Unexplored Worlds in the Treads of a Sandal

There was an elephant in the lay by where I pull in to drop K off for work. Being fairly large things, it occupied most of it. A white bearded type in orange robes accompanied it, and asked me if I would like to take a photo. I would not. I see it most days in another location, usually with a couple of tourists posing on top of it, for which they pay through the nose. I’ve ridden elephants before, in Thailand, and can report that they are slightly less uncomfortable than a camel but better than a donkey.

Our toilet is made by Yamaha. It has the three crossed tuning forks logo and everything. I’m sure this would cause great amusement amongst the Honda riding fraternity.

I went in search of sandals last night in Vagator. The boy, fifteen at most, described them to me in a soft voice: “here you are having two layers on sole, and look,” he ran his fingers over the treads, counting to himself, “one… Two… Three… Good treads, and smooth for foot but underside for walking very strong with new upgraded design.” All this in a slow, mellow singsong voice, as if deeply stoned. It reminded me of pot smokers staring at some everyday household object as if seeing it for the first time, discovering previously unexplored worlds in the treads of a sandal.

A night ride through the jungle down a winding road, following two friends on a scooter. We are lost. The night is hot and humid, and we pass through dips of cool air, microcosms of temperature. Small shacks are lit feebly by candlelight, and each wafted the scent of incense into the night. But all the scents are different: vanilla, roses, sandalwood. In a few minutes we pass through a dozen different scents perfuming the warm night. Then the road climbs, the Enfield thunks solidly up a hill in third gear, and we are high above the trees with the moonlit glimmer of the Indian Ocean off to our right. I feel cool for the first time in a week in the sea breeze.

I’ve been sporting an Enfield blow dry for a while, a sort of swept back bouffant, so I go to the barber shop at the end of the lane; a small shack, unprepossessing from outside, but within three barber chairs and all manner of utensils dedicated to the grooming and clipping and curling and shaving of assorted clients. No mechanical clippers at grade five here: everything is done by hand. He snips slowly away with the scissors, a snip every two or three seconds. The left side takes a good fifteen minutes. I am so mesmerised by the languid pace that I almost fall asleep in the chair. Periodically I am dusted down as a prelude to more snail paced snipping, then he pulls out a cut throat razor, inserts a fresh blade, and spends a good ten minutes trimming my neck and sideburns. I think it is the most laid back haircut I’ve ever had. In the corner a tv shows a Hindi movie: I can make out the words “assistant chief inspector very angry is. Culprits were nabbed and charge sheeted but then released and absconded”. Barely conscious by now he unveils me from my apron, I pay 100rs (a little over a pound) and wander dazed into the sunlight. A passing cow belches loudly, and I kickstart the bike, which goes a-thunk a-thunk a-thunk… Even the motorbikes here are laid back.

I breakfast on two Malabar parathas, a sort of flakey pancake, friend for a minute or two each side. This accompanied by achaar, a spicy and tangy green mango pickle, not a bit like the sugary gloop known as mango chutney in the uk. Afterwards is fresh papaya and a cup of tea. I was already fairly cosmopolitan before I arrived – I often ate parathas and achaar in London – but the longer I am here the morse Indian in my habits I become. No cheesy beans on toast for me thanks.

Can I do you now sir?

Can I do you now sir?

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