and had to fight them off in order to retreat to the hotel. Anyway, we somehow made it through the night, but I kept Oeuf awake and didn’t allow him to sleep in case he went into con-cussion, in which case we would have been in much deeper trouble. The hotel-people regarded us with scowling faces as we checked out to catch our bus.

We spent only long enough in Iran to get through that land, where we had our first encounter with very strict Islam, and where most women wore the long cover-alls known as chadors, but sans the face-covering with just a slit or some mesh for the eyes; we got our visa for Afghanistan in the eastern city of Meshed. Oeuf had recovered by this time, and kept us enter-tained in the hotel room with the guitar he had with him; he was really quite talented. Meshed is famous for turquoise, and we’d been advised by other travelers to buy some to sell elsewhere at a large profit, so into a turquoise-factory we went, and while buy-ing some small stones, a larger stone fell into my pocket ~ one of many things I regret. (Not being much of a salesman, I was unable to sell any, and lost on my investment).

We crossed the border to Herat and found ourselves in a time-warp; our dope-smoking ~ and it was not yet illegal in Afghani-stan ~ enhanced the impression that it was straight out of the ‘Arabian Nights’, and we wouldn’t have been surprised to come across Sinbad the Sailor preparing the merchandise for his next voyage, or Aladdin rubbing his magic lamp, or Ali Baba mutter-ing ‘Open Sesame’ so as not to forget the password to the door to the treasure-cave he’d come across. Afghan men wore tradi-tional baggy pants and long shirts covered by embroidered waistcoats, huge turbans, and shoes with turned-up toes; most had beards, and some carried long-barreled muskets known as ‘jaziels’; they were fierce people, loyal only to Islam and their tribal leaders; mess with them and you wouldn’t stand much chance, but otherwise, they’d leave you alone, not friendly, not unfriendly. The women were even more concealed than in Iran, with only hands and feet visible under their burqas.

We stayed in Herat overnight and left next day to Kandahar in the south; it took most of the day, and because of the winter rains and snow, we found it ~ like Herat ~ a sea of mud. First thing we did was find a cheap hotel, and when I say cheap, I mean about a dollar per day for a room with several beds, the covers of which were none-too-clean, and the sheets showing ‘fried-egg’ stains of the nocturnal emissions of previous occu-pants. There were no such things as attached bathrooms and toilets, and indeed, no bathrooms as such at all; Afghans seemed not to know of bathing or showering except in rivers when weather permitted. As for toilets, well, there was just a hole in the floor through which you let your stuff go, and beside the hole a box of stones to serve as toilet-paper, or maybe a pot of water with which to wash yourself. Oh, they did have toilet-paper in Afghanistan; I saw shops with great amounts of it that had been donated by some aid-agency ~ World Relief, perhaps ~ but it was useless to the Afghans, as they never used it for its intended purpose, and probably didn’t know what it was for, like the condoms I saw kids blowing up with bike-pumps as balloons ~ also foreign aid!

Having found a place to stay and deposit our stuff, we went to eat, and were amazed to see stacks of hash in ¼ -kg slabs on the floor of the restaurant, for sale at just $10 per kg. I saw in one place what must have been hundreds of kilos of the stuff! We were in dope-smokers’ heaven!

Someone came up to me and in his smattering of English, said, “You know Mister Bob from Callipunya? Ee my priend!”

Oeuf set about implementing his plan, and I joined him. We went to a hash-dealer who someone had recommended, bought a kg each, and told him we wanted it concealed in a pair of shoes. “No problem,” he said (he spoke some English, having dealt with crazies before and no doubt understood their wants). For Oeuf, he brought out some quite nice boots, proceeded to open up the soles and pack the hash inside before fixing the soles back into place; there was almost ½ kg in each, and they looked okay. And for me, he produced a huge pair of ancient brogue shoes, ripped back the soles and stuffed the hash inside, then nailed the soles back on, leaving them round and bulging, like balls; they looked and felt quite ridiculous and would have passed no-one’s scrutiny. I took them anyway, thinking, “What the heck!” and we left Kandahar for Kabul, which was Oeuf’s furthest point. Here, we parted, he hopefully to return to France, and me to go on to India in my rock-n-roll shoes. He had carried with him, all the way from home, many packets of Gauloise and Gitane ciga-rettes which he intended to offer to the Customs and Immigra-tion officials as Xmas presents at the borders of Iran and Tur-key, so they wouldn’t give him a hard time, but I advised him against this saying it would look suss and be regarded as a bribe. I wished him well anyway, and we went our separate ways. Months later, I got a letter from him, saying he’d made it back home alright, and I breathed a sigh of relief for him. I never heard from him again after that.

