The can of worms
‘A man never feels truly alive until he is hunted.’
At the time, it came out of context. In my local, the pub where I felt comfortable and safe. From a man I considered a friend.
I was drinking a pint of draft Guinness. The landlord was a grumpy middle age man I had known since my late teens. I remember him slender younger but over the years he had allowed his girth to spread and the misery of his life told tales across his face. He had been collecting beer glasses from the empty tables behind me and I was leaning with elbows pressed against the bar.
It was tea time and the pub was quieter than usual he turned his head in my general direction and spoke those words that still haunt me, more than a decade on. Softly, for my ears only.
I felt he knew something. That he had a vague knowledge of my past and of my future. He seemed pleased with himself. I was left trying to work it out. Only now am I starting to appreciate what he meant.
‘They can make you so paranoid’. These words were whispered to me.
Mid September 2002
Back then New Delhi still slept at night, but my introduction was loud and frightening. As if the hunt had begun almost as I arrived.
In the year before I left home, warnings became more frequent and direct. Not from my inner circle of mates but from dodgy blokes I’d befriended along the way.
Life had dealt me an eclectic mixture of interesting associates. There were journalists and informers, police officers and drug dealers, publicans and private detectives. Mum once said ‘be careful who you mix with in life’. I should have listened.
My journey started from Birmingham International Airport, not far from home. I was happy and relieved a new chapter in my life was beginning. I had wanted this moment. I had dreamed of it.
Most of my fellow passengers got off in the United Arab Emirates where we’d had a short stop-over. When we eventually landed in New Delhi I was almost alone, I collected my rucksack quickly from the baggage area and passed through immigration. I felt really good.
India is different, normal rules do not apply. On arrival you do not just hail a taxi outside. After I changed Travellers’ Cheques for rupees I went to the government-controlled pre-paid taxi booth where I ‘secured my taxi’. I didn’t think much of it, but I noticed two portly officials exchange my driver three times before we were allowed to leave.
I felt relaxed. More relaxed than when I’d first arrived in Mumbai three years before with my elderly Grandfather. I was not a newcomer to India I was aware arriving here alone could prove challenging.
Though I had been offered the middle seats I chose to sit next to the driver. Slight of build and dressed in regulation khaki uniform. We said ‘hello’. My knees were jammed against the plastic dashboard.
The pungent odour of post monsoon New Delhi filled my nostrils that evening. It has a unique smell quite unlike any where else I’ve ever visited. Whilst not entirely unpleasant it permeates your soul.
‘New Delhi, sir?’ ‘Connaught place please’ I said confidently, pretending I knew my destination.
We joined the Old Gurgaon Road.
Even early in the morning all manner of traffic occupy India’s streets. Cars and taxis auto-rickshaws, Lorries, along with bullock-driven carts, jostle for space.
My young driver thrashed the engine, hogging the outside lane for the first few miles, refusing to be bullied from position.
It was then I became aware that the chase had begun. I heard the sound of distant sirens. Police?
If I was their prey, their intelligence must have been spot on. I saw the red and blue flashing lights grow brighter, bouncing off every surface within the white Suzuki taxi van.
I looked over my right shoulder and tried my best to peer through the small square window in the back of the van. I couldn’t see much. I leaned out of the window. I saw it was police.
I glared at the driver. He didn’t seem bothered, he gave a gentle Indian head shrug but I was panicking. I’d just arrived in the country and now I felt on edge. Were the police after me? There weren’t any drugs in my luggage. I hadn’t smoked anything for months. Had I been set up? Had the driver switch been planned?
The intermittent glow from over-head orange street lamps made visibility inconsistent, the disorientation of this only made my anxiety worse. As the police vehicle swerved menacingly behind us I pleaded with the driver to pull over.
Hotels and guest houses of all standards and sizes lined our route. Stray dogs and street dwellers lurked amongst the shadows.
