Thursday, September 17, 2009

My New Roommate

I have a new roommate. He’s quite cute, very quiet and has a thing for bugs. I don’t mean he likes them, I mean he eats them. He chases them around the wall and before you know it, there he is, chomping away on a yummy moth.

My house is surrounded by parks, and in these parks live all sorts of creatures from peacocks to deer to bats to ducks to moths. As my living area opens onto a terrace I keep locked and to myself at night, I tend to keep my window and front door wide open with the ceiling fan airing things out and of course, a light on. And what happens when there is a light on in a dark area? It’s a mini-creature circuit party. Yes indeed, the bugs come out at night and so does my roomie, a little green gecko.

I don’t know where he spends his day, because he is always gone when I wake up, but as soon as the light comes on in the evening, he takes to his battle station at the top of the wall, just under the ceiling and waits. And then they come, moth after moth. I find it fascinating to watch him chase them down. He stalks them not unlike a cat and then suddenly moves so quick that if you blink, it is all over. I was taking picture of him earlier with the zoom and there he was, post moth, licking his lips. Seriously, he was licking moth innards from his little lizard lips.

But I have to say, I think he is getting a bit flabby around the edges. Hanging out at the light has made him a bit lazy. He no longer gets exercise looking for them, he just hangs out until they fly almost directly into his mouth. And he eats them by the dozens. Just this evening I have already counted 12, and there he is, still on high alert and he is just a tiny thing. I am worried he is going to eat one too many and I am going to come home to gecko covered walls. Or worse, get partially digested moth bits all over me.

Most of the people I know hate the lizards. A few are terrified of them. I love them. I think they are just so cute. And they eat bugs before they have a chance to fly into my mouth mid snore. I sleep easier knowing I have someone, or some thing, to watch over me. Once when living in Defence Colony, I tried to catch one, to put him outside where he could be with his little lizard friends and family. I only managed to break off the end of his tail and I was immediately filled with remorse. Every time I would see him for weeks after, I would apologize and try to start a conversation, but he wanted nothing to do with me.

And so now, I lavish all my attention and moths on the one that came for dinner a week ago and simply refuses to leave.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


When I a slightly younger man living in the US, there were a few eating places that for me were just not done, like McDonalds and KFC.

Yes, I have eaten at McDonalds, but for most of my life, the bulk of that had all taken place before I had reached the age of consent. I was entirely the victim, but this was back in the 70’s when the golden arches were for special occasions, like say a birthday, good grades or a relative coming home. Nothing said “Uncle Billy finally made parole” Like a Big Mac. Not that I have an Uncle Billy, but if I did, I assume he would have been a petty criminal, in and out of the local slammer giving us plenty of occasions to order styrofoam packed food and giving me material for the ever elusive book I have been wanting to write. But I digress. I personally, even as a little child just never really found anything from McDonalds to be even remotely palatable, much less digestible. Well, maybe the ice cream sundaes, but then it is kind of hard to kill ice cream. I also never understood why, after eating McDonalds, one would have a series of Quarter Pounder with cheese flavored burps. It just isn’t right.

And I also find Ronald McDonald just a tad creepy. I always have and I can’t really explain why. Must be the striped socks.

KFC was a completely different experience. We never actually ate at KFC, those secret herbs and spices were always brought home in a red and white bucket with lots of grease stains on the outside. KFC was not about birthdays or shotgun weddings and was instead almost always reserved for nights when there was a movie on “Wonderful World of Disney”, or perhaps a special “Lawrence Welk”. Maybe it’s just me, but even as a child, a bucket full of breasts, legs and thighs just seemed so, well, icky. Foreshadowing of thing to come? Hmmm… Perhaps.

I would, at times, try to reject eating out of the bucket but it usually ended with someone saying something along the lines of “as long as you are under my roof, young man, you will bloody well eat what I make for you and you will like it!” As I was going through my “I-want-to-be-a-lawyer-when-I-grow-up” phase, I did take the opportunity on several occasions to eloquently argue that walking up to a counter and telling a pimply teenager to “hand over sixteen pieces and throw in some slaw, mashed taters and some of them fresh backed biscuits, will ya” was making dinner. But they weren’t having it. Furthermore, I got weird looks whenever I was asked what I would like for dinner, something that usually happened on my birthday. How was I to know that squab was seen as an unreasonable request from a six year old with a developing, highly discernable palate? And an hour or so later, I would be squeezing ketchup out into the lid of my Styrofoam-ish burger container, angrily dipping my fries, wondering what I had done to deserve this, dreaming of the squab I was missing. And wondering what squab actually was. But Joan Collins, who I was once obsessed with, had mentioned it on TV so it was high on my list of likes.