For some time, I’d been passing bloody stools, and never having had piles before, was quite worried, so went to Kabul’s main hospital. A young doctor examined me with a gloved finger, but didn’t diagnose or prescribe anything for my ailment. I was left in ignorance, but fortunately, it wasn’t about something serious, and I didn’t bleed to death.

In Kabul, I bumped into a guy I’d met earlier that year in Israel ~ a red-haired Canadian named Bruce, and we decided to travel together to Goa, as we’d both made up our minds to go there for the Christmas party we’d heard would be held on the beach; Goa was already a hippie-mecca, along with Benares in north-ern India and Kathmandu in Nepal. Consequently, we got a bus which carried us through the rugged Khyber Pass ~ which so many invaders before us had used, including Alexander the Great and his forces ~ through the lawless town of Landikotl, where all kinds of guns were replicated using only very basic tools, and to a high degree of accuracy, too ~ to the ancient city of Peshawar. What a pity we greenhorns didn’t halt here longer in our headlong rush than just to eat something and get a bus south, but there are many things in life that we look back on later ~ both done and undone ~ about which we say, “What a pity”; that was just one.

In Lahore, again, we did nothing except get a permit to cross the border into India; this wasn’t a visa (we didn’t need one for India, or for Pakistan; in those days, Commonwealth citizens could go to Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka without visas, and stay as long as they liked; it changed in the mid-‘80’s, and became such a hassle to get a visa for India, and to a lesser extent, for Paki-stan, too), but a formality created by desk-babus, and there was no way around it. Then, with our permits, we set off to the border by local bus, where I rocked and rolled across ~ and it’s quite a distance between the two borders ~ in my bulging brogues, just as I’d done across the Afghan-Pak border, quite confident, and lucky enough to pass without let-or-hindrance. The border-guards and officials had seen all kinds of weird people flooding into India by then, and so I didn’t stand out as in any way ab-normal; it was the time of the hippies, or ‘freaks’ as they called themselves, not waiting for other people to categorize them so.

I was in the land of my dreams at last! India had called me from childhood, though I didn’t know why, as there was no family-connection with it, and as far as I was aware, none of my ances-tors on either of my parents’ side had been there during the time of the Raj or the East India Company. But there was this inexpli-cable fascination with India. In my mind, for years, had been an image ~ gleaned, no doubt, from the myths and fantasies I used to read in my younger years, that India was a place where gems lay thickly on the beds of crystal-clear streams and rivers like the Ganges, there for anyone to reach in and take. How disillu-sioned I was soon to be!

Bruce and I caught an overnight train from Ferozpore to Delhi, where we spent a couple of days having a quick look around ~ though little of that remains in my mind within easy recall now ~ before boarding a Bombay-bound train. Now, we’d heard that foreigners could ride the trains of India without tickets (as did the sadhus, fakirs, or holy-men), and not be bothered by the con-ductors, but this was soon revealed to be a myth, because no sooner had the train reached the outskirts of Delhi than the con-ductor came along, and finding we didn’t have tickets, uncere-moniously put us off the train when it next stopped soon after, not at a station, but out in the countryside (trains stop anywhere in India ~ sometimes for long periods and for no apparent rea-son ~ and not just at scheduled stops). With our tails between our legs, so to speak, we hitched a ride back to Delhi, and went through the procedure of applying for a reservation on a train to Bombay, using the fraudulent International Student Cards we’d bought in Kabul for $1, but which, accepted without question, entitled us to travel at half-fare on trains in India and Pakistan. What scoundrels we were; but we were just doing what so many others were doing, and saw nothing wrong with it.

