Famous in Gandhidham

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Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The breeze becomes as welcoming as anything I could presently want as it brushes against my overheating skin; it's so nice that I pick up speed purely to indulge in this pleasure. The wind is like being in a hairdryer but it’s still a breeze. I pick up speed yet again but this time instead of bellowing in the breeze the front end of my bike starts violently shaking like the tyre has just been shot out. If I brake or do anything sudden I will lose the bike. My grip on the handle bars matches the intensity of the moment as I try to hold on and let the bike run out of steam.  As the speed decreases the happier I get until finally the last wobble is depleted and the bike comes to a stop. Time to play the mechanic, I check for the obvious but nothing, the tyre is inflated, the bolts holding the wheel in are secure and the wheel aligned. I think it might be the forks and if that is the case then I definitely need a mechanic and finding one is going to prove interesting. From information gathered along the road there is a mechanic 15kms away, so I head off at a cruise and sadly a minimal breeze.

It’s a time where words would be more useful as I charade to the mechanic what the problem is to one that is greeted as a performance by a westerner acting crazy. Simulating the wobble with sound effects was of course amusing to the 15 strong audiences. After all of this it turns out the mechanic has gone to Bhuj 70kms away from where I had started the day. Not wanting to backtrack I venture to the next town 50kms away. Four mechanics, four charades, and four blank looks later I wobble out of the next town heading to Gandhidham.

I arrive in Gandhidham and when asking for an Enfield mechanic I get asked which one, it’s like buses. Hoping for the last time I give my well rehearsed charade of what happened followed by one word 'problem’. Again it is met with amusement but this time with a solution. The following morning I arrive at the mechanics for them to start work on my bike. I always overlook the work on my bike as it does mean they always do a good job but most of all its crucial information gathered for when I’m stuck in the middle of no-where and have no choice but to play the mechanic. My presence is of great entertainment to the mechanic and his young apprentice and likewise to the ever frequent visitors. As the day ticks on my bike becomes a mass of pieces. The forks were to blame for the bad handling but also it turns out my piston is blown. Its words I don’t want to hear, I must be the unluckiest when it comes to pistons and yet again I have to go through the painfully slow process of wearing them in. That’s 23mph for nearly a thousand miles, that’s around 40 hours of a lot of patients especially with the minimal breeze.

It’s now 10pm and the mechanic is putting the last pieces together, I’ve been here for nearly 12 hours, I went for a long lunch but the rest of the time I’ve spent drinking chai, chewing pan, chatting to the many locals and joking around. Yet again language has been non-existence but it hasn’t stopped the understanding or camaraderie. Spending such a duration in a garage does sound absurd bordering on insane but it’s a good as cultural outing as any. The garage becomes a hangout for men to chat about the local going-on’s, it’s like a bar without the alcohol but saying that I have seen the whiskey bottle pulled out on quite a few occasions but predominately it’s drinking chai every five minutes whilst chewing pan and trying not to dribble, well I speak only for myself being a novice pan chewer. I have no idea what I am chewing as it’s an explosion of flavours and spices all making my mouth salivate far too much. I hoping it’s because of the explosion of flavours rather than I’m just about to be sick. Men and motors is the same all over, blokes standing around each having an opinion on a problem, but unlike garages in England where naked women adorn the walls here posters of Hindu Gods and small shines covered in beads and incense to bring fortune on the shop are the main centre piece. The garage is more a shack constructed of wood that’s held together by years of grease, oil and dirt. And judging by the mound of knackered parts quite a few resurrections and deaths have occurred with each part having it own story to tell. Everything seems to have a recyclable use; old bike chains linked together provide the security chain, seats are wonky recycled scrap metal welded together in a hapless but useful manner and broken tools become new inventions welded onto likewise pieces. 

I was planning on heading off in the morning to continue my original journey but get informed that tomorrow is the Sindhi New Year and the city lays on a procession and days activities. Sindhi’s are the people that once occupied the land of Pakistan but after partition they were forced out to make way for the Muslims. Gandhidham translated means Gandhi’s place and it was through the great man himself that the land was obtained so that the refugees had somewhere to go after fleeing their homeland and possessions.

My awakening commences with firecrackers and distorted amplified music. I rise from my bed and climb out from under the mosquito net and swat at the mosquito’s desperately trying to feast off me after a night of frustration. It’s like an oven in my room as the sunlight radiates in putting the room on a gas mark 8. I throw myself into the shower and the cold water runs down my back sending shivers and goose bumps all over that is like an oasis in this incessant heat. Feeling awake and wanting to exit the oven quick I get myself together and head out to witness and partake in the New Year celebrations. I’m interested to see how people celebrate the New Year, are they as keen as we are in the west?

