I have a long-standing connection with India, having first travelled to India overland through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1971. I was to later return ten times over many years to buy gemstones as I then worked as a jeweller. I stopped being a jeweller in 1990 during that recession and stopped going to India as well. My life has changed in many ways between that period and now.
I re-visited India in September 2011, not to buy gemstones, but with the intention of introducing Playback Theatre to at least one social project in northern India. I did indeed visit a social project run by Alice Garg in Jaipur and had the pleasure of meeting her, but the timing was wrong and the proposed workshop didn’t happen. I wasn’t able to contact the project in advance so I just showed up, a viable proposition in India, but it wasn’t to be fruitful on this occasion. I left Jaipur shortly after that, having stayed with an old Indian jeweller friend and was also able to meet his father, now in his 80s, who I hadn’t seen for twenty two years. Jaipur has changed dramatically in the ensuing period and is now a boom town with private money throwing up fancy buildings surrounded by the usual Indian chaos. Jaipur was very hot and it felt like I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so I left and took the overnight bus to Chandigarh.
I was able to meet up briefly with Indian haiku poet, Angelee Deodhar who I had met in New York at a Haiku Conference in 2003. She’d very kindly given me her card at that time and said to call if ever I was in town. I was just passing through the bus station on my way to Dharamsala and she came over with her son to meet me.
After what was a 24 hour bus journey, I arrived in Dharamsala and shared a taxi up to Mcleod Ganj and left after two days on the overnight boneshaker to Manali, where I had stayed in 1971. I had no money at that time and ended up having to walk 100 miles or more without shoes on my way back to the plains. Someone eventually bought me a bus ticket but that’s all another story… Manali had also changed beyond recognition and was much developed – nowhere was familiar to me. I re-visited the hot spring at Vashist just outside Manali that was now an enclosed temple complex, it was just an open spring in 1971 and I’d fallen in on my birthday that year, which was like falling into an extremely hot bath. On this occasion, I stayed in Manali for a few days and then travelled down to the old British hill station of Shimla where I met up with a friend from England who was also visiting India at the same time.
By this time, I had come to the realization that my relationship with India had substantially changed both since my first visit at the age of twenty one and since my time as a jeweller. I could have offered a workshop to a local Drama group in Shimla but felt that there was little point in introducing something that I wouldn’t be able to follow up. I didn’t want to put down any roots that would compel me to return as a return trip seemed an unlikely prospect at that time. I already have a project that I’m working with in Sri Lanka and am willing to continue with that and plan to return in 2012. I realized that my goals need to be achievable and I can’t travel everywhere introducing Playback Theatre, so I decided to just have a holiday and forget about trying to be useful for once. I returned to Chandigarh and had a very pleasant overnight stay with Angelee and her family before leaving for Rishikesh. I had spent some months living in Rishikesh in 1971 as there is free food available at the temples and I had enjoyed hanging out with the local Sadhus. But once again, when I arrived in Rishikesh, the town was so different, I felt completely disoriented and eventually found a hotel by paying a (relative) fortune to a scooter-rickshaw driver. My hotel turned out to be in Laxman Jhula right on the Ganges and I spent my last week there. I spent just one night in Delhi before flying home. Beggars pose a difficult dilemma in India and after being chastised for the amount I’d given to one in Rishikesh decided not to give to beggars after that. My abiding memory of Delhi is when I was eating a street snack that cost about 20 pence and a young boy aged about 12 stopped and pointed to my snack. I could easily have bought him the snack but didn’t and that memory has stayed with me.