Words that had first been uttered in a Midlands pub were now ringing loudly in my ears. ‘These people can find you anywhere’. I’d been told.
The police car passed us. I was safe I thought, but immediately the chase began afresh. This time they were definitely after me.
Another police car caught up with us. My driver once calm began to panic but sensibly this time he pulled across the expressway and stopped. A police officer ran from his vehicle screaming at us. At this point I raised my hands in the air. He shone his touch in our faces in anger he smashed it against our windscreen. The windscreen shattered.
A huge lorry that was travelling at terrific speed passed within inches of the police officer, our taxi shuck. It was so close it caught our breath as it passed. More police chased behind. Of cause they were not chasing after me.
There was a moment of quiet before my driver put his hands to the top pocket of his shirt and he pulled out a Beedi. He struck a match, breathed, lit it then inhaled.
Welcome to India I thought.
Two months prior to my journey I began disposing of unwanted possessions. Slowly as completion date approached absent of all carpets and furniture the old house echoed, an empty property no longer a home. Wallpaper that I hung the only visible reminder of my presence.
The first night at Hotel Bright.
We arrived in the very heart of New Delhi, Connaught Place. My driver took me exactly where he wanted to take me, straight to his cousins travel shop. He presumed I would at least go into the shop; I refused to move from my seat.
The name and address of the hotel had been clearly written on the slip of paper at the pre-paid taxi booth. I pointed and said ‘take me here, NOW’. It was late and I was in no mood to play the part of confused polite foreigner.
We drove around the outer ring of Connaught circle; neon advertising hoardings covered tall white pillars. Mock Regency splendour built with Indian hands during the days of my ancestors. We found Hotel Bright, I went inside. It was nothing of the sought.
My passport and visa details were registered in a large book by a fat man at reception, I paid up front. Slovenly he lead me bare foot to my room. It was small and rectangular. The yellow nicotine-stained walls were possibly cream or white once. I closed the double doors behind me; they did not meet in the middle. There were two single beds pressed against opposite walls with a television set dividing them. I dropped my rucksack on one and sat on the other.
That rucksack contained the one item I genuinely valued, my reliable old camera, a Bronica SQAi my companion on this trip. Roll after roll of medium format black and white film filled more space than clothes. Concealed in a thin wallet wrapped around my waist was £5000 in Traveller’s cheques and my plane ticket home. I knew this was a defining moment in my life, trying not to worry about past or future.
I turned the old television on, it had a dial to change channels a type I had not seen from my childhood. It hissed , produced bright static light but no picture. I turned it off rolled a cigarette lay on the thin mattress; I have never felt more alone. The present suddenly felt an uncertain place.
I remembered back home in my local pub. The informer sat next to me he looked at me and said ‘you’re better off lying down and taking your punishment, if you don’t you’ll have to get out, you’ll never get to see your friends or family again’. As he said this I sat transfixed as he picked his nose and gently rolled it between thumb and index finger. I continued drinking my pint. He seemed pleased with himself. Job done.
Hotel Yes Please
I had left the light on and woke early. Staring upwards I noticed that the electric cable was the only thing connecting the long florescent strip light to the ceiling. I had slept fully clothed and thank god because the sheet I was laying on was disgusting. Some of its stains were human.
I thumbed the accommodation pages of my guide book. I checked the mid-range section. This was not the time for budget rooms I put my rucksack on my shoulders and headed by auto-rickshaw for Main Bazaar Pahar Ganj.
I moved into the gloriously named, Hotel Yes Please. It had polished white marbled floors high ceilings and mirrored walls. The middle aged man behind the counter seemed friendly and stood smiling. A young man in pristine white clothing performed Puja towards a sand-stone figure of Lord Ganesha. Incense sticks perfumed reception.
A crisp white sheet covered a king-sized bed and the softest of blankets had been neatly folded and carefully placed at its foot. My room just off the busy street was quiet and open windows encouraged a mid-morning breeze. I felt content and quite the nomadic photographer I wanted to be.