It was a journey of over 24 hours to Bombay, and during it, I was to see for the first time king-sized cockroaches running around the carriages; I’d never seen such things before and didn’t know what they were, but when told, I began to stamp on them when they came within range.

Reaching Bombay, for the first time, too ~ there were so many ‘first time’ sounds, sights, smells, tastes and other experiences in India, and if it were possible to tell of them all, this narrative would never come to an end ~ I saw young coconuts, the kind that you drink from a hole chopped in the top, lying discarded on the streets, and didn’t know what they were until I saw people drinking their juice, as the only coconuts I’d seen until then were the de-husked ones of fairgrounds and fruit-stalls back home. There was so much to learn.

Well, after finding a hotel to stay for a few days, we went out ex-ploring, and without meaning to go there, soon found ourselves in the notorious Street of the Cages, the red-light district where the whores call out to prospective clients from inside barred house-fronts. Strangely, this area had been set up by the British during the Raj for the recreation of their troops, and women and girls ~ some of them very young and pretty ~ were procured from all over India and Nepal, and even beyond. Needless to say, we didn’t avail ourselves of the goods on offer, but I later met a German guy who did, and who had to resort to shots of penicillin to cure what he had picked up there!

Another ‘first’ in Bombay: while walking along near the port to book passage on the twice-weekly steamer to Panaji, Goa, we were approached by two heavily-made-up husky ~ what I in my naivete, and Bruce, too, took to be ~ whores, and it was a long minute or two before we realized they were transvestites; I was so young and had lived such a sheltered life until then, in spite of my travels, that I was innocent of such things, and Bruce was even moreso. They knew this, and made fun of us when they saw we weren’t going to respond to their advances, and moved off. (I later read a book called City of Joy about Calcutta’s most-terrible slum-area, in which it is said that there is a sort of sub-caste of such transvestites and eunuchs, even until today; they are bought from poor families at a very young age and cas-trated, and later earn their living by dancing, singing and per-forming ceremonies at weddings, funerals and so on, and if they don’t get the considerable sums they demand for these services, they become abusive and curse people with profanities. They are looked down on, but are otherwise tolerated and not beaten up or killed as they probably would be in western countries).

Our steamer-trip down the coast to Panaji took two days and nights, and it was balmy enough to sleep on deck, and enjoy-able but for the bedbugs that infested the benches, and which would creep out, even in the daytime, but moreso at night, to avail themselves of any exposed flesh. This was my first en-counter with these loathsome creatures, which varied from pin-head to lentil-size, depending upon their age; they smell horrible when squashed, and you’d come across them all over India in those days, even in the wooden-slatted benches in trains and post-offices, but in later years were seldom seen; I don’t under-stood why, but it was big a plus!

Disembarking at Panaji, we got a bus to Calangut, the main ‘scene’ at Goa for hippies from all over. Many people rented thatched cottages and huts from the fisher-folk for a few dollars a month, and filled them with their friends, or shared the costs with others, like ourselves. I met and moved in with a guy from Beirut by the name of Hussaid el Jabri who looked like an Old Testament prophet, as he wore a potato-sack with holes cut in it for his head and arms, and was, of course ~ like a majority of hippy-guys ~ bearded. I don’t know if he was originally Muslim or Christian, but he was a nice guy.

There were maybe 500 people at the Xmas party on the beach, and the setting was idyllic, with the phosphorescent sea on one side, and the full moon rising through the coconut palms on the other. There was a lot of dope-smoking going on; some people had taken LSD and other stuff. Various musical instruments were being played, and some food was shared around; some people had got together to buy a pig, which was roasting over an open fire. How long it all went on I don’t know, as I fell into a drugged sleep on the sand, and when I awoke, cold, damp and stiff, I found few others around me, so I got up and went home.

