Monty’s Indian Outlook – Issue 75

I was stuck in an internet cafe between two patchouli-stinking raving hippies and I bitterly regretted spilling that cup of coffee over my lovely laptop.

There was nothing worse than listening to their banal Skype conversations about revision and Glastonbury tickets, as well as other shrieks in Hebrew and Anglo-Indian to deal with, so please accept my apologies about sending this editorial editorial out prematurely; I had a lot to deal with.

I have been in Dharamsala for the past week after a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which maintains its sanctity but not its hygiene. I drank the holy water and spent two days squatting over a toilet. Not easy, these pilgrimages.

But the squits was nothing to Tuesday’s disaster when a complete cup of cappuccino fell into my laptop and I felt like Marcel Duchamp hanging it out to dry on the terrace.

For the uninitiated, one of Duchamp’s more surreal experiments was to leave a book on a clothes-line and see what the wind did to it… the answer I presume was blowing in the wind.

As it was, I was told it could be fixed. There are many PC experts in Dharamsala due to constant hacking of local businesses by the Chinese. At a guest house we stayed in last year, all recipients of its mailing list were sent an email that went along the lines of ‘I’m in London, had all my belongings stolen, please send money here’.

As scams go, this was a particularly believable one so I had high hopes for my soaked laptop, but such hopes that were in vain, the keyboard is destroyed and I had to write a 500-word piece on an ‘on-screen keyboard’. Believe me, that’s worse than any patchouli-reeking raving hippy.

But no joy, perhaps the Chinese prevented it being fixed because they’re blamed for just about everything in Dharamasala, and when you’re in the middle of a puja at the lamasery, it’s easy to see why. Tibetans are the dudes of the planet.

I can say what I like about raving hippies, because we are told that the people we despise the most are the people we most used to resemble, and believe me, I WAS a totally raving hippy in my time. So, perhaps it’s the ageing curmudgeon in me, but at least these people are unlikely to leave Dharamsala and return to their respective societies as murderers, thieves and bad people.

So, for today only, I am going to smile just like them, do my namastes just like them, pick up a guitar and join the odd jam, but next week I’m going back to Goa, fix that laptop and join the working world again. Or maybe not.

Monty’s Indian Outlook – Issue 74

The Indian education system rarely spares the rod and a bizarre incident at a Surat private where schoolchildren were made to walk barefoot on fire and glass pieces only underscores this medieval system.

The schoolchildren between the ages of 10 and 14 at the Rivervale School were paraded IN FRONT OF THEIR PARENTS to ‘help them gain confidence’. There was not one single objection to the practice from one mother or father.

According to an unnamed source at the school, most of the children cried during their ordeal and some suffered injuries, but ‘their parents kept watching’. Think about that at next year’s Christmas party if some readers think their kids are being pushed too hard.

Corporal punishment is endemic in Indian schools, and as the case above shows, not only in general education. One of the most difficult decisions I have faced since relocating here is which school to choose, not unlike those in the UK, but the consequences of getting it wrong here are catastrophic.

Perhaps there are those that smack their child and think it right, perhaps there are those who believe that teachers hitting pupils makes ‘men/women’ out of them, but I think any adult who hits a child is a coward, and will be for life.

Naturally, my innate hypocrisy means that if anybody hit my boy I would go right round there and attempt to beat the shit out of that person, but sometimes a bit of adult-on-adult violence is justified. I’ll always believe that.

If I want my child to walk on fire and broken pieces of glass, I’ll send him to a circus-training school where he’ll be taught properly, but my wife and I have somewhat higher plans for the young chap. He’s actually quite funny, so we won’t stop him if he wants to be a clown.

Seriously though, take a bow everybody at Surat’s Riverdale school for your abusive policy and, in this land of Karma, let’s hope you burn and cut your feet at some pleasant time in the future.

As for the parents, I hope you burn in hell.

Monty’s Indian Outlook – Issue 73

It’s been 16 years since I slept for two nights in the Golden Temple in Amritsar and it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow because I’m knackered and I want room service.

Furthermore, I have shown the manager of this hotel a picture of me with my new Bollywood mates and I am playing the movie star card with aplomb. Already a basket of fruit has been sent to my room. No champagne yet, but you never know.

But, enough of such bombast and boasting. Tomorrow I will sleep at the Golden Temple, the home of the Sikh religion and one of the most extraordinary places on earth.

Sixteen years ago I travelled with only one electrical item. No laptop, no mobile, no chargers, no digital camera, no Smartphone, no noise reduction headphones, just a Dictaphone to record Indian sounds.

And the best ‘footage’ I have of the many valued tapes I made on that trip are the choirs of Amritsar at 4am.