Moving abroad changes people. It does. One cannot move abroad, at least to a place like India and remain unchanged. And now, on a not so infrequent basis, I find myself cringing as I order up a McChicken or a Zinger with cheese at one of the previously mentioned chains. But Delhi is transforming rapidly and now, much to my dismay, one of my favorite foods is available inside one of my most unliked theme restaurants, and so it was yesterday, that I strutted into the Hard Rock Café here in New Delhi for a real live cheeseburger. With real beef. Imported. It isn’t In-N-Out, but one can’t be picky when beef is basically forbidden and in the past two years I have had to buy it on the black market and cook it on the BBQ under cover of darkness with only a select group of edge-livers like myself.

Like KFC and McDonalds, I had been to Hard Rock before. When I didn’t know any better, when it was in Beverly Hills and New York City and when it was possible to run into Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore or Rob Lowe on any given night. But HRC quickly went from being the place to be to being off the map and I avoided it at all costs.
That is, until it opened in Delhi and my curiosity got the better of me. I went to see if they might have real burgers. Not lamb or chicken or veggie, but real beef that had once been roaming the plains in real cows. I know if my “make-promise-you-no-eat-cow” landlord knew what I was up to when I left the building, I would be thrown from the roof. But this will be our little secret.

So, yes, yesterday I sat in a completely deserted Hard Rock Café, directly under some thing that Steven Tyler had worn at some gig or another a couple of decades ago, eating my beefy cheeseburger and having a Danish beer while waiting for Ankit to arrive. We were going to the film. As usual, he was late and then refused to come into the restaurant. I at first admired his reserve, assuming he didn’t want to be seen exiting such a place, but I later found out the truth was much deeper than that. I asked him why he didn’t do inside and his reply was “I don’t like that kind of music” It was only when I told him that they don’t play hard rock music and had just run a clip of a corset clad Madonna that I saw the twinkle of reconsideration his eye.

On a side note, in typing this, I accidentally misspelled “McDonalds” and guess what? It is in the Word spell checker.

Now that worries me.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A New Beginning

After a fantastic and amazing time in Amritsar and McLeod Ganj, I am back in Delhi and Ulco is en route to St. Petersburg after a few days stop over in Dubai. I myself, am facing what is one of the most exciting times in my life and have that feeling, and the knowledge, that I am on the edge of something big, HUGE, happening.

It all started back in June. After months and months of not working and going through an almost paralyzing depression, I decided to leave India. I had spent months applying for jobs, registering on sites and nothing at all came of it. When the list of the top ten worst places in the world to live was released, I was desperate enough to apply in all those countries. Still, nothing happened. Not even a single response. I hadn’t looked for a job since I was in my early twenties. They came looking for me, and suddenly I could not even get a simple reply. There was nothing here for me anymore and there was no light on the horizon. Manuel was going back to Scotland and I could not watch my bank account go down anymore. In all honestly, there wasn’t any lower it could get. I decided I was going to go back to the US and since the recession was in full swing, take whatever job I could get and go back to school taking classes in creative writing, photography or anything else along those lines.

Then I got a call from the ad agency that had brought me to India in the fist place asking if I would be willing to go back to work for three months. I didn’t want to do it, but it was a job and a job meant cash so I said yes. In less than a week I found a place to live, moved and started my temporary job. Two weeks into my job, the client I was working on decided they didn’t want any temporary people, or more precisely, foreigners, on their account as of the first of August. Three months of salary quickly became one month and all I had done was bought myself another month or so in India only to find myself once again unemployed and with an uncertain future.

I decided to take a bit of advantage of the situation. I had been in Thailand in February and had found it amazingly inexpensive, more so than India, even. I decided I would take a few months and travel around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, writing and taking pictures for some magazines. I contacted a few people I knew at some publications and they liked the idea. Little did I know, but I had put into motion something larger than I could have imagined at the time. My little idea of traveling and writing for some magazines has become a twice weekly television program. We are on the verge of getting endorsed by a highly reputable tourism focused company in India that will open all the other necessary doors for us. The first two episodes are scripted out and it is all moving forward. Hopefully we will start shooting in October. I can’t go into details yet, but it is an original concept that has not yet been done before. I will keep you all posted.