Goa’s beaches were pristine, and go on for miles and miles, which is why people were attracted there; it was idyllic, espe-cially at the end and the beginning of the year, when it wasn’t yet hot. We felt free to do our own thing, and really, anything went. India is a very conservative country, and soon, Indians were coming from all over to see naked ~ and I mean nude ~ hippies lying on the beach; sexually-repressed men of all ages would come to ogle the girls, and now and then, because it was news, the authorities sent police to arrest a few people for inde-cent exposure, but generally, we were left alone, and I regret to say that many of us took advantage of it and abused it. It’s hard to say what the Goans themselves thought of it as many had benefitted, financially, from this alien invasion, and must have been changed by it all. One guy appeared in Calangute market wearing nothing more than a torn-out front-pocket of his jeans tied around his genitals! And although he might have been an exception, it was not by much. Totally insensitive and inconsid-erate of others, we were mad! Drug-abuse had caused lots of people to freak out, and their erratic behavior must have caused considerable consternation; there were not a few cases of death by overdose; some people were found dead on the beach.

Many people were into the ‘hipper-than-thou’ trip, playing mind-games with others, and there was no shortage of cheats and thieves; the hippie ideals of love, peace and sharing were not much in evidence; it was already a sick scene. This is not to say there were no good people there, of course, because there were. And there were two kinds of drug-users: light and heavy; by light, I mean those who smoked hash and marijuana and perhaps took LSD occasionally, and by heavy, people who had become junkies, injecting heroin and such like. The two groups usually avoided each other.

I’d met an English junkie on the boat from Bombay who ap-peared destitute (as many junkies were), so I paid for him a meal. In Goa, however, he ignored me and didn’t speak even when we ran into each other, until one day, with no place to stay, he asked if he could stay at mine; I reluctantly agreed. His behavior, however, was too bad, and one morning, I heard a commotion outside, and went to see what it was all about. The locals were upset ~ understandably ~ because this fellow, in-stead of using the toilet like everyone else did, had gone and defecated on the sand and hadn’t even bothered to cover it up, just like a dog! I threw him out!

A note here on the toilet-system there: There were, of course, no flush-toilets; the Goan-style consisted of a palm-leaf-screened-in cement platform with a slope at the back, down which fell your droppings, which were eagerly devoured by the black, bristle-backed pigs that very often were waiting to receive your offerings. It was a bit off-putting at first, to hear these ani-mals grunting away and obviously enjoying themselves so close to one’s delicate parts!

Many Goans spoke Portuguese, as Goa had been under Portu-gal for 500 years. Probably because Portugal was one of their long-standing allies, the Brits hadn’t taken over and absorbed it into their empire as they’d done with the several tiny French en-claves in India. In 1947, when the Raj finally ended and India became independent, the federal government allowed Goa to remain under Portugal until it felt brave enough to liberate and incorporate it into India in 1963, not long before it was discov-ered by the hippies.

Most people would go to the village post-office now and then to check if they had mail at the Poste Restante desk. Now, Poste Restante was a usually-free service provided by most post-offices worldwide and still is. People would write to their families and friends and give as a return-address the Poste Restante ~ let’s say ~ in Bombay, India, and this was enough for mail to reach them there. It was very convenient, and I often used it ~ and occasionally still do ~ in various countries around the world when I had no other address. However, I generally asked people to use only aerograms when writing to me, in order for their let-ters to have a better chance of reaching me; aerograms may not contain anything, you see, and so form no temptation to anyone who might otherwise feel inclined to open envelopes in search of easy money. I and countless others lost letters that way. Later on, I was given a tip on how to foil the would-be post-office thieves: Put your letter and whatever else you want to send in-side the envelope and seal down the flap, but before the gum has time to dry lift the flap again, and if it’s a little torn or crum-pled from doing so, all the better. Then, apply some gum in sev-eral points along the flap ~ but not completely ~ and stick it down again, so that it clearly appears to have been opened. Anyone looking at it thereafter might conclude, ‘No point in opening this one ~ someone beat me to it’!

Goa was a ‘wet state’ ~ that is, manufacture, sale and consump-tion of alcohol was allowed, unlike in some other states where prohibition was in force, not that we cared much about alcohol as such, but as foreigners, we were allowed ‘liquor-permits,’ is-sued free at Government of India tourist offices in one’s name, which we could use to legally take liquor from one state to an-other, and upon leaving Goa to return to Bombay in Maharash-tra ~ a ‘dry state’ ~ it was quite common for people, covered by their liquor-permit, to take half-a-dozen bottles or more of feni (cashew-liquor) with them to sell there; it paid for the cost of the steamer, at least; anything to make a little money, as most trav-elers were not very wealthy, and what money they had with them had to last as long as possible; remember, most of us had come overland from Europe, hitch-hiking or by bus or train, rather than jetting in, and lived very frugally. Even the liquor-permits could be sold.