Before I have time to adjust to the sights facing me I’m getting asked for a photo, been given food and a kid tugging at me for what I presume in order of money. Ok patience is key; I pose for the photo, decline the food and give the kid a rupee. I move on to give myself some time to absorb in all the sights and sounds. The streets are filled with people chatting, eating and observing the procession. Kids are playing with their New Year treats of what seems to be either balloons or high pitched whistles and with the loud music coming from the floats it’s all sound clashing to create audio mayhem. I weave my way through people to get into some shade but just as the shade beckons I get goaded into dancing, I obviously refuse. Who in their right mind wants to become the center of attention whilst everyone looks on chanting and cheering and having to dance in a different fashion all of which is bound to cause huge embarrassment and is way too extrovert for me. ‘Neh, Neh Neh’ I repeat once more but this only recruits more reinforcement to grab me. In China 4 years ago I had a whole nightclub banging their bottles and chanting for me to get up to dance to Michael Jackson and I bailed it but after I kind of regretted it. It would have been very embarrassing but also it probably would have been a more defining and humorous memory rather then looking back now and thinking what could have been. ‘Come, come!’ the man tugging me tries to force. ‘What the hell’ I think as I ignore my introvert self that is screaming out no. The men become like my bodyguards as they all huddle around me forcing the crowd apart until we reach the band on the procession. What am I doing I think to myself as the scale of it becomes a lot bigger than imagined and with it hundreds of eyes on my first Indian dance-off. I’ve seen how the Indians dance in my movies so that being my only point of reference I proceed and entertain. Every time I try to leave someone else would pop out of the crowd and have a little showdown. Eventually I manage to slide away and head back to some long awaited shade and also give myself time to digest the chaos that just happened.

Everyone is in a great mood and being in a dry state there is not a drop of alcohol about.  It appears I am the only westerner here and consequently with this tourist solitude comes more people wanting a slice of me. Beads of sweat run down my face, my t-shirt is stuck against my skin and the humidity is very uncomfortable. Everything is chaotic, I’m getting pulled in many directions and getting smothered in people, the more people the more heat, the less fresh air and the more beads of sweat running down my body. I bite my lip, I want to just explode and go to find some water to jump into, but instead I get down to some dancing with a granddad that is proving so hilarious that I forget about everything else. People are cheering and it causing an immediate magnet to all eyes as everyone checks out the only tourist breaking some bad (in both sense of the word) Indian dance moves. People are videoing me and photographing me until my fame takes to the TV camera’s as I give a good interview on my experiences celebrating the Sindhi New Year. I definitely feel like a celebrity as people push each other out of the way to shake my hand, what is going on? Am I still asleep and just dreaming all of this, which would definitely be the most logical explanation. People want me to go everywhere so instead of fighting it I decide to just go with the flow. Me and my entourage go and eat some food that is put on for the thousands of party goers. The marquee is massive, there are tables circling the perimeter all offering a range of delicious spicy food. After my stomach is nicely filled we venture out of the marquee stepping precariously as not to tread into anyone’s dinner. Just on exiting I get introduced to all the VIPs that are seated on chairs and all smartly dressed in the local costume. I shake hands with the men then I get asked to give a speech. I nearly choke, my brain thinks of a thousand excuses to give but yet again ‘what the hell’ wins the argument. I stall for a bit of time and approach the microphone wired up to the whole marquee with at least 600 people inside. ‘Jai Junalao’ I say in probably the worst accent, it’s met with applause so they must of understood me greeting them a happy new year. There are so many faces on me that its not the best time to fumble on words or crack under the pressure so like a touring rock star performing at a new town I gave the I love this town, you people are great speech.

The whole day has been hilarious and probably is one of my funniest days to date. I was made to feel like a superstar in this town and I definitely did soak it up. It was as though I had been given the keys to the city. The people have been amazing, everyone has been in good spirits and in this close knit community the people seem incredibly honest with massive amounts of hospitality. I lie back under my mosquito net in the oven incredibly exhausted by the million dance offs but still cannot stop laughing when I reflect on how surreal the day was, how extrovert I was and how humorous the day of stardom panned out.

My alarm wakes me in time for the ETV news. It is all spoken in gujarati so I cannot understand it but then flashing up on the screen is me getting down dancing followed by my interview starting with a polite ‘Namascar’ and then my verdict of the festivities and the people. This is so surreal but brilliant. I walk out to get some breakfast and before I am out of the door my hotel manager points to the newspaper featuring a massive article on me. And as I go to grab some food a man I don’t recognize comes up and greets me like a long lost friend, he then proceeds to do some dancing moves and then it clicks. Obviously he had seen me busting my moves yesterday and judging by his body language he seems very happy with my efforts. The longer I stay in Gandhidham the more famous I become. I give another interview to a larger paper explaining my purpose of visiting India and more importantly what every Indian wants to know, how we feel about their country. The following morning the large article appears in the paper adding to my fame, that’s two TV channels I’ve been on plus 4 newspapers. Everywhere I go people recognise me either from the TV, the papers or from my moves.

I got to learn a lot about the Sindhi people, I met some great people that were very friendly and helped me understand their culture and way of life. It was the British that extremely slyly passed partition just 2 days before giving Independence back to India and after hearing this I thought for sure they wouldn’t be too happy with the British or me being British but there was no animosity at all. So even after their removal from the lush land they still remain stoic and just as proud in this hostile desert. There is not a great deal to see here but the people and the culture definitely make up for it. I had no intention of visiting Gandhidham but through turns of events I ended up here as randomly as the events that’s passed, all proving to be one of my funniest experiences ever. ‘What the hell’ proved a great philosophy and as I cruise off at 20mph it’s like a slow mo ending to a movie. I ride off into the moon and star clad sky taking great memories with me as I laugh once again at the turn of events…. Famous in Gandhidham, who would of thought it!
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