In addition to that, I was asked to audition for a movie and have heard it went really well. I haven’t heard back an official “yes” yet, but as of now it is looking very positive in my favor. It is a pretty big role in a film set to shoot in November. Suddenly it seems that everything I wanted so many years ago and never really stopped dreaming about is all knocking on my door. I have a hard time comprehending it might actually be here, my dreams, right here in front of me. If I think about it too much, I just want to laugh and cry and scream and shout. There are still a few hurdles to jump, but so far, not one person has been negative and has only added to the idea. I now find myself having to turn down ideas as I am only one hosting the show and there is only so much I can do.

On a side note, I am sitting at “The Living Room”, a restaurant I practically live at, typing all of this out. I was just interrupted by someone asking if I would be interested in being in a film shooting in a week. I said yes and now photos are on their way for someone to decide if I have the right hairline, cheekbones, coloring and look.

What I find interesting about all of this, is that whenever I try to do something lately that is not in the creative area, it goes all wrong. There are no positions, no funding, or an endless number of things get in the way. As soon as I put my attention into writing or acting, things work out effortlessly, they come to me, people cross my path and doors open. So I have taken it as a sign that this new shift in career is exactly where I need to be heading.

The other day, I was thinking about all of this and feeling a bit too old to be making a career change at my age, and one into film and television at that. But I was reading an old column of Dominick Dunne, one of my favorite writers at Vanity Fair and whose column was one of the first pieces I read each month. I have been reading him for as long as I can remember and he was one of the inspirations for me to start writing, but for some reason, I have never read one of his books. (Not to self: Get Dominick Dunne book) I was very surprised to learn that he didn’t start writing until he was 50. Not only that, he didn’t write for Vanity Fair until he was 59. 59! My fears of age were immediately and permanently tossed aside.

So it looks like the months ahead are going to be a rollercoaster of a time in the best possible way…

Thursday, September 03, 2009

McLeod Ganj

I am sitting in the room of the hotel in front of the big window as the rain continues to pour down as it has done almost non-stop since something in the middle of the night. The windows are open and fresh, chilly mountain air pours in while the thunder booms and echoes all around. The view from where I am sitting is nothing but trees and cloudy skies. It all feels light years away from Delhi.

After Amritsar, Ulco decided he wanted to see some mountains and so we headed to McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama. There were no trains and only one bus available from Amritsar to Dharamsala, which is just a few kilometers from McLeod Ganj. The journey was just over six hours on a bus that we were told was direct and would be making no stops, but in reality we stopped to pick up and drop off people all the time and one stop had us sitting at a station for about thirty minutes while peddlers flooded the bus with everything from coconuts to mango juice to plastic table clothes in a variety of colors and floral patterns. Our trip took just under seven hours and after getting the bus from Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj, we checked into the “only deluxe hotel” in the area.

I was here in April, when the Himalayas were covered in snow and the village of McLeod Ganj was quite busy, the streets quite crowded and noisy.  I wasn’t all that impressed and preferred the quiet calm of the village Naddi, where we stayed last time, an hour or so walk from McLeod Ganj through some beautiful scenery. This time, however, the streets are quiet. The place feels relaxed and almost deserted. The plan was to stay for one night and then head out, but we are staying for three. We pass the days having various teas in tiny cafes, taking walks and just enjoying the serenity of it all. The air is definitely chilly, today probably about 15 degrees (59 Fahrenheit) , a far cry from the high 30s and low to mid 40s (above 104 Fahrenheit) of that have been in Delhi the past few months.

Yesterday morning we walked to Bhagsu, just two or so kilometers away, to a waterfall Manuel and I had visited in April. Then it was barely more than a trickle, hardly worth the effort. Now, it is absolutely gushing and the path we walked over and the area we sat in then are now under the numbingly cold water. We took a path up to the top of the falls and just sat there taking in the view and the peace and the sound of the water while mountain goats watched us with suspicious eyes.

We made our way back down and headed into town, stopping along the river here and there for a drink or just to take in the view and nature. It was only cut short by the looming threat of the ever darkening clouds and the distant claps of thunder. We made it to Tsuglagkhang, the residence of the Dalai Lama, before it started to rain for a few minutes, then it took a break, long enough for us to walk back to the hotel and then it came pouring down.

In between the rain we do little walks. I took Ulco to Naddi, which offers much more expansive views of the Himalayas, but other than that, it is all about relaxing. I am reading “Freedom in Exile”, the autobiography of the Dalai Lama. It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. It is not a book about Buddhism, although his story and Buddhism are so intertwined that his story cannot be told without some inclusion. It is full of history and intrigue. I am now at the part where the Chinese Government has decided to take control of Tibet.