One day, in Panaji, I bought some cashew-fruits. I knew what cashew-nuts were, but had never seen the fruit before; I recog-nized them from the nut-case at the bottom of the fruit. Not knowing that the nuts had to be got at by roasting the cases over a fire, when small flames shoot out, I bit into the shell, only to get my lips burnt by strong acid therein ~ similar, apparently, to that of poison-oak or poison-ivy. I ran to a nearby soft-drinks stand and quickly drank several bottles to assuage the burning sensation; another lesson learned: never bite the shell of a cashew-nut. The fruit itself is very strange: pear-shaped, soft, and full of juice, but when eaten, it dries your mouth out; the proper way to eat it ~ I later learned from Vietnamese when I was in the Philippines ~ is to sprinkle salt on it, and it thereby becomes sweet; this works with other sour fruit, as well.

The hash from my shoes was either smoked, given away or sold in small amounts. Hash in India cost more than in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and there was definitely a market for it in Goa.
After some weeks in Calangute, I headed out with Bruce again, and a friendly, easy-going guy from Sydney named Laurie, back to Bombay, where we sold our liquor. Laurie had been in India longer than us, and so acted as a sort of guide. He introduced us to the gastronomic pleasure of the South Indian dish known as dosa, which became and remains maybe my favorite food; it is a kind of pancake or crepe made of rice-flour, served with a thin spicy sauce and coconut chutney; I often think of Laurie when I eat dosa). From Bombay, we went north to Agra, where a visit to the Taj Mahal was a must, and in fact, the main reason for going there, and though I’ve been back several times since, I’ll never forget that time.


The Incomparable Taj Mahal, Agra

The gleaming domes and minarets are visible from afar, but awe and suspense mounted as we got nearer to the vast walled compound. Entering the gate ~ itself a marvel ~ I gasped, for there, beyond the symmetry of the reflecting pool and geometri-cal gardens, shimmered the pearly vision we’d come to see. It seemed so near that I felt I could reach out and touch the smooth white marble, but the tiny figures up against it reminded me that it was actually still some distance away.

Walking reverently down the path, we reached the terrace and removed our sandals; the marble was so cool; did it not, like other stone, absorb the sun’s heat? With heightened rapture, we approached the shrine, its walls inset with arabesques and floral motifs done in gem-stones ~ agate, jade, turquoise, lapis lazuli, carnelian ~ 28 kinds all told. Through the massive doorway we passed into the shaded interior of the tomb, where two magnifi-cent but empty sarcophagi stand; the bones of Shah Jahan, and those of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, in memory of whom he had raised the mausoleum, lie in exact replicas of these in a crypt di-rectly below; his wife’s grave occupies central place, while his is alongside hers. The dome is so immense and lofty that the slightest sound causes an echo. There were few tourists at the time, so we were able to enjoy this wonder in peace (it is differ-ent now, sad to say). I recall the thrill I felt to play a flute inside; the silvery sounds reverberated and lingered on the still, cool air!

There were many birds and animals in the Taj gardens. Green parrots screeched their zig-zag way between the trees, halting abruptly against trunk or limb; ubiquitous crows cawed hungrily, eyes keen for food-scraps; palm-squirrels scampered hither and thither, tails a-twitch; the occasional mongoose could also be seen, alert for snakes. Soaring on high, vultures effortlessly rose on the thermal currents, scanning the earth beneath for signs of death; on land, their ungainly bodies are repulsive, but in the air they are graceful masters of flight; the turn of a feather or twist of a wing-tip sends them spiraling higher, or plunging swiftly; it was fascinating to watch them until they were just tiny dots against the boundless blue. Nor were they alone in their airy realm; it was shared by birds of prey: eagles, hawks and kites.

Security wasn’t as tight as it later became, so we remained in-side the gardens after closing-time, though we knew it was for-bidden (nice to break the law sometimes, isn’t it? We did no harm). Spreading our sleeping-kit on the lawns, we settled down to watch, and within the space of twelve hours, we were privi-leged to see the Taj change in different lights: sunset, rain, full-moon, and sunrise ~ a pleasure few can have had.