Rather like the murmurings of mosques when the day breaks on Kashmir’s Nigeen lake, they are hypnotic and wonderful.

In the temple itself, food is provided for all visitors as well as a place on the floor for the night and a blanket. Sikhs come and talk to you, explain their religion and a discourse ensues. It is like being in Ancient Greece and nobody tries to proselytise.

I was taken around the lake to the temple in the middle and the realisation that the waters around me were once filled with bodies in the bloodied history of the temple was a humbling experience.

Times change, no doubt, and my body may find the floor more uncomfortable than the soft bed I write this missive from, but something tells me tomorrow will be special and the choirs will awaken my heart.

In the interim, I shall open my beer and sit back and watch India v Australia in the World Cup Twenty20 Super Eights, arrange my digital equipment so I don’t leave anything behind and then I will return to magic.

Monty’s Indian Outlook – Issue 73

The Jharkhand Government’s idea to give free mobile phones to 200 village leaders to send tip-offs about Maoist terrorists has backfired somewhat.

The security forces have correctly pointed out that not only is it hard to distinguish between village mavens and Maoists, it also makes those leaders become immediate targets for the rebels, who steal the mobiles and then give out false information to the Police.

The mind boggles at the Government’s utter ineptitude at suggesting such an idea. Apparently, they promised to pay the mobile bills of all participating headmen, but also warned them about ‘misuse’ of the mobiles.

Talk about robbing Deepika to pay Umbika. That’s like a UK rozzer giving his informer money for information but telling him to spend it wisely.

That reminds me of a story. I once knew hippies in New Zealand’s North Island who grew marijuana on a farm that the Police could only access by helicopter. Irritated by their crops being destroyed they finally realised the cops could only get fuel from ONE petrol station in the area. Yep, they bought the station. Problem over.

So it is with the Maoists who blow up mobile masts to prevent any such communication and who command growing support from local people who are under presidential rule, which ensures Delhi’s direct control over its administration. More than 80% of the population are farmers and the state is beyond poor.

A campaign by the Hindustan Times has shown that children suffering from malnutrition have red-hot irons plunged into their stomachs to cure them. ‘The more they scream, the more germs are killed,’ said one enlightened local.

So a mobile phone give-away is hardly going to help these benighted people; it is investment that is needed to teach locals that such tribal traditions are harmful. Or even the odd doctor. Jharkhand has 2,200 doctors for 30 million people, that’s one doctor for 10,000 people, one of the worst ratios in the world.

And what makes all this so insane is that Jharkhand has more than 40% of India’s minerals including iron ore, coal, copper, bauxite and even uranium. So the stakes are high. India’s government would love to knock out a few forests to get at that lot.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the ‘single biggest threat’ to India’s security, so why doesn’t he do something about it?

Giving away mobile phones isn’t the answer, but unless he thinks fast it’s going to be too late. Jharkhand will fall to the Maoists and India will start falling apart.

Monty’s Indian Outlook – Issue 71

The Bollywood film crew had left six lines of cocaine on the breakfast table in my friends’ house as they prepared their two children for school.

Not really the example you want to set for your kids even though you’re being paid a fortune to rent out your house for a movie, but fortunately the ‘cocaine’ was just props for that day’s filming.

Well, that’s what the film set people said. Cynic as I am, it’s like William Burroughs telling his Parisian landlady that the needle hanging out of his arm is for diabetes, not his beloved heroin.

As some of you may have already realised, I have a role in this movie, Dum Maro Dum or the imaginatively titled Take A Hit. I am the British baddie and after only three days’ filming, this has proved to be an infinitely different experience from my first movie as a 1930s British officer when I had a stick-on moustache and wore the heaviest uniform in film history.

The scenes in this film have involved an all-day Goa party on Vagator beach and an all-night rave in the forest and I have to give the scriptwriter credit, it has been like going back in time 16 years. The forest scene even had a police raid, just like the good old days of 1994 at that old Portuguese fort I can’t remember the name of.

On set itself, I’ve never had my picture taken so many times surrounded by beautiful women. When I told one of them I was a ‘British drug-dealer’ in the film, she told me I looked more like somebody who would lend her a beautiful book. She should have been French, but was Norwegian.

Not the best testament to my acting skills, but these things don’t happen every day (like they used to, I may ADD). And the things women do to get in the scene. When they realised I was on first-name terms with Abishek Bachchan (the chief cop) and that I was ‘dancing’ in the same place every scene it was like being James Foxx in Las Vegas. Hilarious.

I go back to filming in Mumbai in the first week of May and no doubt there will be more stories to tell, but for now, I’m on holiday in Uttarkhand in the Himalayas knowing that the mountains I can see aren’t props, they are the real thing. At least I think they are.