December 31, 2010

The Sultan

“He is Sultan,” said his caretaker on the street outside a makeshift shaadi ka pandal in Aurangabad. He looked every bit of a Sultan, commanding his Sultanate in the admiring glances of passers-by.

A Marwari wedding was scheduled for later in the day, and Sultan basked in the Sun while he waited out his turn to ferry the groom through the streets of the old city.

While Sultan’s eyes were shielded behind his blinkers, the regal red set off his flowing mane in the late afternoon sun, and I could not help imagine what he must make of his majestic bearing used to embellish those who might’ve little or none of their own.

December 21, 2010

The Open Road

Kankavli, Maharashtra. 2008.

Trust the road you walk on
To lead you along,
So you’re never lonely
When you’ve to walk it alone.

Should you return the same way
Lend your ear to the grass on the margins,
So you may hear it whisper
The song of the open road.

December 14, 2010

Fiat Ducato Campers At Kala Ghoda

I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to see three motorhomes (alternately called camper vans or RVs as in Recreational Vehicles) parked together in the traffic island along K. Dubhash Marg in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. The number-plates and the profusion of stickers on the back of the vans, more so on one of the two Fiat Ducato Campers, evidently marking countries traveled through, indicated of foreign tourists touring India by road.

It's unlikely that they collected the stickers along the way at each port of call on their overland journey through countries before driving into India, it’d be too much of a hassle to locate one in each country that one is passing through.

It’s more likely they’d purchased the stickers before starting out on their travel, possibly sticking each one on the back as they crossed international borders.

The two Fiat Ducato camper vans were joined by a Mercedes Vito F, or so I think as the logo identifying the Mercedes camper van model was not immediately readable, at least not from the acute angle on the left. The raised V (the larger of the four letters) obscured the rest, particularly the adjacent (smaller) letter, rendering the logo in the kind of flourish that some logo designers will only too happily relish creating as a tribute to one of their inexplicable doodling moments fuelled by cigarette deprivation, or worse for want of spirit fuelled inspiration. Among differently-sized letters raised on a surface, the smaller letter adjacent to the larger one will be obscured when viewed at an angle.

The blue Fiat Ducato was seemingly spared the dust coating the light coloured Fiat Ducato parked adjacent was subjected to on its India travel. When travelling around India by road, it helps to be painted in dark colours if only so the dust will not make itself immediately apparent on the surface, small consolation actually.

A muggy winter day in Mumbai is as good a day as any to be up and about. However the light on the street did not mirror the unusually blue skies overhead, heightened in no small measure by the occasional white cloud sailing free. Post-monsoons, approaching winter, is a good time to travel to India. In the US, the occupants of the three motorhomes would be known as Snowbirders, for escaping the harsh winters of their native countries for the relatively warmer climes nearer the equator, not unlike migratory birds.

While I was interested in having a look inside I contented myself with the exteriors. Considering how difficult it can be to avail of railway reservations to and from major destinations in India (if not booked in advance), in addition to hotel fares on the upswing during the holiday (nee traveling) season in India, the winters, it actually makes eminent sense to get a camper van with amenities that’ll allow a sleep-in on the road every once in a while.

The Mercedes Vito F at Kala Ghoda was smaller in comparison to the two Fiat Ducato motorhomes parked alongside. Contraptions fitted to the back of the van and the roof possibly made space for luggage, or maybe beds. I couldn’t tell for sure. Travellers are known to carry bicycles strapped behind, or even motorcycles.

The lighter coloured Fiat Ducato appeared to be fitted with a retractable roof that motorhomes will sometimes be equipped with to accommodate a roof bed and provide for standing room. Where hydraulic controls are absent, the roof is operated manually, elevated when needed, and covered on the sides by canvas fitted with fly-screen vents.

The Fiat Ducato has a major share of the motorhome market in Europe. The chassis is made available in various lengths, as also height, to suit customer requirements for space to accommodate their travel requirements when converting the caravan base into living quarters. The two Fiat Ducato motorhomes I saw were of similar size and would comfortably fit four in each.

It bears thought why motorhomes cannot similarly succeed in India considering the conveniences it can offer on the road even if we were to discount the fact that such travel will likely mean skipping the India of public travel and related experiences.

If the Indian traveler is prepared to put up with the few inconveniences of the road as opposed to the conveniences of a hotel, namely facilities to wash up in the mornings, he could benefit from being able to sleep out in the open, under the stars as he travels across India. It also bears mentioning that for the concept to take off, towns and cities will need to plan for washroom facilities at the very least for Camper Van/Motorhome travellers without having to book into hotels to avail of them, assuming it's difficult to tank up on water along the way or manage waste disposal.