I cold-showered changed my clothing, refreshed I stepped outside to explore. The Main Bazaar led towards New Delhi train station. Most people were heading in that direction and I followed. Delhiites and foreigners negotiated auto-rickshaws dogs and cattle. Shop keepers school children and hotel touts shared the half-a-mile of beautiful chaos. I remembered the smell from the night before; I was in it, I felt alive.
I stopped at Everest Café, its promise of fresh baguettes and filter coffee too good to miss. There were no local people inside only youthful oriental travellers probably from South Korean or Japan and a couple of old hippies, Australian women I thought, who made space for me. Everyone was smoking. I had planned to give up.
A very small plan
Where would I go from here?
I made a promise to myself that I would not follow the well trodden backpacker route. I would not head straight to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then to Jaipur’s Amber fort quickly completing North India’s ‘golden triangle’. I did not want to head straight towards Goas golden beaches although the hedonistic life-style was tempting. There was so much more of India to explore I thought.
Years before I asked my Grandpa to write down all of the places he had either lived or visited in India. The list was long. I consulted that list and decided that my first destination would be Amritsa in the Punjab. This was the birth place of my mother. I would then travel north to Shimla where my Grandmother was educated. After breakfast I headed to the train station to buy my ticket.
You can’t just buy a train ticket in India; it’s much more complicated than that. You have to acquire one, day’s before travel.
I stood outside New Delhi train station wondering how to find the foreign tourist reservation counter.
Easy pickings I must have looked confused. I was approached by a tall guy who appeared cool he told me he was from Kashmir. He was well spoken and seemed helpful. He told me that because of a national strike all of the trains had been cancelled and I would find it impossible to leave.
He said ‘his country was beautiful but this was probably gonna fuck with my plans, ‘man’. He asked me where I was from and I replied ‘England’, excitedly he said ‘Oh wow, I have a cousin in Birmingham, come-on I can help you’.
I followed him across the busy road down a quiet alleyway and up a twisting staircase between two Non-veg restaurants. I was left alone in a room until the man from Kashmir came back with a man small man he described as his ‘friend’.
I was seated on a cheep plastic chair whilst a glossy holiday brochure was placed on the table in front of me. The uneasy use of the term ‘friend’ had alerted my senses. I questioned ‘so there are no trains out of Delhi right now’? He said,’ it is difficult because of the strike’. I said ‘what none at all’? He said, ‘it is difficult sir’.
I stared at both men. The man from Kashmir looked uncomfortable. The small man only smiled. I stood up and left.
1st floor New Delhi train station
The din from downstairs vanished as I shut the door behind me, there was calm inside the spacious ticket hall. The foreign tourist reservation counter 1st floor New Delhi train station is designated solely for the use of Non-Indians. There were roughly thirty ‘Non-Indians’ of all ages sat on rows of hard chairs. It resembled a NHS waiting room that was long over due renovation but decorated with imposing posters, of mountains and beaches.
At least we were segregated from the scramble for tickets downstairs. It felt elitist, wrong even, being separated from Indian folk who fought in queues downstairs but I was secretly happy to avoiding the hoards. The objective of all ‘Non-Indians’ was to reach the comfortable black leather sofa that signified the end of the queue, and it was a slow queue. The sofa was a final destination point a place to relax for a moment before purchasing a ticket, clever mind control to pacify ones frustration and arse before speaking with front line staff.
Whilst waiting you fill out a form.
Name, Age, Date of birth, Passport number, Name of hotel I was staying in, Name of Hotel I was going to. Name and number of the train you are requesting. There is a choice of 1st Class, Two tear A/C, Three tear A/C, sleeper class or general.
I handed my passport with a ‘money-exchange-slip’, proving I had changed money legally, to a handsome Sikh man who sat behind a desk. He peered over his half-spectacles copying my details into his computer. We waited and after a few moments he told me I was in luck. He printed my ticket in front of me; the name of my train was, ‘The Himalyan Queen’, surely a more beautiful name for a train does not exist.