While standing on the platform of the Taj, overlooking the muddy and polluted River Jumna that flows sluggishly behind it, we saw a human corpse come floating slowly past, with a vulture perched on it, pecking and tearing away. It was a fascinating if macabre sight, but nothing out of the ordinary in India, where life is lived in the raw. We’d already seen shacks on the streets of Bombay ~ if they could be called shacks: old tarpaulins, card-board boxes, jute sacks and odds and ends of various other ma-terials thrown up against walls and fences to screen and shelter the occupants from view and weather, wherein they lived their lives, made love, gave birth, raised their families, and faced death; such was home to many people who’d been drawn to the city from villages hoping for a better life than they’d left behind.

Laurie had been to Agra before, so was again our guide, taking us to places like the immense Red Fort, which had been built by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century, and the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah ~ father of Emperor Jehangir’s powerful, influential and ruthless wife, Nur Jehan ~ the rich inlays of semi-precious stones of which inspired the building of the Taj years later.

Then on to Delhi, where we split up; Bruce went to Benares, to learn to play the sitar before returning to Canada; I forget where Laurie went, and never saw either of them again. I went back to Pakistan, with the idea of buying more hash to take back to sell in Goa. I crossed the border to Lahore, but thinking it would not be easy to find the stuff there, I took the train to Quetta, a long ride through the desert and the famed Baluchistan It was so cold when I got there, and I slept on a table in the station waiting-room with just a thin cotton sheet to cover me (my old sleeping bag had long gone, sold for next-to-nothing to someone on the boat from Haifa to Istanbul, in an attempt to lighten my load), and the next day ventured forth in search of hash. How vulnerable I was hardly bears thinking of now, as Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, a wild province where tribal law holds. Anyway, unable to find what I wanted, I returned to Lahore and soon got 3 kgs for $30 with no trouble at all. In my hotel-room, I carefully wrapped it in strong plastic, sealed it with scotch-tape and, having acquired the necessary road-permit, set out for the border with it hanging down my back in three pack-ages, concealed ~ I hopefully thought ~ by a voluminous shirt, but probably looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Once again, my luck held, and I passed undetected, and with a sense of relief, was soon on the long journey back to Goa, my pack-ages now in my bag. I stopped in Bombay again, and before boarding the steamer, bought three carved wooden elephants, some red velvet, sticks of sealing-wax, and a chisel.

Back in Calangute, I entrusted some of my haul to an old Eng-lish hippie to sell for me, but he ripped me off; my mistake, but there was little I could do about it. I went into Panaji one day and found a machine-shop where I had 3-cm holes drilled deep into my elephants’ backs; the guys who did it suspected that I in-tended to smuggle gold inside; if only they’d known! Back at my beach-house ~ and this time, I’d taken over Hussaid’s place ~ with the chisel, I further hollowed out the elephants ~ which were about 5 inches tall, and 3 inches wide ~ until there was a size-able cavity, and then tightly packed the hash inside, rammed it down, and melted sealing-wax over it to make it as air-tight as possible to contain the strong smell; and over this, glued a piece of the velvet to appear as a traditional ‘howdah-cloth’. Satisfied that my handiwork looked quite professional, I mailed 2 of them to my home-address and the third to Jeanne’s home in Amster-dam, and they were all awaiting me when I got back from India. Nor did I have any qualms about my drug-dealing and smug-gling, telling myself it was only a ‘soft’ drug that didn’t cause ad-diction ~ so I had heard and believed ~ unlike ‘hard’ drugs such as heroin or cocaine; my conscience had been dulled by the lifestyle I’d been living and the company I’d kept. Much later, I realized that addiction is more in the mind than the body, and we may become addicted to practically anything; indeed, because of our proclivity to addiction ~ grasping and becoming attached to things ~ most of us are addicted to something or other, and unless we understand the mechanisms of the mind, there won’t be much we can do about it.