If that were to happen I’d expect each state in the Indian Union to issue a state logo reflective of the state that the traveler could then stick on the back of the motorhome, collecting stickers along the way at each crossing of state borders. Imagine how much better the mass of stickers would reflect India than if it were to be indicated by only the flag.

Note: Of the two Fiat Ducato motorhomes parked alongside, one prominently advertised Adria Space, the entity that designs motorhomes to suit customer requirements, fitting the design to the Fiat Ducato chassis, like is possible to do with models by Auto manufacturers in the Motorhomes / Campers market.

While I could not see the interiors, the Adria Space page highlights the custom-made interiors they offer to customers. As you’ll see, it’s not made for the backpacker experience. India backpackers will be advised to do it the old and more fulfilling way.

Note: Motorhome / RV Living options in India are limited. If custom-built in India as some Western travellers have, using the Mazda chassis, or bus-frames at local manufacturing facilities, they'll likely offer up their motorhomes / RVs for sale in India before returning, finding it economical to sell it than incur import duties if they were to ferry it back.

Mark, an American, got a motorhome / RV custom-built in Goa, and is now offering it up for sale.

Related Links

1. Explore the Fiat Ducato Camper

December 12, 2010

The Venerable Father, And Grime Riot Disco

It was not just the poster imagery that drew my attention to it on the pavement outside St. Andrew Church, Bandra. That it was overlaid on a flyer announcing Venerable Father Agnel’s Day was one reason, more so since Ven. Fr. Agnel’s Day, Nov. 19, was scheduled for a little over a week after the event that was plastered over it!.

The puff of shy chest hair and the African style suave blue head wrap secured in the front and above the forehead with stylish bobby pins, the millipede styled tuft at the back I’ve no idea of, and proclaiming on a sleeveless tee “I Left My [Love] At Disco”, had enough yellow and maroon, or was it red, to stop church-goers in their tracks barely a stone’s throw away from the horse driven carriage festooned with red and white balloons outside the entrance to St. Andrew's Church.

With Christmas still weeks away, Bandra store-fronts were already beginning to wear a festive look. But what stuck me about the poster, aside from papering over Ven. Fr. Agnel’s Day announcement, was it listed no venue, no announcement of who was performing, nothing. Except for the day, announced prominently. 11.11.10.

To those who knew, the day was enough. To those who didn’t, they didn’t matter for, if they did, they’d know who and where, and most importantly how. So that was that. There was every bit of underground feel to every bit of the announcement - GRIME RIOT DISCO.

It fitted Bombay well. Grime, there’s enough of it if you’d care to look. Riot, there’s been enough of it anyways, of the blood variety that is, unless you’re not prepared to discount local train travel. Disco to forget the grime, and the riot.

The poster on the circuit box screamed – Closed Group. For the moment it still is, if the Facebook page for GRIME RIOT DISCO, only listing Kunal Lodhia, Monica Sharma Dogra, and Anamika Singh, is anything to go by, with only the RSVP for the party put out on Facebook. Partly the lure, I’d assume.

Monica Sharma Dogra of Shaa'ir + Func announced it on Twitter the day before. It turned out that GRIME RIOT DISCO was scheduled at Club Madness in Khar’s Ramee Guestline Hotel, with word getting around via Facebook, and selective promotions at events around the city.

Anamika Singh of FlirtEve, an Event Planning outfit, was tasked with getting the party going, while Kunal Lodhia of WETHEPPL would use it to promote his entity’s artwork, and if his only tweet, “sometimes barbers pretend to snip behind your head so the scissor makes sounds and you feel like you're getting your money's worth.” was anything to go by, the promotional would be side-fare to the music.

With GRIME RIOT DISCO announcing on its Facebook RSVP page: This is the party we’ve been waiting for. Grimey, raw, egoless, ass on the floor, fun. Bombay’s loud. We’re louder. Get into it, it didn’t need a soothsayer to tell you that Ven. Fr. Agnel stood little chance with Bandraites, surely not with the young and the restless, definitely not with a further promise of cheap booze and big sound the organisers threw in for good measure.

However, his faithful, now hopeful of his canonization after the Vatican declared Fr. Agnel, a Catholic priest of Goan origin, Venerable, even if the process of beatification and sainthood is likely to last long with no certainty he’ll ever attain sainthood, have an even bigger battle on their hands than the one with the Vatican – that of ensuring the posters announcing Fr. Agnel’s Day will be read by church goers atleast until the day has passed!

Until then it’s Club Madness ahoy for GRIME RIOT DISCO, or rather was.