I felt a real sense of achievement buying that train ticket confident and experienced. Old habits die hard, as a way of congratulating myself I searched for a bar. I found one. GEM BAR.
I passed reception and was ushered up a tight staircase away from all-male cliental downstairs. It was dimly lit and a HUGE television screen dominated one end of the small rectangular
room. MTV was on. Gap-year students, westerns misfits and the bushy moustaches of local businessmen filled seats.
The kitchens pungent aroma of roasting spices enflamed my nostrils bringing tears to my eyes; the lino floor was sticky from spilt beer and the hideous sickly sweet smell of vomit escaped the toilet door. My sense of smell triggered memories of home and of similar nights out in many English cities, this was even more intense.
I think I was comforted. I did not know it then but it made such an impression on me. Over the years GEM BAR became my local.
New Delhi train station
The sight was overwhelming. I stood high on a bridge above sixteen platforms at New Delhi station, I was hung over. Sun rise burnt off the morning mist casting dancing shadows of the masses onto blue carriages that disappeared into the distance. Fog horns pieced ears and air, as dirty diesel engines growled past. Close to me elderly hands reached from blankets as commuters rushed by. The street children were already awake and working, skilfully harassing passers-by for money and food. Coolies wearing bright red jackets avoided the sleepers hoisting impossible loads on to their hunched shoulders.
I took a few moments to collect many thoughts.
My Grandmother was called Dolly; her voice belonged to a time in colonial history that has almost been forgotten. Her delicate Indian accent seemed to sing whilst speaking. She told me.
‘I do not want my precious memories of India spoiled’, before adding ‘since partition things could not be the same’, and said ‘my memories of India are precious-wonderful; I want to keep them that way’.
The depth of Indian life enthralled me. Though I guessed, what surrounded me were the scenes she wanted to avoid. I felt I had completed a full circle. It was from here my grandparents began their hazardous journey to England. In all honesty as they left India their final memories were not wonderful. In fact they were distressing.
Violence had been raging the day before they escaped the capital. As my grandparents approached the station they played what seemed a harmless skipping game with their two little children over rows of people lying across the ground. Hiding them from the gruesome truth. The people lying on the ground in 1947 had been murdered. As they left they witnessed the country they loved country being torn apart.
My Grandfather never understood, the manor of Independence deeply upset him. Telling me, ‘we all got on so well, living side by side as neighbours, life was peaceful’, he sounded forlorn ‘you know things should never have been aloud to get to that stage, the politicians from all sides rushed things’. As fourth generation Anglo he was always adamant about one thing. India belonged to Indians.
I joined the crowds fighting along the platform to reach my carriage. My ticket number was S5 68 S-U/B (sleeper-class, carriage 5 seat 68). To one side of the open door a long sheet of white paper had been pasted on. Each passenger booked to travel had their name printed on it. I scrolled down the list, next to Number 68 my name was written in English, and then repeated in Hindi. This made me smile.
I climbed aboard squeezing my large frame and rucksack apologising as I bumped into people as I went. I felt too big for the coach. I found my seat numbers. S-U/B meant Side-upper/berth. I crammed my rucksack under the bottom seats using a lock and chain to secure it. I climbed up to my berth. I was exhausted.
There was no rest as first, ‘Pani, Pani water bottle’. ‘Chai chai, masala chai’. A succession of loud men in blue uniforms appeared, they were of all ages. Each could amplify their own voices to reverberate around ones bones. ‘Omleeeet, bread Omleeeet’. Omleeeet, bread Omleeeet’.
I did buy an omelette, but only out of curiosity. Thirty minutes later the horn sounded. There was sharp jolt forwards. The train departed EXACTLY on time.