I remained in Goa some more weeks until I thought it time to head back to Europe; before doing so, I hollowed out a tablet of Lifebuoy (strong-smelling carbolic soap), inserted a piece of hash in it, then dropped it in the sand to make it look as if it had been used; I intended to carry this back to England with me. Then, bidding farewell to the friends I was leaving, once again boarded the steamer for Bombay, where ~ alone, this time ~ I caught a train at the Raj-era Victoria Terminal to Benares; I couldn’t leave India without seeing this ancient and holiest-of-holy Hindu city on a bend of the Ganges, where many ‘firsts’ awaited me. I passed through the crowded streets to the ghats ~ banks of steps leading down to the river ~ where I saw people worshipping, bathing in the filthy water, and even drinking it, blissfully engrossed in their activities; under palm-leaf parasols, Brahmin priests sat cross-legged, chanting mantras and per-forming pujas for those willing to pay their fees; beggars and lepers missing fingers, toes and sometimes noses, mingled with the pious, asking alms and receiving small coins, as means of making merit, and what better place to do this? Elderly and sick people come from all over India to Benares, hoping to spend their remaining time here, as this is one of several thirtas or fords, where it is easy to cross from this world to heaven; it is considered that to die in this holy place is a great blessing. Corpses, too, are brought here from far and wide, to be cre-mated at the Burning Ghats; there are always processions wending through the narrow streets and lanes leading to these ghats, with shrouded bodies carried high on stretchers; coffins are not used. I followed people through the maze of lanes and alleys to the place of fire and smoke and odor of burning flesh, where, day and night, cremations are always going on.

Standing aside, I watched in stunned silence. The people in charge of the pyres are so used to their grisly tasks that they perform them nonchalantly, raking the still-smoking ash of one fire into the river a few feet away in order to stack up the wood for the next; of a particularly low sub-caste known as Doms, these men are looked down upon by higher-borns, as handling the dead is defiling work; but, knowing their work indispensible, they charge what they like, and many of them are very wealthy, especially their mafia-like godfathers.


Benares (Varanasi) on the River Ganges

Watching the cremations, I stared in horror as a leg of one corpse suddenly bent at the knee, and thought, “Damn, it’s still alive!” but it was only the tendons contracting with the heat. Sadhus crouched among the ashes of the dead ~ ash-smeared, emaciated, naked except for brief loincloths, long hair matted, foreheads bearing marks denoting their preferred sect of Shivaism or Vishnuism ~ contemplating the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. Such sadhus were common sights in those days, many of them fakes and beggars who took up the lifestyle for an easy living, but some genuine and impres-sive; it was said there were about 9 million of them; over the years, however, I saw fewer and fewer of them and wondered what had happened, whether they had retreated to the moun-tains or forests, given up and ‘returned to the world,’ or simply died. I also noticed a change in Indian culture ~ and not for the better, either; many Indians have lost their faith and become more materialistic and less spiritual, especially in the cities and towns, and this is glaringly evident in the great number of so-called ‘dowry-deaths’. Most Indians, however, don’t have the opportunity to indulge their desires that people in the West do, but that doesn’t mean the desire isn’t there. Of course, there are still refined and spiritual Indians, but the common Western belief about India being a very spiritual land is just a myth. Religious superstition is common, but that is so everywhere, is it not?

“As India’s own statistics show, a ‘dowry death’ occurs every 100 minutes, when in-laws cause the death of a new bride if they decide she has not brought a sufficiently large dowry. This is often described as a ‘kitchen’ death, with the unlikely story that kerosene, the most common fuel used for cooking, some-how splashed onto the daughter-in-law and burned her to death before anyone could save her. A consequence of this is that every couple wants to have a male child.” (From “Culture Smart! India”). Few of these murderers are brought to justice and con-victed, and the husbands remain free to marry again and get another dowry.

The saddest thing about these awful crimes, and the hardest to understand, is that the mother-in-laws ~ who are probably the real culprits, having instigated their sons to do the dreadful deeds ~ have been brides themselves, so should know how it is to be in that sad, unenviable position and sympathize with their daughter-in-laws. It is often women themselves, therefore, who oppose and retard the lawful rights of women as a whole, when they should be in the front line! They betray their gender.

The greater value placed upon males over females, has caused the high abortion-rates of female fetuses and rampant female in-fanticide, with the consequence being that there are 35 million fewer females than males in this nation.

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