India: Bollywood Stars Pt.1

Background-Website-FinalBreakfast in the morning was as breakfast has been most days: cereal, samosas, a fuck ton of chai and a pensive cigarette on the balcony with James. We met the Colombian guy, Sammy, in the morning, and our quartet decided to explore together for the day. And man, what a day.We set out early afternoon, in the peak of the heat because we’re idiots. Our first destination was the city palace, which I wasn’t so fussed about what with my having seen twenty thousand of them in the past two weeks, but I kept schtum and trudged along behind. Sammy is a cool guy, he’s seen a lot. He reminds me of Dave in the way that he isn’t coy about thrusting himself into other people’s lives. He told me about Colombia; the climate, the crime and the cocaine. Another place added to my list.

The palace was very nice, it was made out of big stones and there was a garden that was very good. There were some paintings. There were a lot of little clocks in glass cases. If I knew what the word decadent meant, which I do not, I’d probably describe it as decadent. The most interesting aspect of the palace was the fact that they had the opening few bars of The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ playing on a loop in the lobby; presumably because the violins sound quite regal before Richard Ashcroft comes in and slurs all over them. Had the palace DJ ever actually let the song play past the intro, he or she would have learned that the lyrics are ‘it’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life/try to makes ends meet, try to make some money than you die’: a perfectly apt song to play endlessly in the foyer of a glittering palace.

We got a cab back down into the city after, because it was hotter than hell and our enthusiastic desire to walk had long since abated. The driver dropped us at the clock tower in the centre of Jodhpur, and the effect of our arrival was similar to tossing a fistful of grass into a river; we were swept away immediately through Jodhpur’s marketplace, a marketplace for which the word ‘bustling’ falls woefully short. The market was so bold, so vivacious and explosive, that I, Dan Hackett, Renowned Hater of Markets, found myself gazing around with an expansive dunce-grin welded to my mug.

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We hopped over pools of muddy water and old plastic and we danced around dogs napping in the shade. I stopped to gawp at streams of sari-clad shoppers who gawped in turn at fabrics of rejoicing colour. I’m convinced that India has discovered some secret to creating brighter shades than anyone in the west can conceive of. I’ve yet to see a rainbow here, but when I do I’m convinced it’ll have more than seven stripes. At every turn the poverty is abject but the colours are sublime, the cities are decrepit and magnificent, and it all conspires to leave you breathless, simultaneously humbled and inspired. And it’s all real. It’s real, and finally, after years of dreaming, I’m here, right in the middle of it. And it’s all so gorgeous I can only sigh.

Leaving the market, we wound our way to the city’s ancient stepwell. While navigating the narrow streets I was thrilled to spot our first blue buildings; Jodhpur is known as the Blue City, and the nearer you are to the fort, the more sky-blue homes appear. Four short weeks ago I was sat at my desk in Berlin sighing and wishing and dreaming and wasting hours looking at photos of India’s Blue City. Now I was walking its streets. The complete realisation of a dream has a quieting effect on your soul. You don’t feel elated, like you thought you would. You just feel a deep warmth and a sense of calm.

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We found the stepwell and once again I lost my breath. An entire city block is devoted to the well, which is made entirely from stone and sinks into the earth like an upside down pyramid, with worn-out stairs lining the walls on all sides. Some fifty feet below street level, the well is filled with turquoise water. And, as we stood and watched, two dozen little kids were taking it in turns jumping into it from the surrounding steps, screaming and splashing and laughing.

Sammy and I scrambled down deeper into the well to get a closer look, with kids launching themselves off the steps all around us, flipping and bombing into the deep water below. One mad teenager climbed right to the top of the well, street level, and with only a second’s hesitation leapt off a stone balcony, straight down the entire depth of the well. He was falling through open air for two full seconds because he smashed into the water, spearing deep down and surfacing to cheers from his friends. I wanted to jump in too, but I held back because of A) dysentery, B) pressure from the Indian kids to jump from somewhere high, which I’d definitely cave into because I’m a spineless twat, and C) a lifelong fear of deep and/or murky water.

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We ate lunch in a café overlooking the stepwell, then took off to head to the fort. And this is where it gets fucking crazy.

The waiter at the stepwell café pointed us in the right direction, and we weaved through narrow streets, eventually finding a cobbled pathway that led up to Jodhpur fort. On the way up, we met a couple of local kids who couldn’t speak much English but wanted us to smoke a joint with them. James and Jonas weren’t keen, but Sammy and I shrugged and got high with the teenagers, sitting and looking out at the desert sea of sky blue buildings.

Further up towards the fort, we came across a happy little lady who owned a homestay. Jonas was humming a song from a Bollywood film and the lady joined in with him as we passed. We stopped to chat, and I sat to one side and bummed a cigarette from James, feeling too hot and tired for casual conversation. They lady was very bubbly and sweet, and showed us the guest houses she ran. Then she told us of a Bollywood film that was being shot in the fort ahead, and asked if we’d like to be extras for a day.

Yes! I leapt to my feet, suddenly rejuvenated. Yes! We’d love to! The little lady was glad we were interested, as her nephew was part of the casting team, and needed to find fifteen people for the evening’s shooting. She told us it would be from 6pm to 6am, and that we would be paid the princely sum of 1000 rupees (a tenner). Whatever, it made no matter – I’d have paid twice the amount myself for the experience! She took our photographs to send to her nephew to check if we had the right look, and told her to meet back at her place at 5pm.

We went off to eat and I had a couple of beers. Every meal here is a risk; the loos in the café we chose were diabolical, a squat toilet with only a jug of water for ass-cleaning, and a sink with no soap. I tried not to wonder whether the kitchen staff used this toilet, and pushed the notion from my mind as I ate a tomato masala curry. Sometimes it just can’t be helped, here – you either suck it up or starve. I just prayed quietly that the immediate future didn’t feature me loudly shitting myself in the middle of a Bollywood film set.

Note: I’m gunna leave this one here and split the diary entry in half, because otherwise we’ll be hitting 3000+ words territory, and I don’t want you to lose interest because this shit is insane.

2 thoughts on “India: Bollywood Stars Pt.1

    • Nah it’s not overwhelming because I want to see and hear and taste as much as possible in this country. I love it here!

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