The Kalka to Shimla Express, 1st class
On arrival in kalka I spotted a fat guard holding red and green flags with a huge set of keys. Space aboard the Kalka Shimla express looked limited; experienced locals placed cushions on wooden seats and sat down. I noticed there was a 1st class carriage at the rear of the train and it was empty.
I tried the door but it was locked. The fat guard said, ‘no no sir, it is not for use’. He said, ‘it is booking only sir’. I said ‘that is a shame, what a waste’. I was and looked disappointed. The train was due to leave soon.
I smiled at him. He expertly found the correct key hidden amongst hundreds of similar ones jangling from one large metal ring. He opened the door. We both went inside; he smiled at me in the most polite fashion. I placed 300 rupees in his hand. I had no idea if this was too much or not enough. He said ‘thank you sir’ and he left the bogie closing the wooden door behind him. This was polite gentle and very quiet corruption.
Within the bogie a large sofa and two matching arm chairs surrounded a low art-deco table. Heavy velvet curtains smelt damp they dressed enormous windows. The colour scheme had once been purple, perhaps red, but had long since faded. There was even a single separate compartment where passengers could fully recline. I knew I had landed on my feet.
My body rocked from side to side. I was in perfect rhythm with the carriage. This was wonderful, I felt free. My Grandmother often reminisced how she looked forwarded to the beautiful uphill ride back to MayoCollege high in the foothills of Himarchal Pradesh.
Recounting idyllic stories of her return to school, she always referred to the narrow gauge train to Shimla as the ‘Toy-Train’. During brief stops at platforms children were supposed to stock up with food. She and her friends chose to collect fallen flowers instead. Colourful red and yellow souvenirs for their journey through the clouds. She recounted the names where they stopped. Koti, Darampur, Barog, Kathleeghat, pretty stations still lovingly cared for by dutiful staff.
The soothing rocking of the carriage made me sleepy; I spread out across the sofa. The skies were clear blue and rainless clouds sat a-top Mountains. When I woke some time later my chest felt tight. I panicked a little, immediately noticing I now had to make an effort to breath. I sat up, looked out of the window the skies were now deep blue and I was high above the clouds. The view was magnificent, the air was thin, and I struggled to catch a full breath. This was the one place Grandmother really wanted to return to but she knew her health, her chest, would not allow it. I was happy, she would love the idea I made the journey for her.
The train early in the evening just as the sun disappeared. It was on time. I refused help from coolies, small men wearing red jackets, that was a mistake. I told them “I could manage thank you”. I was a fool. Of cause I could not manage my luggage at that altitude. With every uphill step made, I felt I risked my lungs bursting. The last remaining hundred metres hurt, when I checked in to a guesthouse and climbed to the room on the 4th floor I collapsed on to the bed. I needed to give up smoking.
The Indian Coffee House
I looked up to clock on the wall it was just past midday, I double checked my folding travel alarm clock and it agreed. I must have slept a very long time. I wasn’t too worried at this time instantly blaming my lie in on the altitude; I was enjoying my exciting new life of adventure and freedom.
My head felt fuzzy but quite unlike a hang-over, it seemed ‘blank’. I felt sure I closed the curtains before I climbed into bed, they were now ajar and my jeans were in a heap on the chair. I felt snug underneath heavy blankets, not wanting want my comfort to end but I was hungry. I had also managed to sleep with BBC NEWS 24 blaring from the television set. That was unusual for me; I find it difficult to sleep well with an irritating noise. I had the curious feeling something had happened?
I dressed quickly and searched for a restaurant. I remembered passing an interesting looking café as I struggled and wheezed up the hill the day before. I made the short stroll downhill to find it again, so much easier without luggage. The waiter greeted me and showed me to a table. Smartly dress in white tunic and matching trousers he wore a decorative hat and a green cummerbund that rested on top of his round tummy. The café was called The India Coffee House. It was a meeting place.