With McLeod Ganj being the head of the Tibetan Government in exile, the place is filled with refugees and obviously there are political messages everywhere about the state of affairs in Tibet. The first night here, Ulco and I met a twenty-four year old refugee at a restaurant who moved here when he was nine, separated from his family to live with an Uncle. He has seen them a few times since then, but cannot return to his country or he will be put in jail or worse. He dreams of going to the US or Canada to work in the mines. His entire life uncertain and so far from what I can imagine.

This was the perfect place to come after the Golden Temple and the entire trip has been completely relaxing, with the heavy rains even forcing us to slow down and just unwind. Tomorrow evening we head to Delhi, but until then there are books to read and cups of tea to drink. 


After years of saying he had absolutely no interest in traveling to India, Ulco is here for the second time in just under a year. Last year we spent two weeks traveling through Rajasthan and this time decided to do something different. I was going to plan something in advance, but a few days before he was scheduled to leave for India, Ulco informed me he had a cough, a sore throat and perhaps a fever, and as they are doing checks on swine flu upon arriving in India, it wasn’t entirely clear if Ulco was going to be coming or not. There was the possibility of a few days in quarantine if he was feverish and coughing upon arrival. But it turned out to be bronchitis and he arrived exactly on time.

This trip we decided to start in Amritsar and then decide where to go from there. The reason we chose Amritsar was for the Golden Temple, the holiest place for Sikhs. We also opted for the train and off we went to the New Delhi railway station to buy tickets for the 07:20 train the following morning. The only problem, which we discovered after traveling to the station was that tickets can only be bought for trains of the same day or we could make arrangements through the tourist desk which conveniently closed about four hours before we arrived. We had no choice then but to go to an agent who told and showed us that the train was sold out, but he could get us on the train using one of the quotas of tickets for tourists, military, VIP, etc. We put down a deposit and then picked up the tickets the next morning and discovered that the tickets were about two thousand rupees and the fee for the government approved travel agent was also around two thousand rupees. In any case, we ended up with seats on the train and pulled out at exactly 07:20 on Monday morning.

We arrived in Amritsar in the rain and grabbed a rickshaw to the Golden Temple where we would look for a guesthouse. On the train we had a bit of a discussion about where to stay. I wanted to stay at the Golden Temple itself, a place Lonely Planet describes as “more of an experience than a hotel”, but Ulco was not having it. He was being lured by the posters for the five-star hotel and tried to tempt me with ideas of massages and lingering by the pool after a swim. We settled on a guesthouse which was about fifty meters or so from the temple complex, checked in, had a quick lunch and made our way to the temple itself.

We checked our shoes, washed our feet and covered our heads with the touristy orange bandanas which read “Golden Temple” and soon, without any of the normal security checks that come with visiting almost any other place, we were inside the complex walking along the Parkarma, a marble walkway that borders the holy pool in which the temple itself seems to be floating. Prayers being said or maybe better put, sung by four priests inside the temple, filled the complex as people bathed in the holy waters or just sat next to the pool, some chatting with friends, some in meditation or lost in thought while others studies their scriptures and teachings. Guards in traditional uniforms strolled as well, making sure children behaved and giving directions or information.

The Golden Temple itself is reached from a causeway named “Gurus’ Bridge” and people are let inside in small-ish numbers. The line moved quite fast and there was very little pushing and shoving. In fact, I would have to say the whole experience at the temple was one of the most enjoyable I have had as a tourist in India. Nobody tried to sell us anything, nobody wanted money. Everyone wanted to talk with us, ask us questions and share about the temple, what we should see, the best times to visit and when to sit and stand during the prayers. We were made to feel so welcome and everyone was so genuinely nice. It was a far cry from Pushkar where we were conned within minutes of arriving, or Agra where the peddlers are worse than the mosquitoes. Even walking through the tiny and winding streets of the city, we had similar experiences. Children came up to us with hands held out for shaking and bight smiles everywhere. I hate to say it, but sometimes being in India, when someone is nice to you or comes up and wants to start a conversation, the first thought that goes through my head is “what do they want from me?” This was a completely unexpected pleasure.

We visited the temple complex several times, midday, sunset, sunrise, and each time it was just wonderful and different and relaxing and beautiful. I am so looking forward to going back one day very soon and just spending more time in such an amazing place.