Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Travel for Dummies: India

So they sent me to Bangalore in the South of India to do 3 stand-up comedy shows to the locals this weekend. Now those of you who know me, know my accent is about as Geordie as it gets; My first hurdle came when I went to post my Visa application at the post office in North Shields and struggled to get the special delivery postage paid because the Indian guy at the counter couldn't understand a word I was saying.

I was warned before I left I would have my eyes opened but nothing prepared me for the class divide I noticed when I saw half the population were clearly well off and educated while the rest lived in squalor; barefoot on the streets, begging and barely speaking a word of English, but it was my decision to fly from Manchester so I can't really complain. Joking aside when I got to India I've not seen poverty and wealth live hand in hand quite like that since... well since Southbeach was built right next to Newsham in Blyth. (Joking didn't stay aside for very long) The taxi ride from the airport was a fucking sensory overload between witnessing life being lived like I had never seen before and watching my own life flash in front of me, as we weaved at high speed in between, traffic, beggars and livestock... If a cow stepped into a duel carriage-way in the UK I'd question my own sanity before I accepted it was a bovine speed bump but my driver calmly slammed the breaks on and laughed at my terror as a rickshaw cab crashed into the back of us before swerving to miss the cow and driving off like it was just another day at the office. 

Meet my driver "Ravi" he become my friend over the course of my stay despite his vocabulary only ever extending to "yes Sir" we seemed to have a good time together. Whatever the question "yes Sir" seemed to suffice, he'd always seem to ponder his choice of words for several seconds before inevitably committing to his token "yes Sir" always with a smile on his face like he was one endorphin away from laughing his head off. 

Hi, are you my Driver: .....Yes Sir
So what part of Bangalore are you from? ....Yes Sir
What are your opinions on the economic growth of India in the last decade? ....Yes Sir
I've forgot the name of the progressive rock band that formed in 1968, Rick Wakeman played on keyboard and they had a hit record with "Owner of a Lonely Heart" ....Yes Sir

The only time he didn't utter his catch-phrase was during an extended silence in the car when he, seemingly out of nowhere, exclaimed: "I can speak in 16 different languages" This made me laugh, I think he must only know "Yes Sir" and that previous phrase in all of those languages; Ravi - Jack of all tongues, master of non. I liked Ravi and tipped him heavy and also extended his English vocabulary by teaching him that "Holy mother of the baby Jesus...FUUUCCCKKK!!" loosely translates to "we got mighty close to that oncoming bus"

I couldn't get used to all of the tooting of horns at first, when I'm a pedestrian in my home communities of Blyth and Ashington and when some-one beeps I assume I've been recognized by a friend and wave before I even know who it is, safe in the knowledge I'll look up and go "oh it's Steve!" so I spent most of my first day waving at every car that drove past me. I thought for a moment I was famous in Bangalore, turns out I'm just an Idiot. Firstly because of that and secondly because I misheard a man trying to sell me small wooden sculptures "Handicrafts" and thought he was offering me "Handicapped" and for a short while he was persistent that I bought a handicapped for my parents, I was like; As much as I care about the well-being of disabled people I didn't come here to adopt the needy, I'm not Angelina fucking Jolie! 

The gigs were great, the first one was nice to survive and get enough laughs to justify me going all that way but, I certainly had teething problems with the accent, topics lost in translation (Indians don't keep hamsters or have pool lifeguards) and my lack of local knowledge to drop in at the start. But after work shopping with the other acts with what made sense and what didn't and after a day sight-seeing with my BFF Ravi, I was equipped to have 2 great shows on the following days. I combatted the accent by conducting my gig in the Queen’s English, in my head it sounded ridiculous almost as if I was taking the piss, but needs must and it worked. I think it's ironic that I had to put my phone voice on to be understood over there but when I ring for technical support for my laptop and get through to an Indian call centre their phone voice loses me immediately.

The other acts on the bill, Sanjay Manaktata and Anubhav Pal were absolutely fantastic (in stagecraft and material,) their comedy taught me a lot about Indian culture, politics and history in a much more fun media than books and internet, this is one of the reasons I love comedy you're not only laughing but you are getting a well-crafted opinion and insight a lot of the time (but don't expect that from me.) They are both a tribute to Indian Comedy and are really at the start of something as India has over 500million people who will understand comedy in the English language yet it is a largely untapped resource. I think these two guys hold a huge importance to the impending fruitful future of Comedy across India.

Inspiration not only came from the entertainers but the business men behind the venture, Ajit Saldanha (also a very funny man who did a great job warming the crowds up) and Sangieve Bulchandani who has huge aspirations in turning Bangalore into a hotbed for comedy proposing 10's of venues in this huge City and bringing in many more International acts at his own financial risk. Sangieve is very proud of Bangalore and when he told me that when he moved there in 1983 (the year I was born) it had a population of 300'000 people which has now grown to over 7 Million. But he said it with such pride I thought he was claiming to be directly responsible for it, I was thinking "Whoa that dude has a lot of sex!" - And I guess that's why they call it Bang-Galore!!

Sight-seeing with Ravi was great, he took me to The Palace, the Lal Bagh Gardens and the Bull Temple; All the while pointing at stuff and saying "...yes sir."
At the temple there were wild Monkeys kicking around acting all cute but no-one warned me you couldn't pet them. As I got too close reaching out my hand and saying "who's a pretty monkey" It got possessed by a demon, pulled a face like the kid in the ring and made an aggressive bee-line for me but just before it reached me, Ravi dived between me and the monkey with his fist raised like a real life Asian Kevin Costner with a big moustache. The Monkey ran off but I wish it didn't, because I think seeing Ravi punch a monkey in the face would have been the funniest thing that could EVER happen.

He dropped me off on the last night (he wouldn't come in for coffee) and agreed to pick me up at 7am for my Airport run which would have got me to the Airport in good time for my 10:30am flight, as I say would have. Cut to 9:30am. There is a knock at my door "room service" my alarm is blaring, a gentleman in the hotel uniform wanders into my room I leapt out of my bed, but ass naked "SHIT WHAT TIME IS IT" to which he replied "room service" ....for fuck sake do they just give these guys two words each!? I ran over to the desk by the door my watch said 9:30, you'd think running around with my dick out would have cued him to leave but he just started restocking the mini-bar as I ferociously packed my things and threw on some clothes and had my morning wank (I didn't have a wank) I ran out of my room knowing the flight would have to be delayed for me to catch it, but I was taking my chances. Sure enough Ravi was sat in his car outside the hotel where he had been for 2 and a half hours sat grinning wobbling his head and repeating "yes sir" on a 3 minute loop. 
"I love you Ravi but you coulda give me a fucking nudge"
"...yes sir"
"To the Airport"
"....yes sir"
He sped away leaving a trail of dust, on day one I was in this very taxi fearing for my life but now I had no seatbelt on leaning between the front two seats screaming pace notes like a rally co-driver as he took me on a shortcut through the slums. Just as we approached the airport he pointed at the Sky "yes sir," sure enough Emirates flight EK19 was in the sky without me. But at least I was well rested.

Well I'm home now so the financial, emotional and chronological loss is irrelevant but what is important is that on the flight from Bangalore to Dubai I got absolutely owned for domination of the central arm rest. But in my defence it was an away game, my moral was low and I'm left handed... However on the flight from Dubai to Manchester it was no contest, I was in high spirits, I'd had a very successful trip to India and in the face of adversity I was nearly home, the central arm rest was only ever going to be mine!!

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous Kai - sounds like you had a great time - well done you!
    Bet it won't be long before you're back there again! Would love to hear your version of the Queen's english next time I see you!