Friends shared newspapers and snacks whilst sipping shots of strong coffee. The regular clientele were mainly middle-aged men who enjoyed an occasional cigarette the Smokey haze adding to its old world charm. It felt as though this café high in the hills had remained unchanged for decades frozen at a particularly decadent point in India’s post-colonial history.
Choosing lunch with blank thoughts
There were a number of wooden menus screwed to the cafés pale blue walls. I chose two meat samosas and an espresso. When I ordered the waiter lifted an eyebrow, I was flattered, he seemed impressed.
Whilst waiting for my food, I tried to concentrate on the night before. After checking in to the guest house I went out for diner. There was a restaurant directly opposite and I went upstairs. I sat down at a table next to the window. This was very clear in my memory. After this though there was nothing to draw on.
Two men asked if they could join me at my table; the restaurant they reminded me was very busy. I welcomed them to join me.
I had a reasonable memory of the man who sat opposite me; he was an athletic man at least 6ft tall, handsome clean shaven with thick jet-black wavy hair he was smartly dressed wearing a black roll necked sweater. He told me he was a doctor and worked at a hospital in New Delhi. All I could remember about the man who sat next to me was that he was rather small and told me he was in the merchant navy.
I tried hard to recall events from the night before; I was convinced the two men had argued. My mind only provided me with brief flashbacks, like dark provocative thoughts that danced inside my head. I remembered leaving. I had retained a clear picture of the man who sat opposite me in the restaurant; I could picture him calmly sitting at the end of my bed. I was confused none of this made any sense; there were huge holes where my memory used to be. Had he really been in my room?
Service was swift; and when the waiter brought the samosas over I realised each was a meal on its own. They were huge each samosa filled an entire plate. I realised now why the waiter raised an eyebrow as I ordered. I broke one open, the smell of spiced minced mutton and green peas was amazing, the insides oozed onto my plate, it was delicious. I felt stares from others aware how greedy I looked, I would never finish both.
I ordered one more strong espresso and I rummaged through memory once more I tried to dig really deep, I was sure that I had gone back to my guest house alone but I was becoming more sure that at some point later on during the night I had company.
Up and down the steps around Christ Church
After eating and determined to get on with the rest of my day, I began to explore Shimlas lanes up then down steep concrete steps that connect small alleyways. It was like playing a gigantic three dimensional game of snakes and ladders, enjoyable but exhausting at altitude.
Shimla was built at 7000ft above sea level on top of a ridge. The crisp dry mountain air perfect for escaping the summer’s heat of New Delhi. Spending the day walking helped cleared my head and I began to recall. Not just flashes but whole sequences returned and the gaps began to fill in.
At one point in the afternoon I found myself very close to the guest-house. There was the manager and a young man working alongside him at reception. I asked them, ‘was I alone when I came back last night’ the man replied ‘yes sir, you were alone’. He looked puzzled as I thanked him. As I thought, I had definitely returned alone.
My guest-house was in the shadow of the imposing Christ Church Cathedral, I walked across the square towards its yellow neo-Gothic Tower. The church is visible for miles around but I had purposefully left my visit at the end of the day. Children of the Raj went to Sunday’s morning service there and were allowed the rest of the day to play. My Grandmother must have run around this square as a child.
Inside Christ Church
Once under the porch I lifted the lock and pushed the heavy wooden door open. There was a ghostly creek followed by a loud bang as I shoved the door shut. The echo reverberated around the ceilings wooden beams and the stone floor. I was trying my best to be respectful and quiet. Luckily it appeared I was alone inside.
Although I felt small my footsteps seemed loud as I walked down the aisle, the inside was brighter than I expected. Churches can be dark unwelcoming places but the stained glass windows made pools of colourful light and the walls had been painted a bright mustard colour allowing light to reflect inside. I walked between the two rows of pews and sat half way down in front of the long metal pipes that rose from a giant organ.
I knew the peace and quiet inside the church would help.
I stared at the alter thinking back once more.
