We – Dave and I, that is – arrive into Trivandrum, India from Singapore – a souped-up technological haven with good food, punishing sun and not a whole lot else. My only impression of Singapore previous to this came from a sailor I once met in Copenhagen – at least seventy, who had traveled the globe and sat next to me, also enjoying a mustard-glazed, fish sandwich.
“It’s really a shame what happened to that place. Sailors used to love stopping there. Beautiful green place. Now it just like everywhere else. Now it’s nothing special”.
Always stayed with me, that sentiment, and must have coloured my view somewhat, so I’ll save my take of the place until I spend a little more time there on the flight back home in three weeks.1
We take the inaugural flight to Trivandrum by a budget airline – Scoot, and they’ve turned the occasion into a full-on celebration, with a host and hostesses in full traditional dress. They hand out typical Singapore flavoured crisps, and take pictures with us two – as there’s only three Westerners there, and the other guy’s busy being interviewed by a handful of enthralled Asians.
Indians and Singaporeans alike wanna know why we’re going to India. When we tell them “we won two tickets to anywhere on Earth and we chose Trivandrum” they look back with disbelief, bordering on insult, but it’s true.
Dave entered a completion on Scoot’s social media page and won. All he had to do was say why he missed travelling so much, and painted a scene of being reminded of all the scents and scenes of a time spent in Thailand every time he steps outside our apartment. We live next door to a Thai massage parlor.2 The family who run it live across the landing from us, too. So everyday’s a reminder of what he misses. Touching. Well, they must have thought so, anyway, as now we’re travelling free of charge.
I suggested India and he suggested I come too, having one two tickets, and having a musician’s schedule – which uniquely allows you to drop off the face of the earth at a moment’s notice. Truthfully, I always disliked the idea of going to India. Sounded terrifying: the chaos, “Delhi belly”, all that shite – literal shite, no alcohol, over-population. All the usual nonsense. Then, I befriended an actual Indian who convinced me over a span of two drinks in Wedding, watching jazz, that not only were my assumptions idiotic, if not borderline racist, but that I needed to go to India as soon as physically possible.
Being a poor musician and going on holiday are not mutually exclusive ideas, but, sometimes it feels like it. Flying off somewhere, without a gig to pay your way is not something you can readily up and do – but I promised Tots, my Indian buddy, I’d go if I could wrangle the means to and, so, when this opportunity dropped in my lap, I leapt.
Arriving in Trivandrum, in the southern most tip of India, the breakfast is already one of the finest things I’ve ever tasted. A few seats and a kiosk, a heated wrap with three generous sauce portions, no cutlery and after a few bites in you realise you’ve wasted your life. And that’s before you discover a the hidden mashed potato, stuffed soy bean and curry sauce right at the center of this delicate mess called a Dosa. All trepidation over Trivandrum is quashed in a mouthful, and though we’re still paranoid about the tap water, it’s damn near impossible not to wanna lick off your fingers. The tea with it reminds of what an Irish granny with a sugar tooth gives you if you don’t specify your order well enough – mostly milk, with what tastes like a handful of sugar. Somehow it works. And this breakfast becomes the dragon we chase all throughout our trip, never besting.
We watch the roundabout for entertainment for far too long to share, with Tuk Tuks and mopeds blaring Indian pop, swirling along a circle-patch of grass – the same patch we saw some vagrants cooking fish over an open flame at 1am the night before. Now, all there is is a few white herons, a tree and some trash.
The shop owners are helpful, not intrusive, and we wander up and down in the morning sun – not as overwhelming as Singapore. We pass a cat teaching her kitten the ropes, and a sleeping roaster who wakes up shouting on our way back, alongside a dead rat and a horde of teenage school kids. Two girls say “Hi” and giggle incessantly and we feel like the cock of the walk, before that rooster chimes back in. Across from us a hawk is doing the rounds over another patch of trees in the distance, and we’re stricken by the sheer abundance of wildlife, nature and the sense of place. We’re somewhere unlike anywhere else, and we’re excited to get to be there.
Back in the airport Dave plays his banjo and sings at the request of the flight crew before they take our tickets – even going so far to delay the line, until Dave agrees. They’re so moved they ask for pictures, take videos, and go so far as to print out a physical picture of us all as a thank you to Dave – as well as letting us skip the entire line coupled with the best seats on the plane. We’re on route to Delhi, a place that anyone and everyone who’d been told us not to go – especially not at this time of year, during record temperatures, and off-season. Call it ignorant, stupid or stubborn … and, well, you’re probably right.
Next Stop: Delhi
1. Conor from three weeks later, here. We stopped off in Singapore again on the way back. It has its charms. The Hindu temple is wonderful, and the markets are a sight to behold, but cities aren’t something I can sink my teeth into and savour like the nature we’d come from and to expect. And so my heart wasn’t really in it, so I’ll hold my tongue, too.
2. Not that kind.