I don’t usually listen to music when I’m writing, because it tends to interfere with my imagination. The only exception to this in my experience occurred when I wrote the first draft of my story “Mr Nathwani’s Haiku” in one burst whilst listening to an Asha Bhosle compilation. Well, there’s cultural tourism for you.
I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any films where Asha Bhosle is singing on the soundtrack, which is something I really must rectify one of these days, because she has one of the most extraordinary voices on the planet. I think when I eventually get around to it I may well start with Caravan, because this clip, where she sings Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, is so utterly batshit crazy:
The music is a mad amalgam of everything John Barry and Ennio Morricone ever wrote, plus a whole load of other stuff including the cheesiest few notes ever played on a Hammond organ. And I really want to know what on earth is going on in that bizarre set (whose idea was the slide, for example?)
Actually, I’ll be honest: I’ve seen very few Bollywood films full stop. Last year, however, we watched Jodhaa Akhbar on the recommendation of one of Mrs P’s work colleagues, and it was probably one of the factors that swung us towards India for our hols. If you want epic cinema on the scale that Hollywood doesn’t do any more (and, no, CGI doesn’t count, I’m afraid), you can’t get much better than this (even though as far as I remember, it was pretty much ignored by the mainstream UK press when it came out). As it turned out, it was also a great way of preparing to visit Rajasthan, because the protagonists were both big players in the history of the area, and several of the places that we went to were key locations in the film (lovingly recreated in a Mumbai backlot).
So one of the things that we really wanted to do when we went to India was go and see a Bollywood film. We ended up going to the Raj Mandir in Jodhpur, which it turned out was one of the best cinemas in the whole of India. This is what it looked like from the outside:
And this is what it looked like inside:
They don’t build ‘em like that any more.
The film itself, Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge, was a comedy, and a fairly broad one at that, and it was pretty easy to work out what was going on most of the time (a fart joke being a fart joke in any language, after all) and there was a nice twist at the end. The central character was clearly a popular actor, because he got a round of applause when he first appeared. The only disappointment was the fact that there were relatively few song and dance numbers, but all in all it was an excellent evening out, and very cheap even in the ever-so-posh and ultra-comfortable diamond class seats.
Right. We’re well overdue for another photo from India, so here are a couple of pictures of an opium ceremony that we attended in a Brahmin village near Rohet (not far from Jodhpur):
Strictly speaking, opium use is as illegal here as everywhere else in India, but the authorities tend to turn a blind eye to its traditional use in rural communities like this one. As with all drug-taking, there is an elaborate ritual involved and an equally elaborate excuse as to why the drugs are required. The ritual involves the guy in charge – the one in the middle of the picture above – offering the recipient the opium solution in the palm of his hand, after the solution has passed through a muslin bag several times to purify it:
As to why they need to take drugs, well, it’s like this. They work hard in the fields all day, but because they are strict vegetarians, they need a little boost to help them. Of course, it’s only the men who do this, because it obviously wouldn’t be right for women to take part in the ceremony. It was left to Mrs P to point out to me later the obvious truth that there were an awful lot more women working in the fields – not to say building sites – than men. These women also seemed to be coping with wielding some fairly heavy equipment without apparent recourse to narcotics.
By the way, those fabulous turbans are most definitely not worn for the benefit of tourists. Pretty much all the men in rural Rajasthan wear them, although if you’re the oldest surviving male in your family you have the honour of wearing a white one. Frankly, I think they’ve got this the wrong way around. Wearing psychedelic headgear should be a privilege to aspire to, not a given.
Thought it might be a nice idea to break up the stream of posts about Mrs Darcy with the occasional holiday snap. It’s traditional to start with a street scene, complete with cows wandering everywhere, but I felt that this was a little clichéd. So instead, here’s a street scene with an elephant:
This was taken in the market in Jodhpur, not far from the wholesale outlet where Richard Gere buys his textiles (and, yes, we were shown the pictorial evidence). I have no idea what the elephant was doing there – it certainly wasn’t there for the benefit of us tourists – but I like the fact that it managed to plod quite happily through the market without anyone making a big fuss. India’s full of unexpected stuff like that. More to follow …
BTW, quite coincidentally, my fellow writer James Burt, who I’ve bumped into a couple of times on the short story circuit, was in the same part of India at the same time as we were (although he’d been in the country for two months rather than just two weeks), and he’s publishing some fascinating stuff about his trip here.