I had just ordered my second bottle of beer of the evening; we were happily speaking in English together both men were strikingly middleclass. During the evening I got up to go to the toilet, when I came back they had stopped talking in English and had reverted to Hindi. The small man on my left was angrily shouting something at the dark haired doctor from Delhi. I said, ‘hey what’s up, what’s happened?’
They both ignored me choosing not to answer my question. I sipped my beer and felt awkward. Something had happened in the short time it took me to go for a piss and I had no idea what. I continued to drink my bottle through the embarrassing silence.
I grew sick of the uncomfortable atmosphere and I made my excuses to leave. As I stood up, the doctor from Delhi suddenly remembered his English asked ‘so where are you staying?’ With out thinking I pointed down through the window and across the lane then said ‘over there’.
I had no memory of the doctor entering my room but I remembered him asking if was ok if he slept in my bed that night. With an unnerving confidence he walked around my room at one stage pissing in the toilet. One very specific memory really frightened me. My jeans were neatly folded over the back of the chair he checked the pockets before helping himself to cigarettes; he dropped my jeans on to the chair. He lit a cigarette then threw the match onto the carpet in the corner of the room. As a teenager I was in a house fire, I would never do that.
With all of these things happening I never made a move to stop him. Over the noise of the television I told him ‘GET OUT OF MY FUCKING ROOM YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING HERE’. All of the time he was in my room he just stared at me, I must have been paralysed.
I could remember him walking to the curtains and opening them to check the corridor and his escape was clear. I was shouting at him to get out as he left the room. He looked at me with confidence I will never forget, he knew I wouldn’t move.
Back to the guest-house
I got up and left the church. I hurried back to the guest-house and I climbed the stairs to my room on the 4th floor. There on the carpet in the corner of the room was a single spent match. I bent over and picket it up. Still hot as it hit the ground it burned the carpets fibres sticking to them.
I thought, that bastard really was in my room last night. I must have been drugged in the restaurant with a sedative, I had only ever heard of rohypnol, the date rape drug. He must have slipped it in my drink when I went to the toilet and that was why the two men were shouting.
Shit! Was he really going to rape me? Then the thought entered in to my head, oh Jesus did he rape me? I sat on the bed petrified and shaking had he done it and I just could not remember it yet? A thought too terrible I was still blocking it out from my memory.
I went down stairs to reception the manager and the young man were both there. I directed a question to both of them but phrased it in a slightly different way. I asked ‘what time did my friend come back to my room last night please’? The young man said ‘it was about half an hour after you Sir’ I said ‘and how did he know what room I was in? He sounded proud and said ‘Oh I told him Sir’.
At that point I lost my temper and shouted ‘WELL PLEASE DON’T LET ANYONE ELSE UP TO MY FUCKING ROOM WITHOUT MY SAY SO DO YOU UNDERSTAND’?
I stormed out of the door, I wish now I had stayed calm and had explained what I thought had happened to me. I was so confused I could not think straight. My trip of a life time was only just beginning. My chance to connect with the places I had only very heard of might just have turned in to a nightmare.
I had to speak with someone I trusted; I rang an ex-girlfriend back in England from an internet café. I slowly explained the events recounting all I could. We spoke about things going in to some detail. She said ‘do you mind if I ask you a question, not allowing me time to answer. She asked ‘does your arse hurt?’ I asked ‘what’? She said ‘if your arse hurts then something really bad has happened, if it doesn’t then it sounds like you have had a very lucky escape to me’.
Those questioning four words were so simple and made so much sense ‘does your arse hurt’?
I paid for the phone call and bought my Grandmother a post card with a snow covered photograph of Christ Church Cathedral and wrote on the back how much fun I was having, how beautiful the scenery is and how friendly the locals seemed. Not going in to detail of how friendly one man had tried to be.
I thought I should leave quietly this wasn’t the sort of adventure and freedom I had planned; I bought a local bus ticket down to the city of Amritsar in the Punjab where my mother was born.